Friday, January 16, 2015

The Wattpad Phenomenon

What is Wattpad

Wattpad is a crowd sourced site for self published writing. The writing is voted on, it is changed and updated as the author feels the need, it is free to access as a writer and a reader, and, the middle school students at our school love it. This blog post from David Gaughran explains it in more detail with some statistics (one of which is that Wattpad users spend about an hour a day on the site). Read the Wattpad story.

The official blurb goes like this ... 

"Wattpad is the world's largest community of readers and writers. It's the free and fun way to read on the web and across all mobile devices. Everyday millions of people use Wattpad to read unique new fiction or share their own creative writing. For both avid readers and aspiring writers, Wattpad is the best place to discover and share unlimited stories. It's the only community that offers a mobile, social, eReading experience.
Wattpad was founded by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
Wattpad’s vision is to revolutionize the way people read, write and share stories. All the content on Wattpad is created by its community of users. So far, over 5 million stories have been uploaded to Wattpad spanning all genres of creative writing - from mystery, to romance, sci fi, poetry and fan fiction.
And it's fun for adults and kids"  from Crunchbase
I sort of stumbled across this phenomena last academic year when we did the Reading Trends survey, and discovered many of the students were accessing their reading through the Wattpad App, and, these were readers of all ages and levels.
Intrigued, I asked them why they access their reading here and not through the mainstream methods. It essentially came down to similar reasons as expressed by Caution District ....

 "I recommend this app for anyone who loves to read and people who don’t like to read either because there is something for everyone. Wattpad is not just for the people who love to read it is also just for people who love to write because Wattpad is where anyone can publish a book, fan-fiction ,and anything that a everyday person can think to write."  

Reasons from our students included : Lots of books written by teens, for teens, interesting books, short books and books that keep changing depending on what people ask for. A wide variety of storylines and interesting characters. Searchable, easy to find books of interest, lots of fanfiction. You can vote on the books, and suggest changes which the authors may or may not do. I can talk to the authors and ask them questions and they talk back. There are so many titles to choose from. There are so many topics.
I needed to check this app/platform out - particularly because the students were asking me to add their Wattpad reading to Goodreads for them and I needed to figure out how to navigate the site, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it is huge, it is easily accessible, and it has diversity and for writers, it has an authentic and responsive audience. I can see its appeal immediately.
There are awards, challenges to encourage writing, (The 30 Day writing challenge) , it is connected to all social media sites - twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube and tumblr and it has a community consisting of club discussions, crowd sourced awards and a blog.
So, what are the social, business and educational implications for Wattpad?
Social : Young people have easy access to reading, and lots of it, they have conversations about what they are reading with each other and with the author. The authors want to improve their writing so people will read it to garner more votes.  Authors have a platform to publish their writing and get immediate feedback, it is crowdsourced so the best writing will always get the most votes.
Authors : Aspiring authors have a platform to test their writing, they don't need a publisher to tell them "it is not what we are looking for." They are evaluated by their peers along with everyone else. They are encouraged to keep writing by immediate feedback. It can be used as a platform to be noticed by publishers or even film studios to have their work published. Established authors could use the platform to pique interest from a new readership, they may even have the opportunity to republish their out of print books to give them a new life. There is a short non fiction book on Wattpad - "How publish on Wattpad" to give tips on making your written work work on Wattpad.
Publishers : This is a serious challenge to their current business model. I really don't think they need to be too concerned about ebooks - Wattpad and similar sites are a challenge. Publishers have always decided what will be printed according to their perception of the next big thing, however, Wattpad shows that readers want diversity in their reading, they do not want all the books to be vampire fiction, or dystopian love stories. They want to be able to read a variety of themes and genres.  They want easy access and they want free. 
On the other hand, Wattpad might be just a perfect place for publishers to find the next big trend, or even pluck an obscure author from the masses just based on the votes they have received and published, it may reduce the amount of manuscript reading and unsolicited "I want to publish a book please publish mine" scenarios.
Education : We need to embrace this phenomena, as I don't think it is going away soon. It has grown from strength to strength. So how could it be embraced?
Library : 
  • We could promote it as another access point for reading (and writing). 
  • Could some of the popular books be catalogued in our OPACs? 
  • Could we highlight our own students who are publishing on Wattpad? 
  • If you use Goodreads, we could all become Goodreads librarians and add our students Wattpad reading to the Goodreads database to give this reading validation as being 'real' reading.
  • There is writing in every language - this platform could easily be promoted and used for mother tongue support.
  • Throughout the site, there are comments about copyright, creative commons, public domain.
General School life: 
  • Could Wattpad be used as a platform for publishing in class creative writing?
  • Could the teachers use examples from Wattpad to look at different writing styles and devices?
  • A class could follow a story as it is published chapter by chapter and comment to the author.
  • A language class could use the writing in the language of instruction to enhance the reading and language skills of their students.
  • The art and design curriculum could be harnessed to connect with authors to create covers and promotion for their books.
  • The platform can be used as a place to start or read about campaigns against undesirable behaviours 
  • Students undertaking Personal Projects and Extended essays could use this platform as research or as a publishing platform.
  • Wattpad is outstanding for those students who have access, learning and reading difficulties - text size and font can be changed, audio can be used to read the books and the writing comes in lengths from 1 page to 1000's of pages - and you can search the database based on length of the work.
  • The short Wattpad writing tips videos (recorded by established Wattpad authors) could be used as a self checker against their own work, or even as a tutorial on how to write, or if you like - flipped classroom pedagogy.
  • Staff could be encouraged to write and publish on Wattpad on their area of expertise whether it be fiction based on their subject, or commentary of their own interest. There is a story in all of us.

The statistics for Wattpad in 2014 are astounding, Wattpad is here to stay. I encourage you to check it out, learn how to access it and promote it as an authentic reading and writing platform across your school.

Can you think of some other ideas of how Wattpad could be used?
Do you harness the power of Wattpad in your library and school? Please share.

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