What better panel to follow Andrew Bud’s TOC Frankfurt keynote on mobile content and commerce than the Evolving Role of Readers, a panel that examined the proliferation of new kinds of online collaborative writing models—often created by a generation that lives online, reading and writing via their smartphones—and the ways these new forms are intersecting with conventional publishing. Moderated by BookCamp founder Ami Greko, the panel included Wattpad founder Allen Lau, Amy Martin, Wattpad marketing manager and Say Books cofounder Anna von Veh.
The discussion focused on the growth of collaborative writing online—from informal posting of chapters for feedback to the explosive growth of fan fiction to experiments in which “readers” join with will “authors” in way that blurs the lines between the two. Von Veh was particularly enthusiastic about fan fiction—the practice of fans writing extensions to their favorite media properties—its continued growth and its evolution into a powerful and respected genre, certainly by fans if not necessarily by copyright owners. Indeed von Veh fan fiction has long existed online and the growth of easy mobile access marks a connection between technology and contemporary online writing and fan fiction. She cited “beta readers,” those that offer feedback and response on writing placed online “to be commented on by others and improved.” She particularly noted the disclaimers placed on fan fiction by its creators to make sure the derivation of the properties is acknowledged and she likened it to “a performance, an art more like theater, where you take a script and do other things to it; these properties are a starting point.”
Wattpad, an online writing community focused on mobile devices, is as a magnet for young demographic (1/3 of its millions of users are under 35) and a hotbed of interest in genre fiction, particularly romance, vampire/romance fiction and fan fiction. Lau pointed out that Wattpad writers like Abigail Giggs and Brittany Geragotelis generated millions of reads by posting their supernatural fiction on Wattpad, eventually signing major book deals with conventional publishers. But he also spoke to the power of fan fiction, collaborative writing and the conflict with conventional notions of copyright, which he said, “isn’t really applicable to Internet fiction.” Indeed he noted the millions of readers of Harry Potter fan fiction, “I don’t think fan fiction has cannibalized any Harry Potter sales. Publishers are not losing sales, they’re getting an enormous about of marketing for free. This is how the world works today.”
Martin called fan fiction,”one of the fastest growing genres on Wattpad. Its people celebrating what they love about entertainment properties,” and outlined how Wattpad worked with Sony Music in marketing tie-in to create fan fiction around the members of the One Direction boy band. Using a Wattpad writer, Sony created a background fiction for each bandmember that attacted more than a million readers, who in turn created tens of thousands more pieces of fan fiction generating still more readers and interest in the band.
Wattpad has released new online tools that allow its members to write on their phones, “for a generation that lives online, through their phones, writing is part of their entertainment, it’s a hobby and with fragmented times, when the inspiration comes you can write, right on the spot.” Now 30% of Wattpad’s uploads come from iOS devices.
Even bestselling writers are trying out Wattpad, including Margaret Atwood, Vincent Lamb and Paulo Cuehlo. “If Charles Dickens were writing today,” Lau said, “he would be an Internet addict.”