How Serialization Can Enhance Audience Development

Ever since the legendary Scheherazade enthralled a murderous Persian king in order to save her own life, serialization has proved to be valuable to both producer and consumer.

Serialization has been around for centuries.
Serialization has been around for centuries.

Movable type didn’t make it to the west until the mid-15th century, so serialization in print had to wait. Serialized fiction had its heyday in Victorian England, when writers like Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot published lengthy works of fiction in installments. Science fiction writers of the early 20th century used serialization, and later on, famous writers like Tom Wolfe and Michael Chabon published serialized fiction in popular American publications. Today, Canadian author Margaret Atwood is leading a resurgence in serialization of fiction.

But serialization isn’t limited to fiction and it certainly isn’t limited to print. Today, digital publishers and trade publication websites are discovering the value of serialization to their audience development efforts. Revenue development features like ecommerce, subscriptions, and white label job boards may also benefit from serialization.

Serialization Can Add Breadth and Depth

Long form journalism is making a comeback thanks to mobile devices and synchronization across platforms, but presenting content in serial form has advantages too. Not only can you add breadth to your content, but serialization allows you to add depth as well. Serialization also presents information in reasonably self-contained chunks that are valuable whether consumed alone or along with other serial installments.

Serialization and Your Social Media Strategy

Serial content is easy to work into your social media strategy, and can prompt people to discover earlier installments, which also works in favor of your audience development strategy. When you announce, ”Part three of our six-part series on green initiatives in urban planning is now live,” you not only pique the interest of your regular readers, but have yet another chance to snag a new reader, who may choose to go back and read parts one and two as well.

A Positive Feedback Loop

Writers of serial fiction find that serialization creates a feedback loop that gives valuable clues as to whether readers are picking up on foreshadowing techniques or whether they are missing points that weren’t given sufficient emphasis. This type of feedback loop may not be as obvious with serialized nonfiction content, but comment threads on installments can give the site owner and writers valuable information on what readers are picking up, what’s important to them, and what they might be missing. Further installments can be tweaked and refined with these points in mind.

A serial feature helps your website build ''buzz'' with each installment.
A serial feature helps your website build ”buzz” with each installment.

Serialization Can Be Overdone

Serialization can be perfect for some content, particularly when you want to go in depth on an important topic. However, you shouldn’t take a topic, run with it for 5,000 words, and then chop it up just for the sake of serialization. A blend of short form, long form, and serialized pieces assigned to meet content needs should be your goal. Serializing everything can eventually be seen as a marketing gimmick and turn people off. Add serialization to your site’s repertoire gradually and see how it works before deciding whether it’s a good addition to your site.

The New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum describes the cliffhanger as ”a climax cracked in half: the bomb ticks, the screen goes black. A lady wriggles on train tracks-will anyone save her?” Looking forward to the next installment in a compelling television series, podcast, novel, or nonfiction series adds extra interest for the reader and can benefit the producer of serialized content.

If your digital newspaper or trade publication website has shied away from in-depth topics because of their complexity, serialization may be a good solution for addressing these topics. You give loyal readers something to look forward to, grab the interest of new readers, and bring attention to your revenue development streams like your subscriptions, premium content, or custom job boards. Serialization brought readers the words of William Thackeray and Alexander Dumas, and it can bring your readers the information and depth they want on important topics.

Photo Credits: marin/, Ambro/

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