Serial Box is a new digital publishing venture looking to attract readers with serialized genre fiction that is produced very much like TV shows. The startup offers original fiction in e-book and audiobook formats that is delivered directly to consumers on a weekly basis. Readers can choose which medium they want, or use the Serial Box app to access both and even toggle between them.
In addition to emulating TV’s episodic presentation, Serial Box is also adopting the TV writing model, employing a team of writers to produce each season-long series with material that will run for 13–16 episodes. Currently in beta, Serial Box launched to the public on September 16 with BookBurners, a paranormal crime story written by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery. In late October, the company will release Tremontaine, a swashbuckling 13-episode love and adventure series written by Ellen Kushner, Joel Derfner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Racheline Maltese, and Patty Bryant.
One of Serial Box’s cofounders is Molly Barton, former global digital director at Penguin Random House, who left PRH in 2014 to launch her own publishing startup. “Why not create original books like a TV series?” Barton asked. “We’re trying to blend TV and book story creation.”
“While I was still at PRH, people were talking a lot more about TV shows than books,” Barton said. “Episodic storytelling offers easy entry points; you can meter out the story.” Barton’s cofounder, Julian Yap, a former senior counsel in the Justice Department and a self-described big reader, said he began to formulate a business plan around serial publication when he noticed he wasn’t reading novels anymore, mostly because “I didn’t have the time.” However, he was drawn to consuming more TV and comics, he said, because “there’s no time barrier; you can tune in and tune out. They’re accessible.”
Brought together by a mutual acquaintance, Yap and Barton became business partners when they realized they both shared a vision and a tagline—both had conceived of the project as “HBO for readers” before they met—for a new kind of reading venture.
Serial Box, its founders emphasize, will focus on creating original episodic genre fiction. Barton was quick to differentiate Serial Box from other efforts at serialized digital fiction, including Web venues such as Wattpad, where many writers serialize fiction as they write it, and DailyLit, which emails serialized versions of classic and contemporary fiction to subscribers. All content is original and developed specifically for presentation on Serial Box. “We’re producing original serials, not chopping up content in order to serialize it,” Barton said.
Serial Box content is also produced like a TV series. The company signs up a lead writer who writes a “show bible” and works with Serial Box to put together a team of writers that “hash out the series,” Yap said. Serial Box pays advances, as well as royalties based on the size of the readership the series attracts. The company approaches agents for proposals and also accepts pitches directly from writers. “Artists can pitch directly to us; if we like it we’ll put together the rest of the writer team,” Yap said. “We talk to TV writers for ideas, but we bring in novelists to do the writing.”
Serial Box has three full-time staffers—Barton, Yap, and publicity director Leah Withers, who formerly worked at Tor—in addition to a variety of freelance contractors for art direction, coding, development, and other functions. Barton said the venture has secured funding from private investors, adding, “We’re in good shape.”
Consumers can buy a single episode in e-book or audio format for $1.99. If they subscribe to the entire series, they can get each episode for $1.59—no payment is required until the episode comes out. First episodes of every series will be free. Consumers can access content via the Serial Box website or the app. “The app is the best experience,” Barton said. “You can read or listen to the audiobook version, and it will mark where you are in the story.” Serial Box content is also available via the usual digital channels, including Google Play, iTunes, and others.
Serial Box has a variety of strategies for attracting new readers. Barton outlined plans to use beta testers, strategic audience research (including tapping the fans of specific writer teams), and metadata optimization to help make its content discoverable. The company will also distribute targeted excerpts from each series (Bookburners will run on tor.com, Tremontaine on Romantic Times) , use “official” recappers (the popular practice of retelling the action of a TV show while adding a bit of personal spin and comic perspective), and take out paid advertising in key publications. “We see Serial Box as a network, not a platform,” Barton said.