Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
**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 (Extraction, Glitch, 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.