This is something good about media, they (plural of medium) have a discrete length. That is, not just any series comes to an end, or fails to come to an end as the case might be, but each piece, each packet, is of a discrete length. For instance, a DVD only has the episodes on it, a book only has the number of pages within it, a movie is only as long as it is.
A series might comprise several DVDs, and each DVD might comprise of several episodes, and each episode has a distinct length. But what is important I think is the DVD. A lot of it comes to how much effort people are willing to put into things, but also because people want to have given something “a fair shot.”
If I watch a series on television, and it comes one episode a week, as is usually the case, then I need to make the decision to tune in every week, or to get it via the internet. It’s a conscious decision to do something, and it requires effort, however minimal, on my part. It is very easy to give up on a series after you decide it no longer engages you. This is why pilots are usually so strong; they need to give you the impetus not only to watch the next episode, before you have an investment of time and emotions with the series and its characters, but it also tries to create enough good will for you to watch the next two-to-three episodes, which are sometimes slower as things build-up. This is also why episodes and comics often end with cliffhangers – they want you to keep on watching, and might trade emotional impact and caring for things with the inability to not know “What happens next?” which is indeed quite a strong motivation us people tend to have.
But here is the thing, if I get a series from Blockbusters’, I usually get one DVD. I will watch that DVD, and it needs to draw me in enough for me to take the next DVD from blockbuster’s. It doesn’t matter if the DVD I watched was crap and from then on it all goes uphill, because for all intents and purposes, I’m a lost sale. Of course, there are cases of films where they were just so bad or at least uninteresting to me that though I rented them with my money, I ejected them from the DVD player after 40-90 minutes, long before they were done. But we will assume that most things are not like that and I could at least make it to the end of a discrete media-piece (a DVD, a comic book, etc.).
Books are somewhat different, because for many people reading while enjoyable, is the constant influx of effort, it is an engaging and active activity, which means it requires more “buy-in” from the media’s consumer. Moreover, it represents a more significant investment of time for many people, so if something doesn’t click, there are reasons to give up on it earlier in order to find something which is a better return for your most valuable investment at these monetary costs: Your time. There are more books than any one of us could read, and we have no business reading crappy books unless we have to. The issue of re-reading books is more about emotional re-affirmation and reconnecting with something which we know we like.
So here is the thing, often books and such start slowly, and they really shouldn’t. I wonder what happens if we purchase a whole series on DVDs, and we don’t find the first DVD interesting, how long before we will give up on it. We will give weight to the sunken costs, which might compel us to feel that we must keep watching, but also, I tend to shy away from making purchases of whole series before I know what I am getting, though in the past it was harder to get around, and you can always end up with something which you thought you’d like, but you just don’t.
I’m currently reading the Vagabond manga series (by Takehiko Inoue), in the collected omnibus edition, that is, each book contains three manga books. The first two books were nice, but it was only at the third book that I really clicked, where things finally kick-up and the action begins, and Musashi Miyamoto‘s quest to swordsmanship greatness is began in earnest. What would have happened if I’d read it in the form of single manga-books? It’s quite possible I would have never got to the third book, and now am awaiting the 5th omnibus (#16-18). Something similar is happening with Dogs, except after volume #0 and 1-2, we are giving up on it, my mother and I. This is also like the issue with the Element Hunters series which was covered before.
You can accuse me of not giving the show its fair shot (such as with Babylon 5), but here is the thing… I did. If at the end of any episode, book, or whatever, the series has not grabbed me enough to make me continue watching? It’s not my fault I’m not going on, it’s the fault of its creators whose job is to keep me interested, to keep me engaged, to keep me caring.
You only get one shot. That shot is the first episode, the first book, the first chapter. And when I give you that shot, you again only have one shot, the second episode, book, or chapter. It’s a world of “One strike”, and then you’re out. Use it wisely, because it’s really hard to get a reprieve. Unless you really made me care before, and hey, that’s your job!
Well, medium really matters. If I pick up a comic issue, it’s that one issue. If I pick up the trade paper-back, it’s all the issues within it. If it’s on TV, one episode, if on DVD, then what is included on the first DVD. And again with each other “piece” I pick up. If what really makes the series “worth” it is in the second volume’s first chapter? Then you need to make it part of the first volume. You will have no second shot.