As teenagers seek to create their own immersive worlds around their favourite books or music bands, fan fiction is a phenomenon publishers cannot ignore, according to Yvonne Biggins, co-director of Movellas.
Movellas, the Denmark-based start-up that launched in the UK in 2012, has 200,000 users per month—and counting. Movellas users have generated over 100,000 stories overall, which fall into two main categories: fan fiction (fiction based around well-known bands or books) and fantasy or genre writing.
Biggins said the ratio of fan fiction to fantasy/genre writing was about 70%/30%, but pointed out that poetry was also incredibly popular. Taking one day as an example, on 9th July, 5,808 new “movellas” were written in the poetry section of its website, compared to romance (5,922), fantasy (3,282) and paranormal stories (1,606).
On the same day in the fan fiction category, users created 12,161 stories based on One Direction, 1,024 on Justin Bieber, and 932 on Harry Pottter.
Many fan fiction writers choose to “ship” characters (“ship”, short for relationships, is when an author couples up characters), but Biggins said there was a difference between “canonical shipping”, where the characters in question are already in a relationship—for example Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley—and “crack shipping”, which is inventing new relationships.
“Sometimes a Movellas user will ask his or her fans what characters they would like to ‘ship’, and based on the feedback, they will then give those characters a ‘shipping’ name and then write a story about them,” Biggins said. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes’ “shipping” name is JohnLock, for example.
However, it’s not just about writing stories. Movella’s users integrate images and mood boards, making their stories media-rich by, for example, linking to an online collage of a character’s outfits half way through telling a story.
There is also a “mumbles” section of the website, where users can “mumble” about whatever they like. The site clocks up about 50,000 “mumbles” per month—some users talk about their own work, others offer their skills to collaborate with other users. “There is lots of co-authoring and partnerships going on,” said Biggins.
Users can access Movellas via its website or one of 11 apps. There is a “classic Movellas app” and 10 “vertical” apps that focus on a fandom, genre or brand—for example the Wizarding World, which is for stories about Harry Potter.
Biggins said increasing numbers of users were accessing the service via their mobiles. In June, 74.5% of new users registered were using a mobile device instead of a desktop PC.
“The mobile growth is a reflection of how teenagers consume information and how they create . . . There’s an expectation nowadays with young people that they can do everything via their phone,” said Biggins.
She added that teens who sign up to Movellas generally have little interest in e-books. “When we do surveys with them, print still comes top. For them it’s either print or mobile—e-books are old hat, they want something more interesting.”
Movellas is based in Denmark but launched in the UK in 2012. It has received funding from a variety of sources, including £175,000 from Nesta Impact Investments in January this year. It does not sell advertising because it thinks it would have a “negative impact” on the user experience, but gains some revenue by running promotions and competitions with major publishers, offering the winners advice from authors such as Malorie Blackman.
However, for Biggins, it is important for Movellas to keep its distance from publishers. “We need to sit outside of publishing,” she said. “It’s important to keep our individuality and challenge the publishing industry, and drive how stories are developed in a way that’s relevant to young people.”