The Future of the Ebook
Avid readers are constantly bickering over whether or not ebooks reign supreme, or if print is still the gold standard. One little Canadian startup, however, thinks that a little of both is the solution to keep everyone happy, and they’re starting to convince the players in the publishing game that matter most.
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When we stopped by the publishing industry trade show Book Expo America midday on Wednesday, the “Digital Discovery Zone” was essentially deserted, except for the people attempting to sell enterprise software solutions from small booths. Amazon’s editorial arm had a serious footprint and all the galleys you could carry, but the end result wasn’t that much more impressive than, say, the Scientologists’ presence. Plus, it was off center, out of the way of the big boys. Rival ebook retailer Kobo (now owned by Rakuten) had an objectively better location, square across from Random House, one of the busiest booths.
Just last week, the publishing industry got the Wall Street Journal treatment for having sidestepped the disruptive effects of digital privacy. But everyone gathered on the far west side for Book Expo America might want to hold off on the high fives, because the Internet isn’t done taking aim at their business. And one Union Square Ventures-backed, Toronto-based upstart, Wattpad, just raised a $17.3 million Series B.
USV joined this latest round, which was led by Khosla Ventures. Other participants include Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang and Toronto’s Golden Venture Partners. The company will use the money for hiring, new features, and community growth.
Wattpad is both publishing platform and social network. It’s a kissing cousin to Amazon’s self-publishing platform, but the concept will feel most familiar to anyone who spent time on early platforms like fanfiction.net–complete with concerns about copyright, by the way, though the company has introduced piracy-fighting features. The modern twist: Over 70 percent of the site’s traffic comes from mobile devices.
Founder Allen Lau insisted to Betabeat that Wattpad doesn’t have any real competitors, and contrasted the company’s model with the traditional publishing process and with more accessible paths like Amazon’s self-publishing platform. “On Wattpad, people [publish] chapter-by-chapter, so for example a lot of people will upload chapter one, then instantly he or she will get feedback,” he said. Then they can upload each successive installment as its written. “It’s a very different interaction environment.”