For years, serialization has been discussed as a significant area of opportunity for reading and publishing in the digital age. (And note to the sticklers out there: I’m using the terms serial and serialization interchangeably to refer to any situation where content is parceled out in small bites and delivered on a specific schedule, whether the content is finished or in progress.)
Wattpad, one of the darlings of the digital writing and publishing community, operates on a serial publishing model, and Amazon has a serials program as well. (Read my reported feature on the serialization trend, as it stood in 2014.)
It has been challenging for both established publishers and indie authors to pursue serialization models because it’s difficult to publish on or profit from them through the existing tools. Wattpad is entirely free for everyone; Amazon’s serial program is part of its formal publishing operations and closed to outsiders.
A new startup launching this month hopes to offer a viable business model and distribution platform for authors and publishers to profit from serialization. Tapas Media is an app-based publishing platform that helps anyone publish content specifically for mobile devices, distribute it widely (outside of existing retail channels), and monetize it.
On the reader-facing side, Tapas offers bite-sized stories and the ability to try any story free before purchasing or “unlocking” installments. To unlock new installments, a reader might invite friends to read, watch ads, complete some other offer, or simply wait. (The founders are calling it “Candy Crush meets books.”)
Tapas expects to open to all authors and is working on attracting traditional publishers to the service. Recently, Tapas Media CEO Chang Kim made an appearance at Digital Book World in New York City, discussing Tapas as part of the Publishers Launch Pad panel. Around that time, he took a few minutes out of a busy week to answer a few questions about Tapas.
Your company hopes to reach a readership that doesn’t buy books. Would you further describe who this readership is or who will be using Tapas? The conventional marketing wisdom for authors usually advocates, “Target people who actively buy in your genre, go where they go” so it’s against the grain for many authors to try and target non-book readers.
We’re not actively un-targeting current book readers; they’re very much invited to check out Tapas! We just believe there are a lot more people out there who may not be reading books today, but spend a lot of time on mobile and would enjoy great stories if those are presented to them on the device they carry always.
As a similar example, when casual mobile games first came out, they weren’t necessarily targeted for hardcore gamers or tried to convert them over. These were easy, casual games everybody could enjoy. This approach led to a vastly expanded market.
This is the kind of approach we would like to take for books—provide great stories that anyone, currently a reader or not, can enjoy, with a low barrier of entry.
Given that so much digital content is available for free—e.g., through Wattpad and countless other apps and websites—how will Tapas persuade people to pay to read?
We believe the proliferation of free content does not mean all content should be free. There’s still salable, professionally created content that’s distinguished from amateur content—just like there are real movies, and then there are YouTube videos of dogs skateboarding.
If the stories are good, there are always people who are willing to pay. Often the problem lies with the payment system. If the payment process is too cumbersome, customers’ willingness to pay quickly diminishes (think about the music industry). So it may not be about persuading users to pay, it may be about making the payment process really easy and frictionless.
The payment process can be also more granular. Currently the book payment model is very simple and binary; users are asked to pay $13.99 (or whatever the book price is) for the entire book. That’s like when the music industry only offered one purchase option—buy the whole CD.
Can we offer a more granular payment option for books? That was the promise of micropayment several years ago, but it never caught on, mostly because it was deployed on the web and on the web nobody pays for content. But if you look at the mobile gaming industry, they have figured out the micropayment model really well, in the form of “virtual freemium.” Users buy coins through in-app purchase (which is the de facto way of payment on mobile that a lot of people are already accustomed to), and with coins, they buy small items without having to pay money every single time.
We believe this model could work really well for mobile books too, if the system is smartly designed.
Let’s say an author decides to use Tapas. What are some of the best practices for using your platform in a way that will lead to engaged readers and hopefully long-term fans? What can authors do to make their work more visible and appealing on the platform, if anything?
Tapas is all about bite-sized stories that can be enjoyed on mobile. The way people read content on
mobile is quite different—it’s really about those 5 minutes of time, such as when you’re in line or waiting for the train.
Write serial stories in small chapters, each chapter with its own mini-story arc, so it can stand on its own, while also providing enough cliffhanger to make the readers want to read the next story. That’s the right formula for Tapas, we think.
Also, try to capture the audience from the get-go. Unless you get the audience hooked early on, even if there’s a killer plot change coming up soon, readers may not be around anymore by that time.
Can you share an example or case study of an author or creator using your platform to good effect?
We won’t name a name, because it’s not been announced yet, but there’s a household-name bestseller writer who really likes Tapas and is planning to publish on Tapas soon. In that author’s case, we’re discussing reviving an old title and remaking it to better fit the Tapas format—mobile friendly, short bite-sized chapters, and so on.
We’re really excited about that idea, and I think in general it would be really interesting to revive old titles that are not printing any more or otherwise not easily available today, but can be republished and re-discovered by young mobile users who simply didn’t have a chance to get exposed to the story before.
Mobile reading is believed to be more prevalent in Asia than in the United States. Why do you think this is?
Mobile reading might have caught on in Asia first (e.g., cell phone novels in the 2000’s), but the US has pretty much caught up and has enormous potential. Stats show that Americans now spend more time on their mobile devices than on any other devices, including TV.
Some people say that Americans don’t take public transportation as much and as a result there’s less mobile reading in America. But you don’t use your phone only when you commute; your phone is now a computer which you carry literally all the time. Mobile is a global phenomena and the US is no exception; we expect mobile reading will become increasingly more popular in the US market.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.