The Future of Fiction: Wattpad Research Reveals Generational Shift in Reading Habits, Skepticism of AI in Publishing
New data from Wattpad shows younger generations are increasingly turning to online fiction, citing content diversity and representation for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories
Readers and writers express mixed feelings about AI tools; 92% see the need for human involvement
TORONTO - January 9, 2024 - Technology is rewriting how people connect with books, authors, and reading communities. Today, nine out of 10 readers agree that storytelling technologies will shape the future of reading. And while AI is a hot topic in the publishing world, the vast majority of US readers (92%) think it’s important that humans should be involved in writing and producing books. That’s according to new survey data* from Wattpad, a leading webnovel and storytelling community, and Wakefield Research, which reveals an evolving reading culture and fiction landscape across generations.
The research reveals older readers have been slower to adapt to digital reading technology. Digital formats are increasingly popular among younger generations, with 65% of Gen Z and 71% of Millennials embracing webnovels, ebooks and webcomics, while less than half of the Gen X and Boomer generations say the same.
Diversity is a key driver for embracing digital formats: 61% of Gen Z and 70% of Millennials agree that ebooks, webnovels, and webcomics give them access to content that's harder to find in bookstores and libraries, including LGBTQ+ and minority-focused content. This was true for only 54% and 49% of Gen X and Boomers respectively. Further, diversity is an important consideration for younger readers across all media, with 70% of Gen Z and 82% of Millennials saying diversity is important when choosing books, movies or other forms of entertainment, compared to 57% of Gen X and 60% of Boomers.
Not only are younger demographics more passionate about supporting diversity in fiction, they are also interested in a wider range of fiction. Top genres among Gen Z readers include romance, fantasy & sci-fi, and horror, while Boomers mostly avoid genre fare, with history, biography, and mystery taking the top spots. Gen Z are also much more likely to seek out LGBTQ+ fiction than older generations, with 29% of Gen Z reading LGBTQ+ stories for fun compared to only 5% of Boomers and 6% of Gen X readers.
When looking at how people find recommendations for their next read, the survey saw wide discrepancies among generations, but one thing remained clear - human taste and curation remain paramount. Eighty percent of respondents said they prefer recommendations from a person, versus 20% who said they prefer AI or algorithmic recommendations. While 72% of Gen Z and 68% of Millennials look for book suggestions from BookTok and BookTube, 64% of Gen X and 70% of Boomers rely on friends and family. Online reading communities like Wattpad and GoodReads are also important ways for younger readers to find a great book, with 38% of Gen Z and 48% of Millennials noting these kinds of platforms are important sources for book recommendations.
Surprisingly, the majority of Gen Z readers don’t turn to specific influencers or celebrity book club recommendations. Among this demographic, only 18% cite celebrity book clubs and 30% cite specific book influencers as sources for recommendations. Celebrity book clubs hold more sway among Millennials, with 26% turning to them to find new books, while Boomers show the least interest at 6%.
Looking further at how technology impacts fiction, internal research from Wattpad** sheds light on how authors feel about AI in publishing. A survey of current Wattpad authors reveals skepticism of AI tools, with the majority (79%) of writers revealing they have never used AI to aid their creative process. Nearly half (43%) of authors also expressed concerns that AI could limit monetization and publishing opportunities. While authors remain skeptical, 58% acknowledged AI’s potential to support editing and 45% noted the technology could help create cover art.
The research also reveals author concerns about AI’s influence in publishing and its impact on marginalized communities. More than half of authors (54%) believe AI could jeopardize elements of inclusive storytelling, like character authenticity and diversity. Additionally, 23% of authors worry that AI could reproduce systemic biases and undermine sensitivity reading, a crucial process to ensure cultural accuracy and respect in stories.
"Our research shows that reading and writing are still important ways for people to connect, even as technology creates new ways to engage with fiction. Gen Z and Millennial audiences are actively seeking more from fiction, including broader representation of a much wider range of voices and perspectives,” says Nick Uskoski, Head of Content and Creator Development at Wattpad. “As a new generation of readers shift toward celebrating and elevating underrepresented voices in publishing, Wattpad will continue to redefine how authors build global audiences and make money from their work."
Built on a foundation of storytelling technology, Wattpad has transformed fiction and democratized storytelling for a new generation of diverse Gen Z writers and their fans. With a global community of 90M people*** Wattpad is a leading destination for readers to find diverse stories that they can’t find anywhere else.
*The reader survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,000 US adults ages 18+ with an oversampling of 100 additional Gen-Z respondents, between October 10th and October 17th, 2023, using an email invitation and an online survey. Data has been weighted.
**Based on an internal survey of 452 current Wattpad authors in October 2023.
*** As of the quarter ended September 30, 2023
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Wattpad’s vision is to entertain and connect the world through stories. A leading webnovel and storytelling community and home to 90 million* people who come to the platform every month to read and write original stories, Wattpad has democratized storytelling for a new generation of diverse Gen Z writers and their fans. Alongside Wattpad WEBTOON Studios, the company’s TV, film, and publishing counterparts, Wattpad combines art and science to unearth incredible stories and cultivate the fandoms driving the future of entertainment. The company is proudly based in Toronto, Canada.
*As of the quarter ended September 30, 2023
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