Founded in 2006 by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, Wattpad, an online community of writers and readers, has blossomed into a multiplatform entertainment venture that attracts millions of visitors to its site each month. Wattpad helps aspiring writers find readers, but it also provides traditional book publishers, advertisers, and film and TV producers with original content, in addition to offering them real-time data on which stories and topics consumers find exciting.
In a blog post titled “The Master Plan,” Lau marked the company’s 10th anniversary by outlining what’s next for Wattpad. He wrote that publishers and other media producers will be able to use data generated by Wattpad’s global fan base “to test content” and find the next hits. Data mining, he said, will reinvent the entertainment industry. Wattpad, he continued, will use machine learning—a kind of artificial intelligence that helps computers learn without needing specific programming—to discover stories and create new forms of entertainment.
Lau told PW that Wattpad was founded with a straightforward plan: “To revolutionize the discovery of content and the ability to connect with readers and share those stories.” He said that from the start, “we wanted original content, we wanted to create a big user base, and we worked to figure out what to do to build a community online.” But, Lau noted, to meet this goal, “we needed two things—the smartphone and ubiquitous Internet connectivity to share and download content.” He added, “These were the ingredients that ensured that Wattpad would survive.”
Wattpad has built its online community by offering material from aspiring writers—who post their content for free to solicit feedback from readers as well as to build a following—and now from a succession of veteran writers looking to cultivate readers under the age of 30. Over time, Wattpad’s free-content platform has attracted significant promotional partnerships with major trade book publishers, among them HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Sourcebooks. And for good reason: Wattpad attracts more than 45 million visitors monthly (a figure that represents the number of users who access the site via the Wattpad app and those who access via desktop/laptop), most of whom are under 30 years old. Ninety percent of the reading and writing activity on Wattpad is conducted via mobile devices. And all of this activity is global: Wattpad stories are available in more than 50 languages. Although Lau said that Wattpad has generally not used advertising to attract users and has grown instead by word of mouth, more recently the site has experimented with using paid advertising.
Wattpad is using its 10th anniversary to highlight its efforts at monetizing the site’s enormous traffic in order to generate revenue for itself and for the writers who use the site to develop their craft and readerships. Over the past year the site has launched programs that generate different forms of advertising revenue, among them Wattpad Futures, which places video and display ads between the chapters of Wattpad stories, and Wattpad Brands, which recruits the most popular Wattpad writers to develop native advertising for a variety of national brands. Earlier this year the site launched Wattpad Studios, which partners with Hollywood TV and film studios to develop projects from the most popular Wattpad material.
Wattpad has announced additional media partnerships that will bring its content to a mass audience. Under its Wattpad Studios program, Wattpad is teaming with Turner Broadcasting/TNT to create horror programming for TNT’s Tales from the Crypt under executive producer M. Night Shyamalan. The deal also features a TNT horror contest, launched at the end of October, that will award $20,000 to the best scary story submitted by a Wattpad writer. In addition, TNT will purchase the story and produce it for TV. The deadline for submissions was the end of November, and a shortlist of nominated writers will be announced sometime in December.
Last month the site announced a new partnership with Universal Cable Productions—a production house that has developed such TV series as Battlestar Galactica, Mr. Robot, and Suits—to create programming based on Wattpad content. The deal allows UCP to use real-time data from the Wattpad platform to determine which stories and topics are trending in the Wattpad community.
Wattpad has 126 employees and expects to have 130 by the end of the year. Although Lau declined to confirm whether Wattpad is profitable (“We’re a private company so we don’t disclose that information”), he said that “our revenue is growing quickly, and we’re happy with the results.” He added that “we’re monetizing Wattpad for ourselves and for our writers” and emphasized that “we help writers form a fan base.”
In fact, Wattpad has an impressive track record for turning aspiring writers—especially young women who write genre fiction—into published authors. The company provided PW with a list of 26 writers who signed English-language book deals based on works first posted on Wattpad. (Many more writers than these 26 have found publishing success as a result of Wattpad, and the list does not reflect book deals in foreign languages.) The list includes popular authors such as Nikki Kelly (The Styclar Saga), Natasha Preston (The Cellar), Beth Reekles (The Kissing Booth), Alex Rosa (Tryst), and Anna Todd (After). Indeed, Kara Barbieri’s White Stag, the first volume of a YA paranormal trilogy first posted on Wattpad, was recently acquired by St. Martin’s Press for release in 2018.
Wattpad, which is based in Toronto, celebrated its 10th anniversary two weeks ago with a big party at its offices that featured acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, who has been involved in a number of Wattpad projects, and other Wattpad writers.
Lau said Wattpad’s future is exciting: “We have good relations with the book publishing industry and with the Big Five publishers. You’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.”