Serialization

The OP describes a currently secret method/process for serializing traditionally-published books and making money from sales of such serials. It’s focused on traditional publishers and is, potentially, a different way of monetizing their backlists.

It is a long-standing practice in traditional publishing to put most titles out to pasture a few years after their initial release. They’ll keep some copies in a warehouse in case someone or someone’s friendly local book seller, contacts the publisher Agatha Christie and similar evergreen authors are among the rare exceptions to this habit.

It is pretty clear to PG that Publishing Perspectives was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with some teeth in it before being briefed on this method/process, so the OP includes a lot of dancing around, presumably to work around the requirements of the NDA.

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our sources tell us that the company developing this app expects that it will welcome new content as well as backlist, “seeing serialized fiction as representing a major opportunity for publishers to bring new and exclusive content to a rapidly growing storytelling medium while also allowing them to unlock revenue and value from back-catalogue content. The company sees this new revenue opportunity for back-catalogue content as similar to how streaming unlocked new revenue for studios.”

What’s more, the age-demographic shift from that of Webtoon and Wattpad is quite significant. At Wattpad, for example, 90 percent of the platform’s universe of users is GenZ and millennials, and Webtoon’s anchoring aesthetic in comics and graphical storytelling keeps it close to a younger readership, as well. Professionally created and operated channels for adult literature (as well as for nonfiction offerings, for that matter) could provide many publishers the leverage of serialization but for a more mature consumer base.

Publishing Perspectives understands that the development team behind the app is already “in discussion with traditional publishers and bestselling authors” as the project comes together. And we’ll have more details of this new development as they’re made available to us.

But as a final note, it’s interesting to remember that a strong dynamic in backlist sales was observed in many markets during the deepest periods of the world’s coronavirus-related lockdowns. In some markets and demographics, that backlist interest has persisted well beyond the spread-mitigation measures of the early pandemic.

If the new app being described to us can take advantage of that trend, it may arrive with a wind at its back as a new and attractive way for readers to consume backlist as well as new content.

. . . .

Both Wattpad and Webtoon are platforms for the creation and consumption of serialized content, and their combined audience at the time of this report stands at some 179 million users.

Wattpad alone tracks a collective 23 billion minutes being spent monthly by roughly 94 million users, and its user-generated storytelling is what the company calls “webnovels,” written by and for huge communities drawn to serialized stories niched by genres and interests.

Webtoon, however, has two tracks of serialization for its presentation of comic and graphic storytelling.

Webtoon has some user-generated content available, but it also has graphics-industry staffers working with its user-“creators” to produce a class of content with a finished, professional look and feel.
The timing of those serialized releases is coordinated (rather than being posted whenever a user chooses) and Webtoon’s terminology for these properties is “originals,” meaning in this case work that the platform itself is professionally developing and producing.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

10 thoughts on “Serialization”

  1. I read the entire piece, and am mystified. This seems to be a scheme to sell backlisted ebooks, but slicing them up into chunks. I suppose there might be readers out there who have heard about this Stephen King fellow and want to try him out, don’t want to shell out the ten or twelve bucks his backlist ebooks tend to run, but are willing to pay two bucks to sample a few chapters. But I don’t see this being a huge market.

    In the alternative, the idea might be that publishers have a large inventory of backlist rights to titles that they aren’t making available for sale. This seems unlikely. Back in the day, printing books meant using offset printing presses. Offset printing has a low per-copy cost, but there is a substantial up front cost to set up the print run. This is why it made sense to warehouse a bunch of copies and (hopefully) gradually sell them off or (all too often) remainder them. This model still makes sense for books with large print runs, but for more modest print runs it is all digitized and printed on what is essentially an industrial computer printer. The per-copy cost is higher than offset, but once the digital file is set up you can print as few or as many copies at a time as you want for the same cost. And of course with ebooks you don’t even have that per-copy cost.

    The upshot is that books don’t really go out of print anymore. “Out of print” meant that there were no more copies on the warehouse shelves and they weren’t planning on doing another print run. A print run nowadays can be as small as one copy, so if someone wants to buy it they will print it.

    Reply
    • Agreed, R. It seems like quite a foggy explanation for a program that shouldn’t be that difficult to pull off.

      And there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about the idea, except among Big Publishing and its hangers-on.

      Reply
      • It does seem intentionally vague. But I have to credit them for trying something they haven’t already been doing for fifty years. I didn’t know publishers were allowed to do that.

        The first thing I thought of was a subscription model. These guys do know how to write programs that work, and they have access to a large user set. A stepping stone to then buying the full Michner book since they never heard of Michner?

        I have been introducing younger family members to the old movies on TNT, and the reception has been good. One of them recently watched the first Lone Ranger movie (1952) and remarked, “You never see them doing stunts like that today. It would all be digital stuff and camera tricks.”

        Reply
      • I appreciate the imperative to take a shot at traditional publishing, but in reality they routinely make ebooks available for their backlist, at least going back to when ebooks became a thing, and for books likely to actually sell enough to justify the expense, going back to when manuscripts became digital. Going back to when manuscripts were typed on paper is a different matter, as the cost of producing an ebook jumps a lot. There still is a lot out there, but it tends to be restricted to higher profile books, though browsing through old Golden Age SF writers, I am surprised how much is available.

        For anything in the last ten or twenty years, the only difference in availability between traditional and self publishing is that the traditionally published backlist books will tend to run from eight to twelve dollars, while the self published books typically run from zero to three dollars.

        Reply
        • SF is a genre strongly rooted in its past because of its subculture origins. Not sure this will last much longer but for now anybody who is serious about it ends up looking for those that came before. And given the nature of the genre, the best of the past holds up fine across time.

          This makes the deep SF backlist quite profitable to keep alive and, because of its roots in the pulps, already short. No need to chop up for serialization as breaking up a a 40-60K book isn’t going to produce much of a serial.

          If anything, the SF backlist is better suited for aggregation, as demonstrated by all the collections of out-of-copyright content to be found on Amazon.

          Reply
    • You are correct: serialized narratives in print (or video) are by all evidence not a significant market.

      Not for Amazon (two attempts in ten years, both going unnoticed), not for Quibi, not for TELLTALE GAMES. Serial formats like comics and tv require each segment to satisfy on its own, not merely string the consumer along in the hope of a potential payoff somewhere down tbe line.

      I seriously doubt any software can successfully chop up a unitary work into marketable chunks *without* extensive rewrites that kill the author’s vision.

      Way back when HILL STREET BLUES started it was (very well written) as a sigle season-long novel. And while the episodes were well received by critics, the viewers had different, impatient views. The writers reworked the multiplicity of threads so tbat each episode saw at least one sub-plot settled. This satisfied the audience and tbe show thrived instead of dying.

      And when it comes to books, there’s this new-fangled thing called LOOK INSIDE and downloadable samples for tbe curious so I don’t see a market need for retroactive serialization. It is hard enough to do upfront when the author is composing tbe work and, again, today’s world isn’t terribly fond of “to be continued”.

      Reply
        • Dunno but why would he?
          He only bets on things with BIG payoff potential. Tradpub as a whole is nowhere near his standards so I doubt a (currently) non-existent niche thereof holds much interest for him. Note how he lost interest in Twitter once he learned its audience was ‘bot heavy.
          Plus chopped up backlist is hardly going to be useful to the Martian martyrs. 😉

          Reply
          • It’s the attitude toward risk rather than the nominal expected value I’m referring to. Maybe the venture will fail. OK

            Anyone remember all the authors confidently telling us Amazon’s subscription service would be a dismal failure?

            Reply
            • All of whom were tradpubbed.
              The Indies actually bothered to read Amazon’s sales pitch emphasizing discovery.

              So, would *you* pay a buck for a tenth of a backlist title?

              The issue isn’t risk reward but market research: serialized works is*not* a new idea. It is centuries old at tbis point. It used to be viable *inside serial publications* but not as a standalone product. As a standalone it has been tried, repearedly and all it ever has done is fail. And quite recently, too.

              With that history, why is skepticism not warranted?

              Reply

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