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Harlequin Wants You to Pay $10.50 for a Multi-Author Serial Novel

Tough JusticeWhen 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?

P.S. 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!

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fjtorres January 12, 2016 um 1:52 pm

DC Comics did this once.
It was called DC CHALLENGE.
No repeats, for good reason.

So many things wrong…

As for binging on prose? It’s called a novel.
The point of serials is the expectations while waiting between episodes. Books aren’t video, which is collaborative by nature.

This is at best a writing exercise, at worst a hollow stunt.

Daily Links: Harlequin Wants You to Pay $10.50 for a Multi-Author Serial Novel | The eBook Evangelist January 12, 2016 um 2:36 pm

[…] Harlequin Wants You to Pay $10.50 for a Multi-Author Serial Novel (The Digital Reader) […]

Chris Meadows, Editor of Teleread January 12, 2016 um 3:56 pm

They’re not the first company to try this. I had a few things to say about Serial Box, a start-up that intended to bring TV-style production to serialized e-books. Apparently they’re doing pretty well.

Nate Hoffelder January 12, 2016 um 7:57 pm

I see Serial box is charging per episode, and delivering on a weekly basis. I think they’ll have the same problem as other digital subscriptions.

Weekly Round up of Indie Publishing News and Stuff – 12 January 2016 | Self-Publishing Roundtable January 12, 2016 um 5:55 pm

[…] is trying out a multi-author ebook serial and all ebooks will be released on the same […]

Will Entrekin January 12, 2016 um 8:58 pm

"so if you got all eight parts you would spend $10.50 and get a 200 plus thousand word story."

Or you could pay a little less to get full access to all of Netflix for a month and binge watch all the things!

I will agree with the above, though; novels already have been binge-reading. Netflix seasons are just replicating for watching what we’ve all been doing for years in books.

That said, I think there’s opportunity in serialization. It needs to be more deliberate, though, and likely less expensive.

Also, if Amazon stopped publishing them, it’s likely because they had data to corroborate that it was no longer worthwhile.

Peter January 13, 2016 um 12:01 am

Given that I just (as in about 3 minutes ago) downloaded the just-released final installment of a Kindle serial (Indexing: Reflections, by Seanan McGuire) I have to question the "Amazon stopped publishing serials in 2014" claim. (The book in question doesn’t show up on the Kindle Serials page you linked, so it’s possible that they just dropped the "Kindle Serials" name.)

Nate Hoffelder January 13, 2016 um 12:10 am

Huh. Maybe Amazon stopped listing them as such.

Do you know of an active serial? I’d like to find a way to tell just how wrong I was.

Peter January 13, 2016 um 12:16 am

Afraid I don’t know any active ones, but the final installment of that one just came out today (it started in August of last year).

Nate Hoffelder January 13, 2016 um 12:22 am

That’s okay. I can see from the book you mentioned that an Amazon imprint is publishing a serial. Several reviewers refer to it as such, so I corrected my post.


Harlequin chops a novel into chapters to enable ‘binge-reading’ – TeleRead January 13, 2016 um 10:38 am

[…] end with cliffhangers? A novel. A regular old, plain-vanilla novel. (Nate Hoffelder calls this a “themed box set of novellas” but I’m not quite sure that’s right. You don’t call a TV series a themed set of tele-movies.) […]

Chris Meadows, Editor of Teleread January 13, 2016 um 12:15 pm

The really funny thing here, as I said in my own piece for TeleRead which you can see in the trackbacks if you look down, is that a "serialized" novel that you can "binge-read" is, in fact, a novel. People "binge read" books all the time. You don’t have to split one up into individually-sold chapters written by different people to make that possible!

Nate Hoffelder January 13, 2016 um 1:56 pm

Could they be trying to move readers from buying single novels to a model more like comic books, where you buy weekly installments?

Chris Meadows, Editor of Teleread January 13, 2016 um 3:59 pm

If they were, then I’d think they should be releasing them in weekly installments, like Serial Box is.

But they specifically said they were intentionally releasing them all at once so readers could "binge" on them—which makes little sense, given that they’re perfectly capable of "binging" on a traditional published-as-a-single-lump novel, and many do.

Harlequin chops a novel into chapters to enable ‘binge-reading’ – TeleRead January 20, 2016 um 2:50 am

[…] end with cliffhangers? A novel. A regular old, plain-vanilla novel. (Nate Hoffelder calls this a “themed box set of novellas” but I’m not quite sure that’s right. You don’t call a TV series a themed set of tele-movies.) […]

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