08 September 2006

The Serial Novel

Penguin have just announced that they will be releasing a novel in serial form before it is published next year. Gordon Dahlquist's fantastical gothic mystery Glass Books of the Dream Eaters will be sent to buyers in the mail in ten weekly paperback instalments, each with a cliff-hanger ending, before publication of the full hardcover in January. Stephen King tried this in 2000 with his novel The Plant. He charged readers one dollar a time to download each chapter, and promised to keep writing so long as people kept paying for their reading. Best-selling author: novel idea: lots of publicity. I downloaded the first chapter, and it wasn't too bad. And yet the experiment didn't work - and you don't need a Nobel Prize in economics to see why. He was charging too much. Readers quickly realised that at fifteen episodes, the total cost of the book would be more than a normal paperback. King hadn't taken the beginner's class in eCommerce. If people are doing the work of downloading and possibly printing out the book, they should only be charged a small fraction of the normal cost. Penguin are going even further down this Suicide Route. Their press release proudly boasts "Only 5,000 editions of the serial version will be sold for 25 pounds ($47.08) each with free delivery, and they must be purchased online directly from Penguin. The hardcover will retail for 16.99 pounds."


Gary James said...

Didn't King release the Green Mile as separate bite-sized paperbacks? I bought the first two but then decided I would just rather wait around for the whole novel to be released. As it happens it turned out to be one of the best he's ever done.

Roy said...

yes - you're right. And it's interesting to note that the single volume novel was both a success, and has been turned into a film.

Your observation sort of proves my point. I don't think people were prepared to both wait, and pay extra.

I still think the serial-download formula might work, but readers need a big incentive - and that in the end would mean very cheap downloads.