Kindle Serials (Part Three)

This is part three of a three part series. The series begins here.

There’s been a certain level of excitement about Amazon’s Kindle Serials announcement, including articles like this one from Jason Allen Ashlock on Digital Book World (in which, by the way, Moveable Type is announcing a serial of its own).

But, like the serial GAMELAND that we spoke of in Part Two, in reality,  there are already many popular serials being published on Amazon–they are just being published one episode at a time: Look at Hugh Howey’s  Wool or Sean Platt and David Wright’s Yesterday’s Gone. Prices for the episodes usually range from 99 cents to $2.99 each and occasionally, even free. Generally, when these series are complete, they are published in either an omnibus edition or a boxed set.

But for the new Kindle Serials, Amazon is only charging $1.99 for the entire series! Right now, no one knows whether that  price point is only an introductory offer or a vision for the future.. In his article “Kindle’s Serial Killer,” writer Mike Cane viewpoint is that “Bezos has just lowered the floor for eBook prices again.” His advice to writers is to “pass on this.”

Kate Sullivan of Candlemark & Gleam notes:

It looks like the current Kindle Serials available are $1.99, which seems to be a standard Amazon tactic – it’s sort of a loss-leader, positioned exactly at the novel-selling sweet spot these days. From that point of view, it’s a great price – it’s cheap enough to make people willing to take the risk on an unknown author and/or a format they’re not familiar with. From the point of view of someone who likes to see creative types paid a fair wage for their work, though, I really despise the 99c and $1.99 price points for full novels. We charge $5 for a basic serial, with additional content and rewards available at other tier price points, and I think that’s fair. But promotional pricing can be anything you want, and I’m going to look at the current $1.99 pricing on the Kindle Serials as just that – a way to get market penetration through encouraging people to take a low-priced risk.

Authors like Saul Tanpepper express concern that “$1.99 is too restrictive, for both readers and writers.”

Compare the $1.99 price tag to the price for Baen Books’ Webscriptions, where for $15 a month, subscribers get serialized versions of upcoming new Baen titles.

But it is not only the price point that may be restrictive for authors: Like the Kindle Singles program, the Kindle Serials program is curated. Authors must submit samples of their serial and get accepted by Amazon in order to get published. The fact that three of the serials currently offered are from the same Studio hints that there are obviously some agreements already in place for serials material. Just how open the program is to new material remains to be seen.

Customers have some concerns as well. Many of those concerns have little to do with price. What if the author doesn’t finish the series? It is bad enough for a reader when an author doesn’t finish a series of books. (Consider Sterling E. Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey or Dean Koontz’s Moonlight Bay series or Anne Rice’s never-written sequel to The Mummy, among many, many others.) But an unfinished serial is actually an unfinished book! That’s certainly not a recipe for customer satisfaction!

And anticipation may not be for everyone! I read some disgruntled comments about Tor publishing the next book in the Old Man’s War series as a serial. Some fans would rather wait for the whole book to be available. (Personally, I’m one of those –  Remember how I said I bought The Green Mile and The Blackstone Chronicles serials in the 90s? I actually waited until I had bought them all so I could read them like a complete book!)

The serials market is clearly going to be an important ebook market, with content, availability, delivery and price all being dynamic issues going forward. And it may not just be the ebook market pushing the boundaries. I just stumbled on a website for a new print serial called Ora et Labora et Zombie. Written as an epistolary novel, the book consists of 4-6 page letters (on watermarked stationary and with a hand-printed cover sheet) that are actually mailed to your house.  With 72 episodes priced at $3 each, the total price of the book may actually make agency pricing look good.

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