Media Size and The Changing Media Environment

(Last week I posted to a link on an article about rejected SF and Fantasy novels, and one of our regulars noted that Dune had been rejected for length at one point – and then noted how some series and books seem to be overlong.  That got me thinking and this column is the result).

What is the ideal length of a book?  A series?  A TV episode?  A movie?  A movie series?

You have an idea in mind.  Publishers, TV executives, authors, and everyone has an idea in mind.  I daresay you could, with little prompting start quite a conversation – or argument – about the ideal length/duration of any form of media.  We all have ideas about such things, some held quite passionately.

The problem is that right now all those cherished ideas are going straight out the window at lightspeed, flying into the distance never to be seen again.  The nature of media, the demands of media enthusiasts, and the technology available is changing the value – and meaning – of "length" and "duration."  If you're in media production of any kind, this is going to be important – and an advantage in your career if you stay on top of these issues.

What's driving these changes?  Well, frankly – everything:

  • Exposure to global media with a difference sense of perspective of "proper length."   Americans have been exposed to the never-ending, always-re-invented adventures in Doctor Who, or the seemingly never-ending Dragonball Z.
  • An increased amount of media available.  People can pick and choose what they want easier from a selection of anime, books, eBooks, films, television, webcomics, comics, economics, games, retro games, and more.  People can pick not just want they want price-wise, content-wise, or delivery-wise, but length-wise.  That alone poses a demographic nightmare for media creation.
  • Popular changes.  I've seen an increasing interest in science fiction and fantasy over the last few decades, that increases interests in some large series – such as Lord of the Rings.  I've also seen increase interest in comics and webcomics – which can be bite-sized deliveries of contents.
  • Changes in methods of delivery.  The internet, as I've noted probably to the point of nausea, allows people to deliver smaller amounts of content faster, and integrate it into a social experience.  Games have DLC, allowing for a game to be constantly expanded – and to do it in parts and bits without releasing a whole game.  People are used to receiving media in a way that delivers it faster – and often in smaller bits.
  • Changes in technology.  Obvious answer, but we now have the ability to get media through many different methods, changing how we search and consume and recommend media.  People can try out media faster, discard it with less cost, find it quicker, and send it on to friends faster.

The end result of this?  Simple – what length/duration of a given media is ideal for your audience is altering (or being revealed) with all of these changes in media and culture.  Right now, if you think you know what length novel your audience wants or the size of DLC they'll pay for, you're probably wrong, and if you're right, you may not be right in the future.

It's OK, I don't know either.  I'm just here to annoy you with the painful recognition of this fact.

But, by acknowledging the fact none of us know what the hell is going on with media and the ideal size/length/duration your audience wants, we also have an advantage.  If we ask the right questions, and find those answers, we have some advantages:

  • We can find our target audience easier – or help figure what they want and serve them better.
  • We can save money because we'll know what ideal technology, format, and methods work to deliver the right media in the right size.
  • We can create our media easier being aware of these demands, needs, and preferences.
  • We can stop worrying about these issues – or at least worrying as much.

So it's OK.  None of us know what our target audiences want in DLC size, page length, comic delivery schedule, etc.

But if we ask and start getting answers . . .

So, start asking.

Steven Savage