Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Interview: Wattpad CEO Allen Lau on the Evolution of Reading

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Allen Lau, CEO of Wattpad

Earlier this month, Wattpad, the world’s largest community of readers and writers, announced that the company more than doubled engagement from 2012 to 2013. The site has users of all ages, but the majority of time spent on Wattpad comes from readers and writers in the desirable under 25 demographic, who have embraced online reading and writing by the millions.

Also remarkable is the fact that at least one writer from every single country in the world has shared a story on Wattpad, and more than 30 languages are represented on the site.

Today we speak with Allen Lau, co-founder and CEO of Wattpad about how Wattpad evolved from a start up to a global phenomenon, how online reading and writing is evolving and what it means for the traditional publishing industry.

Open Book:

When Wattpad first started, did you ever envision how successful it would become?

Allen Lau:

Last year millions of people around the world spent a staggering 41 billion minutes on Wattpad, reading, sharing stories and connecting with each other. But the initial idea for Wattpad started in 2002 — before the widespread adoption of smartphones and even before eReading became mainstream. While co-founder Iven Yuen and I recognized that mobile, social and user-generated content could dramatically alter the publishing landscape, the reality was we needed to wait for technology and consumer behaviour to catch up.

Fast forward to 2006 when we officially launched Wattpad. Initial growth was slow, but steady. Today, “explosive” would be a better term to describe our growth: more than 18 million users have joined the community and every other second a story part is shared.


Why do you think readers have embraced Wattpad? Are Wattpad readers generally writers themselves?


Wattpad offers readers something they’ve never had before: a direct connection to
their favorite writers and other readers around the world. Because Wattpad is inherently social, readers are also empowered to influence and shape the stories they read by offering writers feedback through comments and messages. It’s this connection and the ability impact stories that keep readers coming back to Wattpad.

Many Wattpad writers started out as readers and through the encouragement and support of the community were inspired to share their own stories with others. In 2013, 20 million story parts were shared on Wattpad.


Do you see Wattpad as complementary to traditional publishing or as an alternative?


Wattpad complements traditional publishing. Publishers and editors are recognizing that Wattpad can play an important role in their social media and marketing strategies. And both new and established authors benefit from being on the platform — by gaining fans, exposing their works to millions of readers and getting feedback on their stories. Readers win as well by getting access to more content and connections with even more writers.


Tell us a bit about the Wattpad team. How have people arrived at Wattpad over the years?


We’re a proud Canadian company based in Toronto that is committed to hiring bright, passionate people. We’ve grown from 20 people last year to more than 60 today and are still hiring.

Naturally our office is teeming with bibliophiles but employees come from a variety of backgrounds — publishing, software development, business, marketing, design and more.


Do you feel reading on mobile devices will continue to increase?


Since the early-2000s Ivan and I have been entrenched in the mobile industry. We recognize the disruptive power of this technology and understand that mobile is the future — not only for reading, but for everything.

Wattpad is built with a mobile-first strategy in mind. And we know that mobile reading is popular: Last year 85% of time spent on Wattpad was through a mobile phone or tablet. As mobile technology continues to evolve and usage increases because of the widespread adoption of mobile devices, reading on a phone or tablet will become the norm.


Do you have any favourite stories of writers who have used Wattpad and found it an essential or transformative part of their writing process?


I have too many examples to list! Many successful young writers like Beth Reekles, Jordan Lynde and Abigail Gibbs have found mainstream success after starting on Wattpad. And then there’s people like Bob Tanner, who after years of military service started writing on Wattpad as a way to cope with post traumatic stress disorder. There’s also 82-year old published author Gwen Madoc who thought her writing career was over until she started sharing stories on Wattpad; her stories collectively have over a million reads.


What's next for Wattpad?


We’re going to continue to grow the community and build the best social reading and storytelling experience for phones, tablets and computers. Wattpad will become the #1 destination for people who want to read and share stories in their downtime — during a commute, while waiting in line, before bed, etc. — while also connecting with friends around the world.

We also expect to work with the publishing industry to continue to offer value to both writers and readers.

Wattpad is a community for people who love to read, write and be entertained. Available in more than 30 languages, Wattpad gives people around the world the ability to read millions of stories for free or write and share their own from any phone, tablet or computer. People use Wattpad to connect with each other, escape into stories and express themselves creatively. Every month, 20 million people spend 4.5 billion minutes immersed in free books and stories.

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