Launched in 2006 by Ivan Yuen and Allen Lau, Wattpad is an online writing community, e-book developer, and social networking site focused on delivering e-books to smartphones rather than dedicated reading devices like the Kindle. The company said it attracts more than two million visitors a month to its Web site to upload original content and download, read, and rate the writing of other Wattpad members. The site also has its own e-book reader, a downloadable mobile phone e-book application that will run on more than 1,000 different phone models.
“We started early, before the Kindle,” said Lau, “focused on the mobile space, and we support every kind of phone. There are 150 million smartphones out there, a billion cellphones, and the market for reading on smartphones is growing.” The site is free and supported by advertising; Lau claims that Wattpad is “close to cash flow positive.”
Wattpad allows its members to upload content of any kind—short fiction, poetry, essays, full novels, fragments—and comment, browse, and build a personal network of followers, or “fans,” à la Twitter, that can supply novice writers with feedback. Wattpad boasts a library of more than 100,000 original self-published e-books, which can be downloaded from the site for free. “Nothing is for sale on Wattpad,” Lau said, “and everyone is a self-publisher. No one really writes to make money—what they want are readers.” Lau calls the site a “leader in e-book cloud services,” and the site can generate a variety of statistical data from its members' traffic and use of the site.
In a recently released survey, “Wattpad Global Ebook Metrics Report,” the company, which is located in Toronto, found that the Wattpad e-book reader has been downloaded more than three million times, followed by Lexcycle's Stanza for iPhone, the Kindle, and B&N's Fictionwise eReader. The site attracts an international audience. Consumers using Nokia phones dominate the global reading device list while the iPhone dominates U.S. Wattpad e-book reading. Indonesia represents 39% of the traffic on the site, followed by the U.S. with 28%.
While Lau acknowledged that the site is similar to Scribd, he took pains to differentiate Wattpad, calling the site “e-book 2.0” and noting that it is designed to give its members immediate online feedback and support about works in progress rather than finished books. “We offer real-time feedback, and you don't have to upload finished or complete works. Writers can develop a following and broadcast their work directly to their own audience.”
Wattpad has attracted the attention of conventional publishers as well as agents, and Lau said he is in discussions with several large publishers “who like our concept and want to post their content and use the site for marketing.” Wattpad is also working to allay fears of authors, publishers, and agents over the posting of copyrighted material. Wattpad will remove any copyrighted material brought to the company's attention. The site also offers a program called Authors in Charge: with more than 20,000 stories uploaded each month, Lau said that it's impossible for filters to catch everything, so Wattpad gives authors (or their agents or publishers) access to the site and allows them to remove copyrighted material themselves. Lau sees a “generational” divide between young consumers—who read on their phones—and older consumers attracted to dedicated reading devices. “The Kindle-user age demographic is somewhere around 50 years old,” said Lau, while “the demographics on our site suggest that 75% of our visitors are under 25 and expect to read on the go. E-ink devices try to resemble real books, but those devices just don't work for younger readers.”