A web serial is a story released in parts over the internet. While this definition would include web comics and fiction podcasts it's usually reserved for regularly updated prose fiction. While web serials are as broad in genres and scope as print books the medium and its readership do slant it in the direction of the more fantastic and nerdy. Considering publishing history this is hardly a surprise. Fantastic genre fiction was often released in a serial format during the age of the pulps. Sherlock Homes, Conan the Barbarian, Pinocchio, the Three Musketeers, and Uncle Tom's Cabin all began as serials. Serialization was instrumental to the development of fiction as a whole as it allowed publishers to recognize whether a story was worth the monetary outlay of a full print run. While this method would wane in popularity the notion of working in smaller batches for quicker feed back and correction remains relevent.

In the near costless age of digital distribution and the comments section feedback is measured in seconds and publishing is just a mouse click away. Publishing middle men are unnecessary and works can go straight from writers to readers. In this environment it's no wonder that authors choose to publish in chapter sized installments again. Of course the information age brings it's own challenges. What made distribution easy makes monetization hard. A story posted on the regular internet can be read for free. Place it behind a pay wall and few people will bother with it and the ones that do may free the story into the pirate filled wilds. The answer that most people have landed on is the “pay what you want” model where the story is free and the writer has a Patreon. Patrons can receive chapters early, unique chapters, and author's commentary in return for their subscription. This range of options seems to work as Royal Road features more than a hundred stories over fifty pages that updated today. While web serials are far from the size of book publishing it's likely their free status combined with the ever growing market share of online media will see web serials grow to similar proportions in the coming decades.