Something strange is happening in the world of Wattpad. The website and app is slowly shifting away from being a collection of fan fiction and public domain works to a full-fledged media company. I have very mixed feelings about it.
Wattpad was founded a little over a decade ago in 2006. Since then, it has grown a great deal. The site’s 40 million users upload approximately 100,000 stories per day, and though the stories are available for free on Wattpad’s site, some authors are transforming their fan fiction into traditionally published books and into films.
In November, Wattpad made a partnership with Universal Cable Productions, part of NBCUniversal. The pair intend to look through Wattpad’s most popular stories and use them to mine ideas for new TV shows. Some of this inspiration is gained through data. Using Wattpad’s information, Universal Cable Productions can identify genre and thematic trends for various categories of readers. But what happens if Universal Cable Productions falls in love with a single story written by a Wattpad author?
One such author has already achieved success as a result of her fan fiction. Anna Todd’s fan fiction story After, a love story involving British boy band One Direction, received over 400 million views on Wattpad, was transformed into a New York Times bestseller by publishing house Simon & Schuster, and had its screen rights acquired by Paramount Pictures. Wattpad-Universal Cable Productions are hoping to replicate that success for the small screen.
Still, the popularity of Wattpad and its authors leaves some questions. As Fifty Shades of Grey has shown through its Twilight inspired plot, fan fiction can be published for profit as long as sufficient changes from source material. However, some works on Wattpad skirt the legal system in other ways. Illegal reproductions of books have appeared on it, which takes money away from authors, but the theft of books has happened in the other direction as well. Fiction published on Wattpad has subsequently appeared as self-published books on Amazon with the incorrect author listed. Since these stolen works often have a complicated provenance, it can be difficult for the true author of the works to get the stolen items removed from Amazon. I imagine that Wattpad-Universal Cable Productions will check the copyright for any work they use, but that doesn’t guarantee that the appropriate writer will receive credit for the work.
Regardless, this new partnership indicates that the way media is developed and consumed is in flux. It will be interesting to see what shows emerge from the Wattpad-Universal Cable Productions deal. I will admit that I feel some ambiguity regarding the success of authors through Wattpad, but my emotions aren’t going to prevent the massive success that authors like Anna Todd have achieved.
If you have heard of any other Wattpad authors who have managed to lasso publishing deals or know what fan fiction will be transformed into television shows, please share it. I’m extraordinarily curious to see how this all unfolds.