Serial Box Combines the Best of TV & Books
Many critics declare that consumers are experiencing a “Golden Age of Television," pointing towards the slew of high-quality programming available on premium channels like HBO, streaming services such as Netflix, and even basic cable. Book publishers may be able to learn a thing or two from how these addictive programs are being made. That’s what Serial Box aims to do, says co-founder Molly Barton: “Serial Box blends what’s cool about TV series (team written, easily digestible episodes, new content every week) with everything that was already great about books (well-crafted stories, talented authors, enjoyable everywhere).” The book publisher is creating original, team-written stories that are released via audio and text each week and over the course of multiple seasons. The startup will release six serials in 2016 and is seeing a growing demand for its serial content. Here Barton explains why she and co-founder Julian Yap created Serial Box and shares her plans for the future.
What problem are you solving?
We want to give people an easy entry point for reading -- 40 minutes of reading (or listening) once a week and you can stay up to date with the water cooler conversation about Bookburners or Tremontaine. It's more fun and more social to read a serial than a novel because of the TV-like cadence of the release. Fans are writing weekly recaps of the episodes -- some in comic form! -- and the audience for our serials is building over the course of the season as word spreads. Because our serials are developed in a writers’ room with a team of talent, and we aren't tied to traditional publishing practices, we can move very quickly (4-5 months) from story idea to publication. Also, the writers’ room can take into consideration fan reactions as they finalize mid- and late season episodes. Our writers are finding this tight feedback loop with readers exciting and creatively inspiring.
How did you come up with this idea?
Julian Yap and I both had this idea independently of one another -- he from a personal place where he was frustrated that a demanding job meant he was reading much less than he had previously. He noticed he still found time for a few comic books and TV shows and wondered if novels could take some lessons from these other media forms.
I became fixated on serialization while I was global digital director at Penguin. We ran a couple of extremely successful experiments with serialization, and I got really interested in what can happen for a fictional story when you give it three months instead of a couple weeks of attention around the release of a novel. I also simply love the form -- finishing an episode on a Wednesday night and having those characters in the back of my mind until the next Wednesday is a really satisfying experience. Very different from the bedside-table-guilt that often goes along with reading traditional books.
What important trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?
I think audio is vastly underestimated in terms of its importance and potential. The hands-free quality of reading that way is marvelous. And audiobooks don't have to feel like dusty masterpiece-theatre kind of productions. They can be edgy and as up to date in terms of style and presentation as the best podcasts being produced today. Our interest in audio is why we offer every serial in both text and audio form.
Who is your competition?
There are certainly other companies who've worked on serialization -- Rooster, The Pigeonhole, Amazon Publishing. And often the focus has been on delivery method rather than on original productions of high quality, well-paced, episodic stories. Wattpad is chock full of serialized fiction mostly written by new writers and we’re really interested in what’s happening there between writers and readers. What’s different about Serial Box is that what we release are highly produced serials meant to be read in episodes. These aren’t books that we’ve chopped up into chunks. And for each serial, we assemble a writers’ room of experienced writers led by a show-runner.
Like everyone, we’re really competing for people’s time and attention. Fortunately Serial Box episodes are highly compatible with commuting -- you can listen if you're driving or on a crowded subway. And we've tuned the length of our episodes so you can finish an episode in your morning and evening commute each Wednesday.
We've got six serials coming out next year that we're really excited about, including Season 2 of Bookburners which is an urban fantasy adventure with tones of Supernatural and X-Files. We started with two fantasy serials, but in the coming years we’ll be expanding into new categories -- like HBO, we want to offer fans high quality stories across a range of categories -- everything from Game of Thrones to GIRLS.
Molly Barton is a cofounder of Serial Box Publishing. Previously she was Global Digital Director at Penguin Random House where she lead the global ebook business, and digital product innovation and content strategy, in addition to building the community-curated publishing platform Book Country. She earned her B.A. from Wesleyan University, where she has also recently served as a faculty member of the Writing Program. She lives in New York City.