Could Medium Kill Wattpad? (Updated)

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I know this seems like a bizarre question because Medium and Wattpad serve such different audiences. Medium is largely focused on non-fiction writing for adults (mostly in the form of articles and blog posts), while Wattpad has cornered the market on teenagers and young adults writing mostly serialized fiction. Nevertheless, this thought has been crossing my mind a lot lately.

Even though it came first (Wattpad was founded in 2006 and Medium in 2012), Wattpad hasn’t aged up that much and remains the stomping ground for a very young user base, which makes it difficult to monetize. Medium on the other hand, had users with disposable income from the beginning and has been able to set up a paywall with the Medium Partner Program. Its users don’t seem to resent the change. A similar action might spark end times at Wattpad.

The genius of Medium’s paywall is that it is relatively straightforward for writers to begin earning (although, more transparency about how payouts are calculated would be beneficial). By contrast, Wattpad has captured an entire generation of readers, but it trained them all to expect to read for free. That makes it difficult to use the platform to sell writing — the only thing writers have to trade for money. Wattpad is good for building awareness, not selling. On Medium, a writer can do both.

Medium is a Better Networking Platform than Wattpad

I know this sounds crazy to anyone who’s used both platforms, but hear me out. Wattpad has a Conversations feature where users can post to each other’s profiles, a Newsfeed showing updates from users you follow, and private messages. The social networking features on Wattpad are much more robust than Medium’s. But Wattpad’s emphasis is on the social part of the equation, Medium wins on the networking aspect.

Medium’s Publications feature makes it simple for writers to submit their work to publications with large audiences and get exposure. If the publication in question is part of the Medium Partner Program and receives a cut of members’ fees, the writer will also get paid. This is an incredibly powerful professional development tool, and I don’t think Medium does enough to emphasize that angle.

Right now Medium isn’t attractive to Wattpad’s core base (people writing serialized fiction), though.

Posting Serialized Content on Medium is Way Too Hard

I’ve been experimenting with posting my fiction to Medium, and shared my novel, Before Holmes Met Watson. I had to insert manual links to connect the chapters, and it was a massive pain in the ass. It’s also not the best reading experience. The irony is that Medium has a Collections feature that is designed for serialized content. For some reason, they’ve decided to gatekeep rather aggressively who gets to use it. The fiction community on Medium is growing rapidly and has the most use for Collections.

There is an ocean of adult fiction writers and self-publishers who can’t make heads or tails of Wattpad and are looking for a home. Opening up Collections and making monetizing it a members only feature is the best way for Medium to take them in and increase its subscription base. Medium dropped the ball by allowing users who aren’t members to join the Partner Program and make money off the site. I don’t know if there’s a delicate way to correct that, but they should try.

If Medium does open up Collections, it will provide a powerful tool to fiction writers, one that could allow them to earn money. I predict once the word gets around, there’d be an influx of users — users who would have even less use for Wattpad. That’s why I think Medium is positioned (somewhat unexpectedly) as Wattpad’s biggest threat.

Medium Could Become the Wattpad for Mature Fiction Readers

If Medium opens up Collections and allows fiction writers to monetize their writing, the problems Wattpad is having aging up will be exacerbated. In addition, Medium has been able to maintain pretty high standards on its content, and low quality work won’t be able to migrate over from Wattpad. In short, Medium is positioned to become the Wattpad for mature readers looking to discover new fiction.

Medium having success with its subscription service is also huge. Wattpad’s inability to age up into a user base with disposable income means that becoming a depository for ads is the monetization strategy they’re pursuing aggressively. They’ve already begun inserting video ads into high-performing books. (Edvard Munch scream emoji) By contrast, the Medium Partner Program is ad-free: a relief to most readers. If the ads on Wattpad spread (which they probably will), the user experience will deteriorate.

I don’t know if Medium can outright kill Wattpad — its user base is too big, and YA publishers, etc. might be willing to pay through the nose to access it. But Medium can definitely pull off what Instagram did to Snapchat: thug Wattpad out of older users by copying its features.

Update (February 8, 2018)

Medium is discontinuing the tool that allows editors to request a story be added to their publication, and it is (quite rightly) raising the ire of editors and writers. The tool provided a simple, streamlined way for publications to find undiscovered writers and amplify their stories. Publications that rely on submissions will probably be fine, but those that solicit content to curate have had their worlds turned upside down.

Dinah Davis wrote a great article called Medium is Ruining Publications that dissects the issue (particularly the added workload) pretty well. The response from the Head of Product for Medium was pretty troubling. While the concerns from writers about lack of up-front transparency in the process (other people being able to edit their stories, terms and method of payment, etc.) were valid, discontinuing the tool seems like an extreme first step, given that no attempt to clarify the process and set standards seems to have been made. I suppose Medium has found that high-profile publications with established brands (Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, etc.) and name writers are driving a lot of their traffic and don’t want to spend much time fixing problems that affect only the smaller fish in the pond.

The smallest fish in the Medium pond write fiction, and Stephen M. Tomic broke down how the change will negatively impact the fiction community on Medium in his piece, Medium Got Rid of my Favorite Tool.

It seems like Medium is doubling down even more on non-fiction and choosing to focus on high-profile writers and publications. The shift makes me think that if Wattpad makes some tweaks and finds a way to carve out space for more mature users, it might be able to siphon off some of Medium’s unhappy campers.

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Harrison Kitteridge is the author of the novel, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE PAPER JOURNAL, which is set in a not-so-distant future where government-mandated social networking has driven the detective to the brink of obsolescence. The novel explores Sherlock and John’s attempts to navigate this brave new world and their burgeoning romantic feelings for each other. Read the prequel, BEFORE HOLMES MET WATSON, on Medium!

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