Writing and reading now social and mobile
ALLEN Lau considers himself living proof that the love of good writing is alive and well in the age of streaming video and terse text messages.
He offers as further evidence the 32 million people who each month visit online literature social network Wattpad, which he and Ivan Yuen launched eight years ago as an online venue for writers and readers to connect.
"Wattpad is the world's largest community for reading and writing," he said during a recent visit to San Francisco to meet investors in the Toronto-based start-up. "We've created a mobile and social story-telling experience."
According to Mr Lau, of the more than nine billion minutes spent monthly reading at Wattpad, about 85 per cent is done using smartphones or tablets.
More than a million Wattpad users are writers, who typically upload a chapter at a time while readers tune in the way they might watch episodes of a television series. "We make story telling very different and unique," Mr Lau said.
Readers share feelings, thoughts and criticisms with one another and authors on the social network, sometimes shaping the fates of characters or directions of stories.
"Writing and reading have traditionally been very solitary experiences," he said. "In this case, writers get constant feedback from readers in real time; and from the reader perspective, it is almost like watching a TV show with 10 million people all at once."
Readers can wait until books are complete and then binge on chapter after chapter, but that is rarely the case at Wattpad.
The most common question fired off at the service was said to be: "When will the next chapter be released?"
After Wattpad noticed writers providing links to music videos to listen to as background for reading, the social network added a way to embed YouTube clips.
"It has been so widely used, if you go to YouTube and search 'Wattpad', you will find millions of videos," Mr Lau said. "The writing is the main actor, but we have supporting characters - video and sound."
Wattpad sees a quarter of a million chapters uploaded daily, with about 24 hours worth of reading arriving at the service each minute. Less than half the visits to Wattpad come from the United States, and the service is growing strong in an array of countries including Turkey, Italy, Britain and Spain.
"Not everyone has an e-book store, a library or a regular book store, but everyone will be on the Internet and everyone will have a smartphone," he reasoned. "I am walking proof that it is rubbish people aren't reading as much; the Internet is helping people to read and write more."
The Wattpad app is free, as is access to works uploaded by writers. More than half the stories on Wattpad were written on mobile devices.
Wattpad writers do not get paid, but exposure on the social network provides opportunities for them to make money.
According to Mr Lau, publishing house Simon and Schuster gave Wattpad author Anna Todd a sizable advance to make a series of books out of the After stories she wrote on her Android smartphone and uploaded to the social reading network.
Hundreds of writers have reportedly seen their works on Wattpad lead to traditional publishing deals. In collaboration with the USA Network, Wattpad has commissioned a writer to create prequel stories intended to promote an upcoming Dig television show.
"This is one of the first," Mr Lau said of the partnership. "Whether a TV show or Starbucks, all good brands have good stories to tell. And where else can they tell their story but the world's largest story-telling platform?"
While Wattpad remains focused on growth, not revenue, companies can sponsor stories on the network or commission writers to craft tales tied to brands. Revenue from sponsorships is shared with writers, according to Wattpad.
Wattpad's popularity has soared in the Philippines, where the first TV adaptation of a story from the social network is heading for prime-time television. Books and films have also been made there from Wattpad works.
Wattpad has raised about US$70 million (S$89 million) in venture-capital funding, the most recent round in April.