The following post is written by Wattpad Co-founder and CEO Allen Lau.
I wish I had written a blog post like the one you’re about to read when Ivan and I first started Wattpad 10 years ago. Although we shared our plan numerous times in bits and pieces, it was scattered across the internet, and very few people outside of the company had the complete picture.
The First 10 Years
Our plan was actually quite simple. We wanted to revolutionize how people discover, share, and connect through stories. Here’s how we did it:
- We created a reading app for the RAZR and other feature phones using public domain classic books to attract our first group of users.
- We leveraged the growing audience to attract our first group of writers who would share original stories on Wattpad. We created direct connections between these writers and readers around the world.
- We established new, disruptive ways for writers to earn money, and for Wattpad to generate revenue, once the community reached critical mass.
Ivan and I believed people would read and write on devices that they would carry with them all the time. But when we launched Wattpad in 2006, we were missing two crucial elements that didn’t quite exist at the time: smartphones and the mobile internet. Serendipitously, the iPhone launched in 2007, the App Store followed in 2008, and soon after Android devices grew in popularity. Decreasing data costs allowed more people to access the mobile internet, and the rest is history.
Ten years later, the Wattpad community has over 45 million monthly users, with over 2.3 million writers who’ve shared 15 million chapters in the last 30 days alone. If we print these stories on paper, every two weeks we would create a stack of stories as tall as Mount Everest. Today, Wattpad has more writers and content than the entire publishing industry.
Wattpad is one of the fastest-growing and most-engaging platforms in the world. Because of Wattpad, people are reading and writing more than ever. Reports of the death of reading are grossly exaggerated. Reading just looks a lot different today. It’s a social and interactive experience, not the solitary pursuit it once was.
But at its core, Wattpad is more than reading and writing -- it’s entertainment. Wattpad Studios brings popular stories to life in other formats. Hundreds of Wattpad stories have become blockbuster movies, hit TV series, and bestselling books. Our native ads help brands reach consumers around the world with entertaining and engaging stories that don’t interrupt the experience they’ve come to know and love on Wattpad.
For the most part, we have achieved what we set out to do 10 years ago. So what’s next?
Wattpad is Entertainment
A decade after we launched, it’s obvious that we’re not just building an app or a community. We’re building a global, multiplatform entertainment company. We have ambitious - and achievable - goals for the next 10 years. Before I share our plans for the future, let’s take a look at how the entertainment industry operates right now.
When it comes to making a movie, here are the steps it would likely take:
- A producer or studio executive finds a story they like. They will run it by one or two more people before they spend the money to turn it into a script.
- After a whole lot of back and forth between script writers, producers, and executives, the studio ends up with a script they like. They show it to a few more people before the story gets a thumbs up. Initial production begins.
- A sizzle reel is created and gets shown to a few more people at the studio. Sometimes, it’s also shown to a focus group of 20 people. If the outcome is good, the movie and its million dollar budget is green-lit.
The process above is inherently inefficient. Only a handful of people need to buy into an idea before millions of dollars are invested into a project. No one really knows if people will show up at the theater and actually enjoy the movie. There’s no solid evidence to show that the movie will be a success. Right now, the entertainment industry operates on hunches and gut instincts.
It’s the same for new media companies like Netflix. Sure, they have a lot of data about content already produced so they know what genres work. But creating new content? It’s the same old process. Similarly, other forms of storytelling - television shows, web series, books, narrative-driven games, fiction podcasts, etc. - all follow the same linear process that’s been around for a century.
Entertainment is a hit-based industry, and most projects fail because the process is broken.
Reinventing the Industry
Wattpad is where the world’s stories live. With over 300 million original stories already shared, and over a million more added each week, Wattpad has the largest collection of original content. Not only do we have a ton of stories, we have a lot of amazing stories with built-in fan bases.
I can guarantee the next big hit is already on Wattpad. Every day we collect over 1 billion data events based on what the global Wattpad community is searching for, reading, and engaging with. Our data tells us which parts of a story generate the most intense reaction from the community and the specific genres certain demographics prefer. With our data we can significantly improve the success rate of projects as Wattpad stories are brought to life on other platforms. We can do this because we’ve put the control back in the hands of the audience. They decide what’s popular and what resonates.
That’s why major entertainment companies around the world have partnered with Wattpad to co-produce popular stories for other platforms. We’ve worked with leading companies like Turner, Universal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal), Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster, and many others. This year alone three New York Times bestsellers originated on Wattpad. We helped our partner TV5 in the Philippines increase their ratings by 30 percent with Wattpad Presents, the No. 1 teen television show in the country. We have many more exciting partnerships to announce shortly.
What's Next for Wattpad?
But back to the original question: What’s next?
We are going to leverage our data, technology, and community to revolutionize how content is created and how people are entertained.
Without giving it all away, here’s what we plan to do.
#1 - Leverage machine learning to discover more great stories
Millions of new stories are shared on Wattpad every month. The community does an incredible job of finding the stories they love. As machine learning advances, we will be able to identify the next Harry Potter before anyone else and even help the story gain traction among the community. Machine learning can also help writers improve the quality of their stories. The community will teach the machine, and in turn, the machine will help us accelerate the success of creators in the community.
#2 - Revolutionize how traditional entertainment is produced
It’s getting harder and harder to manufacture original mega-hits. While gross box office revenue in the U.S. was up by five percent last year, only two out of 20 movies made were original stories. On the TV side, Hollywood produced more shows than ever last year, but a whopping 75 percent were canceled after the first season. That’s a lot of money and effort wasted.
It’s a challenging time for the entertainment industry. There’s an endless supply of content available, both user-generated and professionally produced. Streaming services with personalized content continue to grow. The control of distribution channels is rapidly changing, too. The entire industry is under a lot of pressure to remain competitive and limit declining sales and tune-in. Wattpad will revolutionize the traditional production model by leveraging our proprietary data and community insights. This will enable us to zero-in on stories with the highest engagements much faster to ultimately co-produce the next big hit.
#3 - Create new forms of entertainment
In the past few years, smartphones have become even more capable and mobile internet has become affordable, lightning-fast, and ubiquitous. Today everyone has a powerful entertainment device that they carry with them all the time that can stream content across all formats - video, audio, images, and of course, text. Similarly, with the help of Apple TV and Chromecast, the television itself has become a streaming device where producers can distribute their content directly. Next generation entertainment devices such as Amazon Echo, VR, Spectacles by Snap, and others, create multiple opportunities for us. We will expand the Wattpad experience to platforms likes these to create new ways for the world to share stories and discover original entertainment.
#4 - Distribute Wattpad stories across all formats, on multiple platforms
As we build up a library of content across multiple formats, we will distribute this library of content both directly on Wattpad and indirectly through various partnerships. This will build on what we’re already doing through Wattpad Studios. Soon, even more Wattpad stories will be available in multiple media formats and distributed and monetized across multiple platforms.
With our technology, data, and community-driven approach to entertainment, we represent the future of the multi-billion dollar industry. Our vision is to entertain and connect the world through stories, and we are well on our way.
So, in short, our master plan is:
- Discover more great stories
- Turn these stories into great movies, TV shows, print books, etc.
- Create new forms of entertainment based on these stories
- Distribute and monetize them on and off Wattpad, earn money for storytellers
One more thing. Although not part of this master plan, at some point we will build theme parks in Orlando, Anaheim, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Toronto and Mars. Hey, Mickey Mouse: The next Disney is coming.