How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry

Backed by over $200 million in VC funding, Kobalt is changing the way the music industry does business and putting more money into musicians’ pockets in the process.

In Part I of this series, I walked through the company’s founding story and its overall structure. There are two core theses that Kobalt bet on: 1) that the shift to digital music could transform the way royalties are tracked and paid, and 2) that music streaming will empower a growing middle class of DIY musicians who find success across countless niches.

This article focuses on the complex way royalties flow through the industry and how Kobalt is restructuring that process (while Part III will focus on music’s middle class). The music industry runs on copyright administration and royalty collections. If the system breaks — if people lose track of where songs are being played and who is owed how much in royalties — everything halts.

Kobalt is as much a compliance tech company as it is a music company: it has built a quasi “operating system” to more accurately and quickly handle this using software and a centralized approach to collections, upending a broken, inefficient system so everything can run more smoothly and predictably on top of it. The big question is whether it can maintain its initial lead in doing this, however.

The business of a song

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Image via Getty Images / Mykyta Dolmatov

Inkitt raises $16M led by Kleiner Perkins to publish crowdsourced novels in ‘mini-episodes’

The traditional world of publishing has been challenged hard by the digital revolution. Reading as a pastime has been in significant decline, in part because of the proliferation of screens and options for what to watch and do on them. On the other hand, Amazon has led the charge in changing the economics of publishing: the returns on book sales, and profits to publishers and writers, have all seen margins squeezed in the e-reader universe.

A Berlin-based startup called Inkitt has built a crowdsourced publishing platform to buck those trends. It believes that there is still a place for reading in our modern world, if it’s presented in the right way (more on that below), and today it is announcing a $16 million round of funding that underscores its success to date — the Inkitt community today has 1.6 million readers and 110,000 writers with some 350,000 uploaded stories, with a run-rate of $6 million from a new “bite-sized”, immersive reading app it launched earlier this year called Galatea — and its ambitions going forward.

How big are those ambitions? Ali Albazaz, Inkitt’s founder and CEO, said the mission is to build the “Disney of the 21st century.” Digital novels are just the beginning, in his view: plans include a move into audio, TV, games and film, “and maybe even theme parks.”

But before we ride a rollercoaster based on The Millennium Wolves — one of the best sellers on the platform, with $1 million in sales in the first six months of its release; 24-year-old author Sapir Englard is using her royalties to finance her jazz studies at Berklee in Boston, Massachusetts — Inkitt is starting small.

In addition to continuing to search for authors that might make good Galatea fodder, it’s going to add 10 new languages in addition to English, along with more data science to improve readership and connecting audiences with the stories that are most engaging to them. The company has sourced some of its most successful works from places like India and Israel, so the thinking is that it’s time to make sure non-English readers in those countries are also getting a look in.

“It’s a long plan, and we’re working on it step by step,” Albazaz said in an interview this week. “We are looking for the best talents and the best stories, wherever they are being told. We want to find them, unearth them and turn them into globally successful franchises.”

The Series A is being led by Kleiner Perkins, with participation also from HV Holtzbrinck Ventures, angel investor Itai Tsiddon, Xploration Capital, Redalpine Capital, Speedinvest, and Earlybird. Inkitt is not disclosing its valuation, but it had raised $5 million before this (including this seed round led by Redalpine).

Fiction for the people

Inkitt got its start several years ago with a very basic idea: an app for people (usually unsigned authors) to upload excerpts of fictional works in progress, or entire fiction manuscripts — novels specifically — to connect them with readers to provide feedback. It would gather data that it collected from these readers to provide more insights into what people wanted to read, to feed its algorithm, and to give feedback to the writers.

It was a simple concept that competed with a plethora of other places where unpublished writers can get their work out there (including Kindle).

But then, six months ago, that concept of data-based, crowdsourced writing and reading took an interesting turn with the launch of Galatea.

With this, Inkitt selects the stories that perform the best on its first app — most readers, most often completed reading, best feedback, most recommended, and so on — and its in-house team of editors and developers reformat them for Galatea as short-form, bite-sized “mini episodes” that come with specific effects attuned to each page you read to make the experience more immersive.

This includes features like sound, haptic effects like the phone vibrating with crashes and heartbeats, fire spreading across the screen in a burning moment, and a requirement for users to swipe to proceed to the next section. (It’s a fitting name for the app: Galatea was the ivory statue that Pygmalion carved that came to life.)

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As Albazaz describes it, Galatea was created as a response to the generation of consumers whose attention is constantly being diverted through notifications, and who have become used to getting information in short bursts.

“Nowadays you have Snapchat, Instagram and the rest, and they all send you notifications, but when you read you need a lot of attention,” he said.

So the solution was to cut down the page size to a paragraph at a time.

“Instead of flipping pages as you would on an e-reading app, you flip paragraphs.” These take up no more than about 20% of the screen, he said.

A reader gets one “episode” (about 15 minutes of reading, with several pages of text) free every day, so in theory you could read books on Galatea without paying anything, but typically people buy credits to continue reading a bit more than that each day, and it works out on average to about $12 per book in revenue. Inkitt is now adding multiple thousands of users (installs) each day across its two apps.

In addition to making this about tailoring a reading app to what consumers are most likely to do on a screen today, it’s about rethinking the model for how to source literature to disseminate in the first place.

“We all love stories and the way we create and consume them is evolving continuously,” said KP partner Ilya Fushman. “Inkitt’s rich and dynamic story format is rapidly capturing the imagination of a new generation of readers. Their content marketplace is connecting consumers with authors around the globe to entertain and democratize publishing.”

To date, the focus has very much been on original content that Inkitt has sourced itself. The basic model leaves a lot on the table, though. For one, what about all of the literature that has already been published in the world that either hasn’t really hit the right chord yet with readers, or classics, or popular works that might just be a little more interesting with the Galatea treatment?

On the other hand, the Galatea model seems to be inherently biased towards the most obvious “hits” — page turners that are engaging from the get-go, or are written on themes that have already proven to be popular. What about the wider body of literature that might not be accessible page-turners but are definitely worthwhile reading, stories that might one day become a part of the literary canon. For every Harry Potter series, some still want and need a Finnegan’s Wake or Milkman.

Albazaz has an answer for both of those: he says that his startup has already been approached by a number of publishers to work on ways of using its platform for their own works, and so that is something you might imagine will get turned on down the line. And he acknowledged the blockbuster element of the work on the platform now, but said that as it grows and scales its audience, it will be looking for works that appeal to a wider range of tastes.

The company’s business is a veritable David to Amazon’s Goliath, but one thing Inkitt has going for it is that it offers those who will take a chance on its platform a promise of making a good return.

Albazaz claims that the average writer on Galatea earns 30 to 50 times more than what would be earned via Amazon, which he calls “a horrible partner to work with as a publisher.” He wouldn’t comment exactly on the royalties split is on Inkitt, or whether that higher figure is due to more readers or a better cut (or both), except that he said that there are simply “more readers” of your work, “making you more money.”

It’s also a more flexible platform in another regard: if you want to publish elsewhere at the same time, you can. “No one is locked in,” he said. “Our mission statement, which we have across the wall in our office, is to be the fairest and most objective publisher. That’s the only way you will discover hidden talents.”

Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders

Users have said they are receiving emails from Amazon containing invoices and order updates on other customers, TechCrunch has learned.

Jake Williams, founder of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec, raised the alarm after he received an email from Amazon addressed to another customer with their name, postal address and their order details.

Williams said he ordered something months ago which recently became available for shipping. He checked the email headers to make sure it was a genuine message.

“I think they legitimately intended to email me a notification that my item was shipping early,” he said. “I just think they screwed something up in the system and sent the updates to the wrong people.”

He said the apparent security lapse was worrying because emails about orders sent to the wrong place is a “serious breach of trust” that can reveal private information about a customer’s life, such as sexual orientation, proclivities or other personal information

Several other Amazon customers also said they received emails seemingly meant for other people.

“I made an order yesterday afternoon and received her email last night,” another customer who tweeted about the mishap told TechCrunch. “Luckily I’m not a malicious person but that’s a huge security issue,” she said.

Another customer tweeted out about receiving an email meant for someone else. He said he spoke to Amazon customer service, which said they will investigate additional security issues.

“Hope you didn’t send my sensitive account info to someone else,” he added.

And, one other customer posted a tweet thread about the issue, saying they spoke to a supervisor about the issue who gave a “nonchalant” response, she wrote. She said the supervisor said the issue happens frequently.

A spokesperson for Amazon did not return a request for comment when we asked how many customers were affected and if the company plans to inform customers of the breach. If we hear back, we’ll update.

It’s the second security lapse in a year. In November the company emailed customers saying a “technical error” had exposed an unknown number of their email addresses. When asked about specifics, the notoriously secretive company declined to comment further.

Storytelling community Wattpad launches Paid Stories and its ad-free subscription globally

Online storytelling community Wattpad, also now a content feeder for streaming services and other media companies, is taking its two consumer-facing paid products global. Wattpad Premium, the ad-free subscription tier, first launched in 2017 and has only been available in a handful of countries to date. It’s now available to Wattpad’s 70 million-plus worldwide users, as of today. In addition, Wattpad’s Paid Stories, which offers exclusive, paywalled content to readers, is also now available to the global user base.

This product launched last November into beta testing, when it was then called Wattpad Next. It was initially available in the U.S. with plans for a global launch planned for this year.

Technically speaking, Wattpad quietly launched Paid Stories globally last week, but it has now completed its rollout to all users, the company says. The stories give readers another way to support their favorite writers as they can purchase the serialized content either when the story is finished, or as it’s still being written. This past month, readers spend more than 5.5 million minutes on Paid Stories, the company says.

Users purchase access to the stories using Wattpad’s virtual currency, Coins. These Coins are sold in packs that start at $0.99 for 9 Coins, and go as high as $7.99 for 230 Coins.

With the global expansion, the two products are also being better integrated.

Screen Shot 2019 07 18 at 10.31.39 AMNow, Wattpad Premium subscribers will receive discounted Coins to buy the Paid Stories. They also receive bonus Coins — up to 66% more free Coins, the company says — every time they buy a Coin package to unlock a Paid Story.

“Our vision at Wattpad is to entertain and connect the world through stories, creating the best platform and community on the planet for every type of reader and writer,” said Wattpad General Manager, Jeanne Lam. “Every innovation and initiative at Wattpad supports that vision while improving the experience for users. Wattpad Premium and Wattpad Paid Stories give users everywhere more control over their Wattpad experience and options to enjoy the platform in new ways — whether it’s uninterrupted, ad-free reading or the chance to support the writers who make those stories possible.”

The products do generate some revenue for the company — Wattpad is No. 11 Top Grossing app in the Books category on the App Store and No. 8 on Google Play. However, the company’s bigger business these days is its content deals. Wattpad earlier this year inked a first-look deal with Sony Pictures Television, and has a development deal with Universal Cable Productions, among others. Internationally, it’s working with iflix, Bavaria Fiction, Huayi Brothers Korea, Penguin Random House India, Mediaset, NL Film, Mediacorp, and eOne.

Wattpad’s stories have been turned into feature films, as well as movies and TV shows for streaming services like Netflix (The Kissing Booth) and Hulu (Light as a Feather).

It now has its own print publishing arm, too, with Wattpad Books.

These broader efforts capitalize on Wattpad’s generally younger and devoted fanbase.

For example, one of the more popular Wattpad Books titles, The QB Bad Boy & Me by Tay Marley, was read more than 26.3 million times on Wattpad, and will become available in book form on August 20, 2019.

Amazon expands Transparency anti-counterfeit codes to Europe, India and Canada

Amazon is no stranger to the nefarious forces of e-commerce: fake reviews, counterfeit goods and scams have all reared their heads on its marketplace in one place or another, with some even accusing it of turning a blind eye to them since, technically, Amazon profits from any transactions, not just the legit ones. The company has been working to fight that image, though, and today it announced its latest development in that mission: it announced that Transparency — a program to serialize products sold on its platform with a T-shaped QR-style code to identify when an item is counterfeit — is expanding to Europe, India and Canada. (More detail on how it actually works below.)

“Counterfeiting is an industry-wide concern – both online and offline. We find the most effective solutions to prevent counterfeit are based on partnerships that combine Amazon’s technology innovation with the sophisticated knowledge and capabilities of brands,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president, Amazon Customer Trust and Partner Support, in a statement. “We created Transparency to provide brands with a simple, scalable solution that empowers brands and Amazon to authenticate products within the supply chain, stopping counterfeit before it reaches a customer.”

The growth of Transparency has been quite slow so far: it has taken more than two years for Amazon to offer the service outside of the US market, where it launched first with Amazon’s own products in March 2017 and then expanded to third-party items. Even today, while Transparency is launching to sellers in more markets, the app for consumers to scan the items themselves is still only available in the US, according to Amazon’s FAQ.

In that time, take-up has been okay but not massive. Amazon says that some 4,000 brands have enrolled in the program, covering 300 million unique codes, leading to Amazon halting more than 250,000 counterfeit sales (these would have been fake versions of legit items and brands enrolled in the Transparency program).

There is some evidence that all this works. Amazon says that 2019, for products fully on-boarded into the Transparency service, there have been zero reports of counterfeit from brands or customers who purchased these products on Amazon.

But how wide ranging that is, though, compared to the bigger problem, is not quite clear. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison — Amazon doesn’t disclose collectively how many brands are sold on its platform, although Amazon itself accounts for 450 brands itself — there are some 2.5 million sellers on its platform globally, and my guess is that 4,000 is just a small fraction of Amazon’s branded universe.

Recent developments have put an increased focus on what role Amazon has been playing to keep in check rampant activity around counterfeiting and other illegal activity.

The NYT published a damning expose in June that highlighted how one medical publisher found rampant counterfeiting of one of its books, a guide for doctors prescribing medications to help them determine dosages of drugs, an alarming situation considering the subject matter. Regulators like the FCC have also taken action to ask Amazon (among others like eBay) to make a better effort to remove the sale of products in specific categories, such as fake pay-TV boxes.

Coupled with other kinds of dodgy activity on the platform like fake reviews, Amazon has been making more moves of late to get a grip and create more channels for brands and sellers to help themselves, from product launches and expansions, to taking legal measures to go after bad actors.

Transparency is part of former category, and it sits alongside one of the company’s other recent, big initiatives called Project Zero, an AI-based continuous monitoring of products and activities launched four months ago to proactively identify counterfeit sellers and items on the platform.

Screenshot 2019 07 10 at 11.47.45Transparency works by way of a unique code — which looks a bit like a “T” — printed on each manufactured unit. When a customer orders the product, Amazon scans the code to verify that the product it’s shipping is legit. Customers can also scan the code after receiving the item to verify authenticity. Other details that are encoded in the T are manufacturing date, manufacturing place, and other product information like ingredients.

This system also throws some light on some of the strange workings of e-commerce, supply chains, and how marketplaces operate.

On Amazon, an item you buy that might be branded — say, a North Face jacket — may not actually be sold by North Face itself, but a reseller. And those resellers may just as likely never even touch the item: they are working off stock that is distributed from another place altogether, or perhaps manufactured and sent in bulk to Amazon or another fulfilment provider that sends the item when the order is made. All of these tradeoffs within the supply chain create an environment where counterfeit goods might creep in.

Amazon’s system, by working directly with brands and not sellers, is trying to provide an over-arching level of monitoring and control into the mix, and it notes in its announcement that its Transparency codes are trackable “regardless of where customers purchased their units.”

Ironically for a service called “Transparency”, Amazon doesn’t seem to list the price for sellers to use this service, but four months ago, when Amazon launched Project Zero, we reported that the serialization service are charged between $0.01 and $0.05 per unit, based on volume. It’s a price that especially smaller brands, which are even less immune to copycats than well-capitalized big brands, are willing to pay:

“Amazon’s proactive approach and investment in tools like Transparency have allowed us to grow consumer confidence in our products and prevent inauthentic product from ending up in the hands of our customers,” said Matt Petersen, Chief Executive Officer at Neato Robotics, a maker of smart robotic vacuum cleaners, in a statement.

“Blocking counterfeits from the source has always been a tough task for us – it’s something all brand owners face through nearly all channels around the world,” said Bill Mei, Chief Executive Officer at Cowin, a manufacturer of noise cancelling audio devices, in his own statement. “After we joined Transparency, our counterfeit problem just disappeared for products protected by the program.”

Amazon finally supports Traditional Chinese books on Kindle

A long-awaited service for readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and some other overseas Chinese communities have finally come true: Amazon has just started offering Traditional Chinese books for its Kindle E-reader.

The release filled an obvious gap for Kindle, which debuted back in 2007 and has been growing the number of languages it supports over the years. 2012 marked a major step in its Asia expansion as it began providing E-books in Simplified Chinese — the type of characters used in mainland China — under its China-specific site. That was a prelude to Kindle’s entry into China the next year. We will see if the same pattern of regional push will repeat for Taiwan and Hong Kong, where Kindle isn’t officially distributed at the moment.

Previously, people who read Traditional characters had to find roundabout ways to access the language on Kindle, such as buying Simplified content and converting it into Traditional using customized fonts that became available since Amazon’s 5.9.6 firmware update. Of course, that’s a time-consuming solution riddled with all sorts of calibration issues in spacing and font size.

The Traditional Chinese store kicked off with a list of over 20,000 books that people can read on their Kindle apps and Kindle devices. For some comparison, Kindle carried some 60,000 Simplified titles a year after introducing the language.

Users can now find Traditional Chinese books on a dedicated portal hosted on all existing Amazon.com websites, the company says. The early selection spans popular authors like Hugo Award-winning Liu Cixin and Chinese classics like Dream of the Red Chamber, in addition to translated bestsellers including George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series.

The regional launch is also targeted at authors, who can now self-publish their Traditional Chinese books through Kindle Direct Publishing and distribute the works to the language communities around the world.

“Bringing Traditional Chinese language books to Kindle is a step forward on our journey to provide more choice and selection to readers around the world,” said David Naggar, vice president of Kindle Books in a statement. But the store is not as finished as its Simplified counterpart yet, missing editor’s choice, book sales, pre-sales, book rankings and other potentially popular features.

Printify raises $3M to expand its marketplace for custom printing

In Riga, Latvia, an 80-person startup called Printify is reimagining the on-demand printing business.

Gone are the days where small merchants have to sell their customized products on platforms like Zazzle, Society6, CafePress, or Teespring . Using Printify, e-commerce business owners can create clothes, accessories and more fixed with their designs, logos, art or photos, then sell them directly on their very own online stores.

The “first wave” of on-demand printing companies, Printify founder and chief executive officer James Berdigans explained to TechCrunch, typically require that merchants sell their items on the provider’s platforms.

“The problem is that these merchants don’t have the capability to build their own brand,” Berdigans said. “At the end of the day, you end up building the Teespring brand, not your own brand.”

Printify, a graduate of the 500 Startups accelerator, has attracted a $3 million investment from Bling Capital, a venture capital fund launched five months ago by Ben Ling, a former general partner at Khosla Ventures.

“Printify is perfectly positioned to enable the new trend of micro and boutique brands,” Ling said in a statement. “Consumers and SMBs alike can benefit from Printify’s high-quality, low-cost, and fast printing platform — and create their own micro-brands.”

Founded in 2015 by Berdigans, Artis Kehris and Gatis Dukurs, Printify had previously raised a $1 million round following a big pivot. Initially, the business “pretended to be the manufacturer,” opting to be less transparent as a means to entice customers.

“That was a terrible idea,” Berdigans said. “Even though you aren’t lying, you end up not being a very honest company and that’s not the business model we wanted.”

Now, Printify operates as a B2B marketplace that connects manufacturers with ecommerce stores. Plus, the startup handles the mundane tasks of fulfilling orders, including billing, manufacturing requests and shipping so store owners can focus on brand building. The switch allowed the startup to begin growing 30 percent year-over-year, as well as add hundreds of unique products to its catalog.

The founders say Printify most often caters to political campaign employees, designers & artists, and influencers & “hustlers,” or people who are self-taught experts on managing digital sales. With a fixed pricing scheme, merchants know exactly what they are paying Printify but have the flexibility of pricing their own product. Other print-on-demand marketplaces, like the aforementioned “first wave” businesses, don’t give merchants the ability to determine their own margins.

“If you use Zazzle, for example, you only get a small portion of revenue share but on Printify, you pay us a small fee,” Berdigans said. “If you were selling t-shirts for $25 and the average production cost is $10, our sellers will see a 50 to 60 percent margin.”

Dozens of angel investors, including YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, ClassPass co-founder Fritz Lanman, DoorDash co-founder Evan Moore, Google AdSense pioneer Gokul Rajaram and Facebook’s vice president of product Kevin Weil, also participated in the company’s latest round.

“What Airbnb did for the hospitality industry, that’s basically what we can do for the print-on-demand industry,” said Kehris, Printify’s chief operating officer.

Wattpad partners with Sony Pictures Television in first-look deal for original programming

Wattpad, the online storytelling community whose authors’ works have been turned into Netflix movies, TV shows for Hulu and projects for other studios both in the U.S. and worldwide, announced today a new partnership with Sony Pictures Television. The deal gives Sony a first-look option for up-and-coming Wattpad stories — in other words, a way to snag the next big teen hit that already has a built-in fan base.

Wattpad says it will work with Sony to help it to identify the popular stories on its platform from the half a billion story uploads it has seen to date. The company uses its “Story DNA” machine learning technology alongside human curation to quickly identify the most promising IP and storytellers on Wattpad.

The technology helps deconstruct stories by analyzing things like sentence structure, word use and grammar, with the goal of helping to uncover the next best seller. It’s used today to help identify stories to turn into films, TV shows, books, and other digital projects.

Key to Wattpad’s ability to make these business deals is its online community, which today includes over 70 million monthly users, who spend over 22 billion minutes engaged with its original stories uploaded to its site.

This sizable community helped make Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth” movie a success, where the original story behind the film had already been read 19 million times by users worldwide.

Wattpad’s “Light as a Feather,” produced for Hulu along with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet, has been Emmy-nominated, and just got renewed for a second season.

Wattpad’s “After,” launched in theaters on April 12. It’s based on Harry Styles fan fiction and is something of a “50 Shades..” for a younger demographic. Before it became five-book series, it first racked up over a billion reads on Wattpad’s site.

Today, Wattpad works with a range of entertainment partners worldwide for similar deals, including iflix, eOne, Huayi Brothers Korea, SYFY, and others, and has turned its stories into projects at Universal Cable Productions (NBCU), Hulu, Netflix, and elsewhere.

Sony Pictures TV already had a relationship with Wattpad, before today’s news.

Last year, it acquired the series “Death is My BFF” from Katerina E. Tonks, which has over 62 million reads on the site. Lindsey Rosin (“Cruel Intentions”) is slated to write the series.

“Our entertainment partners all over the world have seen the power of our data-backed approach to IP discovery and development.” said Aron Levitz, Head of Wattpad Studios, in a statement. “Wattpad stories are some of the most innovative and creative that have ever been written. The stories and diverse voices on Wattpad deserve to be heard all over the world. And our partnership with Sony does just that: bringing Wattpad stories to new and existing fans all over the planet,” he said.

The Sony deal will be overseen by Eric Lehrman, Wattpad’s Head of Content Development and Production, the company says.

Wattpad is represented by UTA, who helped broker the deal.

 

Mailchimp and Shopify break up

Shopify today announced that the Mailchimp app, which let its users use their Shopify data to create targeted email campaigns, for example, is no longer available in its marketplace. The reason for this, Shopify says, is that it “had growing concerns about Mailchimp’s app because of the poor merchant experience and their refusal to respect our Partner Program Agreement.”

Clearly, this isn’t the most amicable divorce.

“It’s critical for our merchants to have accurate, complete insight into their businesses and customers, and this isn’t possible when Mailchimp locks in their data,” Shopify explains. “Specifically, Mailchimp refuses to synchronize customer information captured on merchants’ online stores and email opt-out preferences. As a result, our merchants, other apps, and partner ecosystem can’t reliably serve their customers or comply with privacy legislation.”

Unsurprisingly, Mailchimp’s side of the story is a bit different. “Yesterday, we asked Shopify to remove the Mailchimp for Shopify integration from their marketplace,” the company wrote. “We made this decision because Shopify released updated terms that would negatively impact our business and put our users at risk.”

Mailchimp says it refused to provide Shopify with all the customer data it asked for because Shopify’s terms simply weren’t fair or practical. “We have been negotiating for months with Shopify on trying to get terms that were very fair and equitable to both of our businesses — and there were several points that we just weren’t willing to compromise on,” Christina Scavone, director of corporate communications told me. “Anything that hurts our customers’ privacy was a non-starter for us.” She also told me that Shopify specifically asked for pretty much any data Mailchimp collects about its users, including data it collected in the past since the app was installed. “We had no data of getting that consent from our users retroactively,” Scavone noted.

There may be another wrinkle to this story, too. In recent months, Mailchimp partnered with Square to launch its shoppable landing pages. That puts Mailchimp deeper into the e-commerce business and into competition with Shopify.

In its statement, Mailchimp argues that it integrates with more than 150 different apps and platforms. “We won’t compromise on that just because Shopify sees it as a competitive threat,” the company wrote. “We want people to have choices,” Scavone added. “The marketplace is starting to collide and people are starting to compete with each other and many of our other partners are also in our space and we would never limit a competitor from what they were willing to do for their business.”

In the end, we’ve got two companies that both argue they are putting their customers’ privacy first. This doesn’t strike me as a conflict where there was no reasonable compromise to be had, though, so in the end, it’s now on both companies’ customers to figure out what to do next.

For users, there are still plenty of other options, including the use of third-party integrations that link the two services together, including Zapier, Automate.io and ShopSync. Indeed, using those is Mailchimp’s recommendation for its current users.

Wattpad gains strategic investment from Times Bridge to further expand in India

Wattpad is further expanding into Asia with a new partnership and undisclosed strategic investment from Times Bridge, the global investment arm of the Times Group in India. The deal aims to help the storytelling community establish a larger presence in the country where it already counts over 2.6 million monthly users who have shared more than 4 million stories to date, it says.

Similar to its recent partnership with entertainment partner Huayi Brothers Korea, the deal with Times Bridge is also focused on turning more Wattpad stories into books, TV shows, movies, and other digital projects in the region.

This is an area where Wattpad has found some success. In the U.S., one of the stories on its platform became the Netflix teen hit “The Kissing Booth,” and other stories have become projects at Hulu, AwesomenessTV, eOne, Sony, SYFY, iflix, Universal Cable Productions (NBCU), and elsewhere. The company also just launched its own books division to better capitalize on bringing its online stories to print.

India has been a more recent focus for Wattpad, following its  $51 million raise from Tencent. Soon after, the company appointed its first Head of Asia for Wattpad Studios, Dexter Ong. And it also recently hired its first GM of India, Devashish Sharma, who has been working with local partners to turn its stories into movies, TV, digital and print in the region.

“Millions of Indian readers and writers have already found a home Wattpad,” said Sharma, in a statement. “Times Bridge and The Times Group have an unmatched media and entertainment portfolio, and connections with some of India’s most-respected authors and cultural figures. We’re excited to work together to create new opportunities for Indian storytellers,” he added.

Today, Wattpad’s app supports a number of local languages including Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, Marathi, and Oriya.

To find the stories that become popular, Wattpad relies on a combination of human curation and technology – the latter with its Story DNA machine learning system that helps to identify the standouts by deconstructing things like sentence structure, word use, grammar and other factors that contribute to popularity.

“We’re thrilled to work with Times Bridge expand our footprint in the region and create more opportunities for India’s rich literary community to tell their stories, reaching new audiences in India and around the world,” said Wattpad co-founder and CEO Allen Lau, in a statement.

Wattpad didn’t disclose Times Group’s investment. The firm has previously partnered with other tech companies in India, and has investments in Uber, Airbnb, Coursera, Houzz, MUBI, Smule, and others.