Early this year we announced a major new initiative at Wattpad with the launch of Wattpad Books, our first publishing division. We’re working with amazing partners, including Macmillan in the U.S., Raincoast Books in Canada, and Penguin Random House U.K., to bring Wattpad stories to bookshelves around the world.
To date, we’ve announced our first three seasons (fall 2019, winter 2020, and spring 2020), and we’ve now started to launch books! If you go to bookstores and libraries in the U.K., U.S., or Canada, you’ll find Wattpad books front and center.
But people have asked me, Why is Wattpad getting into the print business? And why now?
The short answer is easy: because our mission at Wattpad has always been to entertain and connect the world through stories. We’ve built a global community of 80 million users, including four million writers, who have written hundreds of millions of uploads on Wattpad. We have amazing stories from every genre imaginable, and we want people to read them! Publishing is a natural part of how we’d execute that vision.
The longer answer is that publishing needs something new. Technology is changing the industry, and people are demanding new voices and perspectives. More than anyone else, we have an edge in both of these areas. We bring a completely unique combination to publishing: an engaged global community, the most diverse set of writers on the planet, and the technology to find every type of hit imaginable.
As our technology and work in machine learning has advanced in recent years, we’re now able to find promising stories faster than ever and understand them in more meaningful ways. Our Story DNA Machine Learning technology gives micro and macro lenses for stories; we can gain a view into how stories relate to one another, their potential for success based on comparisons to other books, and how they fit into larger content trends rising on Wattpad. None of this means a world without human editors, tastes, or expertise. In fact, the opposite is true: our technology makes our human editors and content experts into superhumans. We can add an entirely new layer to the decision-making process, increasing our chance for success when deciding what to publish.
At the same time, we have more diverse authors and stories than anyone else on the planet. This means we’re able to publish new voices and stories based on activity we see both in the wider publishing market, as well as what we see on Wattpad. One of my favorite examples here is #MuslimLoveStory, part of a wider movement on Wattpad to bring more diversity to romance. Another example that directly relates to our first list involves new narratives dedicated to people who identify as transgender, agender, gender-fluid, and nonbinary. Reading time for stories with these tags saw an 18% increase, up to 32 million minutes in 2018 over the previous year. Uploads grew by 56% in 2018, with a total of 15,000 new uploads last year. These numbers show us that people want amazing stories that include more perspectives from the LGBTQ+ community—they already read and write these stories in massive numbers. V.S. Santoni’s I’m a Gay Wizard combined a brilliant YA-fantasy narrative with exciting new LGBTQ+ perspectives. That combination makes our decision to publish the story easy.
The fact is, Wattpad Books already has a massive readership, with passionate fans who have spent hundreds of millions of minutes with these stories. We’re simply giving people a new way to experience and discover the kinds of stories our users love. We’ve already been publishing via partners for many years to great success. Books like Anna Todd’s After, Kara Barbieri’s White Stag, Zoe Aarsen’s Light as a Feather, and many others are all projects we published with partners. But working with partners means following their priorities. Wattpad Books is a chance for us to put out the books we want to publish, guided by our goals for a more diverse industry and the data to make better bets.
Wattpad Books is a validation and celebration of the creativity, interests, and worldbuilding that happens on Wattpad every day. With Wattpad Books, we’re not just launching a publishing division. We’re launching a new generation of diverse writers.
Ashleigh Gardner is the deputy general manager of publishing at Wattpad Studios in Toronto.