What's Up With Wattpad?

Kids these days, eh? Always wandering around with their noses in their iPhones, up to no good.

Well, maybe not. Because lots of them are using an app called Wattpad which might just be the biggest revolution in reading you’ve never heard of.

The Toronto-based Wattpad began in 2007, initially providing a mobile platform for 17,000 public domain works from Project Gutenberg. By June 2009, the Wattpad app had been downloaded 5 million times.

Fast forward to today, and Wattpad is the world’s largest reading and writing community. I have had lots of teachers tell me that kids are getting into reading e-books on their smartphones in a big way, but I was short of hard numbers. Here are some from Wattpad:

  • 3 million stories total, with 250,000 new stories added every month
  • 1.3 Million registered users
  • Over 7 Million unique visitors per month
  • Users spend an average of an hour a day on Wattpad
  • Over 2 BILLION minutes spent on Wattpad via web and mobile in Q3 2011
  • 1 comment every second
  • Many popular titles have over 10M reads and more than 10,000 comments

What particularly caught my eye in those stats was that users spend an average of an hour a day on Wattpad. That’s an incredible level of engagement.

What are they doing all this time? Well, reading for the most part. All the stories on Wattpad are free. Readers don’t have to pay to join the site (or download the app), or to read any of those 3 million stories (which can also be read on any computer, laptop, or tablet).

But they’re not just reading, they are writing too – which is great! There is a real mix of stuff on the site, everything from early teens posting their very first forays into creative writing, right up to work from published authors (like me – more on that below).

There are short stories and flash fiction, as well as novellas and full novels too. All genres are represented but, given the age profile of most readers (from early teens to early twenties), YA seems to be huge, followed by paranormal (and fantasy in general), and then maybe science fiction and romance.

Writers post work in parts (i.e. chapters) which tend to be short, to make them suitable for mobile reading. For example, I posted Transfection there just after Christmas, and even though it’s less than 6,000 words, I broke it up into three parts.

Longer work tends to be serialized, and readers can keep track of their favorite writers and stories by becoming “fans”, which means they will receive an email each time the writer posts a new “part” or story.

The most popular stories have had a stunning impact, being “read” millions of times. (Note: each time a “part” is read, that will add to the counter. If a book has 30 “parts”, each reader finishing it will add 30 “reads” to the counter.)

There is a lot of interaction on the site too. Comments are open at the bottom of each “part” and the most popular stories generate a lot of feedback. Sometimes it’s aspiring authors fielding suggestions on how to improve their stories (many books are being serialized as they are written), other times it’s more polished writers sharing how they constructed certain scenes or dealt with characterization.

For self-publishers, it’s another venue where you can get eyeballs on your work, as long as you are open to this kind of free sharing of your content (which is not for everyone).

I’ve always been fond of this approach. I made the PDF version of Let’s Get Digital a free download on this blog – and it has been downloaded over 3,000 times –  but I also put that free PDF up on Scribd – where it has been downloaded over 2,700 times.

I know that this approach has resulted in significant sales for me of the paid version – judging by the emails I have received – but I am also keen to spread my ideas as widely as possible, and, considering these tough economic times, to provide a low cost or free way for readers to enjoy my work (especially as I tend to price at the higher end of the indie spectrum).

Wattpad approached me just before Christmas to see if I would be interested in making some of my work available there (for free), and this seemed like a natural fit. I agreed to post some short stories, and to serialize A Storm Hits Valparaiso over five weeks. In return, Wattpad have pledged to promote my work to their community, and I’m excited to see what they can do (starting later this week).

My book is $4.99 on Amazon, but if that’s out of your price range, you will be able to read it on Wattpad for nothing. The first eight chapters are already up, and I will be posting a chapter or two a day over the next five weeks.

What do I get out of it? In short, exposure. With Wattpad’s help, I will be hitting a demographic I rarely reach. Will it cannibalize my sales? Possibly. But I also think any such  “lost sales” will be more than outweighed by the additional readers this exposure will bring me.

Since I posted If You Go Into The Woods and Transfection to Wattpad, sales of both shorts jumped, despite them being free everywhere except for Amazon (I am hoping to make them free there too).

These stories are only going free in the various retailers temporarily. I have updated the back-matter of both shorts to really sell my longer work, and there is a sample for A Storm Hits Valparaiso in each of them. I plan to switch them back to paid later in the month (once the free downloads subside), but, for now at least, they are billboards for my more expensive titles.

Needless to say, this is an opportunity I would have been forced to turn down had I enrolled my work in KDP Select; the exclusivity component was one of the main reasons I was strongly against it.

Every writer is different, of course, and, in the interest of balance, I will have a couple of guest posts later this month from writers who are doing very well out of KDP Select.

As for Wattpad, I’m excited about this partnership. I know they have approached some other self-publishers, and I also know they have been able to shine a pretty big spotlight on the writers they have previously featured.

My work is quite different from the stuff that tends to be popular there. My shorts are hard to pigeon-hole – kind of speculative, kind of “literary”, perhaps “slipstream” comes closest. My longer work is straight-up historical fiction, with a side of 19th century-style adventure. Will that fly on Wattpad? We’ll see.

Either way, it’s going to be fun to see what happens, and I will share all the results here.

And the next time you see a teenager with their face glued to their iPhone, don’t worry. Maybe the kids are all right after all.

EDIT: 

A commenter (thanks Paolo) has pointed out that there was a change in the ToS of Scribd.com since I uploaded Let’s Get Digital. It seems that Scribd have now put up a paywall if you want to access older documents. It seems you can only access those documents if you either (a) pay or (b) upload something yourself. I never see this paywall, having uploaded documents to the site. This may not be an issue for some of you, but it should be pointed out that none of this revenue is shared with the authors of the documents. Here is a blog post explaining the changes: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2010/08/scribdcom-gets-greedy.html