Once again, Twitter lurking pays off: Fran Toolan, founder of Firebrand Technologies (which owns NetGalley), Susan Doerr, Carolyn Jewel, and Jane L had a discussion about what internet reading will do to the print publishing industry, with Fran suggesting that online books will be serialized (something I’ve thought about too: I would have joined in this conversation, but it was already complete when I discovered it).
This is just a snippet of a longer conversation which happened on May 2, 2011. My comments follow.
I think everyone in this conversation is right. Sort of.
As I mentioned, I’ve thought a lot about delivering ebooks in serialized form. I don’t know that all ebooks will be sold this way, but I do think it’s a smart idea, and here’s why:
1.) When people read on a backlit screen (smart phone, computer monitor, or currently available tablets), they read in shorter chunks. Short chapters of 2 or 3 pages would be ideal for this format.
2.) Tablets, phones and other reading devices are often used on the go, in the spaces we used to reserve for being bored as we rode trains or waited for doctors appointments. A serialized format requires little time per chapter, allowing the reader to consume the story in spurts, while maintaining suspense and long term interest (if it’s a good story, that is).
3.) The afore mentioned devices are all perfect for integrating visual enhancements… illustrations, animations (or moving illustrations), and video (when appropriate to the source material).
4.) Finally, the revenue model can be very attractive on both sides: cheap automatic system for the publisher, and reasonable, staggered cost for the reader.
Consider this model: serialized delivery is a low cost of method of delivery by the publisher. If the publisher sells the serialized material 30 short chapters at a time for say, $3.00 a run, and then provides an easy pay button to purchase the next 30 chapters (let’s call it Act Two), and again for the final 30 chapters (Act Three), then the reader will ulitmately have paid about $9.00 for a standard length novel (250 to 300 pages or so).
Upon completion of the serialization cycle, the novel could then be offered as a full ebook, and a print book as well. The longer, staggered delivery of the story could allow the book to gain an audience over time, initial free chapters would have the possibility of spreading virally. This would also give publishers an idea of what sort of success the book might achieve in print, as internet popularity increases the sale of books across all formats.
The success of serialized cell phone novels in Japan would point to the likely success of such a delivery method… and iPad sales seem to suggest that a whole new kind of reader is buying books that suit the tablet’s format. It seems an inevitable evolution (though it takes us back to the very root of the Victorian novel… serialized in newspapers and periodicals).
That’s our story. And we’re working to create a serialized format for books as I’ve described above.
I’d love to hear what you think.