War of Words: CEO of Wattpad Fights for Startups in Debate Over Future of Publishing Industry

At the 2012 London Book Fair, the CEO and founder of Toronto startup Wattpad was fighting for the resolution that digital startups are the future of the publishing industry. On a team with Lulu.com's Bob Young, Allen Lau debated against traditional publishers Evan Schnittman of Hachette and Fionnuala Duggan of CourseSmart.

Coming in to the debate, the audience favoured the new world order for publishing: 43% were already on Allen's side, compared with just 18% for the traditional publishers (the rest were undecided). Allen, whose company won Best Overall Canadian Startup in the 2011 Canadian Startup Awards, stated that "new players always win, and it's no exception for the publishing industry."

Allen argued that publishers play a gatekeeper role, and that role is no longer needed. The internet plays that role, he said, from crowdsourcing to social networking. Allen also affirmed that the internet is a deflationary medium, noting—rather applicably—that "the marginal cost of creating copies is now zero, price fixing or not." (Hachette is currently being sued for price fixing in Canada.)

However, the traditional publishers—who countered that "disruption makes us stronger" and they have "responded magnificently" to this "perfect storm of innovation"—ended up swaying the audience. After the debate, a paltry 20% still sided with the digital startups, while a remarkable 73% sided with the traditional publishers.

It appears that this war is far from over.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Great stories bring people together! Wattpad is the world's largest community for discovering and sharing stories. It's a new form of entertainment connecting readers and writers through storytelling, and best of all, it's entirely free. With thousands of new stories added every day, an incredibly active community of readers, and the ability to read on your computer, phone, or tablet, Wattpad... more

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Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton is the managing editor of Techvibes and author of Tempest Bound. Based in Vancouver, Knowlton has been published in national publications and has also appeared on television and radio. Previously he was an editor for New Westminster weekly The Other Press and served on its board of directors. When not working, Knowlton enjoys hiking, tennis, and martial arts. more

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