This is sort of an update to my post about the Wattpad Futures program back in August. That post keeps getting more and more traffic – I think because details about the program are still pretty sparse on Wattpad’s actual site? And also because, for some reason, my post appears to be on the first page of Google for “wattpad futures” – although that’s very possibly just for me, because Google knows I wrote it and wants me to feel good about myself.
Anyway, Wattpad have now put up a two-page minisite about the program, featuring an FAQ. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t appear for at least a couple of weeks after the original announcement, because that’s how long it took me to forget how curious I was about it and stop looking for new information every couple of days or so.
The new FAQ actually does answer a couple of the questions I asked in my last post. For instance:
There is a payment threshold. The FAQ says “You will not receive payment until your net proceeds exceed $100 USD.” This isn’t particularly uncommon for this type of thing, and they’re being upfront about it, which is good – but I always think payment thresholds are pretty stingy on the part of programs like this, especially if they’re this high. I mean, I can understand how paying someone a few cents might not be worth the administration costs, but this means that if you earned $99.99 from the program, they’d keep hold of it until you made that extra cent. And $99 is more than pocket change to most people. There’s also no indication of how long it might take you to make that $100. How much money do you get per ad impression?
It’s possible that by limiting access to the program, they’ve actually made it so that they can almost guarantee that you’ll make more than that in every payment period, so it won’t be a problem – remember, they were saying that the writers involved in the beta made $1000+ a month – but then why would they need a payment threshold at all?
I also mused extensively about copyright infringement and the implications of monetising fanfiction. To summarise: many of Wattpad’s most popular stories are fanfics – a medium which has always fallen into kind of a grey area, rights-wise, but which rights-holders are generally prepared to overlook as long as no money is being made. Popular Wattpad stories also tend to have very nice covers – but there’s no culture or expectation there (as far as I can tell) of paying for stock imagery etc. I wondered if Wattpad might offer some kind of guidance to program participants about issues like this. Turns out, no. And the FAQ is actually pretty blunt about it:
It is your responsibility to review your stories to determine whether they infringe copyright; and we cannot provide specific advice on what may constitute copyright infringement. If you are unsure, we recommend you obtain legal advice.
I mean, no, I guess they don’t want to pledge specific advice to all current and future participants in the program. But, uh… you’ve got to be very sure of your $1000/month before you start shelling out for legal advice as an individual, and I don’t think it’s realistic or fair for Wattpad to wash their hands of any obligation to review for copyright infringement like that. Even a solid FAQ about copyright infringement would be something because I really don’t think the Wattpad users who are committing it know they’re doing anything wrong. I’ve seen forum users advising each other to get pictures from Google images for their covers (standard in fan communities and probably overlook-able if no money’s being made, not so much if it is) and people posting entire books as “public domain” that are definitely not in the public domain.
What really unsettles me, though, is the fanfiction angle. When I looked in August, it seemed to me that none of the popular fanfiction stories were included in the program, so I thought maybe fanfics wouldn’t be eligible. So, maybe an author could monetise their original stories without any fanfics they may also have written being included in the program. However, the FAQ says:
CAN I CHOOSE WHICH OF MY STORIES WILL HAVE IN-STORY ADS IN THEM AND HOW OFTEN DO IN-STORY ADS SHOW UP?
Unfortunately you cannot choose specific stories at this time. All of your stories that have at least two parts/chapters will be enabled once you choose to sign up. In-story ads appear no more than once every 30 minutes, as we are always trying to balance reader engagement and your earnings.
And it doesn’t say anything about fanfic authors being excluded, so it does look to me as though fanfics will be being monetised. And, actually, the fact that it looks that way – even if that’s not the case – is sort of the problem. Because, to me, the main worry about fanfic being monetised is that rights holders might stop carefully looking the other way and start cracking down on fanworks. As someone who spent their adolescence steeped in the glory of fandom, that would make me pretty sad.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t participate in the program. I mean, despite what this sounds like, I’m all for new ways for creatives to make money – and I don’t blame Wattpad for wanting to find ways to monetise their platform, either. Like I said in my last post, I actually wondered how it was making any money before this. And I’m sure there are Wattpad writers for whom this is ideal – though I think you’d probably know if you were one of them. If you’re on the fence, my suggestion would be to make it a business decision. There’s a lot of language in that FAQ about doing what you love and living your dreams – but you can write for free. Monetising it means taking a close look at the boring details. If Wattpad is where your audience is, or you’re planning to keep posting there no matter what, then it might well make sense for you. Otherwise, I would at least consider other options, like self-publishing. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program pays 35-70% royalties and pays out monthly no matter how little you made, so at least you know you’ll get your money.
That’s my take on it for individuals, anyway. Looking at the wider picture, I guess I’m just going to end this post on a note of disappointment. Like I said before, I really feel like Wattpad had a great opportunity to guide and control the development of a new way of compensating writers for their work – but it doesn’t look like they’re taking it.
Yes, two posts in two days – neither of which has counted as my post for this week. No, YOU’RE in a desperate flush of directionless productivity because you’ve finished your stupid book and don’t know what to do now.