How Publishing is Attacking the Diversity Problem: A Data-Driven Approach - Tech Forum 2019
Our, next speaker Ashley Gartner so, as deputy, general manager of Wattpad, Studios publishing, Ashley, Gardner works with Wattpad writers, and publishers around the world to, turn Wattpad stories into, books leveraging. Of the data and insights from more, than 500. Million story, uploads on Wattpad Ashley, creates meaningful, promotional, and editorial, relationships, with. The publishing industry helping. Publishers, everywhere, find exciting new voices and transform. Their business, with data-driven, decision, making Ashley, has spent her entire career. At the forefront of technology and publishing, before. Joining Wattpad, she, was director of content management, at Cobo where she focused on expanding Cobos existing, catalog while, developing, new ebook stores in the international, markets prior, to Cobo she was manager of digital development, at dunder and press I should, graduated, from York University with. A philosophy, and law degree let's give it up for Ashley. Thank. You and thank you to everyone for coming to this one today I know there was some a lot, of great sessions on at the same time that I'm having some FOMO but right now - and. I'm. Really excited to be back here one thing that I did just want to say is that this is my 10th Tech forum now coming. And it's also 10 years that I've been working in publishing so I'm excited to talk about what we've been doing at Wattpad and, how. We're working with data and how, that is surfacing more diverse stories for us as well, so. One. Of the things that is new since we wrote the session description, which was private at the time is that Wattpad, recently, announced, our own publishing division at the end of January and what. We are trying to do is use the huge, amount of content that we have and, use. A lot of the data that we're able to collect on our users to, create, our own lists and to begin publishing our own stories, I think we have a massive library. Of content on a large audience and what we're doing is trying to help connect, those two now through traditional retail chains as well and, when. We announced and a lot of conversations, that I've had since I feel like a conversation, that comes up a lot is how. You really solve diversity, is by hiring. People and, paying them to do the work and I 100%, agree I think, this is in addition to that I think similar, to what we were hearing this morning it's also really important for us to look at what systems were using and what's in place and what biases, might be introduced. Through things like data and that's bit of what we're gonna be talking about today, so how when, what we think about when we're using data and how we, look at that as a company at Wattpad and then at the end how that leads in to op-ed books so, I'm, really excited to tell you all about that today and to hear some of your questions at the end as well. So. I hope. That a lot of you are from Microsoft but how many of you are just out of curiosity there it was everyone okay that's great it feels like it gets better every year coming coming. Here and talking about what we've been doing for the past few years when. I've been here at this conference I feel like we've been more publishing, adjacent, we're doing something that publishers are interested in but isn't quite the same so, excited, to be here talking about us now as a publisher, as well so. Wattpad has, been around since 2006. Now it was originally started as an app to, write. And share stories for razor flip phones if any of you remember those, it. Was my first phone as well the pink one, but. It's really evolved, and users can upload their stories they come to us from all around the world to do that today. We, have over 70, million monthly, users from. All around the world that are coming to Wattpad to write, and share stories. So. Far, they've shared as mentioned, in the beginning over, 500, million stories, we can't possibly read all of those stories so we rely a lot on data to be able to tell, us what's interesting in our community, and we look at a lot of different signals whether that's data. On our audiences, and what they're reading as well, as some machine, learning that looks at natural, language and services, what they think stories are about to, help us find those we. Have thousands, of subgenres our, users are able to tag their stories, so they, can self. Define what their topics are it's not limited to by. Zack codes or what's on a bookshelf. How. We tend to position ourselves is that we're not just a publishing platform for so many people it is social, media for, the same reason that people use sites like Instagram or.
What. YouTube is for video that's what Wattpad is for fictional, storytelling, so, for a lot of our users they are they. Are writing they're grabbing an audience they're looking to move into a more, traditional publishing, audience but for a lot of them they're not and that's fine too there are a lot paths for writers on Wattpad Megan's. Here from Wattpad next which is our new system that allows writers to charge by the chapter and we're seeing different types of stories do well in different channels we want to be able to encourage writers to, pursue, whatever they'd like to on Wattpad whether that is building, an audience being, internet famous writing. A book turning it into a movie or charging. For it on Wattpad as well. So. Today we're available in over 50 different languages our audience is coming to us from all around the world, on. Any given month there's 4 million people that actively write and are uploading, stories and, as. You can see here that's the uploaded chapters per day is five hundred and twenty thousand as well so. Anything. On Wattpad when we refer to our half a billion stories that's anything from a poem, that someone might have written as their very first story ever all the way up to an entire sometimes. Longer than a book we have some million word soap, opera style books that are updated almost, daily and. I. Think when we do have that massive library, it is really important to us in looking at how, we're able to going how we're able to surface stories how we're able to do that for, diverse communities, around the world as, a business, we have partnerships. In the Philippines in South. Korea and how we're able to help provide them with the right stories that are gonna resonate with their audience and, this. Is just globally, where so, many of our users are coming from today you'll, see here the u.s. is our biggest market, Canada. Is also, really strong for is it over a million these, are some of the highlight there are of course a, much smaller audiences, across different countries Indonesia. Is especially. Interesting, to flag it's now the second, biggest market.
That We have a, Wattpad, whereas, last year it was probably not even in the top five it's growing extremely, quickly, for us there and in, each of these countries this isn't just one community that we have either we're very aware of the different sub, communities overlapping, at Wattpad that are interested, in different types of content and. This. Is a quote from our, CEO. And co-founder Alan Lau who. Is, very, outspoken. About the fact that here in Toronto is one of the best places to be able to build a company to serve such a global audience I think, that it's. Been a fantastic place that. Any type of skills that we need from creatives, to artificial. Intelligence engineers. We're, able to find that talent, in Toronto from a wide variety of different backgrounds I'm any type of language skills we need we're able to hire for right here so while we're a global company we are all based in Toronto and it is really important, to us that our audience. Or that our staff. Resembles. Our audience and can understand, our audience we, do spend a lot of time as a company focusing. On DNI, initiatives, toward. Diversity inclusion initiatives, to make sure that we, are not only attracting the right people but supporting, them when they come in, this. Isn't just something that is left to HR I think for all of our departments we're looking at how we can better. Look at what biases we might have and how we can help, encourage more, diverse. Writers more diverse staff as a, tech company we, have different. Diversity. Challenges, sometimes than publishers, the. Female-to-male ratio for, example is much more challenging in tech and engineers, and it's, something that we spend, a lot of time measuring, as well so Wattpad is one of the only tech companies in Toronto that does, publicly, report, on our diversity stats we. Do, a big. Engagement survey every year as well of how our staff feels about working there we, set goals as, well to improve each year I think, of note our.
Leadership, Team is 50 percent women and 50 percent people of color our. Product. Team is 80 percent woman which is quite, unheard of within the tech community but, it's also something that's important, in how we serve. Our own community, we, have. A predominantly. Female audience, and we want to make sure that the people that are building products for them in making decisions for them understand. What they're coming to Wattpad for and how they're going to use it. Some. Of the things that we've done as well that are more as a tech company to help attract a more. Diverse audience is looking, beyond the things that typical tech companies will offer, like. Free. Snacks free, dinner foosball, table things that appeal to you, know young undergraduate, men that are looking for a tech job these, are a few of the things we do I think flex hours are something that are really encouraged, a lot of people in our company are young parents and frequently will leave at 3:00 to pick up their kids and sign, on later that is uncommon. We, have a parental leave top up and encourage people of both genders that are making, decisions about their family to take the time off and. Then subsidize, transit passes I think that's something that's especially important, because Toronto. Is one of the most expensive cities in Canada to live so. Making sure that people don't have to be there to be able to come to work or that being a decision I think something that isn't on this side that I would also flag being that it's a publishing audience is that we only have paid internships, I think that's extremely, important. In attracting. People. To come and work for you thank you I'm, surprised that there are places that don't now I feel like there are a lot of great. Companies in Toronto I know Kobo only has paid internships, booked at Canada has great paid, internships, and I, think, to, expect people to live in Toronto and work for free for six months to a year or for an honorarium, that's, really. Changes, the dynamics, of who is entering the industry and something that we, should all be looking at more and. For. Us I think when we look at the data side of Wattpad and how we're looking at data it's, important, that the people that are working at the company are the ones making this decision I think when we talk about choosing, books based, on data we want to make sure we're not introducing. More problems, or introducing, more biases into these algorithms and we.
Have A huge diverse, set of stories online diverse, readers and writers a diverse, company and I think that all goes into our decision-making as well about this we, are a day two driven organization, so looking at that particular, aspect, of Wattpad is more, about what I'm going to be talking about here, and. Machine. Learning is only as good as the data set that it starts out with whatever. You are training it on is what is going to look for and put out so, I'm not sure if any of you are familiar with the case, the. Situation that Amazon had with their resume screening last, year just, to quickly explain it for people that aren't Amazon, had introduced an AI bought to, screen, for qualified candidates and they the data said that they trained it on was, all of their existing staff and their existing staff was, predominantly, men, and it. Would actively, filter. Out women as particularly, if they'd had words in their resumes like women's, studies because, no one at the company had, that experience, it was considered a negative and their machine learning algorithm, so, I think when we do look at things we want to make sure that what, we are telling the Machine we want more of is accurately. Reflecting, what we want it to show us at the end as well so. When we are training our machine learning we really wanted to show it a diverse set of stories of what. Our community, was reading I think an example of what we didn't just want it to do is if we were to train it on just, the classics, or the, Western Canon it's going to look for things that are more similar to that and say here are your best stories that you should look at and that was not reflective of the type of stories we had on Wattpad I think, what we had started to do was looked at previous year's Waddy winners Wattpad, has been hosting contests, with hundreds of winners for, the last few years we looked at stories that we'd featured stories. That were popular across different communities as well as across different languages we don't want to teach our, algorithms. That only English stories are good so, that was something that was really important, to us as well so in addition to things that it's looking at from a linguistic way, of what types of stories are. What. Are the topics that are being written about is another thing of where we, can introduce more, bias into the machine of thinking, oh well there hasn't been a story that's been labeled good about, this specific, subject that's, something that we're constantly aware of and this is not something that we built and is finished it's something that we're continually, adding to we're continually looking at we're, asking the questions of why aren't, certain titles resonating, and we're, not only looking at things on a story. Basis, we're trying to look at a lot of different aspects, of things as well so it's not just about the content. Contrary. To my slide before it's not just you know the robot emoji that is saying here are all of your good stories I think we're looking at a lot of different lists, and we're comparing across, different ones seeing which stories come, up in different places and, of course there also are humans, at the other end of this as well that are looking at things and looking for different trends and content so, we're.
Very Lucky at Wattpad that we have a wealth of data points we're, able to look at what people are doing what. People are reading what, writers are labeling things as, so. For reader activity, we, can look at not just what, is most, popular which, is something that we are able to do and see it Wattpad but we can see how people are differing, in. Centers. Metropolitan. Centers like New York or Toronto. Compared. To people in more rural areas, which often, is really interesting to see the difference of taste, working. And publishing and being here I feel like a lot of people forget that we, are not most people and some. Of the things that people are gravitating towards, or their choosing are our stories that they want to spend their time in are things that an editor, might, dismiss, so, I think that's really important to see what types of trends we're seeing readers, want already for. Writer activity, we're able to see what stories, are being tagged in different ways how. Users, are labeling, their own work what we're seeing there and then for story elements, so that's things that are more about the content itself and the, in the, language of what's being written about I think what's important, is that we can see things that other publishers, can't we've got a massive, pool of, a, focus. Group of readers that's, telling us every day what they want we're. Not just looking at specific stories I think we're able to see macro trends as well so, in addition to seeing that certain stories pop we can see that there are huge trends. That our users are gravitating, towards as well and again, here's just a few of the things we're looking at stories tell that intimate readership, elements, and social cues here. So. To tell you about some of the macro trends that we're seeing as well we're. Seeing a huge growth, in demand for Muslim romance that's something that we've been seeing for a few years at Wattpad and there's something that continues to grow this, is something that's seen a 51 percent of increase in reading time over the last year alone and it's, something that I. Think, is especially interesting. Is that the, uploads are still small which is why it's even more impressive, that there's such, large reading time this is something that people are looking for and I think they're coming to WAP have to find it because they're not finding it in the traditional industry, and this, is one where I know a lot of publishers are being more data driven as well but in conversations, with them about the subject for a while comp, titles are still so important and if there isn't a comp title that has done well it's something that no one wants to take a risk on and I think this is one to really ask ourselves if, there isn't enough of this in the market how do we properly measure it and decide and it might be one where comp. Titles aren't a valid. Data point in the Miculek, this there's. One particular, story called glory of the midnight sun that has close to two hundred thousand, reads right now on Wattpad that, is. One that we're really excited about scene as well, we're. Also seeing a huge surge in LGBTQ. Content these are a few of the tags that we're seeing associated. With that that really stand out. Readers. Spent more than 13 million, minutes, in, 2017, and that's grown as, you can see the 32 million minutes this past year is something that our users, continue.
To. Continues. To grow in our community, and we tend to see it across all, of our Jean reside. That's a given that's something that I'm going to keep talking about but often, we tend to see. When. We're looking at the traditional industry that's only considered, in, the way of like issue driven books and we're not seeing it across all genres and, all different types of commercial content, as well. We're. Also seeing a huge surge in stories, for. Writers of color and it's really interesting to see how different users, are tagging their works and. How we're seeing different readers collect around that this is something that's also up, 41 percent from, 17, in both uploads and reading time and again, this is one of course that's across all genres this, isn't something that's just happening, it's not just in one genre or issue driven storytelling, and. Then. Strong women and female characters, is something that's very important, to our audience what pads audience is about 80% female I don't think that's surprising, as far as who primary. Book consumers, are or especially young people that love to read and. It's it's really great to see what young women are writing for each other on Wattpad where, they're not writing, to impress a publisher, to try to attract an agent in a lot of cases people that are joining Wattpad are just writing what. They want to share with their friends or family or they're writing the stories that they wish they could see out there even more you know. More. Simple, examples, one of our most popular stories, on Wattpad was a story called the kissing booth by an author called beth wrinkles and she was just frustrated, that she wasn't seeing stories that reflected, her own life as a teenager she was seeing lots of fantasy stories she was seeing stories like Gossip Girl that were you, know a little bit too racy and didn't reflect her and her friends or she was seeing things that were a little, bit too innocent, she often felt the stories that were being pushed on her by librarians, or by school were things that they, had deemed safe and so I think when, you see how teenagers are writing about themselves in their life I think that's something that we don't often see reflected in the traditional, industry either. So. For us when we talk about why this, data matters I think it's important to say that WAP had users are not a different, user as book, buyers in fact most, of the people that are using Wattpad it's because they're voracious readers, and because they love books and this, year we undertook a book buying survey, to really pull our users on how they're spending their money what, types of stories they're buying how, they're they're purchasing, and what types of formats they like so. They do regularly, purchase, books 81%, of WAP had users have spent money on books in the last six months as, you can see here as well 60%. Of WAP had users bought, one book and nearly, one in five claimed to have bought six books they're, spending significant, money and they do have disposable, income one-third, of WAP padders spent more, than a hundred and fifty dollars on books in the last six months so. This is something that is important to our users and I think something that's especially exciting for us to see as we're moving into publishing our own titles as well is that because they've read something for free on Wattpad doesn't mean they're not going to buy the book nearly, half of people said that they would buy a book after reading it on Wattpad and this doesn't mean that we've seen from the books that we publish as, well at, Wattpad we've been working with publishers for over the past five years to publish titles, with them we've. Published almost, a thousand, books globally, a huge, amount of those have been in Southeast, Asia with partners there and. We've, seen three New York Times bestsellers, here in North America I think the fact that we're able to bring stories that have a built-in, audience is, something that's a big advantage in being able to sell those titles and we're. Able to see what users are reading we can reach them where they are on the platform and it's, not a deterrent that they've read the book already on Wattpad often, for them, they. Don't feel like they've just consumed a book they feel a lot of ownership over the, whole project on Wattpad they've, often read it chapter by chapter they've, helped influence it they feel like the writers are their friend and that this is something that they were a part of not that they were just consuming. So, it is something that we, definitely pay, attention to and it is something that they they, almost want the trophy at the end they can't Instagram, what, they've seen on Wattpad.
So. This leads us to our announcement, that we are going to start publishing our own books after, years of working. With publishers and setting up titles with them we've, invest. In starting, to. To. Acquire our own tales our first list of six is going to, premiere. This August, with, 20 coming the next year in 2020, so we've been busy doing lots of acquisitions, and we've been spending a lot of time looking. At different reports, as we mentioned earlier to try to find the stories that were resonating, with audiences, and that reflected, what we were seeing readers really wanted on Wattpad. So, for our first list. This. These, are our first six titles just to show, you them, briefly, on the side there we have some paranormal, romance we, have a fantastic fantasy, story called I'm a gay wizard that, is a. Really, fun Harry, Potter asks story but deals with some very serious issues as well a story. Called trapeze about, a teen, girl that, is, readjusting. To normal, life after leaving the circus, what. Happened that night which is a great, gone girl s thriller but also deals very sensitively, with sexual assault, saving, Everest is a story about, mental. Illness, and dealing. With an attempted suicide but. What I really liked about it as well is that it doesn't solve everything with a Manic Pixie dream girl it is, there. Is responsible, medical attention and. Talking. About things as well and. The kewpie bad boys and me I think one of our biggest, transit, Wattpad across. All genres and. All the diversity is still bad boys, so, that. Is our bad boy story this time and I think it's something that we're constantly looking at what are those, trends. That we're seeing emerge. In rice at the top what, are those different tags that we're seeing users are wanting I think, there's a lot of content that we're seeing on Wattpad and we're really seen thrive because it's being ignored by the traditional, industry we, have a huge, amount of Latin, next content particularly, in the US audience because I think that's not being found in bookstores, in, Canada. We're seeing a huge, rise in Muslim, fiction particularly, across teen fiction and romance I think, that's something that people are coming to Wattpad for because they can't find it in other places and, in, a lot of the countries that we're in we see these trends start to change and we see users that are writing stories that. They wouldn't. Necessarily fit, on a bookshelf, does. Anyone have any questions. What. Do you do about hate literature, we. Have a zero tolerance policy against, that we. Take things down extremely, quickly we've got a huge, trust and safety and ambassador team I think even outside of just content comments. Or something that we take really seriously as well and I'd. Encourage you if you look at the comments on WAP ad they are not like the other. Places on the internet or other social networks it's something that I think, because our audience has done such a good job of policing, that and we give a lot of power to writers, themselves to moderate their own comment. Section we don't treat, things like Goodreads, and that the comments, are the product itself for, us it's about making it a safe place for writers so if they can they can delete any comments that they want they, can block any users that they want from being able to comment on their stories as well thank you what. Pricing, strategies, are you using for the first for. The full list is that based on what the traditional, market is pricing at. Oh I, guess. What, what paddy uses, one, to pay like what yeah so, that's a great question they, are pretty, traditionally, priced for the list at least as far as the physical versions of the books go all of the books will also be available though on Wattpad as Wattpad next, which does, have our own virtual, currency, that users, can buy books for both by pain. Pain, by the chapter and purchasing. Those coins through the, app store, hi.
I'm To take it back to the kind of machine learning that you were talking about and you're kind of saying how you're teaching that algorithm to surface, the. Type of books that are resonating across different, groups and with different readers is that, also surfacing, different themes or. Kind. Of more, subjective, about, the content. Of what those books are about or you. Know when we think you've never seen that way as well yeah, I think we're able to see the types of themes that users are including in their stories and outside of what's been tagged we're able to make guesses about what the stories are about based on the, language that is something that you know we're continuing to get better at but it is surfacing, more subtle trends as well like it's not just. Large-scale. Themes that we mentioned before one of my favorite ones that I'm seeing right now particularly, in Spanish, for some reason is people, are tagging, stories with the tag goodbyes, and, when. We looked at that it was users, that were writing, romance. Stories, teen romance usually, about the type of relationships, that don't work out so, not that they're horrible, experiences, or bad stories it's just you know your boyfriend in grade 12 that you realized. You weren't gonna be together forever so there. Are these really interesting little subgenres, that are starting, to surface on Wattpad as well. Given. The age range of your, core audience on Wattpad how are you anticipating marketing. These books offline, is it going to be to a teen. Why a audience, are you and. Especially. When you have crossover genres, when it doesn't fit neatly into the. Boxes, that traditional, publishing has because, it's based, on what you know of what pad yeah, how, does that translate that's. A great question and I, think we're still in the phase where a lot of our marketing plans are being finalized, but knowing that our users are spending a lot of their time online that is where a lot of our marketing does lean to when, we are talking to our users things like digital influencers, and, hearing, about a book on places like YouTube are things that they rank is the highest factors of what causes them to purchase a book and knowing, the age demographic, and those other trends were seen as well-off, Wattpad we're seeing that among users as well so, digital, and influencer, strategy is, a big part of what we're doing now we're, also really lucky at Wattpad that so.
Many Of our of. Our own users are also influencers. Themselves, we have a lot of booktubers that have their own Wattpad accounts, other things like that it makes it easier for us to reach them and have that established, relationship, hi. And I'm. From Brazil and like, there is this big fan base there for what bed and. Another website there. Is a Portuguese, version but, since you don't have like a team there, there. Is this community, called what's bad there's something. Like this and they, do like, a lot of marketing, work for, you for the, company I mean so how do you work, with that like do you guys train them to, give information to the public, is. It. Just, they they just Google everything and. Spread. The word how, this is this work yeah, so we have a lot of ambassadors, from all, over the, world that speak different languages and we paid ambassadors, as well there are ways, that people can volunteer as users but we also have people are, paid to help us moderate those communities, and then people in our headquarters, as well that take on a bigger role in growing, those growing, in our communities all over the world so, usually anything that's happening at Wattpad from a corporate level we would disseminate to our different. Communities around, around, the world and give that information to ambassadors, and to our our, content, specialists, there I see. Sorry, Katie's there she had anything else to say on the marketing side did I answer the marketing question okay I didn't see you behind all right our audience are not Amazon buyers so, they, really prefer to go into stores, and you, know sort of browse around and it's sort of like I guess, they're there they, get lucky and they find a book that they want to read, so that's one thing that we're also, going to be leveraging is just trying to make sure that you, know our co-op plans are in place so that they, really can come into an indigo or an independent bookstore and they can find the books that they're interested in so. Moving into somewhere like indigo how, do you adjust from, your tags on site to buy Saks since that's gonna deeply. Affect how the. Buyers look at things absolutely I think we're doing, our best to match things up which can be a challenge sometimes as well but, I think that we're talking to our partners on the distribution side of where to best tag those titles and then, doing what we can as well to educate, our users about where they're able to find the books I think something just to follow on what Katie said too is that our, users are preferring big-box stores like indigo but we also hear from a lot of our users that in some cases they don't live near a Barnes & Noble or an indigo in North America we actually see our books over-index in places like Target which I think are often, in place in cities.
And Towns that can be more accessible where they might not have that big-box bookstore thank. You.