Digital publishing platform Wattpad announced today that it is launching a dedicated book publishing imprint, Wattpad Books, which will use machine learning in part to select stories from the site for publication.
Founded in 2006, Wattpad launched as an online platform for mobile reading, amassing a library of public domain ebooks, and it transformed into an online writing community where writers could post their work. The company says that it has 70 million registered users, with more than 500 million stories uploaded to its platform.
With that growth, Wattpad has merged into a “multiplatform entertainment company,” leveraging those hundreds of millions of stories into a vast catalog of potential best-sellers and fodder for film and television. There have been some success stories: the Syfy channel partnered with Wattpad to launch a digital pilot project last summer. Wattpad author Anna Todd’s series After (a story based on the band One Direction) became a viral sensation on the site, eventually publishing as a four-book series that hit the New York Times best-seller list, and it has been adapted into a forthcoming film that will debut theatrically.
By launching its own imprint, Wattpad will be able to maintain a hand in the development of the content of its site. Starting in September, the company will launch its first six titles, which range from fantasy to YA to mystery novels. The site highlights its approach to selecting fiction, utilizing its Story DNA Machine Learning technology and human editors to help pick notable stories from the company’s vast library of user uploads. The company says that it has used the system for its Watty Award to deconstruct “stories into their elemental features, such as sentence structure, word use, and grammar employed to find the next best-seller,” before turning the preliminary selections over to human editors.
The company hopes to use this analytical approach when it comes to finding the next hit story. Traditional publishing is heavily reliant on an army of writers, agents, editors, and publicists who use their knowledge of the industry to figure out what’s worth publishing and what isn’t. With the advent of platforms like Amazon, CreateSpace, Lulu, and Wattpad, stories that might not have made their way through the publishing pipeline have found unexpected successes, like Andy Weir’s blockbuster novel The Martian and E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Gray. Speaking to The New York Times, Wattpad Books head Ashleigh Gardner says that the company’s approach could also help correct some of the systemic issues within publishing, where “editors who have similar backgrounds in some of the biggest cities in the world decide what the entire book buying public should be reading.”
By combing through its biggest asset — a huge library of user-generated stories — the company can figure out which stories show the most promise for readers and which could potentially go on to become the next best-selling novel, movie, or television show.
Updated January 24th 2019, 7:00PM: an earlier version of this article stated that After was being adapted as a Netflix film. It will be released theatrically.