Web series are episodic shows that are available on the Internet. Typically each episode is less than ten minutes in length and most shows are posted on YouTube.
A significant number of web series are categorised as literary web series, meaning that they are based on books. A large number of the current literary web series original source material comes from books that are out of copyright. This connection to the book industry from an increasingly popular media is something exciting for publishers to explore.
Publishers are already involved in YouTube as well as other visual media outlets when it comes to book trailers. The term book trailer was trademarked in 2002 by Circle Of Seven and Sheila Clover English, when they made their first trailer for the Dark Symphony by Christine Feehan. At the time Clover English believed it was the first trailer of its type because of limited distribution methods for digital media. YouTube was not invented until 2005, so it was definitely among the first book trailers.
Many book trailers today are a far cry from Dark Symphony’s four minute, narrated trailer on Circle Of Seven’s own YouTube channel. They are fast paced, one to three minutes and often either on the author’s own channel or the publishing companies. There is still huge variety within trailers. 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody and Crossed by Ally Condie are both live action however Condie’s uses narration and Brody’s is more film trailer-esque. To add to that feel 52 Reasons to Hate My Father uses multiple shots and locations whereas Crossed only has two locations. Then there’s Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil, which has an entirely animated trailer.
Whatever style the producers of the book trailer opt for if a publishing house or author is hiring a company to make it for them it will cost somewhere in the region of £300 to £1700. This comes with no guarantees that audiences will engage with it. The only real benefit, according to Rock Your Writing website, is that they can help your search engine optimization occasionally.
Even then because of Amazon, Goodreads, book blogs or even pirate sites, book trailers will not be the first thing to show up on Google. This is because the other sites have a higher number of tags and content. In addition to this “most of the trailers I’ve seen are lucky to make 2,000 views” which is a tiny amount compared to other forms of marketing. Book trailers just haven’t seem to have taken off. This might be due to lack of interest in being sold something on a primarily entertainment site. Alternatively it could be down to budgets or other reasons. One thing is obvious though, book trailers are beginning to fade from usage.
So what does this mean in terms of web series? The obvious drawbacks to web series again include the cost and the potential lack of engagement. However web series and book trailers differ in purpose. Book trailers are designed purely to make the audience do something, to buy the book, web series are for entertainment. YouTube’s primary function for many is entertainment and so web series will be a more attractive option for many site users. They also have the promise of more to come, which eventually leads to emotional investment.
In terms of money there are huge variety of web series out there. At the top end of the budget is something akin to brand sponsored Carmilla by KindaTV where each full season “costs $500,000 to $1 million”.
At the bottom of the scale is My Dead Friends by Perspective Productions. Perspective Productions is a student run group who had “no budget for the season 3 filming” and ran a Kickstarter to get new equipment costing £350 to £470. They also couldn’t afford to pay cast or crew. My Dead Friends stands out from many as it is an original idea and not based off a literary text.
Another student production that is literary based is Nothing Much To Do. Despite being lower quality than KindaTV it has amounted a solid repute and fanbase. The penultimate episode, which many took to be the finale, gathered over 43,000 views. Nothing Much To Do led on to another web series using the same characters but with an original storyline, Lovely Little Losers.
There is a difference in quality depending on budget, but when it comes to YouTube these differences are less noticeable. This means that creators with little funding can still be successful.
Success On Screen And Beyond
A successful web series producer is Pemberley Digital, having made the likes of
Frankenstein MD, Emma Approved and most notably The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. They have 120,000 subscribers and have won multiple awards for their work, including a Primetime Emmy award for Original Interactive Program in 2013. Like many literary web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern adaptation of the original text and so elements of the story have been changed. This keeps the experience
fresh and exciting for audiences. It also allows writers to fix any problems contemporary viewers have with the original text, such as marrying your cousin. Following Lizzie Bennet’s success The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet was released. This was a novelized version of the web series with added scenes that couldn’t make it onto screen. Later the company also released The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. Pemberley Digital have mastered the web series format and by bringing in the novelization aspect they provide a key example to publishers of how to deal with going from text to web series to beyond.
Another example of text to web series to beyond is the Carmilla web series. Carmilla was commissioned by feminine care company U by Kotex. The company “didn’t even tell people there was a brand behind it until Ep17 in Season 1”. When this was revealed separate branded videos on a different channel came out to sell the product while the show continued like normal. After three seasons KindaTV, Carmilla’s host channel, gained over 193,000 subscribers.
Due to its huge popularity, it was announced in 2016 as the third and final season aired that a movie is going to be made. Its success is also reflected in U by Kotex’s sales. The brand has seen 20,000 new sales and while this may not be solely due to the show, a survey of 10,500 viewers in early 2015 found “that 31% claimed they brought U By Kotex because of the show and 93% knew that the brand was backing the series”.
Although no data has been collected on how many people have read the source material after watching web series, by looking at TV we can guess correlation. As an example the Game of Thrones series has seen a massive increase in sales due to the HBO program. In 2008 it is estimated A Song of Ice and Fire had accumulated 7 million sales. During 2011, when the first season of the TV series was released, 9 million copies were purchased. By 2015 G.R.R. Martin enjoyed a total of over 58 million sales between all of his published works.
Of course web series don’t get 8.9 million people watching their season six finale. Carmilla’s final episode only has 275,000 views, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries 816,000 views. However with book trailers failing to make the cut when it comes to media marketing and with an increasingly media soaked society, surely publishers can find a way to engage with YouTube, or similar platform audience’s, over an extended period of time in order to market their products or even create new ones.
Whilst directly getting money for the content created is attractive, giving consumers free content promotes brand likeability and trust.
This is particularly relevant for publishers whose target market is millennials. A 2015 survey suggested that 63% use Adblock, preventing many standard internet adverts reaching them. During the same survey it was shown that “free content was the most effective way” for companies to look attractive to that audience. As much of YouTube is free, web series as a form of marketing is something that could potentially be most useful for YA publishers targeting millennials.
There is the option of paying through YouTube Red or other sites like Vimeo, but any publisher going into an endeavour like this would have to consider the benefits of both. Whilst directly getting money for the content created is attractive, giving consumers free content promotes brand likeability and trust. This, as shown by Carmilla, can lead to an increase in sales by the larger brand. Additionally any product resulting from the series, like a book or movie, is more likely to be purchased if consumers haven’t already been paying for content.
Publishers may not currently be capitalizing on the web series format, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. There are many unchartered territories in this new and growing medium. It would be exciting to see what a dedicated publishing company could do with this media.