By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘There’s Only Words Like Acceleration’As the announcement was made in January and affirmed in May that Canada’s Wattpad was being acquired by South Korea’s Naver in a US$600 million deal—our interview with Wattpad co-founding CEO Allen Lau is here—it wasn’t fully clear how the two companies studio divisions would be handled.
Both Webtoon Studios and Wattpad Studios have accelerating profiles, Wattpad based, of course, on the serial fiction created on its platform and Webtoon on the digital comics that lead its brand with international audiences.
Today (June 24), it’s been announced that Aron Levitz, who had led the fast-growing Wattpad Studios division since its inception in 2016, will lead what’s being called the Wattpad Webtoon Studios. Naver, the new parent company, has committed US$100 million to the studios division, which—if Levitz’ success with Wattpad Studios is any indication—could eventually become the main engine of the combined company’s earning punch.
Levitz’ background includes being director of entertainment and content acquisition for BlackBerry and senior director of strategic alliances with Xtreme Labs. At Wattpad before forming the studios division, he launched the Wattpad Stars program, which aligned the platform’s writers with commercial clients’ needs and promotion, and he was head of business development for a time.
In a quick interview with Publishing Perspectives, Levitz says best aspect of the new studio merger is the fact that the two studios—Webtoon only roughly two years old—tend to speak the same language in how they approach content development.
“We speak about our creators and content in the same way. We speak about the importance of being creator-centric. We speak about the importance of engagement between creator and fandom.”Aron Levitz, Wattpad Webtoon Studios
“We speak about our creators and content in the same way. We speak about the importance of being creator-centric,” he says. “We speak about the importance of engagement between creator and fandom. We talk about the importance of listening to fandom, to the creative process, and the adaptation process whether editorial for books or you know film or TV.
“And so, what could have been the biggest challenge—if we’d both thought about our content differently and had completely different methods, completely different ways—just wasn’t there.”
The challenge, however, is getting more content to screen faster, especially with two platforms now feeding into the studio hub.
“How do we scale that globally, in more and more languages?” he asks. Wattpad is the more experienced partner “in developing and publishing in different languages,” while Webtoon has had its concentration in English-language production.
“We have this whole new amazing library of content,” he says, “a whole new set of creators. How are we going to work to scale that? And one of the nice things that we’re starting with is what makes sense for us to use together—this amazing network of partners we have around the world. They’re going to help us do that right, give us local ideas” for content development pertinent to various audiences. “We can talk to Penguin Random House in the UK or in Spain.”
Publishing Perspectives readers know that what Levitz is referring to is Wattpad’s deals with production, distribution, and development partners—years in the making—that now include Sony Pictures Television, Erik Feig’s Picturestart, Germany’s Bavaria Fiction, Italy’s Leone Film Group, Turner Latin America’s Particular Crowd, Brazil’s Wise Entertainment, Canada’s CBC, France’s Mediawan, and Singapore’s MediaCorp.
Webtoons brings partners into the picture, too, including the Jim Henson Company, Vertigo Entertainment, Crunchyroll, and Bound Entertainment.
“So there are only words here now,” Levitz says, “like acceleration. We need these incredible partners we’ve been working with for years to continue to play their part, and we’re here to invest in them.’
Also on the Wattpad Webtoon Studios Team
Taylor Grant, heading up the Webtoon entertainment portfolio, will report to Levitz, as will Eric Lehrman, who handles Wattpad’s entertainment suite.
Particularly familiar to the world publishing community, Ashleigh Gardner remains the chief of publishing efforts (including the growing Wattpad Books line she created), and Dexter Ong—who joined Wattpad as its Hong Kong lead—will be the lead on international business for the studios.
Much as in the concept of complementary creative energy that makes the merger coherent for Wattpad and Webtoon, the studios are expected to bring their respective strengths and emphases to a common table of development.
Messaging for the news media today indicates that the Canadian and Korean elements of the new studio combine have “more than 100 projects in development or production” as well, of course, as “expertise in YA and comic adaptations.”
The publishing program built by Gardner is intended to stand in the studios division, the company says, “allowing for fully verticalized intellectual property across television, film, and books.” In fact, there are a dozen Wattpad Webtoon Studios projects slated for publication in book form or already produced as such.
The first volume of Rachel Smythe’s Eisner Award-nominated Webtoon graphic novel series Lore Olympus is to be published by Penguin Random House in October, for example, and Wattpad has worked with Hachette in France, Penguin Random House UK, Mondadori in Italy, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial in Spain, AST in Russia, and Anvil Publishing in the Philippines.
Wattpad has published hundreds of books with partners around the world and 30 titles from Gardner’s own Wattpad Books imprint since it launched in 2019.
Currently in screen development, the Wattpad Webtoon Studios list includes:
- Float, which will star and be produced by Robbie Amell
- What Happened That Night, currently being adapted by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter David Arata
- The Hound, with a script by Angela LaManna (Netflix’ The Haunting of Bly Manor)
- Perfect Addiction with Constantin Film and JB Pictures
- And one sporting the quintessential Wattpad title: The Bad Boy’s Girl, with Leone Film Group
Rights: Wattpad Books Partners With Russia’s AST
A quick update on Wattpad Books, led by Gardner. On Wednesday (June 23), the company announced a first-look collaborative deal (like that struck with several major international publishers) with Russia’s publishing house AST.
The program is structured in four sections all under a “Wattpad TOP” branding device and featuring fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and romance. The “TOP” designation appears to refer to the basic source of many of the stories, Wattpad’s top-drawing serial fiction in Russian on the platform (which operates in more than 50 languages.
And AST is to publish Chasing Red by Isabel Ronin, identified as “a steamy romance,” of course, with 257 million reads on the platform.
It’s one of the titles that was published by Dominique Raccah’s Sourcebooks in 2017.
Its Russian title translates to In Pursuit of Scarlet. A red dress is important to the story. So is a wealthy heartthrob.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.