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Forget print. Look at the rise and rise of mobile reading and writing, especially amongst Millennials. In today's show, Ashleigh Gardner talks about the latest developments from Wattpad.
In the intro, I talk about how Amazon KDP Select has moved to KENPC v.3 and some of what authors are saying about it, lessons we can learn from the Forbes richest author list, plus the expansion of Ingram's ipage which might help indies sell more print books.
Plus, please help with my next non-fiction book by completing The Healthy Writer questionnaire by 14 Aug and be in to win a copy of The Successful Author Mindset.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo ecosystem. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Ashleigh Gardner is the head of partnerships at wattpad.com, the world's largest platform for discovering, reading and sharing stories.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Catching up with what's changed with WattPad in the last few years
- Genres that do well on the platform
- More about the Tap app from WattPad
- On WattPad Studios and finding books to bring to TV and film
- On data, VR and AR and how WattPad sees themselves using these futuristic tools
You can find wattpad at www.wattpad.com and Ashleigh on Twitter @AshleighGardner.
Transcript of Interview with Ashleigh Gardner
Joanna: Hi everyone I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Ashley Gardner. Hi Ashleigh.
Ashleigh: Hi Joanna.
Joanna: Thanks for coming on the show, and it's been ages, but just a little introduction.
Ashleigh is the head of partnerships at wattpad.com, the world's largest platform for discovering, reading and sharing stories. Now Ashleigh, what's so crazy is you were on this show in 2014, I can't believe how many years it's been.
Ashleigh: I know.
Joanna: And we've seen each other for years at various conventions, haven't we? Back in the days when Kobo had really good parties, but then they stopped the budget for that. But anyway, back in 2014, you were talking about Wattpad, but a lot has changed since 2014.
But anyway, back in 2014, you were on the show talking about Wattpad, but a lot has changed since then.
First of all, give us a sense of how big Wattpad is now, how much it's growing, the country demographics, which I think are interesting, and how your role has changed.
Ashleigh: Absolutely, so at Wattpad, over 55 million people every month to use it.
I think a lot of people tend to think of us as a writing site. I know we talked about this a bit last time. It's absolutely one of the biggest behaviors on site but more people are coming to read. So I think that's a really powerful way for writers to engage and its audience.
People are just coming to look for new stories to read. People are spending over 15 billion minutes reading every month so it's a huge audience and there have been over 375 million uploads around the world.
You asked specifically about some of our demographics; the U.S. remains our largest market, it's definitely very big. I think the last time we spoke, I would have said the Philippines was number two, that's probably still the case.
Mexico is number three and growing at such a fast rate that I wouldn't be surprised if Spanish is our most popular language by the end of the year because it is growing and getting so much traction.
Joanna: Wow, that's so interesting. A couple of things off the back of that. There's this thing out there, people aren't reading anymore, reading is dying. Young people aren't reading. Obviously, that's not what you're seeing.
Is it comparative by country? And what are the demographics of the readers?
Ashleigh: The readers are definitely young people. Our audience is primarily Millennials I would say about 85 to 90% of our users are under the age of 30 depending on which country we're looking at.
It's absolutely a very young audience and I think that makes sense because our product is so mobile and so social.
It is a social network and most of our traffic, about 90% is coming primarily through our mobile app. So that type of audience that likes to consume, read on their phones, text message their friends. It's a very appealing about demographic.
You mentioned the people thinking the kids don't read and I feel so strongly in the opposite direction. Even when you look at how many words a day teenagers today are writing between their Twitter posts and blog posts, and media, and text messages, there's never been a more literate generation of being able to translate their thoughts and their feelings into words and to see what they're able to do on sites like Wattpad is so impressive.
Joanna: I'm just gonna parrot it back, just some of the stereotypes that people are bringing up.
I was at a literary festival and this woman said, and she was an older lady, probably over 70, but she basically said you know, “the language of the young people is going to the dogs”. People can't type…when people do text messaging, they can't type properly, they use these emojis and all of this.
When people are using WattPad, is the exact grammatical and spelling accuracy important, or is it more about story, and is the language changing?
Ashleigh: It's a mix of both. With a 55 million users, expectations are very different for different users and what they're engaging with for sure. I think though that a lot of our audience understands that what's being written and presented to them is being written by their peers on their phones. I think there's a lot more forgiveness.
Often, they're not looking at something and saying, “Oh, this is sloppy, this is bad.” It's like, “oh my god I, love that character”, so great, you seem a lot more enthusiasm than that type of criticism. And I don't think that that's a bad thing.
I think that it's very hard for a lot of people to put something that they wrote out there into the world and to be able to write in a safe space like that, where they are receiving these enthusiastic comments and feedback in return, I think that makes a lot more makes a lot more people confident in their voice and allows them to continue writing.
There are so many stories on Wattpad that I see are popular you know, you'll read the first few chapters and it can be difficult sometimes. There are great stories on Wattpad but for so many people who join, this is the first thing that they've ever written, ever out there.
And when you look at the difference between the first chapters and the last chapters, it's like, wow they've really found themselves. They're a lot more confident there a lot more skilled.
Writing, like anything, just takes practice and the more than people are being encouraged to do that, I think the better they'll be.
Joanna: And I mean I'm a real fan NaNoWriMo and I think the same thing would be true there. If you posted your first draft of what you wrote in NaNoWriMo it'd probably be similar. But by the end of the month, you're actually a better writer.
So do you see that the people who were posting there, because it is mainly first draft writing…
Joanna: Are they then going on to that second book and doing better? Are they publishing? What is the process for the writer using Wattpad?
Ashleigh: I think for most of our users their goal isn't to publish or to edit. Their goal is the same way that people will use a site like Instagram or other social media.
If they're posting stories, they're doing it for likes and for feedback and to connect with friends and get those comments and to have that connection with other people.
In the same way that you know, someone who post photos on Instagram might have a huge following, that doesn't mean they want to be a professional photographer. So there is absolutely differences between our community, but for people that are receiving a huge following, it's making them question you know, would I wanna do this for a living?
Do I want to make this a book, and for those users, I think there are more and more opportunities to help them do that.
We're seeing, we've seen since we last spoke in 2014, there have been three New York Times bestsellers that have come off of Wattpad. There have been hundreds of Wattpad stories published and when we look at things country-to-country in some markets we're seeing you know seven to 10 of the bestseller list at any time are coming from Wattpad.
It's absolutely starting to change where people look for talent as well.
Joanna: I think your point about Instagram is interesting because Wattpad is not a publishing platform, is it? It's a social network, as you said.
If people are in KDP Select, can they post on Wattpad?
Ashleigh: I can't speak to KDP's their terms and conditions because they are ever-changing.
I can say that we have many people that are in KDP or that are published authors through traditional publishers all, you know, posting works on Wattpad.
Sometimes they differentiate it by, as you said, this is the first draft I'm posting and when I finish it and self-publish it, it becomes a new work that is on KDP.
Or some authors just use different things. There might be certain books in KDP that they don't put up on Wattpad and the other ones they do. It's completely the choice of the author and we don't make any conditions on what they can and can't do.
Joanna: Okay cool.
People might be thinking oh it's just teen fanfic about One Direction. What genre is doing well?
Ashleigh: There is lots of teen fanfic about One Direction, but there is also a lot of really fantastic thrillers lately. I've seen a lot of really great ones.
Horror is something that's doing really well on the platform. I received a report from someone the other day that a lot more Japanese Manga and stories like that are being written.
I think that there's a tendency to look at Wattpad and just look at what's most popular and say well, “This is clearly an audience likes teen fiction, my story would never work there.”
But if you looked at what most bookstores sell it's perhaps a lot of teen fiction, a lot of the bestseller list and that doesn't mean that there aren't other stories being bought there or flourishing in the bookstore, is when you just look at what's most popular. And I would say the same is true of Wattpad.
There are 375 million stories on Wattpad. There are 15 billion minutes read. To look at a few million minutes and how people are choosing to spend that time, let's say historical fiction. There are huge flourishing communities. They're not biggest ones on Wattpad but there's still a place for all types of stories.
Joanna: Yeah that's great. Do you find that there's any kind of relationship between what emerges through Wattpad and what ends up kind of being a trend in the e-book store?
For example, LitRPG, which is a emerged genre, which didn't exist like a couple of years ago, did you see that coming on Wattpad first?
Ashleigh: I haven't. No that's super interesting. I would love to dive in more.
Joanna: Let me just explain it. It's basically people who are inside games. It's mainly written by gamers about characters who are inside games.
Ashleigh: We absolutely have lots of those. Yes. We have lots of Minecraft stories and other stories about video games and again, that's another thing that when we look at some of the Japanese terms there was one, Otome, that I may be pronouncing wrong.
Again, that's one that came up in this new report that some of our creator relations people who look at a lot of the data were sharing with us, and I think it's so interesting to see how people do engage with these trends and how you can see their rise over time.
And we absolutely see a lot of trends that you see start on Wattpad really grow and start to affect what's available in other ebook stores, as well.
I think one area where we really over index is in a lot of minority fiction, and I know that's something that we mentioned last time as well. It continues to be an area Wattpad does very well in and things like, like looking at stories about like Muslim Teen Fiction or Romance. Or a lot of African American storytelling or Latino Fiction.
Those are all areas that are flourishing on Wattpad that are very under-represented in the traditional industry.
Joanna: I think that's fantastic, and not like the Mexican thing is really interesting because obviously, Amazon is just one of the stores. But Amazon went into Mexico quite soon, as in they've had a .com.mx store for awhile, so clearly Mexico is a market that the booksellers are interested in as well.
It's fascinating that Spanish is becoming such a big market and also, for those authors that you have books in Spanish, it's incredibly hard to market books in Spanish right now.
Do you think Wattpad can be used as a marketing platform by authors? And how would you recommend people do that?
Ashleigh: Oh, absolutely. I think that when we've done polls of our own user base, they are buying books at a higher average than your average consumer out there.
I think that one of the best ways to catch the attention of users on Wattpad is with a story. I don't think it necessarily always needs to be the same story that you're trying to sell, but there are of course, lots of people that do that too.
Writing stories for that audience and building a fan base that is then going to wonder, “Wow, what else do you have?” and go on to purchase them. We have a lot of Wattpad writers that use Wattpad in that way.
I think the one thing that I would help steer people towards though is understanding that audience and where they're from, especially an international audience. How are the links that you're sharing, links that they're able to access?
Knowing that this audience is on a mobile device, where are you steering them to and which retailers? Because particularly when you're on iOS it can be very difficult to buy anywhere else. So how are you considering that when you're sharing your links with your audience?
Joanna: That's a good point actually. I've published on Wattpad before, or put myself on Wattpad I should say. There's a link isn't there to a book that you can put next to it.
Are you suggesting that people use a link directly to the author website as opposed to a retailer for example?
Ashleigh: I think it depends on the goal at the right time. For us at Wattpad, when we are advertising projects on Wattpad there's a lot of information that we have as well that I think it's harder to tell as a user, but I can see what device someone's on and make sure that if someone's coming to us from an iPhone, they're only going to see ads that target the iBooks store.
Because it's a much more seamless process, it lets them go immediately back and forth within it and they don't need a credit card, they can use their Appstore accounts to make those purchases.
So all those things that help reduce friction help increase sales. Sometimes sending someone to an author website is the way to go, but sometimes it can be bad as well if it means that they've got to do five more clicks. Those are just places that you can lose your audience.
Above all, I would really say experiment with what's working for you, like what is the time that you're sending out links? Are you sending country-specific links to people at different times to let different audiences be aware that they are being heard?
Because so often, I see people post things and it's just a for a book that's only for sale in the U.S., and that's fine but you're alienating the rest of the audience that's reading it, so how can you help make them feel included?
And sometimes just giving them a link that's targeted for them. I look up the Amazon Mexico links and it's available there too, just to help them do less of the work.
Joanna: When you say send things out.
From what I remember you can add comments on the bottom of your chapters, can't you? And that goes out to people who follow you as an author?
Ashleigh: Yeah, you can add comments to the bottom of your page. You can send out broadcast messages to users that are following you so like other social networks.
When I log on to my Wattpad homepage, I see what's going on in my network. I see what people have posted, what they're commenting on. But also you can just send like a broadcast message that lets you share any type of detail or links that you wanna use as well.
Joanna: Fantastic. I think everyone is like, “Okay, getting a little bit.”
How do authors who have books actually make money on Wattpad? Or is it like a social media site when you don't make money on the site, you have to send people elsewhere?
Ashleigh: I think there's a few different ways that it can work. I think probably the way that works for most, like you say, is that you make money on Wattpad in the same way that you make money by investing time in your Twitter profile, or investing time in other types of social media.
You build your audience, you build your fan base and you're able to sell them different things in different ways.
I think that since we last spoke there's also a lot of new ways that people are making money on Wattpad. We have launched something called Wattpad Futures. It's not open to all users, it's really targeted at the top 5% of writers on the platform.
It lets them make money by people who are reading their stories. They have new premium ads that go into those stories that every time someone watches it, similar to YouTube's model for their creators, that they're getting paid for that usage.
There are some authors that are making upwards of 10,000 in a certain, like within a quarter just based on that reading time.
Joanna: Wow, that's really awesome. I like that model too.
I have a YouTube channel but I make maybe $50 a month, so it's not exactly a serious channel for me.
YouTube invests in the big name Youtubers and you would invest in the big-name kind of Wattpadders that spend time there. So that's obviously very clear.
If an author wants to build a bigger platform on Wattpad how do you suggest that they do that? Is it a case of just posting regularly or interacting or how do they do that?
Ashleigh: I think both posting and regularly interacting are really important things.
One of the first things as well though is just to learn how the community works in general. If you're just starting a Wattpad profile today, don't join and immediately just start posting. Follow other people. Follow some of the more popular writers, even if you don't necessarily like that story.
Watch how they engage with their audience. Watch how they regularly that they post, which features they use. I think that's all really important things to understand. Join different hashtag groups. We have a club section where you can talk to people within similar genres.
I'd say that's all part of building a strong base that helps your story be seen when you start posting it.
Joanne: How often should they be posting? Say they have a book they're gonna put up, should it be like a chapter a day? Or how would they do that?
Ashleigh: Again it's hard to say that there's one right answer because sometimes it's different for different stories.
I would watch your users. The great thing about Wattpad is that we give our authors a tremendous amount of data. You can see chapter by chapter how many people are reading, how those people are reading through.
If you're posting everyday you might notice that a lot of people are reading the first chapter but when I post the new chapter, people haven't finished yet, when I post chapter 4, if half my audience hasn't finished chapter 3 yet, I'm not gonna see a high click through rate on the fourth chapter.
So I would time it out that way because people have different lengthed chapters all the time. Some people will chunk chapters even shorter for posting on Wattpad.
Try to end it in a natural cliffhanger, I think that's a great way to have someone coming back for the next chapter. But, there are some authors that I've seen the audience is so desperate for updates that they're able to successfully post every day. And they have no issues with people following along once.
Some stories they post once or twice a week. I would say do what works for you and what you're seeing your audience respond to, but be consistent and let your audience know what to expect. That's one of the most important things.
Joanne: Certainly with this podcast, when I moved from sporadically posting episodes to every Monday morning UK time, the audience went up. The lessons went out because it becomes more of a habit. So it's probably the same.
If you're gonna do it once a week, do it at the same time. Would that be right?
Ashleigh: Absolutely. Do it like a TV show. Not only picking the day, but, “I'm gonna post at 5 p.m. every Monday and people will begin to expect that”. I think that not only makes people more likely to tune in but also more likely to comment and to engage with it because they're all experiencing it at the same time, in real time.
Joanne: Is there a scheduling tool?
Ashleigh: That's a great suggestion and I can imagine there being something like that in the future. I think that that is something that would definitely be more useful to someone who has written the work already and bringing it to Wattpad.
I think most of our users today are writing it as they go, but we're always looking for ways to make the experience as great as we can and as easy for as many different writers as possible.
Joanna: I love scheduling because you know, you'd love always be ready at the same time every week but often we're not.
Joanna: So that's cool. Talking about mobile; one question on the mobile and the demographics.
You mentioned the iPhone but maybe this is wrong, but I would expect that a lot of people from Mexico might not be surfing on iPhones for example.
Ashleigh: Wen we look at it country-by-country, we definitely see a drastic difference of where our audience is coming from. We see a higher percentage of people in the US with iPhones.
Android definitely dominates in other countries, particularly Southeast Asia. We see a lot more of our audience coming from there.
We try to keep our experience as consistent as possible across both apps but I think it's definitely important to consider your readers and what type of devices they might be using to access certain things, especially when you're sending them off the app.
Because that's where it's a different experience, right? Even things that seem so small like, I don't know if you know that emojis look different on an Android than on an iPhone.
Ashleigh: There's definitely different Emoji art and a lot of people use emojis in their stories but something like I don't know, the cookie Emoji looks like a cracker on Android, and can confuse people. So there's some little things like that that you lose that type of, you know, resonance by that type change they would experience.
Joanna: Wow. I did not don't know that.
I assumed that the whole language of emoji with the same, like by definition because it was an image.
Ashleigh: No. Because everyone has their own art for it. So iOS has their own images that they've had drawn and they don't share them with other people. It's how they all choose to interpret it.
Joanna: Emoji language. I love this because my mom started using emojis. She's finally got into text messaging and she's suddenly started using emojis. I'm like, whoa, that means it's gone mainstream when my mom's doing it.
I think it's interesting that people are using them in the stories because that just makes it more real and that authenticity I think is what Wattpad is all about and maybe, it's a bit like YouTube.
Being too polished, trying to put yourself above the crowd and such, does not then just backfire a bit because people are more used to this more natural communication:
Ashleigh: I wouldn't necessarily say that being too polished will put people off.
People love a good story and I don't think that you need to change who you are or what your story is to try to reach that, but I think, being accessible and being natural is something that people really respond to across all social media.
I think that there are almost ways that you can separate your story from how you're interacting as an author and I think those definitely play in together.
And a lot of Wattpad stories if you read them, they even have almost like diary entries or authors notes in between the chapters of the story and I think that's also another great way to kind of engage your audience.
We've even authors start to play with that as a method of fiction. One of my favorite stories on Wattpad right now is a story called Dead in Bed, and the author created a Wattpad profile for the Wattpad author who was fake that started to interact with the actual story itself, so it was like a story within a story where he used the profile to build this extra layer of this young Wattpad author going through a tough time as part of the story.
Joanna: Wow. I remember when the first characters started tweeting on Twitter, remember that?
Joanna: Yeah, so it's interesting how that type of thing emerges in the platform.
You have a whole load of different partnerships and cool stuff, so you have Tap, which is a chat style reading app.
Can you explain what that is for those who might not be familiar and also your thoughts on very short form content?
Ashleigh: Tap has been a really exciting project for us at Wattpad. I think it's something very natural that make sense.
When we see that 90% of our traffic on Wattpad is coming from mobile phones. And when we look at even stories that are popular on Wattpad, the main app, we were seeing people write a lot of stories in text messages. There would be entire stories that would be very popular with titles like, Texting Justin Bieber, and the whole thing would just be stories back and forth.
So we launched Tap back in February, and it's like a voyeuristic type of storytelling almost as though you're watching two people text. If you're the author, you write your story in text messages and you can choose even to add different timing things. We let people add those three dots that you see that make it seem like someone on the other side of typing.
You can change the background. You can add sound effects. We've been watching new features to allow other ways of interactively engaging in the story, like being able to accept a video call of a video clip of one of the characters in the story or other things like that.
It's been really exciting to see it play out. I think the team's doing a fantastic job of adding new features all the time and keeping it really exciting for the users and it's definitely grown extremely quickly. It really resonates with the younger audience and we're all gonna keep watching what happens next for that, as well.
Joanne: When you say younger, what age demographic are into Tap?
Ashleigh: I don't have the exact demographics for Tap on hand right now. It does skew a little bit younger than traditional Wattpad, but there's also a lot of people who are older that are interested in it as well.
I know for myself, I've seen lots of entertaining stories on it and when you see the people that are writing articles about it, or joining to write stories themselves, it's a really easy way to write stories.
We see a lot more people want to write stories on Tap because they text all the time, it's very easy for them to write in that format rather than in long paragraphs and prose.
Joanna: I think it's really fascinating. I had a look at the site. It's not something that I would do myself. But I can see the attraction for people who really are doing that all the time. I think it's really fascinating.
You also have a partnership with Universal Cable Productions and started WattPad Studios to move content into film and TV. Now, of course, many authors dream of the TV and film deal.
How's that working out, and why is Wattpad doing studios and how can authors get involved?
Ashleigh: Yes, absolutely. Wattpad Studios was launched in 2016, now and it was the development of a lot of other projects that we had going on.
We already had a successful TV show in the Philippines with TV5 called Wattpad Presents. We've been doing lots of publishing of Wattpad stories and helping them get book deals or self-publishing and had seen three New York Times bestsellers come off of Wattpad.
And we were seeing many more really talented writers emerge and so, Wattpad Studios was created to address the film and tv side of you know, how can we help film studios take advantage of all of the amazing content on Wattpad, and help these authors get access to this world?
Because for us, the level of data that we're able to see on these stories, we can bring a film Studio project that already has a built-in audience in the demographs they're trying to reach.
There have been countless articles written about Hollywood's franchise issues. Do something new, no one wants another Transformers movie. Or stop giving us sequels, or stop just remaking other things. Which isn't to say that those can't be great as well, but there really is a dearth of these original ideas.
And part of it is because of that fear of well, we want to do a sequel because the first one did well. We know this one will have a certain audience, or, this one was so great 20 years ago, let's remake it for the new generation and I think that often feels like a safer bet.
So when we're able to say yes, this is an original story that hasn't been filmed but it has an audience of three million people between the ages of 18 and 30 in the country that you're strong in. That's very appealing for a lot of the studios that we work with.
We're able to give them data that no one else has on how stories are doing month-over-month, which trends were seen rise on a macro level as well, to maybe help guide their decisions. It's a very in-depth partnership where we're sharing a lot of the data that we see to UCP to help them make better decisions about which stories they want to be optioning and we're doing that in partnership with them.
The other part, using similar data and insights we're doing similar projects in the publishing world of helping publishers pick titles that we see are going to be on the rise, or that have a strong audience or for me.
One of my favorite indicators of what's going to be a very successful story is one that people can't put it down. It's like, okay, this story on Wattpad, if I know the average session length in a story, something like 10 minutes and I see story that people are spending upwards of 40 minutes an average session in, it might have a smaller audience on Wattpad but everyone who sees it loves it.
Let's go out and promote it to more people. We have loopers we can pull to get things more promotion and have them be seen more and then to be able to take that data and analytics to a publisher to say, look at how many people love this. It's a data lair on stories that they don't get from agented manuscripts that they're seeing.
Joanna: It's kind of incredible. You mentioned these partnerships with publishers.
I saw that you have Hachette for audio books, but you've also just announced some other things.
Ashleigh: We have a great partnership with Hachette for audio books. Our audience, like the rest of the whole reading industry, is seeing a huge boom in audio books.
Again, with our users being young and mobile, we're seeing them wanting to listen to stories on the go, on their phones, and we're thrilled with what we've been doing so far. We've got a few of them out in market, and Hachette Audio Books who also won audio book publisher of the year has been fantastic about looking to us for data, engaging in users and finding new ways to promote to our user base.
That's one of the projects that we've watched recently but we've also been busy with out partners. In France, where we're also very strong, we've just announced a partnership with Hachette France, where they're making a commitment to bring more Wattpad authors to be published, and we're sharing a lot of those data insights with them as well.
And also, we're doing a similar thing with HarperCollins for teen fiction here in North America and in English world-wide, because they are so fantastic with their own insights and teen audience and that's also where we're very strong as well.
We're really excited to see what happens in that in the next year and also who the authors are going to be that are participating in that because all of our teams are busy reading and looking at data now.
Joanna: Which is, it's so fascinating because of course there was a book, I can't remember the name of it now, it's was like Data and Publishing or whatever, or it was Building a Best Seller or something like that. About how you can use data to find the next best sellers.
That's actually what you're doing with Wattpad, is you're using data to find evidence of stories that are selling, that you can then present to people who can get that content out further.
Ashleigh: Exactly. Yeah, and I think that what's different, there have been other like, Cracking the Code of Best Seller.
Joanna: Yeah, that one.
Ashleigh: And part of what I think where we differ philosophically from how they've approached the problem. They're looking to analyze the data in the text itself of like people that have plot, you know, rises here and falls here and use this type of language, they'll be a best seller.
But I don't think that people want the same thing, particularly trend wise over time like. It's easy to look backwards and say this is why this book was successful, but then, something isn't going to be a best seller until it is, right?
No one buys books in a certain genre until it's the next biggest thing. So, I don't think looking at the text itself is the right way to give you the answer.
I think that it's looking at the audience's reactions matters, which is more of what we do. We look to see what people are reading, what covers they're clicking on, how long they're reading. Because audience has changed, our culture changes so fast, so rather than analyze the text, we're analyzing the reactions to them.
Joanna: I found this quote from May 2017. Wattpad CEO. It stated that Wattpad is well on it's way to becoming a machine learning first, entertainment company focusing on emerging products, machine learning data science, and all these other things. Now, I am personally excited about machine learning and A.I. and all this discoverability, particularly in this ever growing sea of content, which Wattpad has an ever growing sea of content like everywhere else.
We spoke three years ago and things have changed. What are your thoughts looking forward?
Over the next couple of years, what are your ideas? It doesn't even have to be official, just Ashleigh's thoughts on whats gonna happen next with machine learning and A.I.
Ashleigh: I think machine learning is going to be touching almost every part of our business of how we work and it already is.
When we look at the ways that we're serving up recommendations for stories that we think that you'd like, we're looking at similar audiences and connections and all of that.
I think that where I look at how it's going to help my job, I think being able to spot trends earlier, being able to spot things on the rise, Spotting authors on the rise.
I hope that we'll get to a point that as soon as a chapter is posted on Wattpad, we know what is likely to happen. Of course, watching how audiences respond to it will continue to be something that's so important, but I think finding things out sooner is something that we're really going to see change and develop.
Joanna: Given the mobile situation, do you see Wattpad moving into the Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality space?
Ashleigh: Absolutely. I think any time there's that type of transformative technology, the first question we're gonna be asking ourselves is how does this interact with pushing forward what we think of the storytelling?
I think you'll see Wattpad launching more apps, like Tap.
How do we engage with different things in different ways? We have teams focused on those emerging products. We've also just launched Wattpad Labs to allow entrepreneurs with different ideas of what they would like to do at Wattpad with Wattpad's resources and teams and technology, being given time and space and a job to be able to do that on a trial basis.
We're really looking forward to seeing, I think that was announced about a week and a half ago, two week ago from now. So, those are types of things that are gonna be changing what storytelling looks like in you know, five to 10 years from now.
Joanna: That's so cool. And I've got to point out as well that there's been this discussion of the publishing startups that have mostly failed. WattPad is the startup that's been held up as the poster child of the thing that worked.
What's interesting is it sounds like it's more like a venture capital model where it's like, okay, lets try these different things and if they work we'll double down on them and if they don't we'll change.
This technology and pivoting idea, is that the reason Wattpad is continuing to grow and thrive while other startups fall by the wayside?
Ashleigh: I think that it's also because it was never approached as a publishing startup. In a lot of ways, that's almost accidental or what it's almost fallen into, it's not, it was never part of the vision, it was never built to solve a problem the publishing industry had.
It was trying to solve the problem that writers have; what are different ways that people want to express themselves? I think one of the biggest differentiators, which is funny because it's such a small elegant shift, but when people…people have been able to write on the internet for a long time.
There are lots of blogging platforms. There's no shortage of places to do that, but everything is in reverse chronological order from Twitter, to everything else or algorithmic feeds and you see what's newest first.
One of the really elegant things that Wattpad did that really allows to best serve fiction narrative storytelling is being able to create a narrative in chronological order. So when you post a story on Wattpad, you're saying, “Similarly, this post is a first chapter.” And anyone that then experiences that story it starts kind of the first chapter.
You all get notified when there is a new chapter but it lets you experience it as it was written in the way that it was meant to be written. And there was no one else that was doing that anywhere on the internet.
It wasn't just designed for fiction. We have a lot of other narrative non-fiction type stories, and I think we'll continue to see a lot more of that and a lot other new genre's start to emerge and things that are being ignored by the publishing industry flourish on WattPad.
Joanna: Fantastic. Where can people find you and Wattpad online?
Ashleigh: So all of my handles are the same. I'm AshleighGardner on Twitter, on Wattpad, I'm happy to answer any questions that people have.
I still get tweets and questions from the last interview that we did three years ago so I'm really excited that we're gonna have an updated one here. And yeah. I think it's, wattpad.com and you know the hashtag is Wattpad on Instagram and Twitter and other social media. We'd love to see more writers and hear from them about what they want Wattpad to be.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time Ashleigh, that was great.
Ashleigh: Thanks so much.
Louise Harnby says
Brilliant article! My 13-year-old daughter loves Wattpad and publishes on it frequently. Initially, I was concerned that she might encounter negativity because her grammar skills are still in development, but her response was, ‘Mum, relax. It’s all about having a go. It’s a really supportive community.’ So that shut me up! I love the fact that my teenager has found such a huge but supportive space in which to develop her writing and self-publishing skills. Thanks, Ashleigh, for this wonderful platform!
Joanna Penn says
That’s awesome 🙂 and I do think the focus on grammar is part of the reason that so many young writers get shut down at school. They might have a brilliant story to tell and it’s awesome that the wattpad community can see beyond word “mistakes” to the intention behind it.
Monica Rodriguez says
Great podcast! Interesting things happening at Wattpad. A great community there.
I was wondering, do any authors ever use the site, say, by putting the first chapter of their novel up with a buy link? Or is this frowned upon? Don’t even know if it’s allowed, but just wondering.
Ged Cusack says
Another great show (Well done).
I listened to it yesterday whilst out walking and looking at the Southern Alps.
I set myself a limit and if I haven’t gone out for a walk by Thursday, I take your podcast and away we go.
I find the interviews on here great as they are more about being informative than selling, selling, selling like some other podcasts.
Need to stop typing now so I can fill out the questionnaire 🙂
C. Lee McKenzie says
Very informative post. I started to dabble with Wattpad, but got sidetracked. I still do read some of the authors I connected with, but haven’t been active. Might have to reevaluate.
L. E. Vera says
I was listening to your podcast and I’m feeling quite thrilled to hear Wattpad doing well in the Philippines.
Being Filipino myself I can say that it would be great if a lot of authors invest in promoting their books in a lot of developing countries as there is always a huge market and book demand.
Case in point is a recent event called the Manila International Book Fair where thousands of book lovers of all ages and interests gather with the sole purpose of increasing their collection of books.
Imagine, all of them could be a buyer of your books! 🙂 https://www.manilabookfair.com/