Story telling, story sharing
A online community for writers is slowly taking over the attention of the country’s young readers...
Not every Filipino may have heard of Wattpad, but Wattpad has certainly heard of the Philippines.
Every month, there are 4 million Filipinos active on the site, uploading almost 400,000 posts in Tagalog. Twenty-three percent of Wattpad’s traffic from mobile devices come from the Philippines, placing second only to the United States.
Popular Filipino writers on Wattpad have even gone on to be published the traditional way. Wattpad writer HaveYouSeenThisGirl’s “Diary ng Panget” has gone from being an online story with more than 15 million reads to a bestselling book put out by Psicom Publishing. It’s even making the jump to yet another platform — “Diary ng Panget” is being adapted into a movie by Viva Films.
It’s no wonder then that Wattpad Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Allen Lau made the trip all the way from Canada to meet the Filipino Wattpad community of writers and readers at the recently concluded Manila International Book Fair.
Some of the popular Wattpad authors that were present to meet their hundreds of fans were HaveYouSeenThisGirl, also known as Denny; fallenbabybubu, also known as Louisse Carreon; seeyara, also known as Ciara Garcia; Greenwriter, also known as Janelle Ruiz; and mercy_jhigz, also known as Roselyn Fajanilan.
WRITING AS A SOCIAL ACTIVITY
One would think that Wattpad would be the brainchild of an enterprising author or publishing company, but as it turns out it is the product of two engineering students’ desire to have e-books available on mobile devices.
“We started Wattpad almost seven years ago and I was building a Java application on the Nokia phone at the time. I was quite into e-reading but it was before the iPhone, before the Kindle, before Android. I was prototyping that application myself since I’m an engineer,” recalls Lau. “Ivan (Yuen), the co-founder of Wattpad, was also doing the same thing independently. But not only was he building a mobile phone application, he was also building the website where people could upload the content and share the content very easily.”
The two engineers got together and decided to focus their work on two things: mobile devices and making it easy for people to share the content that they upload onto the site. This social aspect of the site was something that was groundbreaking, especially at a time when social networking wasn’t all the rage.
“The social aspect is becoming more obvious and I don’t have to educate anybody anymore. But back then, there was some education,” says Lau. “People would go ‘What are you talking about?’ when I would tell them that I’m building a website where you can read and share stories on your computer or on your mobile.”
Deciding to make the site accessible on mobile devices would also prove to be a good move on the part of Lau and Yuen. Eighty percent of the 15 million monthly visitors of Wattpad comes from mobile devices, and Lau says that it is one of the things — alongside the site’s social networking aspect — that sets them apart from other similar sites like Archive of Our Own or Fictionpress.com
“Mobile is very important. That’s very important to us and that’s one of the main reasons why our users love it. Even if Fanfiction.net existed long before we created the company, what they did was basically act as a repository for people to put in their content,” he explains. “We’re obviously doing that as well, but on top of that, we are a very vibrant social network as well. People can follow other people, they can comment and you can answer back very easily.”
It is this quick response from readers that Wattpad authors Carreon and Ruiz say they appreciate about the site. Carreon, who just turned 20, and whose story “A and D” has already racked up more than 18 million reads, says the quick feedback has helped her improve her own writing.
“We tried out Wattpad because traditional publishing doesn’t necessarily give you feedback. Hindi mo alam kung good enough ka,” she says. “Pero kapag sa Wattpad, may magco-comment at dun mo makikita kung anong dapat itama at kung gusto ba nila. Nag-improve ako sa Wattpad.”
“Ang nagustuhan ko sa Wattpad is hindi lang siya community ng readers and writers. Merong mga critics doon. Merong mga makers of book covers, mga editors,” adds 24-year-old Ruiz, whose story “The Bachelor” already has more than 6 million reads. “Kung kailangan mo ng editor, pumunta ka lang sa isang club at sabihing ‘I need an editor’ or ‘I need a book cover.’ Madali sa Wattpad kaya hindi mo kailangan ng other social networks.”
Lau says that this social aspect of Wattpad has even attracted the attention of traditional publishing houses. He cites as an example Random House, which started sharing the draft version of a new book that they are going to publish early next year.
“They are beginning to see that sharing content on the internet can actually drive sales and marketing because marketing cost is actually quite high. The cheapest way to do it is to share content,” he says.
Lau says that he intends to make Wattpad synonymous to stories, in much the same way that Youtube is for video.
“If you love to read or write, there’s no other choice. It’s the best place for you to get your reading and writing fix. We have the right content for the local market. We have the reach. As a writer, we can bring you millions of readers,” he declares. “As a reader, you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Tagalog stories you can choose from. Many of those stories may not be available in the bookstores.”