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“The Netflix Effect” For Books?

**Please note: This is all speculation. I’m a writer, not a publishing insider, but I think this is a topic worth discussing.**

If you are familiar with the television realm, you’ve probably heard in some way about “The Netflix Effect.” Basically, the Netflix Effect–or at least the one I’m referring to–describes the growing shift toward binge watch-able shows. Since Netflix now has its own television shows (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, etc.), they have decided to shake things up, and so rather than releasing one episode every week, they make all thirteen in a season available at once on the season’s release date. This new strategy has done wonders for the company and its subscribers, as it gives people a way to watch the seasons straight through without having to worry about forgetting what happened in the previous episode. Another interesting twist is, I think, that this method gives fans an incentive to watch all of a given season immediately after it releases, because watching some of the bigger Netflix series has almost become an internet-wide event. After all, since all of the episodes are available at once, it feels like everyone is watching.

But then the other day I started thinking about this Netflix Effect in terms of books–specifically trilogies. You hear a lot of complaints about the one-year-or-more waits between most books in trilogies, usually for good reason. These waits, while totally sensible if you look at it from the points of view of the writer, editor, publicist, and so on, can be a bit of a strain on a reader. For one thing, by the time a sequel releases, you as a reader will probably forget much of what happened in the previous book, and unless you loved it, that fact alone could leave you anticipating the next book much less than you otherwise would have. (And from a book-selling standpoint, even if you end up buying that next book, this still matters. When you are excited for a release, you tend to let other people know, and word of mouth is a major driver of sales.) And it’s true that you could always reread the first of the series before the sequel releases, but with so many new books appearing on the scene every day, people in general seem to be less inclined to reread a book they didn’t absolutely love the first time. In that way, the wait almost becomes a hassle, and if you didn’t feel strongly about book one, chances are you may altogether lose interest in the second book by the time it releases (whereas you would be more likely to buy it if all of the books had already released).

As someone who has struggled with the above, I’ve begun to gravitate back toward that Netflix strategy as a solution: what if, in the future, an entire trilogy could be collectively released on the same day? Bearing in mind that there are probably a number of technical problems with this idea–I’m sure there is a reason no publisher I know of has done this before–it is certainly something to think about it. Not only would this method give a reader more incentive to buy the rest of the books in the series after finishing the first one (if they’re all right there, why not?), but it will also get more people to want to read the series in the first place, since it eliminates a lot of the cliffhanger/wait time anger that usually makes people hesitant to start a new series.

Another potential benefit, to add to my point in the first paragraph, is hype. Hype is a powerful tool, and if it feels like everyone is reading a particular series (which, assuming a collectively released trilogy gets reasonably well marketed, I’d bet a lot of people will be inclined to do since all of the books are there and ready to be explored (for reference, think about how the sales of books one and two tend to shoot up when the final book in a trilogy releases)), a number of those who aren’t reading it will want to find out more. But on the other hand, this means that the hype for the trilogy will be very concentrated in that one-to-four-month time span as everyone reads the books. While with the Netflix shows another season can always be released to regenerate hype, the end of a trilogy is the end of a trilogy, and if a book series were to be collectively released, the hype for it, while strong, will die down rather quickly.*

Still, when you consider that a number of people are starting to adopt policies where they won’t read a series until all of the books have released, this “Netflix Effect for trilogies” strategy is certainly something to consider. I’ve even noticed some publishers having shorter-than-a-year time gaps in between the release of books in a series, which might be a sign of things to come. For now, this is mainly limited to New Adult (Finding Fate, Losing It, A Little Too Far, etc.), but I’ve also been noticing it happening in some Young Adult series as well (ExtractionGlitch, etc.). From where I stand, I’m not sure many publishers will try the Netflix, release-everything-in-one-day method because of the concentrated hype problem I mentioned above, but I have a feeling we’ll start to see shortening time intervals between release dates of YA trilogies. Considering that 1) YA is becoming reasonably flooded with new books and 2) that many readers are less inclined to wait years for a next book in a series as a result, it certainly seems likely. And, if publishers eventually choose a select few trilogies to be released all at once, I can see that strategy being very effective as long as it’s limited to only certain, well-marketed trilogies.

If this shift were to happen–and I have no idea that it will–it will obviously be more difficult for the writer and the editor, but that could be solved by a longer period in between the date a book is sold and the date it publicly releases. But whether this possibility is realistic or not, I find it to be at the very least exciting to consider, and is certainly something I would welcome as a good thing.



*There are also, I’m sure, a number of other contractual issues with bookstore/library distribution as well as other potential problems with this strategy, but my guess is that this concentrated hype problem is the main pitfall of the Netflix-for-books idea.


EDIT: There is an upcoming New Adult trilogy by a popular author, Ann Aguirre, in which each book releases one to two months apart.


About Michael Waters

I'm Michael, I'm eighteen, and I blog about YA books for Barnes & Noble.

20 comments on ““The Netflix Effect” For Books?

  1. maralaurey
    June 22, 2014

    I have this problem — when I don’t really care about a book (and sometimes even when I do), I won’t bother following up on the next book if I don’t know the publishing date for the next one or if it’s far away. However, I’m a bit of a hypocrite and would hate the idea of a trilogy being released all at once — it would be like that feeling you get when you’re late on the best-selling book bandwagon if, for whatever reason, you couldn’t buy all the books at the same time or couldn’t read them as quickly as the majority. Plus I do quite like a /bit/ of a wait when I absolutely love a book — it can be horrifically painful if it’s too long, but sometimes a year can be just enough time to create a thousand different theories of your own which really enhance the reading experience.However, nowadays the only way I can watch TV is all at once (though I’ve found that it greatly affects my recall of the show afterwards)/

    • John Hansen
      June 22, 2014

      Interesting. I would definitely be happy about shorter time in between release dates in general, because I do agree that there is fun in anticipating the next book. But still, I have left a lot of series that I enjoyed unfinished because I just lost interest after a year, and I think if the release dates of certain series could be a lot less than a year apart, it could do wonders. Six months, maybe, would be perfect. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I never thought if it before, but I agree waiting for a book makes many readers less enthusiastic. It’s a very interesting idea.

    • John Hansen
      June 22, 2014

      Definitely! The all-at-once strategy is unlikely to work well since it requires so much upfront work, but I do hope we at least see shorter and shorter times between series release dates. 🙂

  3. Patrice
    June 22, 2014

    Reblogged this on Whimsically Yours and commented:
    Great conversation starter. This is worth looking into. I know as a reader I feel so much frustration when I have to wait 2/3/4 years for the final book. As a writer I understand how challenging it could be & nervewracking to write all of those books at once & see them published at once. As a publicist I think it’d be fun to promote an author with an entire series out at once, but I also think it raises a lot of questions on the upfront trust a publisher has to have in that author. Many times the publication of books 2, 3 and so forth depend on the success of the 1st and succeeding books. Publishes cancel series all the time. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality because publishing is a business. I think small presses are well placed to adopt or try out this model because there aren’t as many upfront costs aka risks involved. I’d love to hear others weigh on on John’s points and mine.

  4. Miriam Joy
    June 22, 2014

    The difference is that TV shows take the same length of time for everyone to watch whereas people’s reading speed varies more. I’d definitely like books to come out sooner, e.g. after six months. But a lot of people would feel overwhelmed having multiple books to read at once. Plus it puts pressure on the author. Also, debut authors would find it harder to market a series as the publishers wouldn’t take a risk publishing numerous books that wouldn’t necessary sell, so it’d make the author-pool even smaller. It’d be likely to limit the shelf life of series – most bookshops will buy in book one again in advance of the release of book two, whereas a single release date would probably mean none of them stayed in stock for long unless they were super popular. Also, I’m not going to buy three books at once if I don’t know I like them – I’ll only commit to a series once I’ve had a taste of it.

    • John Hansen
      June 22, 2014

      Great points! I was thinking more that the books could be sold separately, though you are right about the shelf life (that’s what I failed to get at when I said “shortened hype”). It does seem like something that would happen in the ebook world first, then potentially grow out from there. Though yes, I too like to anticipate the next book a bit, but unless I LOVE a trilogy, anything with more than a six month wait will make me lose interest. So I agree; I’d certainly be happy with a six month wait, because while the one year makes total sense from a behind the scenes perspective, I’m starting fewer and fewer trilogies these days because of it.

  5. Liam, Head Phil
    June 22, 2014

    I have never personally binge-watched a show, on Netflix or otherwise. Sure, I’ve watched shows with episodes that have already been released, but only to catch up to the episode airing next. I prefer to savor the wait between installments of a story. For that reason, I don’t have any problem with starting an unfinished series. Is the wait between books too long? Nah. There are other books in the world to read. Will I forget everything that happened in the last book? Perhaps, but if the author is worth my time to read, they will fix that early on.

    In fact, as I think about it, I’m less excited about things that come out at one another’s heels than I am about things that gradually appear. Perhaps its the density syndrome— the more often they come, the less special they feel— but I don’t like having to seek out books so quickly after each other. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is complete and I just finished the third book; already I feel like I should give myself time before I read the fourth, just because I want that waiting time. Personally, I don’t feel the Netflix effect powerful, nor useful. But others obviously don’t think that way.

    • John Hansen
      June 22, 2014

      Thanks for the perspective! I guess I sort of feel the same way from time to time, but only with series that I absolutely LOVE and want to truly savor. Others, though, I just want to be able to read through and enjoy that way, and I’ll forget much of what happened by the time the next releases and will just end up losing interesting.

      But you definitely aren’t alone in your feelings, and that’s why I think it’s an interesting topic. People are really split on it.

    • John Hansen
      June 22, 2014

      Actually, I wonder if this is a genre thing. I was just thinking: I tend to like to space out high fantasy books since there is so much to absorb in them. But the slicker, less dense sci-fis/fantasies/etc. I generally like to read right through. I wonder if that’s part of the difference, since I know you read a lot more high fantasy than I do. Regardless, it’s interesting.

      • Liam, Head Phil
        June 23, 2014

        That might be the case. Cinda Williams Chima wrote the Seven Realms series (or something like that— first book was The Demon King), which I tore through like mad. They’re thick books, but I’m pretty sure I read one per day. They definitely weren’t as slow-paced as Brandon Sanderson or Robert Jordan might be. You might be right about that.

  6. Cait
    June 22, 2014

    I’ve definitely heard discussions on this topic before and…I’m torn! While as a reader I think it’d be awesome…as a writer I’d freak out!! Imagine having to have so many books ready all at once? I have a pretty bad memory, so I always forgot what a book was about if I have to wait a year for the sequel…but at the same time? Hype is awesome. I am SO hyped for the rest of Marissa Meyer’s series, and the next one doesn’t come out till early next year. I’m still 100% keen and the hype just makes me anxious to read it.
    Although binge reading? Aaaawesome.
    So basically there are so many pros and cons to this topic, right? 😉 I will be keen to see if publishers ever take it up in the future.
    (How many years are we going to have to wait until all the Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas books are out??!! LIKE 5 MORE YEARS.)

    • John Hansen
      June 22, 2014

      Me too! And I agree–I’m not sure it would be an amazing system, but I would certainly prefer shortened release date gaps at the very least. There are just so many series that I really enjoyed, then completely lost interest in thanks to the wait. There are tons of pros and cons! Ahhh it’s complicated.

  7. pinkdoughnuts15
    June 22, 2014

    You know, that would be a pretty good idea. I put after reading TONS of books that everyone else is reading because I want to read them all at the same time. So i end up waiting 2 years for the last book to come out, and by then, i’m not as interested in the book.

  8. haleight97
    June 23, 2014

    Wow, I never really thought about it like that. I remember when I started reading the Maximum Ride series, and every book, except for Nevermore, had been released already. It felt like I was noticing differences in James Patterson’s writing, and that after the fourth novel, the series sort of hit a downward spiral on terms of quality, in my opinion. I think if all the books were released at once, the necessity to reintroduce all of the characters all over again would disappear, but readers might be able to recognize changes in the writer’s style or structure in comparison to previous novels, due to the time gap. Even if the books are all released at the same time, there’s no way to eliminate the time it takes for the writer to produce each novel. Writers have to change a little overtime, I mean, everyone does. So the readers might be more liable to spot changes that they don’t necessarily like in the writing. I really like your theory! It’s really interesting and I look forward to reading your next blog post! 🙂

  9. Cora Carmack
    June 23, 2014

    I’ve actually thought about this… a lot. (Also… I believe Jasinda Wilder did something very similar recently, only she did book one and two at the same time, and then three a month or two later).

    But… I don’t think this will ever really be a thing. At least not unless publishing undergoes some SERIOUS changes. And even then… I kind of don’t think it *should* be a thing (more on that later).

    I think the most we’ll ever really see is tight turn around of 1-6 months (depending on the genre). I know Sourcebooks did 6 months apart for the Embrace series by Jessica Shirvington, which is YA.

    As an author, here are some reasons I would never be on board for one big simultaneous release:

    * For one… some readers might feel cheated monetarily. If you’re going to release it all at once, why not make it one epically long book instead of having them buy them separately?
    *Some readers are intimidated by length. OR… like me… I know I’m busy. So I don’t always like committing to a long series when I know I don’t have the time to read it (thought I probably will anyway and then I’ll be behind on everything).
    *It just takes too much time. I write at a pretty fast pace, and my books release approximately every 4-6 months. On average it takes me about 2 months to write a book. 1-2 months to do edits. And then we have to start marketing AT LEAST a month in advance. So, if we’re talking e-book only… that’s 5 months for that book. Multiply it by three, and you’ve got 12-15 months to get your trilogy ready. And that’s assuming you don’t take breaks for holidays and family and sanity. If you’re thinking traditional, publishers need print time, as well as time to pitch and sell it to booksellers. So, they need advanced copies months far earlier than that one month marketing time (not to mention, it’s hard enough vying for shelf-space for one book, let alone three all at once). My turn around right now in NA is about as tight as it can get on the print side of things, and typically my books are completely finished, editing, proofread, etc about 3-4 months before the release. And in all that writing time… you’re not making any money to sustain you. Sure, you might have an advance, but those are frequently small or divided up and given to you in installments. Most authors aren’t anywhere near accustomed to that kind of fast writing schedule, so it would be completely out of the question for many. The only instances where it COULD work would be… 1. Like the series I mentioned above by Jessica Shirvington. Her books were published first in Australia, and picked up later in the US. So, the US was sort of able to play catch-up and release the books at a faster than normal pace. 2. Occasionally, publishing can move so slowly that by the time an author sells a book, they’ve already completed more books in the series. Usually, though, agents advise their clients to write someone different while a book is on sub in case it doesn’t sell. So, this is a rarity.
    *The potential advantages of it from a marketing standpoint are kind of outweighed by the risk. For one… in that long gap between acquisition and the completion of the entire series, the market could change. And then you (and the publisher) have put a lot of time and money into a product that is potentially no longer relevant. Also… risk wise… it’s becoming increasingly rare for publishers to even buy a complete trilogy from the get go. They often buy 1-2 books and reevaluate after they see how the first book does. Not only are you asking your publisher to take that risk, you’re asking them to take it and make a blind marketing jump with you. If you publish the first book in the series and it doesn’t do as well as you hoped, you usually have time between book one and book two to try to build an audience. (Sadly, publishers usually abandon authors here, but I’ve seen authors significantly increase their readership between books). If you’re releasing all your books at once, you just have to hope and pray that all your initial decisions (both marketing and editorial) are spot on because there’s no adjusting or taking it back.
    *You risk flooding the market. I think both YA and NA are seeing the effects of this right now. If you look at series numbers in both categories, you see a significant drop off in the number of readers with each book (regardless of whether the books are releasing one year or two months apart). And in part, I think that’s because the markets for both are so flooded that readers have too many choices, too little time. We have to find a balance between frequent enough releases that our names and brands stay relevant and popular, while also find a way to balance out the supply and demand. Because right now, the former greatly outweighs the latter.
    *And really… books are already sort of a binge experience. A good book (even one that’s part of a trilogy) should have a complete story arc. And should be comparable to one season of a TV show. Releasing an entire series of books would be the equivalent of releasing multiple seasons of a TV show at once (IMO).

    I definitely think there are things to be learned by watching netflix and consumer habits. But at this point in publisher, it’s not really feasible from a print viewpoint. It’s do-able in digital and in certain genres. But I’m not sure that would make it wise. It might work once or twice or even half a dozen times, but then it would go the way of $.99 sales, and everyone would try it, and it would end up doing more harm to the industry than good.

    (Like I said… I’ve thought about this A LOT. Sorry for the epically long post).

  10. erinkenobi2893
    June 23, 2014

    I think that, if I could, I’d release series with maybe a three to six-month wait between books. This is only if I was on top of things, though…
    I actually kind of like the waits. 😉 Binge watching gets a little too crazy for me…

  11. A.R. Files
    June 23, 2014

    I like this idea! It would be difficult to manage, but it could work! For instance, I read The Mark of Athena and loved it! However, waiting for House of Hades to come out burned out my fire. I still haven’t read the 4th book. Percy Jackson’s great, but waiting takes so long! 😦

  12. Ivana Akoto Ofori
    June 24, 2014

    Reblogged this on I Am Akotowaa and commented:
    I agree.

  13. Aleysha
    July 14, 2014

    This idea is really well represented. I have noticed in others as well as myself that for some TV series we just wait until it is on Netflix so we can watch it all at once instead of having to watch one episode every week and go through the hassle of watching it online when we miss on episode and do not want to get behind. I just binge read the Harry Potter series and am so thankful that unlike a lot of people I did not have to wait for the next book after I finished one. I could just jump right in and it was wonderful. It would be awesome if writers/publishers would experiment with the idea of releasing a series or trilogy all at once.

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