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Summary:

Serialized ebooks aren’t a new idea, but Amazon’s Kindle Serials combine a pay-once buying process and automatic downloads that could help the initiative succeed where similar efforts haven’t.

charles dickens

When I talk to people about my job, one thing I hear about a lot — besides the good old chestnut “I still love the feel of paper books” — is Charles Dickens. Literary devotees are like, oh, he issued his novels in installments, they were super popular and people would fight each other to get them when he released a new one: why doesn’t anybody do that now?

At Thursday’s Amazon press conference in Los Angeles, Jeff Bezos brought up Charles Dickens, too. After touting the success of Kindle Singles — 3.5 million sold since 2011, up by about 1.5 million since March 2012 when we reported their sales for the first time — Bezos said, “for our next invention, we reached back into the past for inspiration.” Lo and behold, it’s Kindle Serials. Amazon is releasing eight of them to begin. Each priced at “an introductory price” of $1.99, they’re exclusive to Amazon.

Serialized ebooks aren’t a new idea. Startups have experimented with them before: Coliloquy publishes “active fiction” for Kindle, which is published in installments and lets readers choose how the story is going to go (kind of like choose-your-own-adventure for adults). And the Los Angeles-based teen ebook publisher Backlit sells ebooks as $2.99 “episodes.” Traditional publishers, too, have released series of e-singles.

The difference between those projects and Kindle Serials, though, is that with Kindle Serials, you only pay once and then the downloads are automatic: i.e., buy the first “episode” and all of the remaining ones are free. As new installments are published, Amazon automatically adds them to the end of your existing book. Readers don’t have to remember to check for new episodes and they don’t have to pay for them. “Seamless and hassle-free,” said Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle in the press release.

Amazon is also inviting readers to discuss the serials on message boards as they’re published, so that authors can adapt the story as they write installments. That’s a lot of work for authors for a low price point that they only get paid once, unless Amazon has figured out some other type of royalty scheme (it’s presumably also paying authors a flat fee for writing one of these). Note the $1.99 price is “introductory” and it seems likely to go up.

Anyway, here are the eight Kindle Serials available so far. Three of them are published by a “new literary studio,” Plympton, which I’ll be writing about more next week.

Overall, the simple buying process could be the reason that Kindle Serials succeed where other experiments with the format have, if not failed, not achieved Dickens-like popularity. The question remains, though, whether anything can achieve Dickens-like popularity in an age where there are a lot more books and other forms of entertainment competing for people’s attention.

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  1. Not such a new idea at all. I pitched this idea to Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing for my urban thriller series GAMELAND back in April only to have them snub me. I went ahead and did it anyway without their blessing. Folks who bought into the entire series early got the entire 8-episode for $2.99. Individual episodes are $1.99 (coincidentally the same price Amazon is saying their single episodes will be). As I added episodes (monthly) the price went up. The final episode will be launched December 1 and the entire package will then be $9.99. It’s been very successful for me, but a hassle for my customers, who have to wait for amazon to notify them of updates (new installments) or to have to request the updates themselves. Anyone wanting more information about how I did this can go to the GAMELAND package page on Amazon: http://amzn.to/JyteMX

  2. To echo Saul’s comment, the idea is not new. In fact, free serialized fiction has been on the internet since the early days of Usenet. It has never really been highlighted because the idea of digital reading seems to only have become interesting because the e-reader has helped people overcome the print barrier.

    Back then, the majority of early work was was fanfiction and it ended up later on fanfiction.net, but many carried forward and posted it on many other sites that focused on original works.

    I wish Amazon success as it can only mean good things we hope for those who have a passion for or talent for serial writing. That said there are plenty of places for people to dig for treasures. (Yes, you have to wade through a lot of stuff that might not be your taste, but it’s worth a shot. because amongst those free items might be something worth reading)

    * http://Webfictionguide.com
    * http://muses-success.info/
    * http://fictionpress.com
    * http://Wattpad.com
    * http://tuesdayserials.com

    1. Also Protagonize.com, which has been doing serial collaborative fiction for nearly 5 years.

  3. To echo Saul’s comment, the idea is not new. In fact, free serialized fiction has been on the internet since the early days of Usenet. It has never really been highlighted because the idea of digital reading seems to only have become interesting because the e-reader has helped people overcome the print barrier.

    Back then, the majority of early work was was fanfiction and it ended up later on fanfiction.net, but many carried forward and posted it on many other sites that focused on original works.

    I wish Amazon success as it can only mean good things we hope for those who have a passion for or talent for serial writing. That said there are plenty of places for people to dig for treasures. (Yes, you have to wade through a lot of stuff that might not be your taste, but it’s worth a shot. because amongst those free items might be something worth reading)

    * http://Webfictionguide.com
    * http://muses-success.info/
    * http://fictionpress.com
    * http://Wattpad.com
    * http://tuesdayserials.com

  4. To echo Saul’s comment, the idea is not new. In fact, free serialized fiction has been on the internet since the early days of Usenet. It has never really been highlighted because the idea of digital reading seems to only have become interesting because the e-reader has helped people overcome the print barrier.

    Back then, the majority of early work was was fanfiction and it ended up later on fanfiction.net, but many carried forward and posted it on many other sites that focused on original works.

    I wish Amazon success as it can only mean good things we hope for those who have a passion for or talent for serial writing. That said there are plenty of places for people to dig for treasures. (Yes, you have to wade through a lot of stuff that might not be your taste, but it’s worth a shot. because amongst those free items might be something worth reading)

    * http://Webfictionguide.com
    * http://muses-success.info/
    * http://fictionpress.com
    * http://Wattpad.com
    * http://tuesdayserials.com

  5. Laura, I seem to have seen a lot of serial comic strips (“Big Nate,” “Doonesbury,” et.al.) and they appear to be popular.

  6. Form follows content, and in my book selling experience one of the least accepted publishing formats was a collection of stories by an individual author. There are notable and anecdotal exceptions and they are all statistical outliers to the mean of the aggregate. Given the response data to the number of free excerpts collected on reader devices and actually read, the reader-consumer doesn’t seem to care much for the format. Themed anthologies always fare better — particularly when they showcase a genre or sub-genre, as an entree to the best authors practicing.
    Laura: I get tired of the Dickens analogy too. Bound books were a luxury (still), widespread literacy was nascent, in addition to limited good reading time with available daylight (candlelight and oil lamps aren’t so effective for reading).

    1. David: What are the response data to the number of free excerpts collected on reader devices and actually read, high? low?

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