Wattpad ditches ‘Paid Stories’ for a freemium model

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After launching its “Paid Stories” program in 2019, the social storytelling platform Wattpad is now replacing it with a new freemium model called “Wattpad Originals” that gives authors the best of both worlds -- monetization and growing their audience of non-paying readers. With the new model, authors can hide certain chapters behind a paywall while also allowing readers to access free content and try before they buy.

Wattpad Originals is invite-only and consists of top-tier content selected by editorial experts based on reader engagement metrics. Readers can support their favorite writers by unlocking chapters with coins (the cost depends on word count) or by paying for a Wattpad Premium+ subscription for $7.49 per month.

However, they can also wait a week or longer until the chapter is free. For instance, whenever a new chapter is added, a previous one becomes free. “For the most recent story in a series, only the most recent ten chapters will ever be behind a paywall," Wattpad writes on its support page. "Readers will be able to see how long they need to wait until the next part will be available for free.”

There will be more than 1,600 Wattpad Originals available at launch.

“Paid Stories paid out millions to authors, but it also meant slower story growth,” Nick Uskoski, head of content and creator development at Wattpad, told TechCrunch. “It was harder for a story to go viral or suddenly pick up new readers at the same rate as a free story. So, for some authors, the program created a difficult choice between quickly growing the readership for a free story or monetizing and accepting the potential of slower audience growth.”

Paid Stories was the first time Wattpad hosted paid content. Uskoski believes that the new paid content model will be a “win-win” for both authors and readers since the former can grow their audience of free readers while giving supporters early access to new chapters for a small fee.

Webtoon, Wattpad’s sister platform that specializes in digital comics, rolled out a similar pay-to-read-ahead or wait-to-read-for-free model in the U.S. in 2019. From 2020 to 2022, the program paid out more than $27 million to English-language comic artists.

In the last five years alone, Wattpad's creator opportunities -- which also include brand partnerships and creator program stipends -- have paid out nearly $10 million to authors, the company exclusively told TechCrunch.

Wattpad has invested in many tools and writing initiatives to help authors be successful on the platform. Most recently, a new Publishing Scheduler Tool allows authors to schedule stories and publish more consistently. The company also revamped its Creators Program by adding new educational resources like the Story School series.

Updated 10/3/23 at 10:20 a.m. ET with a correction clarifying that Webtoon paid out $27 million to U.S. creators only during 2020-2022.