Today I opened my email to find this message, delivered via my website:
The approach seemed genuine rather than a phishing attempt, which I also regularly receive, and I checked out the website and the entry on Wikipedia to see what they were about. It’s an interesting pitch because it invites me to reach out to the millions of people in the world who can’t afford books, but who are in the odd position (their words) of having an Android, Blackberry or IOS device, but no books. Still, an audience of 18 million is not to be sneezed at.
Then I started reading more carefully. Gavin says he works for Wattpad as part of the content team. He names a number of well-known authors as contributors, not least Cory Doctorow who is notable for his advocacy of free content. And then it struck me – if Gavin works for Wattpad, then he is getting paid.
I checked out the website further and discovered that not only is Gavin getting paid, but so is the HR Manager, the Business Development Manager, the Content Manager, together with a team of developers and marketing people. All these people are employees – indeed, Wattpad are recruiting if you are a talented developer and you live within reach of Toronto.
The message invites me to contribute some of my work to the Wattpad site for the benefit of the Wattpad Community, people who have joined the community for free, so they are not paying customers, and I wondered how Wattpad was paying all these employees if it’s free to join? So, I joined the site and soon found the advertising content on the search results pages. With an audience of 18 million, the advertising revenue potential must be considerable.
It was at this point that I decided to reply to Wattpad in this post, rather than send them a simple ‘not interested’ email. It seemed to me that there was a wider issue that should be aired.
The proposition from Gavin is that I provide them with a short story, part-work, novel or drabble, for free. This content is donated to Wattpad under the following conditions extracted from their Terms of Service:
6.C For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Wattpad.com, you hereby grant Wattpad.com a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Wattpad.com Website and its affiliates. You also hereby waive any moral rights you may have in your User Submissions and grant each user of the Wattpad.com Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website. You understand and agree, however, that Wattpad.com may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted.
Not only is the license for this content royalty-free, but it is also transferrable and applies not only to the Wattpad.com site but also to its affiliates, whatever they may be.
My answer to Gavin and his colleagues at Wattpad, is no, I will not provide my work for your benefit, even if it means missing the opportunity to put my writing into the hands of people starved of books, but who are in the odd position of having an iPhone, Android device or Blackberry. By the way, countries where smartphones and tablets are in use widely tend not to be the poorest parts of the world.
Far too often authors are being asked to contribute their work for no reward other than the pleasure of pleasing others. It’s insidious, and at the base of it is the implicit assumption that an author’s work has little or no value, particularly when there is so much available for free. That leaves corporates like Wattpad, whose investors are looking for a return on shareholder capital from dividends and a rising share price, free to exploit both writers and readers.
So if you want to keep Gavin and his colleagues in work, and reward co-founders Allen Lau (Chief Technology Officer) and Ivan Yuen (CEO and winner of the Impact Infused Award, sponsored by Deloitte) with a big fat bonus, join Wattpad and contribute your efforts for nothing.
To Gavin, thanks for the offer. I know you’d love to talk to me about the benefits of contributing to a worldwide community of readers and writers, but the beauty of the Internet is that I am already doing that.