Last September, the folks over at Forbes wrote a story about Wattpad and its highly exploitive (though completely voluntary) business model:
Wattpad has more than 4 million writers, who post an average of 300,000 pieces a day. The company brings in an estimated $19 million in revenue, mostly from ads on its site and from stories sponsored by companies like Unilever who want to advertise alongside a specific writer or genre. Nearly all its writers are unpaid; several hundred make money from ad-sharing revenue and 200 of those also earn from writing sponsored content and inking publishing deals with Wattpad. That lean business model means Wattpad is profitable. It has few costs beyond bandwidth, its 130 employees and the Toronto offices. The model “is a great way to seek talent without having to pay huge amounts for it,” says Lorraine Shanley, a publishing industry consultant.Forbes, September 2018
4 million writers, and only a minuscule number (about .005%) make any money for their efforts.
Wattpad is a textbook example of digital sharecropping.
I have nothing against the concept of web fiction, web serials, or posting fiction for free on the Internet. Much of the content of this site, after all, is web fiction. (I have my own little Wattpad going on here.)
But the defining characteristic of digital sharecropping is the socialization of effort, and the privatization of rewards. Wattpad earns $19 million in revenue, because writers choose to post their fiction there, rather than writing on their own sites.
I can already anticipate your “but….” rebuttals.
Yes, I realize that only a handful of these writers, if they created their own web presences, would garner any appreciable audience, or earn any real revenue. But let me ask you: How much chance do most writers have on Wattpad, amid 4 million other writers, posting 300,000 pieces per day?
The odds of genuine success are about the same either way. The writers who are standing out on Wattpad could, with a bit of effort, stand out on their own online platforms. And then they would make a whole lot more money than Wattpad is paying them, you can be sure. Even more importantly, they would control their own platforms.
Digital sharecropping works because too many creative types are desperately slavering for any form of immediate recognition, like a thirteen year-old boy hopelessly infatuated with an eighteen year-old girl.
Look at me! Look at me now! …A like on a Facebook post! A retweet! A like on a YouTube video! Oh, any form of recognition will do! Pleeeeaaase!
The owners of the social media giants understand this weakness of all creative people, and they eagerly exploit it.
Resist. If you can’t afford your own independently hosted WordPress site, then start a free blog on Google’s blogger platform.
Yes, Google ultimately controls Blogger. But there you at least have some independence. (You can also run your own affiliate links, and eventually qualify for Adsense revenue).
Whatever you do—if you’re a writer—don’t post your fiction on Wattpad. Don’t be a sucker.
Just as Facebook and Twitter have become the cancer that destroyed blogging, so Wattpad has become the cancer that threatens to destroy independently published web fiction.
Don’t fall for the scam.