Every young writer’s dream probably goes a little something like this: Start writing a book, publish it online, and gain a massive fan base from all around the world. Then find ways to monetize and gradually make writing a main source of income and transition to doing it full-time. And who knows, maybe later down the road, Hollywood comes knocking and a passion project gets turned into something for the big screen?
That’s exactly the story of Bi Chu, a Korean writer who found stardom publishing his work online. He’s published eight popular stories to date, including They Say I Was Born a King’s Daughter, an international hit. On the Chinese entertainment platform Tencent, the title reached more than 100 million views in 40 days. In the U.S., on online comics and novels platform Tapas, the title has grossed over $600,000 from micropayments alone.
These days, apps are where most digital media consumption is happening—especially among younger millennial and Gen-Z audiences—and bite-size stories optimized for mobile reading provide a highly engaging form of entertainment media. Even in the era of video streaming, reading still has its place. It’s an easy-to-navigate medium where readers can control the pace of consumption (whereas a 40-minute video can’t easily be sped up).
The publishing industry laments that young people don’t read anymore, but they actually read more now than ever—think Twitter feeds and Reddit comment sections. It’s the traditional print books that are losing ground, and publishing needs to fundamentally change to suit today’s mobile audience.
Examples of success on online publishing platforms have attracted many aspiring young creators to pursue their own dreams of becoming the next breakout star. Successful web-novel writers come from various walks of life: students, doctors, legal professionals, and even executives at big companies. What they have in common is their creative drive and their shared vision of online publishing as a way to reach and connect with millions of readers.
Through commenting and messaging, readers can provide instant feedback to creators, who can then tweak their stories as they develop, allowing them to grow as writers and find greater success. Readers can also directly support their favorite creators with virtual payments and donations.
But reaching readers doesn’t always pay the bills; monetization is a critical feature for creators. Asian platforms typically use a pay-to-unlock model using virtual currencies, with the first few chapters available for free to draw readers in. This makes reading similar to playing “freemium” games—readers can enjoy some free content, but to experience more of the story, they’ll need to pay a little bit. Users aren’t locked into monthly subscription fees like they are for streaming services—a model that is starting to wear on U.S. audiences because of its abundance. Instead, the pay-as-you-go model presents a smaller hurdle for readers and provides a “compounding effect” for creators: the more stories they write, the more paid chapters they’ll have published and the higher their revenue potential will become.
Open storytelling platforms have established themselves as a treasure trove of IPs that can be made into TV series or feature films. In South Korea in 2018, five out of the 10 top-grossing domestic movies were based on stories originally published on online platforms such as Kakao Page and Naver. As more films and TV shows are created, online publishing platforms draw more fresh talent, each creating more stories and attracting more readers.
The future of storytelling will be data informed, which positions online platforms in a unique position to help storytellers and readers come across, produce, and consume popular trends in real time. Since these online platforms sit on massive amounts of data, they can analyze which types of stories are doing well among different readerships in order to spot trends early. Contrast this to traditional publishing’s “throw things at the wall and see what sticks” approach, which often depends more on gut than data.
Today’s readers are hungry for new, original, and diverse stories. Great stories come from exceptionally talented and hardworking creators. Online publishing platforms democratize art in ways we’ve never seen before, allowing for talents like Bi Chu to succeed. Having taken a young man from a part-time banker to a full-time, internationally acclaimed writer, digital is the publishing revolution that empowers dreams to come true.
Chang Kim is the founder and CEO of Tapas Media, a platform and community on which more than 50,000 creators publish original stories in the form of serialized webcomics and novels.
A version of this article appeared in the 11/25/2019 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Stories to Go