Serial Numbers, or Subscribing to a Theory

This is the very first issue of Analog I ever read. I still have it.I’ve been pondering on the subject of eBooks and digital distribution of books—well, any content—and began to wonder if there is an opportunity for writers and publishers to adopt a different model or, actually, give new life to an old one.

It has been a long-standing practice in monthly magazines to serialize chapters from an upcoming novel. One advantage of this is that readers can get their monthly fix without waiting for the entire novel to be published.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the Internet age, with information available instantly at ones fingertips, is the reduction in the amount of time that many people are willing to wait to get what they want: the phenomenon half-jokingly referred to as “short attention-span theater”.

What is wonder is this: Would readers would be willing to “subscribe” to a book if its chapters were published on monthly basis, rather than waiting until the book was completed?

Magazines sell monthly subscriptions. Some software is available on a subscription basis, allowing users to get free upgrades for a specified period of time. Could this same model be applied to other content?

Following a model similar to online gaming, readers could be offered “tiers” of subscription levels: preview content for free, complete content for a basic subscription, additional content for an additional charge, and perhaps access to all of an author’s work (or all editions of a work) for a “lifetime subscription”.

I can see all sorts of details that would need to be worked out, particularly around pricing:

  • Would a subscription cost more or less than the final book? (I can see readers willing to pay a little more not to have to wait.)
  • Might a subscription price also include a reduced price (or free) edition of the final book?

I can see some advantages:

  • For readers: As previously mentioned, readers would not need to wait months (or years!) to follow the adventures of their favorite characters. In addition, they would receive only the content that they want. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve purchased magazines just for the chance to read a single article or story. While I’m sure that the publishers loved that, it did irk me.)
  • For writers: It could provide a steady stream of revenue for writers and publishers, knowing that they have a committed audience for the length of their subscription to the work. It would also make it much easier for them to keep in contact with their audience, giving them a direct connection to provide their readers with information about upcoming work and appearances.

What do you think? Would you be willing to subscribe to a book?

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