Serial Fiction, Binge Reading, Binge Watching

So, we all know Netflix, right? And we all know somebody who “binge watches” Netflix—we might even do it ourselves. Netflix has made all of our favorite TV shows available to us immediately and easily. Often, there will be whole seasons available at any one time, and the service’s auto-play feature makes it easy to just sift through the back catalogue of your favorite series.

            Some idiots apparently think that they can convert binge watchers into binge readers. As the Digital Reader points out, this isn’t going to happen. The first point they make is that book publishers are going about this all the wrong way; we’re serializing at a time when Netflix has proven that we can just dump something in front of people and they’ll watch it. We’re essentially replicating cable TV: release an episode a week, over the course of several weeks or months, and hope people like it enough to “tune in.” That’s the model Slapshot! works on. (To be fair, I’m pulling inspo from an older source.)

Why It Doesn’t Work

Of course, the biggest problem is that the people who are binge-watching Netflix aren’t readers—and they’re unlikely to be converted. These aren’t the people we’re pandering to with serialized books. The plethora of material on Netflix makes it unlikely that a binge-watcher will switch over to books. And don’t forget that Game of Thrones, much as it was a literary phenomenon, only became a cultural touchstone when it became a television series. Television reaches people on a more massive scale than reading does these days. It’s unfortunate, but the truth.

Different Audiences

The reading public, then, is a somewhat different audience. And they’ve been doing both serial and binge-reading for a long time. Serial fiction became popular in the 1800s, when few people could afford to buy books. Instead, they’d buy cheap periodicals with chapter(s) published in them. It was more affordable. Today, we look at something a little different: the economics of time. So many of us are so busy that we find little time for reading. And when we do, it might be a chapter at a time.
Of course, just like those watching Netflix, we might also binge-read. If you go on vacation, you might use it as time to catch up on your reading. If you know your favorite story updates once a week, but you haven’t had time to read for several weeks, you might “binge.” Or you might pick up a favorite series and re-read it over the course of a few days.

Serial Fiction Is Like Binge-Watching

Serial fiction works for today’s reader, not because we want to draw in “binge-readers,” but because it’s friendlier for our schedules. Readers still want to read, but they may not have the time to commit to a full book. A chapter a week feels much less daunting. We can keep up with that—much the same way we can keep up with our favorite television show when it airs on Thursday night.
Serial fiction works a bit like the Netflix model, though: readers can keep up with a once-a-week release, or, if they fall behind, they can catch up later. They don’t need to be right there when the chapter is released—unlike television. Much like Netflix, the chapter will be there for you when you have time. And if you want to binge-read, you’re welcome to it. You don’t need to worry about “missing” it or being bound by the schedule. And that’s the beauty of serial fiction for the modern reader; it can be slotted into their schedule more easily.

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