Wildly-successful Toronto startup acquired by tech giant for $754 million
After 14 years of rising from humble roots in Toronto to become one of the biggest digital storytelling platforms in the world, Wattpad is officially set to be acquired by a major internet conglomerate for $754 million CAD.
South Korea's Naver Corporation is expected to buy the user-generated fiction company in a cash and stock transaction valued at more than $600 million US, "subject to customary adjustments and other terms."
The two tech giants confirmed the news late Tuesday after rumours had leaked of Wattpad's potential $500 million US sale to a then-unnamed company.
"When we started Wattpad in 2006, we understood that technology would democratize storytelling and that stories are the atomic unit of every type of entertainment," said Allen Lau, CEO and co-founder, Wattpad, when announcing the Naver deal.
"In 2021, when every form of entertainment is being transformed, we've built a platform that can fuel hits on screen and bookshelves, empowering and rewarding a new generation of diverse creators all over the world."
A new chapter in the @Wattpad story is about to be written, and we’re not doing it alone! Today we announced that our board has approved an agreement to be acquired by Naver, the owner of the @webtoonofficial. https://t.co/7JCiDhxnyb— Allen Lau 🇨🇦 (@allenlau) January 20, 2021
Naver is a powerful company with an estimated $14 billion (CAD) in assets and many diverse affiliates, including the mobile messenger LINE and WEBTOON, a digital publishing platform similar to Wattpad but for comics.
The merger of Wattpadd, which boasts a user base of more than 90 million people, and WEBTOON, which has an estimated 72 million monthly active users, is being billed to investors as particularly exciting.
"Wattpad joining WEBTOON under the Naver umbrella is a big step towards us becoming a leading global multimedia entertainment company," said WEBTOON founder and CEO Jun Koo Kim on Tuesday.
"Both Wattpad and WEBTOON care most about helping creators tell their story their way, and both represent world-leading collections of inspired, imaginative storytelling IP."
Lau, who co-founded Wattpad alongside fellow U of T grad Ivan Yeun 14 years ago, confirmed to BetaKit that the user-generated story writing platform will remain headquartered in Canada and continue to operate independently.
So NAVER Webtoons bought Wattpad. The likelihood of fanfics having illustrations has now 📈📈📈📈— Sphynx (@HallyuSphynx) January 20, 2021
This could be very dangerous for all of us... pic.twitter.com/0AFokx7uTW
That's not to say things will remain the same, as Wattpad intends to continue its explosive growth as a full-on international media company.
In addition to the main Wattpad platform, which has long reigned as one of the most popular places to read and write fan fiction anywhere online, the company also now has its own film and TV production arm (Wattpad Studios), publishing house (Wattpad Books), and a business division called Wattpad Brand Partnerships.
Recent global partnerships have seen Wattpad stories turned into films such as the steamy teen love flick After, which originated as a Harry Styles fan fiction series. The company also has its own romance fiction app for racier content.
"I'm not done yet. What I would say is, today is the last episode of season one, but tomorrow is the more amazing first episode of season two," said Lau of the Naver acquisition to BetaKit, which noted that the CEO had previously expressed hopes of turning Wattpad into the next Disney.
"It will only be better and I'm so looking forward to growing the company at an accelerated pace."
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