Allen Lau at London's Great Debate
Wattpad featured in The Globe & Mail:
Canada’s e-book moguls versus literary London
by Leah McLaren
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
PublishedFriday, Apr. 20, 2012 4:30PM EDT
It’s first thing in the morning on the opening day of the London Book Fair, but the steps of the Earls Court Conference Centre could be the entrance to a Macau casino. The place is crowded with smokers, almost all of them Asian, cheerily puffing away and trading gossip under a cloud of nicotine fumes. It’s no surprise: China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco (and basically everything else), also happens to be the “market focus” of this year’s fair, with 180 publishers and a couple dozen writers having made the trip from the Far East to west London.
It seems oddly fitting, then, that the businessman being touted as the future of Western publishing also happens to be of Chinese descent, even if he is a Canadian entrepreneur through and through. Toronto-based Allen Lau is the co-founder of Wattpad, a site that bills itself as “YouTube for e-books” and is doing its best to live up to the boast.
Growing numbers of digital publishers have in recent years established themselves in the traditional e-book pay model – Byliner, Kindle Singles and boutique house The Atavist come to mind. But Wattpad is the fastest-growing repository of user-uploaded electronic texts: In other words, it’s completely free, both for writers and readers.
Because of this, Wattpad is growing at an astonishing rate. Since 2009, it has doubled its users every six months. It currently boasts eight million monthly visitors and three million newly uploaded stories. Late last year, the site received a $3.5-million (U.S.) cash injection from New York-based venture-capital firm Union Square Ventures, which has made similar early bets on Etsy and Twitter.