Friday, February 15, 2013

Binge Entertainment

by L.J. Seller, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

We've all heard of binge drinking and binge eating, but the latest indulgence is binge viewing, in which consumers download an entire season of a series and watch it in big gulps of three and four episodes at a time…or maybe even over a weekend.

I've done that with shows I came late to, such as Rescue Me and White Collar, but for some viewers, that's the way they watch everything. Nexflix's recent release of House of Cards—all 13 episodes at once—signals that entertainment companies are starting to recognize this preference and are giving customers exactly what they want.

Personal experience tells me that some readers have been doing this all along and that many others are now joining the trend. (An interesting side note: the House of Cards episodes are called chapters.)

Contributing to the binge reading pattern are the major changes in publishing. Authors who reclaim the rights to their backlist titles will often self-publish a whole series at once and market it to new readers, who have the opportunity to consume the series very quickly.

Or in my case, Thomas & Mercer bought my backlist of Detective Jackson books, revamped it, and released six stories all once. My publisher heavily targeted new readers—who are buying the whole series at once, and in many cases, reading the books-to-back in a short time. I know this because some of those readers contact me and say things like, "Once I discovered your Jackson stories, I was hooked and read them all in a week."

I can remember doing this when I was younger with series I discovered after the fact, such as John MacDonald's Travis McGee stories and Lawrence Sanders' Deadly Sin series. I believe the human desire to consume a whole bunch of what we love all at once has always been there.

In fact, many mystery fans won't even begin a series until three or four have been released. They want to know that there is more of a good thing once they get started.

But only recently has the binge viewing opportunity occurred with television because of the confluence of digital recording, Netflix, and new entertainment companies. Yet it's become so popular so quickly that it makes me wonder if watching weekly TV episodes will become a thing of the past, even if broadcasting companies continue to release them that way.

Now with the major changes in publishing, the opportunity for binge reading is greater than ever too. So I also think that publishers (including authors) might starting waiting until they have at least three books in a series before releasing them.

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense. Promoting a whole series at once is not only cost-effective, it can earn reader loyalty much more quickly.

What do you think? Are you a binge watcher or reader? Do you ever wait for a series to have three or four books before trying it?


  1. I generally don't read books in a series, preferring stand alones, so I'm not a binge reader. I'll occasionally binge-watch a TV series, tho' not often. For an author I've never read before, I'd buy one book to see if I liked it before buying others. I doubt I'd ever wait for the series and buy 3 or 4 at once, not even for well-known authors.

  2. I've been doing this for years...:) Books since I was a child, video since the advent of VHS and now DVD...:)

  3. Thanks for an interesting post, LJ.

    Imagine reading one chapter of a book every week. And then interrupting the flow because of a holiday week or some other scheduling break. It would be more difficult to remember what was going on and to remain engaged.

    That's the trouble with season-long TV shows. The stories are too drawn out and arbitrarily interrupted. I loved Fringe, but gave up on watching it live. The continuity is much better in a concentrated viewing.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Richard. That's the main reason I decided not to release my next Jackson book as a serial. Too many readers hate the format.

    2. Richard, YES! I love a series, but please, let's wrap at least some of the story lines up in the allotted time frame.

  4. I think you're right, LJ. This is definitely trending, and I believe it was part of the reason for the success of Shades of Grey--all three were released at once, allowing readers to hop from one book to the next. I think before that, for the most part, series were released one by one.

    The concept has been around for quite some time. Serials--which as we know, Amazon is now offering--were basically driven by the same sort of idea. And book series have always been popular. But as you mention, binge buying seems to be more prominent these days, probably accelerated by the huge leap in technological advances.

    It does solve one problem: some readers I've spoken with say they won't buy a book from an author until they know a series is complete. So there's an opportunity to capture a larger audience this way.

  5. I was going to say that I binged on a single author's books when I was a teen, but I think I still do.
    And, I watched all of the first season of Downton Abbey in two days.

    I think we've become accustomed to having things "on demand". I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad.

  6. I hate waiting for the next book in a series. I love anticipating the next book in a series.

    I enjoy watching a few episodes in a row of a series I've missed, but I was thinking just the other day… as much as I enjoyed House, how much of him could I actually stand at any given time?

    1. I think we all have to agree that House is an exception to binge viewing. Maybe Dexter too. But the pretty boy thief on White Collar? Love back-to-back episodes.


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