Kindle serials

Half-formed thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

To add onto SgL’s last post — I have been wondering if Amazon’s latest program, Kindle Unlimited, the subscription service released back in July to compete with Scribd and Oyster, is part of their ongoing experiment with non-traditional models. (And if Kindle Serials, which functioned much like a subscription service, has become obsolete and will ultimately be phased out.) A lot has been said already about KU from a reader’s perspective, as well as a lot of ongoing chatter/controversy at various writer boards, so I’m wary of adding much more to the conversation.

But. A few things that have been on my mind:

1. The rise of paid serials outside of existing programs (in particular Kindle Serials)

– I think this started roughly in 2013 with H.M. Ward and her (still ongoing) “Arrangement” serial. Each installment is short novella length (~20k?) and published for $2.99.  She’s been wildly successful, obviously. This led to a surge of serialization in various romance subgenres.

– To be precise, there was stuff going on with the form as early as 2011, and 2012 is probably where it first started hitting its stride on Amazon, especially in the erotica/romance realm (H.M Ward among them). I remember this being the impetus (or one of them) for the Kindle Serials program (unleashed late 2012). I wasn’t paying as much attention at the time though, so please do correct me if I’m mistaken. (2013 is only when it seemed to me serials started becoming “mainstream” due to a variety of factors.)

– 2014 in particular saw the rise of serialization in paranormal romance, with several writers finding great success there, all without relying on Kindle Serials

– I believe SF was the other genre that saw an indie serialization boom thanks in part to Hugh Howey (but I did not watch this as closely)

2. Ye Olde Pricing Dilemma

– H.M. Ward prices each installment at $2.99, as mentioned above. A fair number of serializers follow this model too. But there are also a lot of 99c per installment serializers, who then price higher for “bundled” versions of the story. Installment lengths vary (especially depending on genre), but are generally in the 10k-30k range.

– There was a lot of vocal reader complaint about these pricing models, especially since way back at the start of the Kindle/self-publishing movement the fad had been full novels priced at 99c (with $2.99 being the other common option). There’s been a definite shift in pricing models over the years, but it’s also undeniable that the math can be harsh for the serial reader: last I checked “The Arrangement” is now on part 17, for example, with several offshoots. That’s $50+ in all for maybe 3-5 novels’ worth (if we count strictly by words and assume a base of 20k)… which actually isn’t that outrageous compared to equivalent print pricing*.

Of course, either way it hasn’t really stopped these installments from selling like hotcakes. Despite complaints, there has clearly also been a large contingent of readers who are perfectly happy paying for what they love (or who complain about it but pay up anyway).

* sure, apples and oranges, but probably just as much so as comparing serials with novels in the first place

– 99c may be a friendlier price for readers (from what I observed there were complaints even at that price point though), but disadvantages authors due to the lower royalty rate

– This was an issue Kindle Serials faced as well. The program seemed to approach the matter essentially as if serials were novels: a reasonable one time payment per serial with all subsequent episodes free. Great deal for the reader and fair for the author, but potentially not as profitable as independent releases as above, and also not good for writers with really lengthy serials.

3. Enter Kindle Unlimited

– For $9.99 a month, a reader can read anything they want in the program. Authors are paid per read out of a fixed pool (which may just be there for show, considering the fact that Amazon has manipulated the size of said pool every month of the program’s existence thus far to ensure [or so it seems to me] deliberately calculated payout rates). For the serializing community, this is a win-win for both sides… assuming, of course, that the reader is voracious (i.e. reads other writers’ material in the program too) and/or there are enough installments published and/or the writer publishes frequently. Reading either three to four $2.99 installments or ten 99c installments in a month is enough to make that fee worth it.

– But the program’s exclusivity requirement (anything in KU cannot be published anywhere else) may or may not be to its detriment, as well as the fuzzy payment pool issue. H.M. Ward (who was allowed to experiment with KU without being bound by the exclusivity requirement) recently claimed to have seen a drastic loss in revenue due to the program and has since pulled her work out. Whether or not the loss of revenue for her is true, it’s certainly true that readership will be limited to the Amazon customer base (which is nothing to sneeze at, mind).

(NOT, however, limited to KU subscribers. Those who don’t subscribe can still purchase, as before.)

– Also, KU was not designed specifically with serials in mind. Whether or not it has succeeded for novels is kind of a touchy issue among writers. But the impact of the program has definitely been far broader than Kindle Serials. And even half a year in, it’s really tough to gauge the full implications — in particular the question of “who is really using/will continue to subscribe to KU in the long run?”

4. Differing paths of evolution…

Over the past few years it’s started to appear to me that “webfiction” and “serials” have been evolving along different (but not necessarily contradictory) paths — one with a free/community-based model (Wattpad et al), and another, more aggressive commercial model. KU feels like a gamechanger, and yet it’s hard to say how things will develop from now on. The market is in constant flux. I’m not convinced the dust has settled, and even when it does (if it does), I’m sure there will be more changes waiting ahead of us.

Either way, as 2014 comes to a close, there are a lot more options now to consider, especially for a new writer interested in serializing. Having experimented with a few options myself by now (some under another, secret name), I’m not convinced any path is easier/superior to the others.

But that freedom of choice is what makes this all really so exciting.

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June 7, Biweekly News Roundup

YA Readers in the Age of Social Networking: A CBC Forum

This Publisher Weekly piece  isn’t per se about serials/online novels but about teen readers.  Using some data /information provided from Wattpad, Teenreads, and Tumblr, the panelists draw some conclusions about how teens read, when it’s best to engage them with new works, and offer other ideas.  This forum appears to have been discussed fairly widely. Additional article here

For those who don’t care about the teen audience, some randomly interesting information from the first article:

  • Wattpad has 15 million active readers, half under the age of 25
  • 80% of traffic is through mobile devices

I haven’t quite brought up the issue of designing websites to be mobile device friendly, but it does beg the question – what does your serial look like on the mobile web?

Chinese Military Fantasy web novels – a unique subset of literature that could not exist anywhere except online

I was forwarded an article on China and its digital habits that pointed a foreign policy article that discusses the phenomena of Chinese military novels. Per that article  the author asserts that are thousands of Chinese war fantasy novels on the Internet that have really no other place to exist because of their content.  I’m always fascinated by the online writing/reading habits in East Asia, but isn’t it something to realize that writing online sometimes is the only method of expression available to a writer?   (Please note that you  may have to register to see the second article. It is free.)

Serial novels reveal how we’re willing to wait for a good story

This piece from the Minnesota Star Tribune provides a general background on what serials were historically and tries to wrap up with how ebooks seem to be generating interest in the format.  There are actual references to Webfiction Guide, Eat your cereal (publisher) and Denver Cereal (a specific serial) although the author has mislabeled these as “publishers.”

Other Stories:

Semiweekly News Roundup, Ending 4/14/2013

From royalty to fugitive

In this showbiz article from Asia comes news of a live action adaptation of a successful online novel from China.  Again, no surprise here. As has been discussed on Pandamian and in other blogs, the serial prose/online novel format works quite well overseas.

Paywalls are Scary Growth Killers

In these two pieces, the authors reflect on paywalls. In general, there’s a great deal of uneasiness about paywalls and whether anyone truly is going to be able to monetize off a largely closed content system.

More data and observations from Kindle Serials

In another interesting piece from PaidContent, author Laura Hazard Owen summarizes several pieces of information related to webcontent. Of note is her link to the WSJ which then links to another piece from April 11 on serial novels.  Catch this one before it goes behind the firewall. To summarize

* Their Kindle serial update frequency worked best for them on weekly basis
* Their best selling entry came in at 80,000 copies. Wow.

I think the comment on the bad reaction to the one story that sold episodes at 1.99 e ach was pretty insightful. I think the tolerance for the format largely is underwritten by the low price. The Kindle Serials model works more like a subscription and I think that while there may be room to experiment upwards with pricing… not by too much.  Serials are still very much a gamble for readers unless they know the author well and asking someone to invest beyond the common currency of the internet (which hovers around 0.99-2.99) is a lot to ask.

Waterstones founder to launch Spotify-like service for books in 2013

If you recall from a previous news post, Waterstones was experimenting with adding “in store/book only” copy to their in-store books.  This sounded like a measure to try to drive people back to their stores to buy books.  Now it appears they’re jumping into serials as well. 

All well and good, I wish them well. I’m fairly sure that Amazon’s success along with a lot of media profiling of serials end of 2012 and in early 2013 is going to mean more folks entering into the marketplace this year.   Hopefully this is good news for the rest of us independently serializers 🙂

Self Publishing Podcast talks Free Serials

Several of the podcast’s hosts are serializers on Kindle. They have done it both ways — releasing “episodes” of a season as different books as well as participating in the formal Kindle Serials program.  I mentioned their experiment in a previous post. In this podcast, they reflect on their free episodes experiment.

It sounds like the experiment has had some mixed results, including a disappointing lack of reviews.  This spurs a conversation about their readers and some pondering about what direction they should take for future episodes. I think this is a great podcast, but if you can’t spend the hour to listen or watch on Youtubetake a look at the show notes at the youtube channel.  Warning for moderate language :p.

I still wonder had this run as a donation model off their website if this might have resulted in folks simply providing money out of their good will as opposed to it becoming about reads for reviews or motivating other sales.

Admin notes / online-novel.com

So folks, the Blogger UI is kind of irritating me with its tendency to code clunky html.  So I will be experimenting with a WordPress version of this site.   I apologize for the confusion and encourage those of you using RSS feed trackers to use https://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com.

Two – as I said in the last post with Najela Cobb – if you are a serial writer with webfiction cred doing something new and are interested in being interviewed, please contact me with your name, URL (of your past or current work), and briefly describe what you think you have to share with other readers (current and future) of this blog.

quasiWeekly Update through April 6, 2013 – Serials in the news

Yes, my news posts are rather erratic… at times I have to wait until there’s really enough material of interest.  In any case, happy April to you all… and happy writing! 

Eat Your Serial moves away from just publishing prose

EYS, like Plympton, had a successfully funded Kickstarter to help launch their presence but not Plympton’s connections or incredible timing.  I honestly thought EYS had disappeared when their twitter account had recently gone quiet for several months.  It looks like someone is back at the helm tweeting and blogging.  While Plympton seems to be making movements towards prose (and delivery via email), it looks like EYS will move towards publishing other types of non-prose webserials. 

Could You Write a Kindle Serial?

Roberto Calas, Kindle serial alum, is interviewed by his Amazon editor Marcus Trower.   Really interesting insight into the program itself and while you’re at it, add Marcus Trower to your RSS feedwatcher. 

Hooking Up Versus Going It Alone: What’s a Lonely Serial To Do?

A serial writer asks other writers what they think about platforms like Jukepop and Wattpad while he ruminates about where to post his serial.


Sometimes, I Like To Wait

Anthony Ha is someone who actually enjoys reading serially. He touches on Plympton, Coliloquoy, and Amazon as publishers of serial content… mentions John Scalzi as well.  And sad to see all the other entities he fails to mention like Figment, Wattpad, and Jukepopserials.  Meh.  Seems like all of these entities operate as if they are unaware of each other.