Five Things: June 10, 2021

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How Wattpad is establishing itself as an entertainment powerhouse (by listening to young women) | Stacy Lee Kong

“Today, the company has 90 million users and more than one billion uploads, 1,500 of which have been adapted through Wattpad Studios and Wattpad Books, the publishing imprint it launched in 2019. It currently has 90 TV and film projects in development and 16 book releases scheduled for this year alone. And according to Levitz, they all started in the same place as ‘After’: with the data.”

One of the more interesting publishing-adjacent startups over the past decade-plus, Wattpad‘s audience skews young, female, and international so it bizarrely doesn’t get much industry coverage. When Amazon didn’t acquire them earlier this year, industry media and pundits basically yawned because they’re unfamiliar with NAVER Corp, and foreign ownership presumably validated their existing biases.

At a glance, Wattpad might be dismissed as the worst kind of “data-driven” publishing, but dig beneath the surface and you’ll find a data-informed operation that respects its audience, and constantly iterates to improve how they serve them. Kudos to Stacy Lee Kong for digging in and offering this insightful coverage of a media company too many people are sleeping on.


5 Black comic book creators with 5 ways of seeing this inclusive superhero moment | Jevon Phillips

“The indie scene has always had a lot of Black creators. It’s just that they don’t have the marketing budget that Marvel or DC or any of the other bigger companies have.”

Brandon Easton nails what most media coverage of diversity in publishing misses, in comics and traditional books. “Diverse” creators and audiences have always been here, but the “mainstream” only pays attention when big companies figure out how to make money by selling that art to white audiences.

Read between the lines and you’ll see book publishing’s fundamental marketing problem: they don’t actually know how to develop audiences for their books, they just know how to influence the traditional channels that reach “mainstream” readers through advertising, giveaways, and industry connections. It’s not just a budget advantage, it’s a “culture fit” advantage.


E. Lynn Harris dies at 54; bestselling author broke barriers writing about gay black characters | Dennis McLellan

“After receiving a spate of rejection letters, Harris self-published his novel. And in a textbook case of self-promotion, he began hand-selling his 5,000 printed copies of ‘Invisible Life’ in Atlanta, where he was living at the time. Most famously, he’d leave copies of his novel in black beauty parlors with a note inserted between the pages saying, ‘If you like this book, please go to your local bookstore and ask them to order it.'”

“Diverse” creators have always found ways to create art and reach marginalized audiences, and E. Lynn Harris is a classic story of self-publishing success long before Amazon made it easy for everyone and a few successful white authors “legitimized” it.

For many years, many non-white writers had no choice but to self-publish, and many did it successfully without the blessing or attention of traditional marketing channels, bookstores, and libraries, when it was much harder and openly scorned. Many still do. Any conversation about self-publishing and diversity in publishing that doesn’t include Harris’ story isn’t one worth having.


Killer Mike’s radical lyrics are masking reformist politics | Nicholas Vila Byers

“Run the Jewels built their appeal by walking a tightrope—the same tightrope that ultimately underscores all reformist policies. Their music is designed to sound like uprising, but it mostly simulates the flashy special effects of a plotless superhero movie—emphasizing spectacle while lacking meaningful specificity.”

I’m a big fan of RTJ, belatedly discovering them a few years ago as RTJ3 was blowing up. I own all four albums, some merchandise, and have tickets to their twice-delayed concert with Rage Against the Machine next summer. I mostly like El-P’s slick production, but I also enjoy their chemistry and punchy wordplay. I don’t Stan anything, though, and rarely make the mistake of confusing the art and the artist as I spent too long in the poetry scene to fall for that!

It’s extremely rare that truly revolutionary art breaks through to the mainstream so I don’t think Killer Mike is a fraud or charlatan. I do think he’s a fascinating, complicated character, and is an extremely media-friendly and savvy businessman. I appreciated his seemingly heartfelt and nuanced commentary last year in response to the protests in Atlanta, but wasn’t as familiar with his overall story that made others question it, especially those who live in Atlanta and know him well.

Kudos to Vila Byers and Scalawag for digging a little deeper and putting him, his music, and his politics in context.


5 Bottles of Whiskey You NEED! Our Picks for Each Occasion! | Bourbon Junkies

YouTube has completely replaced cable TV for me when it comes to randomly flipping through channels to find something to watch, and I check in every evening to catch up on my subscriptions and scroll through the seemingly endless recommendations the algorithm has picked for me. I generally avoid unfamiliar channels unless I’m exploring a new topic or have exhausted my known sources, and constantly block shitty and shitty-adjacent channels to avoid slipping into the wrong rabbit holes.

I’m not exactly sure how Bourbon Junkies found its way into my feed a week ago but I’m glad it did because the two hosts are entertaining and have great chemistry, and—burying the lede—I like Bourbon a lot, so discovering #whiskeytube exists has opened a whole new rabbit hole for me!

This video tackles a Reddit challenge to identify 5 whiskeys you need to have open for specific purposes. I had trouble with a couple of them because I don’t purposefully buy any cheap stuff, but am also too cheap to splurge on the fancy stuff I’d only drink on special occasions.

My current top 5 is pretty flexible, though. Maker’s 46 has been my daily lately but can also impress some guests, while Uncle Nearest has the best story and is good for any guests or Friday nights. The other three (Buffalo Trace, Bulleit Rye, Jim Beam Double Oak) have all taken turns as dailies and I wouldn’t hesitate to share any of them… when that becomes a thing again.

If I could find another Barrell Batch 004, though, it’d definitely be my Friday night and special occasions pick!

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