Wattpad: Digital Storytelling With a Social Twist

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The digital marketplace has changed the rules for both readers and writers. Authors no longer need to be separated from their readers. Readers no longer have to wait for books to be complete before getting a peek at authors’ work. The landscape for storytelling is changing and one of the leading innovations in this space is the Wattpad social platform. For those unfamiliar with Wattpad, the platform can seem like an enigma. That’s because it offers a new form storytelling with roots in social media, not publishing.

What is Wattpad exactly? It’s a free digital community where writers can submit segments of their work and members can browse through the content and exchange ideas. Many of the writers who upload content are first-time writers, but the platform is also being explored by veteran authors such as Margaret Atwood.

Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content Publishing at Wattpad says that the platform is based on an age-old principle: “Wattpad takes storytelling back to its communal roots, albeit with a social and mobile twist,” says Gardner. The communal idea is key here. “People may not identify with being a writer,” Gardner explains, “but they might have a idea on what can make a story more interesting and will share that via comments and messages. They might not want to write a story, but can riff on something they’ve read to create original music or art.”

The staff at Wattpad quickly dismisses that they are competing in the publishing industry. Wattpad has a very different business model than a traditional for-profit publisher. The majority of people who use Wattpad are not authors—90% of members are readers. The content on Wattpad is free. Writers can only offer their work on Wattpad if they don’t ask for money in return. “Storytelling is a fundamental part of the human experience, and the ability to read and share stories should be everyone’s right,” Gardner says.

The model for the Wattpad platform is closer to that of Instagram than that of a traditional publisher. Both Wattpad and Instagram are hubs where people submit content, members browse content, and payment is not required or expected. “What we’ve discovered from our users is that not every writer wants to write professionally,” says Gardner.

Many professional writers, however, have a presence on Wattpad. These authors are attracted to Wattpad because of the multitudes enthusiastic readers who hang out and offer active feedback. To the professional authors who use Watpadd, the platform is a way to connect to readers and generate some marketing buzz. Readers can “fan” stories, make comments, and easily get to know authors. If the readers like what they see, they can follow an author’s work. Marketing is about raising awareness, and by receiving comments, votes, reads, likes, and dedications on Wattpad, authors can achieve new levels of awareness for their titles—even if they don’t receive any money.

Though it’s possible to post an entire novel on Wattpad, most writers upload small segments at a time. Gardner calls this “episodic storytelling with real-time reader engagement.” Even when authors have completed a lengthy novel, they frequently serialize their stories, posting a chapter or a few pages at regular intervals. Readers can register to receive push notifications when a new chapter is uploaded.

This serialization serves two purposes: it allows writers and readers to establish a relationship, and it makes longer works more mobile-friendly. “These days, readers are consuming shorter content on-the-go, often via mobile devices,” says Gardner.

Because stories can be serialized, readers often have the opportunity to influence the outcomes. Readers leave authors comments and send them messages and suggestions. For readers, this access provides a new way of becoming engaged in a story. For writers, it’s a direct form of feedback that can shape their end product. “This social element is changing the way stories are told,” says Gardner, “On Wattpad we’re seeing writers from different countries come together and collaborate on stories.”

Not only do the Wattpad members shape the outcomes of stories, they’re also shaping the platform itself. “We’re regularly inspired by the actions of our community,” says Gardner. For example, when the Wattpad staff noticed users posting their favorite lines from stories on Instagram, they to add a feature that allows users to turn text into art and share those images on other social media with a single click. According to Wattpad, 35 million people have joined the platform and members currently spend 9 billion minutes a month engaging in the content.

What’s next for this online community? The platform does not dictate trends. It is, however, a place where trends emerge. Just like the stories shared on Wattpad, the platform itself is ever-changing.

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