binge-watchingWhat is it about the idea of serialized books and “binge” reading that makes so many people unclear on the concept?

I already covered this with regard to Harlequin, which announced it was releasing a novel in eight separate chunks so people could “binge-read” it—effectively paying about 50% more than a paperback book costs for a paperback’s worth of content. But at least in that case all the chunks were available at once.

Now here comes Wired, declaring “You May Soon Binge Books Just Like You Binge Netflix” as it covers Farrar Straus and Giroux’s effort to bend the TV model to a book series by serial-publishing her Tale of Shikanoko tetralogy—releasing the first book now, then the other three by the end of September.

Two problems with this: first of all, it’s not really a “tetralogy,” it’s a single book chopped up into four chunks. Wired even says so itself: “Hearn wrote it as one long novel with a four-part structure, which allows her readers to engage with it as one extended work.”

The second problem is, in order to “binge-read” it, you’d have to wait until September when all the pieces were out. But you know what? You can “binge-read” any book on your shelf right now. Just take it down, open to the first page, and keep turning them until you get to the end. Boom! You’ve “binge-read” it.

The point of “binge” watching is that it’s the opposite of serialization. Netflix kicked it off by releasing entire seasons’ worth of such shows as House of Cards, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones at one time, so that viewers could spend a couple of days watching the whole thing at once, instead of being limited to one episode a week as traditionally-serialized TV shows go.

By chopping a single novel up into pieces and doling them out every couple of months, you’re not enabling binge consumption—you’re preventing it, until such time as all the pieces are out. That’s the complete opposite of binge-reading. At least with Harlequin’s serial, you could actually go ahead and buy and read the whole thing at once.

To be fair, as far as I can tell it’s not actually the publisher who used the term “binge” in regard to this new publishing schedule, but Wired, which hasn’t exactly been lauded for the quality of its journalism in any event. Still, it aggravates me to see people throwing the word around just because it’s a hip new buzzword without stopping to consider they’re actually using it as its own antonym.

And there were so many other ways Wired could have gone with this story. For example, it could have compared the new model to Serial Box or The Pigeonhole, both of which have aimed to try out TV-series-style serialized publishing models for e-books, and neither of which used the unfortunate term “binge.” It could have dipped back into history to consider the 19th century’s great serial publishing successes, such as Charles Dickens or Anthony Trollope—or even Stephen King’s more recent serial experiments with The Green Mile (successful) and The Plant (“failure”).

But instead it felt obligated to tie it into the new fad buzzword of watching whole TV series at once, without once stopping to consider that that’s not what the word actually means. Sheesh.


  1. It’s about releasing series at monthly or quarterly intervals rather than the usual year long (or more) traditional schedule, not about serialization of books.

    In the traditional model, Liam Hearn’s latest series would have been released across 4 years (regardless that it is one huge novel split in 4 as many sff series are like that or that it was all written anyway) or at best across 2 years at 6 month intervals. Happened with bunch of series (and very notably with imports, so a series published already in the Uk of Australia would still be released across 3-4 years in the US) for various reasons, most notably the “books grow” (unlike movies or Tv series which generally are either hot of the gate or bust) and people being reluctant to spend too much on same author at a given time

    Today things move much faster in publishing and publishers have started experimenting with this type of successive month (or related) schedule for a while now with some notable successes in sff (Brent weeks’ debut series became a huge hit that way) but without a definite, yes, this works for sure, answer as books succeed or fail due to many reasons.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail