If you were one of the millions of people who enjoyed the gentle romantic entanglements of Elle, Lee and Noah in hit Netflix romcom, The Kissing Booth, you might not know it, but you're already a fan of Wattpad.
The film, and its sequel, originated from a story posted to the storytelling app back in 2011, which had been read an incredible 19 million times before the streamer came calling. Its author, 17-year-old Beth Reekles, went on to earn a three-book deal with publisher Random House.
Not bad from a content sharing platform you’ve likely never heard of.
What is Wattpad?
Wattpad is a website and app on which writers, both amateur and established, publish their stories. Readers can interact with the user-generated content, offering their opinions on characters and plots – they can even leave notes next to specific sentences – in a way that allows would-be writers to shape their content to better serve their readership. The site says it reaches an audience of more than 90 million users, with content available in 50-plus languages, although stories are predominantly written in English.
With the news this week that South Korean Internet conglomerate, Naver, which owns global digital comics platform Webtoon, has acquired Wattpad for $600 million, the deal will increase that 90 million to a global monthly audience of 160 million users.
It was the brainchild of Hong Kong-born entrepreneur Allen Lau and Malaysian Ivan Yuen. The pair say they were each working on variations of the idea before coming together to create Wattpad in 2006.
“We were just too early for the technology to take off, but we stuck it through and I’m glad we did,” Yuen told his alma mater The University of Waterloo. Adding of the year 2007, when the iPhone and the Kindle launched: “The fact that we were already there opened up a whole new way for people to use Wattpad.”
What is on Wattpad?
In short, a lot of fan fiction. If you've ever wondered what it might have been like if Harry Potter had married Hermione rather than Ginny, or if any member of One Direction decided to quit dating models and start dating their fans instead, then Wattpad is your spiritual home. But that's not to say fanfic is the only literary genre on offer. There's fantasy, paranormal, horror, science fiction, humour, mystery, teen fiction … The list is endless and ever-growing, from the mainstream to the niche. And according to John Hunt Publishing, the most popular genres are romance, young adult and teen, and fan fiction.
With its own direct publishing division, own literary awards – the Wattys – and an ability to connect writers with producers via their Wattpad Studios, the platform claims more than “1,000 original Wattpad stories have been published, produced, or adapted to TV or film”, citing deals with Netflix, Sony and Paramount among other major Hollywood studios.
One book, 1.6 billion readers
One of Wattpad's biggest success stories has been Anna Todd's After trilogy. Originally posted as fan fiction about former One Direction star, Harry Styles, a quick name change turned him into Hardin Scott.
The book has so far been translated into 35 languages, landing Todd a six-figure deal with publisher Simon & Schuster. Not to mention the two films it has so far spawned: 2019's After and its 2020 sequel After We Collided.
More impressively, her books have been read more than 1.6 billion times, generating more than six million reader comments.
So, is Todd a professional writer? No, she was a 24-year-old housewife with a new baby, living in Texas.
Wattpad appealed to Todd, as she told The Atlantic, because it enables writers whose work would otherwise "never see the light of day because their names aren't known, or they don't have whatever following, or they don't have experience in publishing".
Put into context, authors using traditional modes of publishing, need to sell books in double digit thousands to land themselves on the bestseller lists, but it’s worth remembering that readers are paying for those books, whereas Wattpad content is free. The money, however, comes later; just ask newly-minted millionaire, Todd.
World-famous authors on Wattpad
Another Wattpad story that translated to the small screen was titled Death to my BFF and racked up 92 million reads, leading it to be acquired by Sony Pictures Television, while the tale Light as a Feather was snapped up by Hulu, and Cupid's Match was turned into a pilot at CW Seed after it garnered over 36 million reads.
And for anyone feeling slightly snobby about Wattpad, bear in mind that the critically acclaimed author of The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood, is also a contributor.
"You can post your own writing. No-one need know how old you are, what your social background is, or where you live," she told The Guardian of her decision to publish on the platform. "Your readers can be anywhere."