Independent Authors are Still Underestimating Serialized Fiction

Here's what you need to know.

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Hey there, Igniter!

With Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform set to launch in the next month or two (still no date, just solid rumors) and not one but TWO major acquisitions in the serialized fiction app space expected to close this month, I thought I’d do a series about serialized fiction and how it’s changing the landscape of independent publishing, especially around how we make money and sell ebooks.

I know not everyone in the publishing world is interested in serialized fiction—many prefer writing novels and have no intention of jumping in—but what’s happening in serialized fiction is having an effect on ebooks sales and that effect on the market is only set to grow in the coming years.

The Popularity of Serialized Fiction is Here and Growing

Serialized fiction is seeing a renaissance in both English-language markets and globally in other markets. It differs from novels in that it’s far more episodic, organic, and addictive, and the beats are far from set as they might be in a structured novel that plays to specific tropes. Furthermore, serialized fiction has many communities of writers, overlapping with independent self-published authors, television screenwriters, fan fiction writers, and serial writers.

In the US and other major English-language markets, independent authors have limited experience with serialized fiction and fiction apps. We are catching up to countries that have stronger and more mature markets for short-form, episodic storytelling, specifically China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and other countries located physically near to these countries, where various styles of storytelling have spread in popularity.

The readership for serialized fiction and the user base for fiction apps is currently female and young, with most readers aged 25 and under and the majority of the readership under 18. In English-language territories, fiction apps like Kindle Vella are trying to expand the readership to an older audience.

As of today, the bulk of the independent author community is still underestimating the value of serialized fiction and its place in the future of publishing. It’s understandable, as English-language markets for serialized fiction have yet to reach maturation or spell out big dollars for a significant portion of independent authors. I believe this will change in the coming years, as short-form fiction business models emerge and consumption accelerates.

The Factors Driving Short-Form Fiction Consumption

Globally there are several factors that are driving readers to consume more short-form fiction:

  • Device usage and screen time is increasing

  • The gaming industry has popularized interactive and visual storytelling, which is seeping into the text format

  • Censorship laws in many countries, and specifically in several Asian countries, are far stricter for print media than they are for digital or web-based media

  • Social media has created demand for creative, short-form storytelling across nonfiction and fiction

  • Readers are busier, and more reading is happening in the in-betweens rather than in one multi-hour sitting (which is ideal for a novel)

  • Along the same lines, the move to multi-tasking with shorter audio and podcasts, especially at home, during exercise, and in the car has increased demand for short-form content

  • In the film industry, episodic television binging popularized by Netflix is the new “going to the movies” of 15-20 years ago thanks to streaming and subscription-based services

  • In traditional publishing, graphic novels are heating up and being marketed to a younger generation, particularly reluctant readers

These trends are not specific to any particular culture or country, as web and device trends are driving global lifestyle changes toward instant and short-form consumption as a whole.

Big Tech (Amazon, Google, Apple, et. al) Has a Financial Interest in Serialized and Short-Form Fiction

I don’t think anyone in the independent author community has missed the upcoming launch of Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform, a new serialized fiction app aimed at expanding serialized fiction readership and business models in the United States.

I’ve written several articles about why Amazon is launching now, how their history with author services has led to this big launch, and how serialized fiction is not just a side thing, but a change in how books are sold and how readers read. You can catch up on my work with this:

I have about 7-10 more videos on the topic rolling out to Youtube over the next couple weeks as well, including topics:

  • Will Google, Apple, Kobo/Rakuten, or Barnes and Noble Join Kindle Vella and Attempt to Become Major Players in the Serialized Fiction Space?

  • Should You Jump Into Kindle Vella as an Independent Author? (Is it Important To Your Career?)

  • Everything We Know About Kindle Vella (And Lots of Things We’re Speculating On)

We’re Seeing Big Acquisitions in the Space

The two largest North American-based companies for serialized fiction are Wattpad and Radish. Wattpad recently sold to a South Korean company called Naver for $600MM. Radish is closing a deal for $440MM with Naver’s rival, Kakao, after recently raising $63.2MM.

The third largest company in North America for short-form fiction is Tapas, which specializes in webtoons—comics optimized for web and devices. In a surprise move, it was announced that Kakao is also buying Tapas for $590MM. The Kakao deals are already approved and close in June of 2021—this month.

To be clear, these are massive acquisitions by any standard, but especially in the publishing world. So what’s going on?

Both Naver and Kakao are online giants in South Korea, each with their own portfolios of mobile messaging apps, webtoons, search engines, community forums, ecommerce, financial services, and more. Both companies are interested in getting their webtoons, graphic novels, and other fiction properties to English speakers, and bringing English works to their massive user base in South Korea, Japan, and beyond. They also want to find the next major franchise that can be turned into television, movies, merchandise, and more.

If two companies from South Korea want to purchase the two largest English-language serialized fiction platforms, you can assume that other major internet companies from other countries will follow suit. These apps are critical to their growth plans, as digital content is one of the top 5 ways you can build your ecommerce user base. Companies don’t usually invest $300-$600MM in things that they don’t see as major opportunities to grow!

The tech world here in the US has largely ignored both book publishing and fiction apps, but you can bet that will change with many well-resourced companies wanting to get in on what is essentially an empty play field. There are many companies with money to throw around and very few platforms that are even competing in this space. But it won’t and can’t stay that way for much longer, especially with Amazon Vella entering the space.

We Have a Lot of Serialized Fiction Ground to Cover

I’m trying to pack less and less into this emails as I know it can be overwhelming to receive a ton of information at once. I’m not pretending that I’m succeeding at this, as I’m really deep in the weeds on these topics and assume people have been following the news and analysis when they often haven’t. But I will keep trying! Let me know if you have any questions and I can do a full post answering them.

The next several articles I’ll be posting here are:

  • (Thursday, June 10th) Nine Types of Serialized and Short-Form Fiction that are Poised to Be at the Core of Big Tech Publishing (paid subscribers only)

  • (Saturday, June 12th) How Wide Authors are Marketing Their Serialized Fiction

  • (Monday, June 14th) Why Social Media Marketing Will Become More Important in a Fiction App World: What to Do When You Can’t Advertise Your Content

  • (Wednesday, June 16th) Using Social Media to Market Fiction That You Can't Run Ads To: Journaling Questions That Can Help You Get Creative (paid subscribers only)

  • (Saturday, June 19th) Facebook Advertising Trends For Serialized Fiction (paid subscribers only)

As stated, I’ll be sending about 2-4 emails a week through this newsletter, with about half of them for paid subscribers and half for free subscribers. (I haven’t been consistent about that for the past several weeks, but I’m getting on a schedule now as there are over 100 subscribers to this newsletter! Thank you.)

If you are interested in the paid subscribers only articles, I encourage you to upgrade your subscription. There are two ways to do it and you can learn more here under the “Becoming a Subscriber” heading: https://aggressivelywide.substack.com/about

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