Amazon has just launched the beta version of a new author service called Kindle Writeon. The premise of the program is to establish a writing community where authors can solicit feedback on the plot and get assistance on fixing up spelling, grammatical errors or just get some research tips. It seems as though Amazon wants to cannibalize Kindle Boards and do battle against the biggest community of all, Wattpad.
Wattpad is an extremely successful digital publishing site that somehow doesn’t seem to get as much press as other well-known names like Smashwords, yet the company has 11 million monthly readers. Wattpad authors post their stories in a format that can be read on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Perhaps most importantly, Wattpad stories can be read on java-based “feature phones” and as such have a huge readership base in third world countries. Wattpad is a very social site, in that readers can collect stories into reading lists, vote for their favorites, and share and comment with friends and writers. Unlike some other self-publishing sites, Wattpad works well with short stories stories and novellas, as opposed to full length-books.
According to the Wattpad site, readers spend 9 billion minutes on Wattpad every month and more than 500 writers have published pieces that have been read more than a million times. There are over 70 million stories, in 50 languages, on the site. The Toronto-based company has received over $67 million in funding from Khosla Ventures, Union Square Ventures, OMERS Ventures, W Media Ventures, and Golden Venture Partners, and has attracted such famous authors as Margaret Atwood.
Amazon really wants to leverage their expansive Kindle Direct Publishing system in order to create a writing community. Authors simply post their books, whether its complete or a work in progress. Some authors are looking for specific areas of research, such as the accuracy of the inner circle of the Ottoman Empire, others are looking for everything such as “Character, Overall, Setting, Proofreading, Voice/Tone, Plot.”
The entire system looks more like a dedicated blog post,than an established writing community. Authors can setup profiles, activity feeds, status updates and respond to user comments. Readers can keep tabs on the book by clicking the Like or Follow button and get notified whenever new interactions are made.
Kindle Writeon is in Beta and does not have many users right now. Many of the books on the front page have zero comments, likes and follows. The cover art on the average title is abysmal and I seriously doubt this program will take off. Amazon has a bad habit of trying to destroy their competition by releasing new services that nobody uses. If Amazon cannot buy a company, they just develop their own program to compete directly with it, no matter how haphazard the execution is.
An example of Amazons flawed attack strategy is summed up with Kindle Worlds. This was their attempt at sanctioned fan-fiction, that had publisher support and major intellectual properties attached, such as HASBRO and properties such as Pretty Little Liars. The problem is, hardly any books are being posted and not many users are buying in. FanFiction.net posts 100 new stories every hour across all categories. And Amazon? Its entire output for all 24 “Worlds” of content, which also includes franchises like Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries, was just 538 stories over the course of more than a year.
Why has Kindle Worlds failed so spectacularly? The problem is the creative limits that brand owners impose on the use of their work. In the case of G.I. Joe, for instance, the villain can’t wear a Yankees cap. Characters in other works can’t use drugs or employ profane language. And gay, bisexual or deviant sexual behavior might be off-limits too. Amazon also discourages anyone from under the age of 18 from contributing content, as they are too young to enter a contract, and this age group is the most prolific when it comes to content.
I would chalk this “community” by Amazon has a lost cause right from the start and refuse to cover it anymore in the future. It might be quaint in the beta format right now, but how long is it going to take before the legions of established self-published authors abuse this community by artificial likes, comments and feedback, driving their title to the front-page? Amazon authors have a notorious history of gaming the system and doing anything within their power to standout in a crowded arena.
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.