Serialization is nothing new. In fact, it's quite old. One might even dub Charles Dickens the inventor of the serial method with his chapter-per-week newspaper novels of the 1800's.
So why all the recent buzz around serialized storytelling? The aptly named podcast, Serial, is certainly a factor. That said, we're seeing a resurgence of episodic storytelling across mediums, everywhere from radio to digital to publishing.
At the SXSW panel How Serialized Fiction is Rewriting the Book, a group of experimenters from the publishing world discussed why serialization is making such a powerful comeback.
1. It's mobile
Content creators today must assume that their audience is on a device, whether smartphone, tablet, or soon the Apple Watch. That means a creator's biggest competition comes in the form of Twitter, Candy Crush, and whatever other time-sucking apps kids these days are using. Serialization makes content quick and easy to digest, so you can quickly return your attention to Angry Birds.
2. It's short and sweet
Humans today have a dismally short attention span. If we're not entertained within the first 6 seconds, there's always a fabulous and furry cat meme to discover. The episodic nature of serialization forces writers and creators to "write live," taking feedback and seeing drop-off rates in real time week over week. The need for retention rates means the content is more action-packed and digestible.
3. You can pay in installments
The economics of a creative industry like music or writing dictate that artists must charge a certain amount of money for their final product or risk coming out in the red. Yet the iTunes and Amazons of the world have spoiled consumers into thinking everything on Earth should cost a mere $1.99.
While a writer might not be able to publish an entire book on that kind of budget, they can certainly put out a chapter on it. Serialization paces out costs, keeping the wallets of both parties happy.
4. It's binge culture friendly
Binging has permeated our lives not just as a cultural Netflix phenomenon but as a fundamental shift in consumer psychology. We expect every piece of content we're served to be easy to digest on its own or in binge form, from the television shows we watch to the Buzzfeed listicles we read. Serialization enables all content to take on a binge-able format.
5. It transcends platforms
Technology today has enabled "transmedia storytelling," or the ability for a creator to bring his or her story to life across multiple mediums, channels, and partners at once. Imagine a novel with accompanying Spotify playlists, podcasts, and character Tinder profiles that all help flesh out the story in some way. With transmedia storytelling, a serialized piece of content – while small – can feel much bigger, giving us the sense of an immersive and meaningful story experience with little time and energy required.