The Kindle Serials program was one of the more interesting aspects of Amazon’s big press event a couple of weeks ago. We’ve done a few serial publishing experiments at O’Reilly (e.g., Every Book Is a Startup and Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and we’ve confirmed that this approach can help authors and publishers connect with readers more than they might through a traditional book.
I also think a serial publishing model could be just what it takes to bring more of a social element to reading. Since the book comes out in segments customers will be reading it at the same time. Depending on how much time passes between installments there will be plenty of opportunities for readers to talk about the story so far and speculate on what will happen next. Amazon is well positioned to capture that conversation as they note at the end of the Serials description:
…and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums.
This works best during the writing/installment phase since synchronous reading across the entire audience pretty much ends once the whole work is available. It’s like weekly TV shows. There’s a nice rhythm where the audience shares laughs from a comedy or speculates what will happen next in a drama. Serial publishing can bring that same phenomenon to ebooks.
What I don’t like about this model though is the content exclusivity aspect of it. As Laura Hazard Owen notes in The serious business of Kindle Serials, some authors are rejecting Amazon’s exclusivity requirement. Good for them. The last thing we need is to see is even higher walls around the Kindle platform.
The Kindle Remorse article I wrote earlier talked about how consumers probably don’t even realize they’re gradually locking themselves into a platform. That’s because Kindle Serials is just the next brick in Amazon’s walled garden.
The social engagement needs to extend much further than any one retailer’s platform. That’s why a service like ReadSocial has always been so appealing to me; it’s open and offered through an API that any content provider can leverage.
Amazon feels it’s in their best interest to create a closed model that also features exclusive content. That’s why I was disappointed (but not surprised) when they forced Findings to shut down their Kindle Highlights sharing feature. I’m hoping that more authors will take the same stance that Byliner did and say no to Amazon’s exclusivity requirements for Kindle Serials. We need more open digital content platforms and fewer closed, closely-guarded ones.