Publisher Spotlight: Wattpad

Oct 28, 2016
By: Jonathan Harrop

With a monthly audience of over 45 million users and 300 million uploads, Wattpad has become a runaway success in the world of mobile reading. At its core, Wattpad is a writing community in which users can post everything from articles and original stories to fan fiction and poems, through mobile or desktop.

Founded in 2006 by two engineers with a love for reading, the service has become the go-to place for avid readers and writers alike.

We asked the team at Wattpad what made the app and service so unique, and what it takes to keep one of the most successful non-gaming apps out there growing, year after year.

Storybook Beginnings

Before he started Wattpad, founder Allen Lau was already interested in computer science and technology. He worked for IBM straight out of the University of Toronto, and then worked at an early stage startup, Delrina.

Even though mobile technology as we know it today was just getting started, Lau saw the potential and ran head first into the new sector, founding FeedM8 and Tira Wireless.

During his journey, Lau kept toying with mobile reading projects, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. In 2006 though, everything changed: Lau’s coworker Ivan Yuen showed Lau his own mobile reading project, and a confluence of great ideas occurred. According to Wattpad, the two immediately knew they were onto something great they could build together.

In November 2006, Wattpad was born.

In 2011, Zynga purchased Tira Wireless, giving Lau the opportunity he needed to focus full-time on Wattpad. The story from there just gets better.

Going Global

Wattpad’s core service is one of shared reading experiences. According to the people making it all happen, Wattpad is the first platform to connect storytellers and audiences on a massive scale through the power of mobile.

Wattpad UseAs an inclusive experience, Wattpad has everyone participate in storytelling. Even if users don’t create a story, they can still contribute by submitting fan art and adding comments to stories.

When Wattpad first launched, it only supported English, but Lau and Yeung decided early on to embrace additional languages, beginning with Vietnamese and Tagalog. Almost immediately, new readers and writers from around the world joined the platform, but user growth didn’t come without challenges.

As Wattpad expanded into other languages, it became critical for their team to engage these international audiences and support their needs by adapting the service to support the new languages and cultures — it wasn’t just about basic translation.

Luckily, Lau and Yuen had made the decision to base Wattpad company in Toronto, one of North America’s most diverse cities, and could draw from a huge population of native speakers as touch points, guides, and even team members. What started out as asking friends for help ultimately helped Wattpad grow internationally.

The number of languages supported has exploded from just English, to over 50 today, driving growth forward. According to Wattpad, their monthly audience has grown to over 45 million, and a new user joins the platform every second.

Wattpad has seen incredible success across multiple demographics, but the social nature of the app and website have given rise to some unique and interesting trends amongst certain demographics. Teen girls especially have taken to the platform. Females in general dominate, with a 3:1 ratio to males.

Creator Success

Wattpad user Anna Todd’s One Direction fan fiction led to a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and now a film deal with Paramount pictures.

Wattpad isn’t just for amateur writers. The service boasts the presence of literary luminaries like Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood and horror master R.L. Stine, along with science fiction and Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow, Goodreads Choice Award winner Marissa Meyer, and more.

Writers on Wattpad are also being discovered, making it a great outlet for aspiring authors. In 2013, Anna Todd’s One Direction fan fiction led to a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and now a film deal with Paramount pictures.

Wattpad says they conservatively estimate more than 100 authors have taken the leap from amateur to professional writer through Wattpad, including Beth Reekles, Abigail Gibbs, Taran Matharu, and many others.

What it Takes to Keep Wattpad Running

With users spending 15 billion minutes a month on Wattpad, and an average session time of 30 minutes it’s successful by any definition. In 2013, it was called “the most active social site you’ve never heard of” by Mashable.

Writers of all types, levels, and ages are using Wattpad. Some are working to hone their craft; others are just having fun making up and sharing stories. It takes a dedicated group of people to make an app that popular keep humming smoothly.

Wattpad currently employs 120 people and is still growing. Walking around the Wattpad office, it’s clear that Toronto’s diverse melting pot of cultures has seeped into the core of the company. The majority of employees can speak a second, or even third language, and books and decorations fill the office.

Wattpad Office

The average day at Wattpad also gives a great idea of how Lau and Yuen’s dedication to community spreads beyond users, and into the office.

Growth, Engagement and Monetization in a Reading App

Wattpad’s growth has been primarily organic. Supporting 50 language and ensuring the product can work in areas where mobile Internet (and even old-fashioned desktop Internet) is harder to come by has helped the service find an audience otherwise ignored by many.

When it came time to monetize, Lau and Yuen’s user-friendly approach and vision to connect creators and fans stayed front and center. The team insisted ads should be additive, and not take away from the experience.

Wattpad’s ads give writers and content creators a way to earn income, and allow brands to reach new audiences, without distracting users from why they’re using the app in the first place.

What’s Next for Wattpad

Wattpad StudiosWattpad recently launched Wattpad Studios, to transform stories on their platform to film, television, good old fashioned print, and other digital media outside of their own app.

You can read more about the early work of their new venture here.

As Wattpad continues to grow and mobile users find new uses, and spend more time on their devices, apps and services like Wattpad are poised to take advantage of the new normal in mobile. Giving users engaging, interesting, and unique content to consume and create is becoming the norm, and Wattpad has a huge leg up on the competition


By Jonathan Harrop
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