Last year, a new startup, Tapas Media, joined the US digital publishing scene, hoping to offer a viable business model and distribution platform for authors and publishers to profit from serialization.
On the reader-facing side, Tapas offers bite-sized stories and the ability to try any story free before purchasing or “unlocking” installments. To unlock new installments, a reader might invite friends to read, watch ads, complete some other offer, or simply wait.
The platform has more than 1.6 million readers, primarily in North America. Since its launch in October 2012, Tapas Media has gathered about 23,000 creators; readers spend about 30 minutes per month reading in the app, and they open the app about 20 times per month. Headquartered in San Francisco and Seoul, Tapas has received more than $5 million in funding to date.
Not many American authors are familiar with Tapas Media, probably because it first gained its foothold in South Korea—plus, its primary niche has been comics. However, I’ve been particularly interested in Tapas because of the way it might help monetize serials or short works through a mobile and web platform—kind of like Wattpad, with some e-commerce and gamification added.
In 2016, Tapas announced a partnership with Andy Weir of The Martian as well as Hachette to release serialized content. (Here’s a recent interview with Weir and Sarah Andersen about their new fantasy comics collaboration for Tapas.)
In May, Tapas announced new functionality for creators to self-publish through their platform. Up until now, it was only possible to publish your work on the platform by submitting it to the Tapas content team; now any author can create an account, set up a new work, and begin uploading episodes of either a novel or comic.
Monetization currently happens in one of three ways:
Advertising. Creators can elect to have advertising displayed in their work and receive 30 percent of the revenue. This typically takes the form of a small banner ad at the top of each episode’s comment section, and/or ad placement at the end of free episodes. (Episodes of premium or paid content do not carry ads.) Tapas primarily uses Google AdSense and Facebook Audience Network to power the ads.
Tipping. Readers can tip the creator using the app’s virtual currency. Depending on various factors, the creator earns between 60 and 85 percent of the real-world monetary value of the tip. But the value of the virtual currency, as you might imagine, is rather small—a fraction of a cent. Still, Tapas’s senior director of growth, Josh Bakken, says, “If the Tapas community likes something, they’re usually not shy about rewarding it. We had a 24-hour tipping event in February where the goal was for readers to tip 2.5 million coins to their favorite creators. They ended up tipping over 4.5 million!”
Leveling up to premium content. All creators who self-publish start out by offering their episodes for free. But Tapas says they will move stories that show promise to their premium model, where readers have to pay to continue reading episodes. Bakken says, “The easiest way to grab the attention of the content team is to have a Trending or Popular title in our Novels section. Our editors are spending a lot of time there now. Trending is a combination of Subscribers, Reads, Likes, and Comments over hours. Popular is similar, but over days.”
It’s been about two months since the platform was opened to all, and authors are starting to see returns on their effort. Tapas alerted me to two creators in particular who have started pulling in meaningful audiences and earnings: Goh (of DarkBox) from Malaysia who produces a webcomic, and Jessica Chapman in the United States who writes fiction. They were gracious enough to answer my questions about their experience so far.
Jane: Why did you begin publishing on Tapas, or what drew you to it?
Jessica: I heard about the site from a fellow Wattpad author a few months ago and decided to look into it. I found that the site and app were well put together and easy to navigate, which in my mind is a great indication of how good the site is. (Heck, most major store retailers can’t make a decent page to shop at.)
After that I contacted Tapas for more information, they patiently and promptly answered all my questions. I found that refreshing, as I usually expect to wait about two weeks for a reply from most any other place. Jessica Sanchez replied to my first email in just a couple of hours, and she was just so nice and friendly that it made me wished I had joined sooner. To this day I still haven’t gotten a reply to a request I sent to the Wattpad team.
Goh: In the early stages, we published our work on numerous free hosting sites like many other creators did. Our main focus is to expose our work to as many readers as we can. Tapastic [the previous name of Tapas] is one of those sites.
Are you publishing new work on Tapas or work that’s been previously published elsewhere?
Goh: Currently we are publishing all latest and premium content with Tapas.
Jessica: The first book I published on Tapas, The Dragon Prince’s Bride, was once my main series on Wattpad, and gained almost 2.5 million reads in less than a year. However, after moving the books to this new platform exclusively and seeing its quick success, I decided that I will also be adding my other works, and new original ideas to Tapas that have never been posted anywhere else (not until later this year though).
I’m a very creative person, and it’s not hard for me to develop brand-new concepts and run with them. I have lots of upcoming story ideas, and they will most likely only be debuted on Tapas. Even though I was popular on Wattpad, it didn’t exactly get me anything tangible. That’s why I’m so excited to post my work on a site where I actually see progress, both in gaining popularity and in developing an income.
Do you participate on any other publishing platforms or self-publish your work?
Jessica: Wattpad is the only other site I use, though it’s no longer my main focus, and will soon be down to just a few books for my longtime loyal readers. I did also try Amazon self-publishing for a bit, although it was not exactly productive. Both are good in their own way, but I honestly prefer Tapas overall.
Goh: We are publishing mainly on Tapas, Line Webtoon and 9gag. Some genres perform better on one platform than another. It’s good that the creator tries them out and finds the best platforms that suit their genre.
How did you develop a readership? Did it kind of happen by itself, or did you market and promote what you were doing elsewhere?
Goh: We used social media to engage with the readers. Tapas is also helping a lot on promoting Silent Horror on their portal. We work very hard on our work and we observe readers’ comments and responses closely.
Jessica: I have no online presence aside from my Wattpad. However, while Tapas is quickly growing into a popular webcomic and now fiction site, the competition is still far less than that of other places. My story was interesting enough to quickly gain me readers on this new platform despite starting from the bottom once again.
I do still practice cross-promotion with long time followers on Wattpad, who still check out my story sample and come over to Tapas. I make sure to keep them up to date with any new promotions and sales, which some do participate in. Overall though, I think the majority of my readers come from Tapas. Since my book gained popularity on popular lists and the site’s front page, I get a lot of interested people, even those who usually don’t read novels on there.
Aside from that, the Tapas team does their own promotions for authors who are interested, which I always am. This usually includes giving out free keys to unlock chapters or doing a sale on the entire book. Surprisingly, not every author participates in these, fearing they’ll lose money instead of realizing they will hook new readers, so honestly this has also helped me stand out over others.
How quickly did a readership develop? How much do you engage with the readers, if at all?
Jessica: Since my debut on Tapas just last month, I’ve gained 11,000 subscribers, and over 140,000 reads. I try to talk to almost all my readers like I used to on Wattpad, but not all of them chat back. However, a few have still noted their appreciation of my acknowledgment of them, which I think is very important because I truly do value and appreciate each reader.
At the end of each book I plan to do a short author’s note to thank them all again, which hopefully prompts them to like and follow me, not just my books. I love talking to my readers in those ways, showing them I’m not just someone who wants money, but that I’m a real person who simply loves to write!
Goh: It takes time, hard work and persistence to develop readership and fans. We respond to every single private message and wall post on our social media, and we appreciate readers’ effort to write to us.
How much have you earned and how has this made a difference in your life (professional or personal)? What are the earnings from?
Goh: We earned zero income in the first year. After we published on Tapas with its unique ad revenue sharing with creators, we started to make some small income. Last year Tapas offered to publish us as premium paid content, and we started to earn an average monthly income of $2,000.
Jessica: Mostly my revenue is from purchased chapters. Most of those were gained by readers watching ads and not direct purchases. I do receive tips, but they are not as consistent so I can’t really count their value yet.
In less than a month, I made more on Tapas than from my last full-time paycheck. This is a great help since I work to help support my mom and disabled little brother at home, and can only manage to find a minimum wage job that usually offers less than full-time with no benefits. It has also been a great encouragement to me as a writer, because everyone hopes to make money off their passion, but not everyone finds a way to.
Do you expect to keep working with Tapas?
Jessica: I do. I plan to move most of my Wattpad books over, and add all my new ideas on to this site exclusively. The whole team is just so helpful! This has been way better than any of my other online experiences, and I think it’s ideal for any new and serious author.
At one time I had dreamed of getting published traditionally and having my books printed in stores. Heck, I think most young and budding authors do. Then you come to realize that’s probably going to be near impossible, given the competition and your own lack of experience, expertise, and connections. No big-time agency is likely to give new talent like you the time of day, no matter how good your work is. In short, I think traditional publishing has simply become too difficult. Which is a shame, because I have seen so much talent get left in the dust. Publishing online at venues like Tapas helps not bad writers, but good ones gain exposure they might normally never receive. Honestly, since so many people use their computers and phones for everything nowadays, I think in time online publishing, not necessarily self-publishing, might overtake traditional routes, giving people the chance to read awesome books they would never be able to find on a store shelf.
When I first started writing, it was for my own personal entertainment. I never expected to gain fans or readers, but I did, and Tapas has helped me to reach a new level in my career.
Goh: Tapas understands that besides breathing to live, artists also need to eat and pay their bills. To us, Tapas is the best platform for indie creators. Their method of monetizing for creators is innovative.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.