Recently, news articles have generated excitement about serials and installed some hope that these new developments will bring more readers, money, or attention to these online novels out there on the web. That said, there is something fundamentally wrong with the ecosystem right now.
Any standalone website with a story on it has two avenues to finding visitors. First — luck of the draw based on your social media capital. (How popular are you online. Or how popular are your online friends. Or how can you go viral?) Second – sharing traffic from a hub or network of existing readers.
There are a few problems I can see right now that mean some problems for the standalone serializer.
Readers exist, they’re just more likely to end up in a colony
Currently the model for serial fiction is predominantly moving in the direction where someone else is doing the aggregation. Meaning, writers and readers are joining other “colonies” and perhaps not existing outside those spaces.
You have the aggregators like Wattpad, Fictionpress, and Jukepopserials. Wattpad has built up a large community ecosystem with votes/comments that influence rankings. Jukepop has no attached forums but does a nice job of bringing serials together in a friendly place for readers. Fictionpress is an easy step up from its fanfiction.net sister for authors to join.
Then there are a large number of more focused communities like Figment that are similar in concept to Wattpad but highly focused towards a specific female demographic. There is Scribd, and sites targeting cellphone novels, and a half a dozen more entrepreneurial fiction start-ups that I’ve mentioned in this blog but they all indirectly “own” the content by putting it under their own “brand.”
There is nothing wrong with using places like this so long as you maintain your rights to unpublish your work and can secure your work. Of course these sites benefit from the content authors can provide them. They generate revenue via advertising or by clever marketing partnerships with publishers. You are both content provider and a source of regular traffic whose data can be mined indefinitely.
The hope is that the trade-off (i.e., number of eyes on you, the author and your work) is worth joining the colony.
Goodreads is one of the largest and most valuable reader communities out there. Serial authors are barely present there amongst the whole host of other indie and mainstream authors. And it’s not to say serial authors should be there promoting themselves obnoxiously, but they’re not present and in any way able to represent their work or the genre
The sites that list fiction still are small and/or do not reflect reader ownership
It’s fair to say that there are three serviceable directories that point to web fiction of some sort or another. Two of the three are heavily geared towards “written works” and tend to favor novel-like serials whereas EpiGuide is more open on the term “webfiction.” (Recently I discovered that in Europe’s news feeds, “webfiction” is actually more a reference to web tv series than written prose. Google that term in their “News” sections and you’ll see!)
But going through all of these show that the majority of reviews are from other authors. This is a worrisome practice in itself that probably came about simply because the readers weren’t there to fill that need for reviews. It’s worrisome because as a whole authors have a conflict of interest. Amazon recently just torpedoed all author reviews of other authors after heavy criticism of their review system and several publicized news articles about the mischief caused by well-known authors who were sock-puppeting reviews and trashing competitors.
Some of the conflict of interest at these directories could be mitigated if the author reviewing other author’s work didn’t end up benefiting with a link to their serial. The incentive actually to review for “sake of your own exposure” decreases.
Also, the entire thing could improve for those sites if readers truly took over but that in itself seems unlikely because none of the hubs are marketed. Admittedly I would be reluctant to do so given the existing conflict of interests that have been built into these sites.
Creators of web fiction, serials, weblit needs to study webcomic network models and adapt it for ourselves
Last year two-three new networks came online for webcomics. The key thing about these networks is that they did several different things. Most importantly all of them allow you to maintain your own site but basically serves as a “ring” either through direct top-bar navigation or ads in your page for other products.
- Comic Rocket — provided a means for content watchers to have one place to track every comic (and some serial webfic) in their network. Think of this as RSS feed tracker meets network.
- Ink Outbreak – Front page portal highlighting “most recently updated” for all members plus a top nav bar.
- Hiveworks – Comic portal (invite only), with robust internal ad network
These came up in response to the other major networks that come and go for various reasons. All have different motives and it’s also likely that ad revenue is a large/huge part of what motivates the members and/or folk who start these up.
But I think the fact that we keep seeing new networks pop up in webcomics is a hint at continuing need to address the traffic problem that exists for niche content. And I commend them for trying to do something about it and the people investing in such a goal.
Long ago, in the old fandom days, we used to band together using the “webring” concept and in thinking about it, it was a pretty good idea that probably fell apart because of shinier, better options to the official Webring entity.
But it still has merit.
Webrings don’t editorialize. (Or rather, they can be editorial free.) And in general promoting a webring has more likely chance to spread traffic to the entire membership than promoting a directory. More creators are likely to get around the idea of promoting their network with the assumption that people are likely to jump into a circle and possibly stay there visiting other sites.
The real danger of course is more about setting up one that works with the independent mindset of creators who want to own everything on their site, including ad revenues or ad revenue sharing.
I know there are coders out there in the indie community who could figure this out. If you do and want input, let’s find places to chat!
1) Running thread of discussions at #weblitpromo on Twitter
2) Storify catching more of Hiveworks CEO’s Antares’ thoughts and a comment about Comic Rocket: http://storify.com/whirlyshirly/conversations-about-weblit-webcomics?utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_fF1n
3) WFG conversation: http://forums.webfictionguide.com/topic/increasing-awareness-of-web-fiction
4) Goodreads placeholder (no posts yet): http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1215857-would-love-your-thoughts—blog-post-on-web-serials-webfic-weblit?format=html