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Wattpad: Redefining Storytelling

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by Alexa Schlosser, Managing Editor, IBPA Independent magazine —

Alexa Schlosser

Wattpad is a community-driven publishing platform that’s turning itself into a full-fledged entertainment company.

The Motorola Razr was the coolest phone to have in 2006. That same year, Toronto-based Wattpad launched its reading app on the Razr. Today, Wattpad is still a mobile-first storytelling platform, but now it’s huge (55 million monthly active users)—and it’s growing.

Listening to Your Audience

Over 400 million stories have been posted on Wattpad. It would be nearly impossible to manually read each one and determine if it’s “good.” Instead, the company uses technology to study the behavior of its users to see what content is working.

“We’ve had three New York Times Bestsellers in the past few years,” says Ashleigh Gardner, head of partnerships at Wattpad Studios. “We’re able to look at those patterns—what people were reading and how those stories started to take off—and apply those patterns and trajectories to other stories to help spotlight the next ones.”

Wattpad has extensive data on each story that gets posted. It can see when a story is posted, how many people are reading it, how many people are sharing it, the demographics of its readers, etc. Taken together, that data tells a story about a piece’s potential.

“One of my favorite leading indicators for whether or not a story is going to continue to grow is what the average session time someone spends in it is,” Gardner says. “If a story has a smaller audience but everyone in that audience can’t put it down and finishes it, that’s a sign to me that that’s one that will catch on and grow quickly.”

Gardner doesn’t believe in the idea of cracking the bestseller code, however. Those “codes” tend to focus on the content, and “people don’t want to read about the same thing all the time,” she says. The behavior of readers is much more telling.

“We look at the behaviors surrounding a story—that’s how a lot of popular stories get surfaced to us—and then we read those stories to try to understand what the audience likes about it,” Gardner says.

For example, looking at readers’ behaviors led to Wattpad’s early prediction of the popularity of One Direction fan fiction. Based on what users are writing about, Wattpad can see what bands and YouTube stars are popular and what type of stories they’re being written into.

“That kind of data is very valuable to agencies in Hollywood,” Gardner says. “Letting studios know that a character/YouTuber is cast in horror stories in Wattpad—that gives them data they can use to engage with that celebrity fan base.”

Other Ventures

Partnering with studios is one of Wattpad’s recent focal points. Wattpad Studios is about a year old, and the company is seeing success in bringing stories with a built-in audience to publishers, such as these examples.

In addition to strengthening the data science of its main storytelling platform and expanding Wattpad Studios, the company is also working on other products.

“We’re looking at going beyond just what Wattpad is,” Gardner says. “Wattpad’s a fantastic app. We’re growing at about 120,000 new users each day, but we also have all these other ideas for storytelling through mobile devices. How does Wattpad interact with video or with chatbots? We’re looking for different ways we can use our technology at Wattpad to create new products.”

One of the most recent products the company is proud of is Tap, which is a text-style storytelling app. “It’s like you’re watching a text conversation between two or more parties. Every time you tap the screen you see another line of text appear,” Gardner says.

Worldwide Growth

The US is Wattpad’s largest market, but the company is gaining a lot of traction internationally, so that might not be true for long. Trailing closely behind is the Philippines, Turkey, and Mexico.

“The fact that we are available as an app and on the website everywhere in the world means we’re seeing different opportunities for growth that are harder with the distribution barriers of print—and even for e-books—for publishers. We don’t deal with those barriers as a social media company,” Gardner says.

What Wattpad and independent publishers have in common is that they promote the works of communities that are traditionally ignored by the publishing industry. Removing the barriers leads to greater diversity of voices and content. Wattpad will continue to innovate and evolve, but its focus on community storytelling will remain paramount.

Alexa Schlosser is the managing editor of IBPA Independent. You can contact her at alexa@ibpa-online.org.










Success Stories

Isabelle Ronin, author of Chasing Red

When Isabelle Ronin started writing Chasing Red as a serialized story on Wattpad, no one knew it would be a sensational global hit. Her story was detected over a year ago, has garnered over 150 million reads on the platform, and was the most-read story in 2016. As a result of the story’s immense popularity online, several major publishers around the world have acquired the rights to Chasing Red. In fact, her North American publishing deal with Sourcebooks will launch her first book, Chasing Red, in September 2017, followed by Always Red in November 2017.


Kara Barbieri, author of White Stag

The Wattpad community spent over 6.5 times more hours reading Kara Barbieri’s White Stag than they spent reading any other fantasy story on Wattpad. Today, Wednesday Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press) has acquired the rights to turn this story into a fully published trilogy starting in fall 2018. In her own words, after the life-changing news, Kara said, “I think I’m still in shock. I’ve been a writer for most of my life and always wanted to be a published author. I can’t believe it’s finally happening, all because I shared my story on Wattpad.”


Tyler Oakley: When Influencers Bring Their Work to Wattpad

Simon & Schuster wanted to tap into Wattpad’s already built-in Tyler Oakley fan base to promote the upcoming release of Oakley’s new book, Binge. Leading up to the release of his book, Wattpad created buzz to drive promotion of book sales for Binge through custom branded content and native ad interstitials. A verified Tyler Oakley profile was created on Wattpad where chapter excerpts from his actual book were posted for fans to preview. The native ads help promote and drive traffic to the profile, creating excitement among the Wattpad community overall. One key result from the campaign was 52.4 percent of those who read the preview of Binge were “much more likely to purchase the book than before.”


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