Self-publishing News: Lay-offs at Wattpad

In this week’s Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at layoffs at Wattpad and a bad week in tech following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi’s News Editor Dan Holloway

In this month’s podcast, Howard and I discuss the implementation, at last, of Amazon’s revised ebook returns policy. We also take a look at the Department of Justice’s antitrust case against Goole and the overall state of journalism as a source of reliable income.

Breaking: D2D Print Opens to All

Draft2Digital is one of the most popular platforms for distributing ebooks. Now it has launched D2D Print to all its users. This is a print on demand service, but it promises some very interesting sounding features. Speed of formatting (with orphan and widow control) is one. And converting an ebook cover to wraparound another that caught my eye. It will be fascinating to see how the quality of the final product shapes up.

Wattpad Lays Off 15% of its Workforce

It’s been a week in which the news has centred on platforms and media at the intersection between tech and publishing. And that has thrown up some interesting insights into what happens when these two worlds start not just to butt up against each other but to overlap seamlessly.

The tech industry has had a turbulent time in recent months, with job cuts seemingly across the board. And this week’s announcement that Wattpad is cutting 15% of its workforce is a reminder that companies which have a foot in both the tech and publishing industries can be subject to the vicissitudes of both.

Interestingly, this comes at the same time Publishers Weekly has run a story on Wattpad’s renewed efforts to enter the print publishing business, first announced in 2019. Whether this kind of move will turn out to increase resilience or lose focus remains to be seen. It very much fits with Wattpad’s general mission, though, as a fully end to end producer of stories, servicing every stage of the journey from initial scribblings to screen adaptation and other formats we normally think of as coming after the finished book. Print is simply another part of that complete ecosystem.

Webtoons, Comics, and Netflix

Three of the week’s other stories also illustrate this intersection between publishing and technology.

Comics Expand Online and In Print

The first focuses on a new webtoon. Webtoons are a digital reading format for comics. Panels appear underneath each other to allow people to read by scrolling on their phone.

Mark Williams. A greatly underrated master of the provocative title as well as reporter uses the story to have a dig at the reluctance of some parts of the publishing world to embrace the format. In particular, he points to the slow adoption in anglophone markets, which he attributes to discomfort with translating traditional horizontal comic formats into vertical. Meanwhile, the news focuses on the Belgian webtoon tie-in with Totally Spies! Serialised stories will be released weekly on the ONO platform.

Hard copy comics, meanwhile, announced mixed figures for 2022. While YA titles grew 20%, adult title sales declined slightly and children’s titles grew by a modest 4.6%. These figures come amid a survey that shows widespread optimism among comic retailers in the US. Taken together, these stories show there is still a huge opportunity for people writing in this graphic story space.

Publishers Start Advertising on Netflix

Finally comes Netflix. I often glance at what the streaming giant is up to for hints of what it might say about streaming more broadly. But this week the story is more directly related to publishing. Cornerstone publishers have will be taking out an advert on Netflix. This, of course, is a part of Netflix’s new lower-priced subscription tier that comes with adverts. In itself, that tells a story about subscription’s evolution. But publishers clearly think streaming viewers might be interested in books. And no prizes for guessing, in this case, who the author of the book in question might be – the one man publishing industry otherwise known as James Patterson. There will be 10 days of adverts for the latest in Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series.

Silicon Valley Bank Collapses Leaving Tomorrow’s News in an Uncertain Place 

These stories segue neatly into what has to be the biggest story of the week, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. Passive Guy explains very succinctly why this matters to all of us. It matters, in short, because this is the bank of choice for tech companies. Especially start-ups. And that will include a lot of companies working on platforms and tools to help people like you and me bring content to audiences. Exactly the kind of companies I might have been reporting on in a few months or years. And exactly the kind of companies doing exciting things with the technologies I’m already reporting on.

Tech start-up culture has gone into a panicked flurry of activity. A petition to the US government claims that 37,000 small businesses each have at least $250,000 in the bank. For many tech companies, this represents this month’s payroll. In the UK, meanwhile, HSBC has stepped in. The banking giant has bought the UK wing of SVB for the princely sum of £1.

This is, of course, the second major financial collapse in recent months following the downfall of disgraced crypto exchange FTX. The two situations are very different. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried faces 4 criminal charges. SVB, meanwhile, seems to have come unstuck by putting too large a portion of its deposits in seemingly secure but low yield long-term bonds, leaving it struggling as interest rates rose. But both will send ripples through start-up culture for a long time. And will possibly affect patterns of investment and attitudes to risk for years to come. What that means for the platforms and tools available to us remains to be seen.

Wired Will Not Use AI to Writer Articles

The final news story of the week brings me conveniently back to the blurring of technology and publishing. There is a lot of fear about whether AI will take work from writers and other creatives. But staff at Wired, at least, can breathe easy for a little longer. The tech magazine has promised not to use AI to generate text except where doing so is the point of the story. And a real journalist is reporting on its use. This is part of a recent trend of pushing back against AI’s apparent encroachment into creative spaces. On that note, I highly recommend Cory Doctorow’s latest blog on why the AI hype is over the top.

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