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As E-Books Conquer Print, Amazon Introduces New Serialized E-Publishing Format

September 7th, 2012 by · 3 Comments · Amazon, ebook format, ebookstore news

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There’s an awful lot of coverage of the Kindle Event yesterday, and I’m still working my way through some of it. (The video of the 1:12 press event was posted last night on YouTube so you can watch it for yourselves.) But a couple of bits from TechCrunch interested me in particular.

First of all, there’s the bit where Bezos presents this graph (seen at 5:55 in the video) showing the fairly shallow hill-like growth of physical book sales over the 16 years since Amazon’s founding, compared to the hocky-stick growth of e-books since Amazon started selling them in 2008.

As TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis points out, there are no numbers on the Y axis, so we don’t know what the scale is. But we’ve heard Amazon crowing before about its e-books sales passing print sales, and we already know how it’s one of the biggest movers of print books, so if there is any exaggeration in the scale (and there probably is) it’s likely slight. (I wonder what caused that dip in print sales around 2000-2001?) Tsotsis thinks the writing is definitely on the wall for the future of print books. (Though, granted, promoting that perception was the point of Bezos’s dog-and-pony show yesterday.)

But perhaps more interesting is the other news to come out of that event about the new serialized fiction format Amazon will be pushing for the Kindle (and Kindle e-reading apps). The format seems kind of similar to Baen Webscriptions, in a way: you pay once for the story, then get it doled out to you a piece at a time. The first few books will be mysteries and thrillers, which seems to work well for the format—after all, cliffhangers keep people coming back.

But one interesting way in which they’re dissimilar to Webscriptions might just be found in this paragraph from the press release (with bold-face emphasis mine):

Serialized content, whether it’s a TV show, movie trilogy or written work, is a great and much-loved form of entertainment – it leaves viewers and readers wanting more, eagerly anticipating the fates of their favorite characters,” said Jeff Belle, Vice President, Amazon Publishing. “With Kindle Serials, we’re bringing episodic books to readers in a unique way that’s seamless and hassle-free, with new episodes being added to the book as they’re published. And readers can discuss the stories on Amazon discussion boards as they’re being written – like virtual water cooler conversations – perhaps even influencing where the next episode may go. As with Kindle Singles, we’re aiming to open up new ways for authors to write and customers to enjoy great writing – we think people are going to love this format.”

Baen’s serialized books are, after all, drafted, edited, proofed, and printed before they’re published. They’re in final form (except for e-arcs, which are in nearly final form). But what Amazon is doing here seems more akin to the way Storyteller’s Bowl projects like Sharon Lee & Steve Miller’s Fledgling and Saltation or Diane Duane’s The Big Meow were written, with episodes going up as they were finished.

Or, more to the point, it seems like the way writers of Internet fiction have worked since time immemorial, posting episodes as soon as they were finished and building fan followings who discussed their stories with them as they were in process and sometimes had a marked influence on the way future stories went. Indeed, in my free time right now I’m involved in a serialized story in a SF setting an online friend of mine have hashed out. We’re working on the 13th episode so far, not counting several self-contained stories we’ve posted in the setting. It’s great fun to get feedback as we go along, rather than have to wait months for the whole thing to come out.

But can posting-as-written be adequately monetized? On PaidContent, Laura Hazard Owen is dubious that writers will find the royalty fees for the projects worth the extra work of revising them in response to online discussion. Still, Amazon hasn’t exactly done badly at most anything it’s tried so far, so if there is a way to do it, I expect that’s the company to find it.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Richard Adin

    One note about the chart. I’d be surprised if the lines were any different than they are. eBooks started from zero and grew rapidly to some x number, an expected steep incline even if that x number is only 10% of the number of print books. In contrast, pbooks, which have been around for decades would be expected to be relatively level in terms of growth. I’d be much more impressed if there were real numbers provided and the numbers were verifiable.

    I know that Amazon keeps saying that ebook sales surpass pbook sales, but in the absence of real verifiable numbers, I don’t really know if that is true or if Bezos is simply saying it as a way to to encourage more people to join his closed eco system. Remember that people who buy pbooks can buy the same book virtually anywhere; those who buy Kindle ebooks can only buy them at Amazon.

  • Brian

    I bought one of the serialized thrillers and…. I’m not sure I get the appeal. I just want the next part of the story. If you wait and buy the serial once all or some of the parts are completed you will just get all the parts issued to that point anyway, so there is nothing intrinsic to the stories themselves that benefit from serialization. (If the episodic nature were necessary to the story, wouldn’t they issue them episodically no matter how many were completed to that point?)

    The one I picked will get a new ‘episode’ every two weeks but some of them are only updated every month. In a month, I may have read 12-15 other books. Am I supposed to remember the specifics of the story and care about them as much as much as I did when I was when I started reading?

    • Nate Hoffelder

      Agreed. Vary rarely are you going to see a title which really uses the segmented nature of installments to tell a better story.

      Serials were a great idea at that time but not for the reason that most would think. The idea came about because working class couldn’t afford to buy a book with the complete tale but they could afford to buy a monthly installment. Those financial limitations don’t apply anymore.

      And given the lack of financial incentive, I don’t see the reason why Amazon introduced them again.

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