At Canada’s Wattpad, Publishing Chief Ashleigh Gardner Steps Down

In News by Porter Anderson

Ashleigh Gardner’s departure after a decade at Wattpad underlines the trajectory of the platform’s evolution since 2013.

Ashleigh Gardner. Image: Wattpad Webtoon Studios

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Levitz: ‘Turning an Idea Into a Global Business’
As many Publishing Perspectives readers know, Ashleigh Gardner for years has been the de facto face of Wattpad to the international publishing industry for years.

The Toronto offices of the company have announced this week that Gardner will leave the company she joined in 2013, with Tina McIntyre adding the publishing division to her work as head of marketing at the end of this month.

In a prepared statement, Gardner is quoted, saying, “My work with Wattpad and Wattpad Webtoon Studios has been a true joy.

“Innovation in publishing, supporting diverse authors, and bringing their stories to audiences around the world has always been my passion. I’ve been able to do all of this at Wattpad Webtoon Studios, working alongside incredible new voices and content formats that are the future of publishing and entertainment.

“I can’t wait to see what the team does next at Wattpad Webtoon Studios.”

Gardner’s early efforts in connecting some of the huge platform’s writers to publishing houses—Anna Todd quickly becoming the poster “Wattpadder” of that trend—demonstrated to many in the book business that when carefully selected and cultivated, the mostly young, mostly untested talents behind Wattpad’s user-generated content included some publishable writers of primarily romance and fantasy.

At the same time, Gardner was working directly with the English-language markets’ then-still-evolving self-publishing community, appearing at packed aspiring writers’ conferences in New York City and elsewhere as easily one of the most accomplished, articulate, and reliable speakers on that circuit. Her highly professional presentations taught writing hopefuls that serial delivery of their writing efforts and a coterie of Wattpad readers to read each installment could provide a community setting for early storytelling experimentation with largely supportive feedback and an widening potential audience largely of their peers.

Those of us programming and speaking at many writers’ conferences of that period could count on Gardner to provide fine ambassadors of the Wattpad potential, young authors who could best put across to other writerly hopefuls what they were doing, how it was handled, where the success and pitfalls might lie.

In its own evolution to today’s 85 million monthly users—90 percent of them classified by the company as Gen Z and millennial—the mostly female young writers and their readers following the platform were a good match, and Gardner has been a clear asset to Wattpad as a person who could explain the concept to traditional editors, many of whom were interested in content for those very demographics flocking to Wattpad.

The Merger with Naver’s Webtoon

By January of 2021, of course, Wattpad had begun to pivot, acquired by South Korea’s comics-focused Naver Webtoon platform as a parallel property in user engagement. The reported US$600 million deal was followed by the departure of co-founding CEO Allen Lau, and the publishing elements that Gardner had begun developing around 2019 were quickly being associated with the burgeoning Wattpad Studios division that Aaron Levitz had headed up since 2016.

Aron Levitz

The Naver Webtoon merger accentuated the studios’ dynamic—a consolidation of Webtoon’s and Wattpad’s studios was announced in August of last year—and the company’s content-development trajectory was then largely and logically vested in Levitz’ screen-savvy hands. Gardner’s creation of new shuttles between many promising writers and publishing or other creative industries’ needs for storytelling have never stopped, but it’s hard to think that the book-business trajectory of development could match the commercial value of the words-to-screen side.

Some observers—this journalist among them—became aware that a perhaps unavoidable condition of Wattpad’s ethos (and of Webtoon’s) is that its youthful appeal has remained within a rather narrow band of genre and generational potential.

Gardner joined, as Wattpad’s media messaging says this week, “as head of content, establishing Wattpad’s early publishing partnerships, as well as its creator and content engagement programs.” Having moved to head of partnerships for Wattpad Studios when the new division launched in 2016, and then deputy general manager of publishing for Wattpad Studios in 2018. Across her roles at Wattpad and Wattpad Webtoon Studios, Gardner published hundreds of books from authors and Web-comic creators all over the world.”

Tina McIntyre

Gardner would take things even farther, working with Webtoon to develop the “Unscrolled” graphic novel imprint, even as Levitz, as the studio chief, consolidated increasing energy in the book-to-film pathway feeding the studios construct he headed. And so it is that this week, Aron Levitz is the one who offers the parting comment on Gardner’s departure.

“Ashleigh’s leadership transformed publishing at Wattpad,” Levitz says, “turning an idea into a global business that supports authors and our platforms while inspiring our teams. We all wish Ashleigh the best on her next chapter.”

“Referring to McIntyre, who will take up Gardner’s portfolio, Levitz says, “Tina’s leadership has already made an enormous impact on how we sell books around the world. With her expertise in marketing, sales, and content development, we’re thrilled to elevate Tina to her new role as interim head of publishing and marketing.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on Wattpad is here, more on mergers and acquisitions is here, more on the Canadian market is here, and more from us on books to film development is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.