Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?

Netflix noticed something strange and unexpected among users of their video streaming service: they would watch all of the available episodes of a series before starting a new show, and they would watch for hours on end. They called this consumption pattern binge-watching. What explained this novel behavior? What did it mean, not only for Netflix’s business, but for everyone in theater?

But this behavior is not novel, and should have been expected, if the industry had not confused the limits of their production and scheduling processes with customer preferences. Any librarian or bookseller worth her salt could predict this. What do their clients ask for when they find a good book? More of the same. Even Hollywood moguls know this. Applying this knowledge is what they, still, have trouble with. Streaming video services, the medium formerly known as television, should remember to take this customer preference for more into account. Attempting to stretch a product over time through artificial limits such as the gradual release of episodes may inadvertently lead to lost viewership and reduced profitability.

The summer of 1981, I bought Lord Foul’s Bane at The Little Professor Book Center in Montgomery, Ohio. I remember this because it was the first book I bought on my own. I picked it out from the shelf. I smelled the fresh ink. I ruffled the pages. I complained about sales tax. After I read it, I went right back out — at my parents’ convenience — and bought The Illearth War and The Power That Preserves. But The Wounded Land was only available in hardcover, so I read that at the library. And that’s when I discovered that The One Tree would not be available for another year!

image of the first edition U. S. paperback covers of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

One year?!

Well, by the time it arrived, I had forgotten a bit of the earlier book. I read The One Tree — one must finish a series, y’know — but without the enthusiasm I’d pursued the previous volumes. I eventually read White Gold Wielder. I think. I’m not quite sure.

Storytellers have quite a few tricks, “narrative techniques,” to capture the attention of their audience. Cliffhangers, for instance, are quite effective. But their enemy is time. Will the audience come back after intermission?

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