When I talk to people about my job, one thing I hear about a lot — besides the good old chestnut “I still love the feel of paper books” — is Charles Dickens. Literary devotees are like, oh, he issued his novels in installments, they were super popular and people would fight each other to get them when he released a new one: why doesn’t anybody do that now?
The difference between those projects and Kindle Serials, though, is that with Kindle Serials, you only pay once and then the downloads are automatic: i.e., buy the first “episode” and all of the remaining ones are free. As new installments are published, Amazon automatically adds them to the end of your existing book. Readers don’t have to remember to check for new episodes and they don’t have to pay for them. “Seamless and hassle-free,” said Amazon Publishing VP Jeff Belle in the press release.
Amazon is also inviting readers to discuss the serials on message boards as they’re published, so that authors can adapt the story as they write installments. That’s a lot of work for authors for a low price point that they only get paid once, unless Amazon has figured out some other type of royalty scheme (it’s presumably also paying authors a flat fee for writing one of these). Note the $1.99 price is “introductory” and it seems likely to go up.
Overall, the simple buying process could be the reason that Kindle Serials succeed where other experiments with the format have, if not failed, not achieved Dickens-like popularity. The question remains, though, whether anything can achieve Dickens-like popularity in an age where there are a lot more books and other forms of entertainment competing for people’s attention.