When Amazon revived the idea of serial novels, or publishing stories in bite-sized chunks, in 2012 they took care to make sure that readers only paid once to got all the installments to a story.
Harlequin is taking a different approach. PW reports that the romance publisher has signed 8 authors to each write one section of a serial novel:
Each of the eight installments of the digital-first series, which will all be released on January 12, is written by a different author and ends with a cliffhanger. By publishing all the installments on the same day, the publisher is trying to mimic the "binge-watching" consumption model created by streaming television.
“We are emulating the experience and enjoyment people receive from binge-watching a television series on one of the streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon or Hulu,” said Loriana Sacilotto, executive v-p of global editorial at Harlequin.
Writers of the eight-episode serial include Harlequin authors Carla Cassidy, Tyler Anne Snell, Carol Ericson, and Gail Barrett. The publisher described the series, which is cut up into 30,000-word episodes, as a “high-octane, suspenseful and addictive FBI thriller.” It features a New York special agent named Lara Grant who harbors dark secrets.
The first volume is available today as a free download in the Kindle Store and in other ebookstores. The other seven installments cost $1.50 each, so if you got all eight parts you would spend $10.50 and get a 200 plus thousand word story.
You can find more details on the Harlequin website.
While it might look like Harlequin is copying an idea that Amazon tried three years ago
(and abandoned in 2014), there are several differences between Harlequin's project and Amazon's. The latter spread the serial out over time, while Harlequin is releasing all parts today.
Between that and the eight authors, what we have here might be better termed as a themed boxed set of novellas (which for some reason are sold individually and not as a set).
Themed box sets are a great way for readers to find new authors, but the idea worked because readers pay only once to get everything. Harlequin, on the other hand, is gambling that each installment will be good enough for readers to keep buying.
As we've seen with everything from Stephen King's The Plant to monthly digital magazine subscriptions, that's not a good gamble. Take The Magazine, for example. This subcompact publication launched to much fanfare in 2012, only to shut down in late 2014 because it could never grow its paying subscriber base. It kept bleeding subscribers every month as they were billed for their subscription.
Harlequin is going to have a similar problem. They are going to lose readers each time they are prompted to buy another installment, and that means that the last volume is going to be the least read of all eight installments.
But will it truly be a serious issue? Romance readers are binge readers, so they would be more likely than your average subscriber to finish a series.
What do you think?
Speaking of serials, Amazon stopped publishing them in late 2014. They published 73 titles in all, with the last two by Neil Stephenson and Hugh Howey.
Edit: Amazon is still publishing serials, they just stopped listing them on that page. A reader tipped me to the fact that he just got the last installment in a serial (Indexing: Reflections). Thanks, Peter!