Updated Monday,20March2023-12:44

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The false myth that young people do not read because of technology has been dismantled for years. Even surrounded by screens and accustomed to the immediacy of audiovisual stimuli or TikTok, in their lives there is still room for books. A glance at the current literary landscape is more than enough to realize that catastrophic arguments have tarnished a very different reality. The what, perhaps the how, has changed, but how much teens read demonstrates an upward trend: they are still able to devour a story from beginning to end without accelerating its development like WhatsApp audio.

A look at the current literary landscape is more than enough to realize that these catastrophic arguments have tarnished a very different reality. The what, perhaps the how, has changed, but how much teens and tweens read shows an upward trend. They are still more than capable of devouring a story from beginning to end without accelerating its development as if it were a WhatsApp audio.

Reading rates in our country have increased by almost six points over the last decade, with special incidence among the youngest, according to the latest Barometer of Reading Habits and Book Purchase in Spain. Those aged between 10 and 18 also register the highest percentages of frequent readers (those who read at least one day a week), with an increase of 12 points compared to 2012.

The best demonstration that teenagers read, and a lot, is Wattpad: the global and free platform through which 90 million writers and young readers find stories a meeting place. Its motto is, precisely, "Where stories live", and never has a literary forum been so alive. Born in 2006 in the face of the saturation of the publishing market and the complications that many new writers face when it comes to seeing their work published, its initial aspiration was none other than to encourage the creativity of users. Users, mostly teenagers, who were part of fandoms (fan communities) and who enjoyed writing fanfics (fictions with characters inspired by their musical or literary idols) "of dubious quality" for many purists in the book sector.

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More than 70 million monthly readers and 565 million online stories later, the Wattpad phenomenon has transformed the publishing market, pushed to adapt to new demands. Montena, Penguin Random House's youth imprint, is the official publisher of Wattpad's Spanish-language books. "We are pioneers when it comes to finding new phenomena, and anything that has a strong fandom behind it is guaranteed to interest us," says Gema Vilaginés, literary director of the publisher.

After a couple of years of negotiations, in 2020 they reached an agreement with the platform to publish the so-called "Wattpad jewels" and work together to increase the fame of their authors. They do not regret the decision: among all their titles, they exceed two million copies sold in Spain and Latin America. "Once the door was opened, we couldn't and didn't want to close it," says Vilaginés. According to the Planeta group, one in five youth works published in 2022 came from the platform.

With ambition, but without expectations, Wattpad's popularity has been growing exponentially. In the origins of the platform, users-writers fed each other by leaving comments and ratings in the different chapters of the stories of other authors. On a weekly basis, they updated their stories and interacted with their community of users-readers. His followers carried out, in turn, an intense and passionate work of prescribing through social networks, which increased visits, first, and editorial interest, later. Today, the interface of the page is more similar to the Netflix catalog, with hundreds of proposals for all types of audiences, than any internet forum. It also offers fifty training courses in creative writing and character building.

Nine out of ten readers of the orange platform belong to Generation Z, which has its implications. From the Area of Children's and Young People's Literature of Planeta, they explain that "autofiction books about anguish and adolescent dramas" are working "the sea of good". Although they began publishing Anglo-Saxon authors – of the 50 languages that coexist on Wattpad, more than 75% are stories in English – they are increasingly betting on Latin American and Spanish authors.

Mercedes Ron, best-selling writer of 'Culpables' and 'Enfrentados'. MONTENA

This is the case of Mercedes Ron, Argentine-Spanish author of Culpables, or Joana Marcús, a 22-year-old Mallorcan who has been writing fantasy, romance and science fiction stories on Wattpad since she was 13. Marcús recently launched the last installment of his Fuego trilogy, with which he surpassed 500 thousand copies sold, and returns in March with the Three Months saga. Their massive signatures "sell out in a matter of minutes in any corner of Latin America," says Vilaginés.

It's been ten years since the Wattpad Books Group became a reality. However, it was not until 2021 when it experienced a boom due to the number of young people who became fond of reading during the pandemic. 80% of its audience are women between 13 and 24 years old with very defined preferences: love stories with LGBT representation, strong female characters and fantastic universes. "There is something that is clear at Wattpad: girls are not only warriors, today girls are great writers and readers," they comment in Planeta. There are, of course, some exceptions: Pol Ibáñez is one of the few male Wattpad talents who has achieved success on paper with Volveré a verte, a story of overcoming bullying.

Several factors are key for publishers in their process of selecting stories, apart from the astronomical figures on the platform. "We have very demanding standards, among which are the theme and the profile of the author," they explain from the Crossbooks label: a message aimed at those skeptics who believe that teenagers consume "manufactured garbage" instead of "real literature".

Pol Ibáñez, author of 'Volveré a verte'. WORLD

There are also fictions that on the platform did not find their audience, but for which publishers decide to bet because "they have great potential at the literary and commercial level", such as Bad Ash by Alina Not. Others, on the other hand, consolidate their hegemony in Wattpad thanks to the announcement of their publication on paper: with the imminent arrival of Elysian (Sugary Pale) to bookstores, its reading rate has increased from one to five million Spanish-speaking users.

For Vilaginés, the overwhelming sales success that the transition to the physical has meant "shows the general public that young people read a lot". Although reading on an electronic device facilitates mobility, fans of the Wattpad universe seem grateful that their favorite stories leave the digital plane and begin to occupy their shelves, for the mere pleasure that the materiality of the work entails.

Given the suggestive promise of audience data, the leap from these publishing diamonds to the audiovisual industry was inevitable. Young audiences demanded—and still demand—insistently to see Wattpad's stories in film and television. With each new announcement from Wattpad Studios (yes, the platform already has a sub-branch of production associated with brands such as Sony Pictures, Hulu or SYFY), readers fantasize, anxious, with the perfect cast to play the leading roles. They even dare to make casting proposals through social networks.

Ariana Godoy, author of the saga 'Hermanos Hidalgo', taken to Netflix.MUNDO

In 2019, the launch of After: Here It All Begins aroused an international expectation similar to that of the premiere of the first film in the Harry Potter and Twilight saga a decade and a half ago, or the fervor experienced in 2012 when the best-selling The Hunger Games brought thousands of teenagers into movie theaters. The adaptation of Anna Todd's novel exceeded 65 million euros at the box office, and continued to triumph in the audiovisual circuit thanks to the promotion of Prime Video.

Thus, last year Netflix worked hard to replicate the Wattpad phenomenon with Through My Window, by Venezuelan author Ariana Godoy. Its sequel already has a release date for June on the streaming platform, in a 2023 that has also given the green light to the adaptations of Boulevard (Flor M. Salvador) as a feature film and the first part of Perfectos Mentirosos (Álex Mírez) as a series. "Many authors have sold the rights to their works, there are dozens of projects to come," they say from Montena. In the midst of this literary maelstrom, many writers have discovered new ways to reach the young audiences of the twenty-first century. An audience of bibliophiles, but also disenchanted who, thanks to Wattpad, say they have recovered the reading habit.

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