Serialized fiction appears to be on the rise, though it’s not new. In the 19th century, avid readers waited on docks for the arrival of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Even in recent history, it has had its charms: Starting in 1984, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities spanned 27 issues of Rolling Stone.
Lately, it’s become a thing again, a bit like tuning in for another episode of your current Netflix affliction, only one tidbit at a time.
Until now, the serialized fiction platform market has had strong players in terms of business but brand names that don’t tell much of a story—or whose story is harder to fathom than Finnegans Wake. Canada’s Wattpad (whaaat?), Korea’s Radish, FictionPress, Royal Road, Moonquill, Dreame, Naver, the list goes on. The only relevant competitors, brand name–wise, have been Tapas and Webnovel (a common name for online fiction as well as the international platform of Chinese company Qidian). The naming muse in serialized fiction, alas, has largely been evasive.
Enter the big dog. In April, Amazon rolled out Kindle Vella, its approach to the genre. (The company made other forays in the past, but this time they’re all in with a mobile app.) Now US-based writers can publish serialized stories, one short episode at a time, and are paid based on reader interest. Readers will be able to peruse the first three episodes of a story (at 600–5,000 words each) at no cost, after which they will have to redeem tokens they’ve purchased to unlock more. Authors will earn 50% of what readers spend to view each episode, though that won’t amount to much per reader.
Vella, soon to be part of our one-click culture, is, unsurprisingly, on-message. The truncation of novella is a clear reference to short-form fiction, semantically and visually. Yet it’s also somewhat of an empty vessel, not overly tied to the word, so the brand isn’t limited in terms of features and benefits now and down the road.
It stands out clearly from the competition as well as being a departure from the real-word name strategy we’ve seen from Amazon’s e-reader platform so far—Kindle, Fire, Voyage, Paperwhite, Oasis, X-Ray, and Touch.
Because it is easy to pronounce and spell, and fairly short, Vella is also easy to remember.
It works for the reader demographic for serialized fiction—very feminine, soft, and approachable. It’s got a lovely opening, a soft “V,” and a smooth “ah” closing. (In keeping with the feminine theme, the reputed codename within Amazon when developing the original Kindle was Fiona.)
Googling the term Vella, at this writing, brings up an ad for a “women’s pleasure serum.” Normally we’d leave that right there, but it bears mentioning that a global behemoth need not worry about uses of the name by minor players doing completely different things with it, as SEO analyses will no doubt bear out.
Creators of serial fiction enjoy the collaborative nature of it—writers get to work together, much like writers on a television series, and talk about what they are making. Fans are attracted by the suspense of waiting for the next installment, and the low commitment involved with bite-sized segments.
Unlike an imposing tome on your nightstand, the serialization model, at ten minutes a day, is super digestible and always with you, right there on your phone. Whether the Vella platform is its sweet spot is TBD, but the name is spot on.