I received an email from Wattpad earlier this week with some rather interesting implications for serial writers/self-publishers. Long story short, it seems they’ve decided to start experimenting with some form of crowdfunding a la Kickstarter/Indiegogo.
To my knowledge this is the first time there has been an attempt at creating a platform purely for crowdfunding and tailored solely to writers, in particular serial fiction writers and self-publishers. (Pubslush is the other attempt I was aware of, but that particular program had or has relatively messy execution/ambiguous aims in that it was also originally intended as a hybrid traditional publishing model, i.e. suspicious rights grabs ahoy. They did relaunch last year with a revised model, but I am not aware that the relaunch has been particularly successful. Further reading: Writer Beware, Publisher’s Weekly. Some brief research also uncovered the UK-based Unbound, but I haven’t heard much about that one and a brief glance at their site seems to indicate a similar hybrid model as Pubslush, where funding is not so much the end goal as “getting picked up”.)
At any rate, it’s certainly the first organized attempt I know of to leverage a preexisting, built in reader community/structure… as opposed to the cold pitching model Kickstarter and its imitators are known for on the surface, if not in actual practice. On Wattpad, the readers are already there — and, in theory, a participating author would have already carved out a fanbase from that readership. Rather than having complete unknowns appealing to the masses and attempting to gain traction that way, the setup here has more to do with converting free readers into paying fans. Which has, in the past, been a much stronger basis for successful crowdfunding attempts (this last being more of an example of preexisting network -> active supporters).
I think it’s a very natural move for Wattpad to make, especially after all the fanfic -> publishing successes over the years (minus the legal gray areas of fanfic*). And though I’ve said before that Wattpad’s audience seems to be vastly skewed to a younger (credit card-less) population, things won’t necessarily stay that way, and successful crowdfunding doesn’t actually require a high percentage of supporters…
* Obviously Wattpad does host (and encourage) fanfic as well, but I highly doubt they are going to allow this crowdfunding program to mix with that end of things, as it would raise all sorts of complications I don’t even want to begin to imagine.
There still isn’t very much information on the program posted yet (all requirements so far seem pretty standard for a crowdfunding program, though perhaps people with more familiarity with the process will notice stuff I haven’t), but it’s definitely going to be worth seeing how this experiment plays out. In fact, I’m actually more curious to see how they’ll deal with issues of fulfillment, which have been notoriously hairy for Kickstarter.