What is the Wattpad era?
I don’t like to limit the 2012-2016 Wattpad era solely just to Wattpad — Tumblr, Archive of Our Own, Quotev, and the game Episode, are all honourable mentions in the shaping of our generation. I was an early reader; I stumbled upon Wattpad in 2014. The site was meant to bring together different fandoms and was the breeding grounds for creatives and aspiring writers. It was, and still is, a clear reflection of teenage pop-culture, as most of the users are Gen Z or Millennials. Wattpad was founded in 2006 and has grown beyond the purpose of being a digital library.
This platform has now attracted the attention of book publishers, or even movie producers, it has gained a lot of traction and has offered true opportunities for people. The platform currently boasts 94 million users and more than a billion uploaded stories, the different types of stories range from historical dramas, high school romance, all the way to Batman fanfiction. These user-generated stories have become a significant part of the online reading community — for some, it’s a great place to self-insert or fantasize, and for others, it includes many hidden gems. As you scrolled through the #Wattys2014 hashtag, there were a diverse range of genres, but mostly bad boy romance stories or someone getting kidnapped by One Direction. There were user-made book covers, most likely made on Photoshop or Picsart, with significant heartthrobs on the covers. (i.e.: Dylan O’Brien, Francisco Lachowski with Barbara Palvin, or Harry Styles with Kendall Jenner). Writers fancasted many popular celebrities as an attempt to create a more immersive experience while reading.
How has this shaped our generation(s)?
One thing that attracted me to Wattpad was the offline reading option, free books, accessibility, and of course the community. I always had something that I could do even when I didn’t have Wi-Fi or data. It was my little not-so-secret hiding spot where I could read about the experiences I wanted or immerse myself in, or craft an ideal world with the “ideal” man (from whatever writing talents I had back in 6th grade). I never perceived myself as a writer, much less an author until I began writing on this platform. Understandably, this was a great stepping stone that encouraged young children and/or teenagers that anyone is capable of writing a book—even if you’re just someone who enjoyed listening to 5SOS and fangirling in their room. Moreover, I’ve always appreciated how Wattpad authors engaged directly with their readers, this is how personal and professional lives came together. They would share their excitement, amusement, or worry in a chapter’s comment section, and interact with other users in the comments. Readers and writers developed a collaborative relationship and a sense of community, as writers are able to refine their stories with this feedback.Writers would create content schedules, bonus chapters, or communicate why they wouldn’t be able to upload that day (exams or funerals and such). Readers always offered advice, constructive criticism and words of encouragement.
Why do people turn away from Wattpad now?
To keep it simple, the majority of the generation that used Wattpad in 2012-2016 are no longer 11-15 years old. While, of course, this app had a grip on me for 7 years, it’s now a core childhood memory. It provided me with great entertainment and comfort in my pre-teen years. However, my time as a writer on that app and MOSTLY as a reader as well, came to an end. Maybe it’s because I’m an English major that can no longer digest the cliche tropes and grammatical errors the way I used to. However, the use of Wattpad doesn’t just stop with age. Some people continue to use it into adulthood and that may be because they are still in a fandom, or have made a career out of it. And for some writers, it could mean their story preferences and writing styles matured. I believe it will always remain a hobby, but some even make a job out of it now.
As I mentioned before, it was the community and accessibility of the platform that drew me towards it. Fandom and writing culture is so big and people are constantly looking to find ways to connect more with the stories they know and love (at the time it was Harry Potter, One Direction, YA dystopian, and certain anime’s). As someone who joined the website for its expansive, accessible, and free content, I have mixed feelings about the new features [such as: only being able to read 2 books offline, or the introduction of the coins], and the emphasis on monetization.
People transition to other sites and platforms like AO3 or Tumblr or have even been on all of them — but Wattpad just doesn’t suit their preferences anymore. Between young adults, Wattpad is now a sort of inside joke because it was something we took so seriously as kids, that it shaped how we viewed relationships, friendships, or even what high school was going to be like. It has created the generation that enjoys saying: This is my 13th reason. Ultimately, as someone who grew up on this, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about my time there. For all the new 12-year-olds that happen to stumble upon this app, please remember that fiction is fiction, don’t expect these things to happen to you in real life. More importantly, I hope that it creates as many happy memories for you as it did for me.