This week, WritersWeekly’s Managing Editor, Brian Whiddon, takes over the Publisher’s Desk to discuss the “WattPad” phenomenon. Angela will return next week with her regular column.
Recently, we received an email from an author asking about “WattPad.”
“I’m writing to ask what you know about Wattpad. It looks like a platform to share your writing, but I’ve never heard of it and wonder how posting content there would affect your chances with traditional publishing. The site says the content remains that of the writer, but how secure is it, etc.?”
WattPad is an online platform for authors to upload their work for public consumption – without the promise of compensation. We’re not talking about articles and blog posts. Authors submit stories, portions of novels, and/or entire novels. In fact, some authors have entire series uploaded to the site.
First, let’s talk about the “security” issue. Anyone can copy and paste a story from website, plaster their name on it, and sell it as their own. In addition, WattPad has had to address copyright infringement issues in the past. There is a large section on their website about that so it appears they do respect the rights of writers.
Now, on to the rest –
WattPad’s business model goes something like this:
1) Submit your book and allow people to read it for free.
2) Collect fans/followers.
3) Write more books, and upload them for free.
4) Attract more fans, etc.
At some point, someone in the publishing industry should notice all the people clicking to read your book, similar to subscriber and view numbers on YouTube, right? Your impressive fan count should convince a traditional publisher to jump at a chance sign a contract with you. And, then there’s Hollywood (which WattPad touts on their website). Once they see how many people love to read your work without paying for it, someone might just offer to make a movie or TV series out of your stories.
Yes, their site boasts:
- Get published
- Get produced to movie or film
- Get adapted to a TV series
What that page doesn’t tell is that the percentage of their writers who have obtained those things are a minuscule drop in a huge bucket.
I have to admit…when I first heard about this business model, my B.S. antenna went up. I thought, “What’s the scam?” Somehow, I figured that authors had to be getting ripped off. So, I did some further research, and here is what I found:
WattPad was founded in 2006. It consists of a main website and mobile apps. Currently, WattPad has 65 million users who (according to Wikipedia) “spend 15 billion minutes each month using WattPad.” I couldn’t find anything explaining how many dollars their users spend but the site is free for users (unless they pay extra for no ads) so I assume that number is very low. However, they do have investors. According to the same source, WattPad has received almost $117.8 Million in US dollars from investors. We couldn’t find information on their ad revenues.
So, pretend that you are an investor. A company comes to you with this sales pitch: “We are going to convince authors to let us publish their work without compensation and we’re going to make it all available to everyone on the Internet, and not collect a penny for it from readers unless they don’t want to see advertisements.” Would you give them your money? How will you get a return on your investment? They have to turn a profit somehow. Something didn’t seem right. But, as I dug and dug, I can honestly say that I don’t see any overt scam here – not like we’ve seen in some of the shady publishers we have highlighted here on WritersWeekly in our Whisper and Warnings column. Clearly, there are millions of authors who have voluntarily opted to forgo monetary rewards (at least immediate rewards) for the promise of a potential large reader following. WattPad is up front concerning the fact that authors won’t get paid for uploading their work to the site.
If popularity isn’t enough to entice you, what else could WattPad offer that might sweeten the deal? Well, a 2016 article explained that a program called “WattPad Futures” allows authors to “cash in” on advertisement videos that their readers can click to view. I understand this concept. In one of my favorite video games, whenever I defeat one of my enemies, I win a reward. However, if I click on an optional ad video, I get an EXTRA reward, like a new weapon for my combat spaceship. (PEW! PEW! PEW!!) So, some advertiser got me to look at their ad,the developer of the game certainly got a little payout for allowing the advertiser to place their video on the game, and I got an upgraded Plasma Laser Blaster. It’s a win/win!
However, at the same time WattPad might be sharing ad revenue with some authors, they also offer a “premium” subscription for readers for $5.99 a month that will eliminate ads from their reading choices. So……
The author of the article said that he himself has “racked up three-quarters of a million reads of my work, obtained a generous sponsorship from a major television studio, had my work plugged into Hollywood movie campaigns, received serious consideration for TV adaptation of one of my short stories from a well-known producer (fingers crossed) and much, much more.”
Wow! That sounds great! Seriously. I mean, how many of you can say that you’ve got a TV studio “sponsoring” you, or had Hollywood campaigns plug your work into them, or been considered for TV adaptation? However, something seems to be missing.
MONEY!!! The author of this guest blog post never mentions if anyone has ever paid him any money for his work, nor how much. Now, I’ll admit sponsorships, plugging, and TV consideration sound pretty impressive. But, how many of you have cars that run on sponsorship? How many of you pay your mortgage or rent with “reads?” When was the last time the clerk ringing up your groceries asked you if you had any Hollywood plugs to redeem?
The fact is, after several hours of research, I couldn’t find any hard numbers from authors concerning actual income gained directly from deals they landed as a result of giving away a bunch of their work for free.
So, that brings me back to the question we received. What do we think the chances are that an author posting their books for free will land a traditional contract? We feel the chances are about the same as selling your books at a fair price, and pitching your wares effectively to traditional publishers after proving there’s an actual PAYING audience for your work. After 19 years in business, BookLocker.com knows how much work you, as authors, put into your craft. Why give your work away for free?
Let’s be blunt here. If you are self-publishing with a company like BookLocker (or even one of our competitors), you are competing with authors for market share. You are SELLING your books to readers and you’re earning money on every new print book and ebook sold. Ideally, you are striving to be better than the majority of authors out there so people will buy your work. Posting your work on a site like WattPad is basically leaving one arena to go compete in another. Over there, you are competing for clicks and “reads.” But, here is the big difference: If you make just $3 in royalties on a book you sell, that’s more than you would have made with a thousand “reads” on WattPad.
You have to ask yourself something else. How many of those people who happily read books for free on WattPad will actually take out their credit card, and pay for a book put out by a publisher – even if the author is touted as a WattPad Superstar?
In the end, it seems to me that serious authors would rather have guaranteed money for each “read” of their book.
Young Adult Author and Novelist (and Wattpad user!) Rachel Rueben put it best.
She called Wattpad a “popularity contest,” and wrote, “Unfortunately, this will be an audience of freebie seekers and not fans of your work. Fans buy books, not followers.”
“I signed up for Wattpad (a) little over a year ago, and learned that most of their readers are bored, young people looking for a freebie. And despite what you may have read in the various online publications, there aren’t many agents, or editors looking for talent on Wattpad.”
“As of today, I haven’t met any indie authors who have seen an increase in sales due to their platform on Wattpad. The common sentiment in the indie community is that it’s a complete waste of time, like Goodreads.”
In “Why Using Services like Wattpad and Amazon Singles is a Terrible Idea,” author Ajinkya Goyal wrote, “Wattpad is not a scouting platform.”
“The key to getting mountains (of) traffic on Wattpad is to be an active part of their clubs and other Wattpad communities and awards. But no one can possibly manage a blog, work on their book (whether on Wattpad or otherwise), do their job, meet all commitments you’ve made, and be active in Wattpad clubs. You’d go insane. It’s just not possible.”
There are plenty of positive comments about Wattpad online, too, but, again, I couldn’t find any authors talking about making any money on the site. They seemed more interest in getting clicks than dollars.
According to Wikipedia, “As of 2018, there are more than 400 million story uploads on Wattpad.”
And, according to Wattpad’s homepage today, their authors have landed “1000+ story deals.”
They don’t state what all of those story deals are, nor how much money they were worth. A “story deal” could be just a small sale to a magazine. Or, it could be a movie deal. They don’t say. But, doing the math with 400 million stories and only 1000 “deals” means .0000025 (or .00025 percent). And, that means 99.99% of their stories (or 3,999,000) have NOT landed any “story deals.” Seems we’d have better luck earning a profit if we ran out and bought a bunch of scratch-off lottery tickets.
And, we seriously doubt that many (if any) of their regular users are earning any advertising revenue whatsoever. We couldn’t find those statistics on Wattpad’s site, either.
The publisher of WritersWeekly, Angela Hoy, always says, “Don’t give away you writing for free!”
Posting your entire book online for some “clicks,” and no guaranteed monetary reward, is giving away your work for free. And, again, we’re not talking about short articles. Authors are posting ENTIRE BOOKS!
Authors using these types of platforms are providing free content to the site’s owners, who use that to attract readers. They can then boast high usage rates, and use that to solicit funding, and to sell advertising. The VAST majority of the people giving these types of sites free content don’t receive a penny from any of that.
So, my professional opinion is this: If you’re a serious author, avoid Wattpad and other sites like it. You deserve better!
OTHER ARTICLES YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN:
- Examiner.com – Just Another Pay-Per-Click Meat Market?
- HOW TO BE A STARVING WRITER: Write for Pay-Per-Click Sites!
- Avoiding Pay-Per-Click Meat Markets
- Dump That Content Mill and Get Your OWN Google Adsense Account!
- A New Scam Targeting Authors – “Will you swap ebooks with me?”
Brian Whiddon is the Managing Editor of WritersWeekly.com and the Operations Manager at BookLocker.com. Brian is an Army vet and former police officer, and spent several years chained to a desk, commuting Tampa’s congested roadways, working in corporate management and training, while writing in his spare time. He is now an author, blogger, and NRA-certified firearms instructor. Brian lives and works aboard his 36-foot sailboat, the “Floggin’ Molly” in St. Petersburg, Florida. He calls her his “rescue boat” that he found abandoned in a boat yard and rebuilt himself – fulfilling a dream he had to one day live aboard. Brian no longer commutes, and has donated all his business slacks, collared shirts, and ties to Goodwill.
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Thank you for the in-depth information.
Brian, thank you so much for the time and efforts that you have put in this research to give us, writers, a more clear understanding of this “business model.” I love your calculations – it is a great proof of your main point about the “advantages” of this platform. Great article!