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Meet the startup creating audio-text hybrid series that has partnered with Marvel, ‘Orphan Black,’ and other big media franchises

It's rare that a commuter gets on the subway without headphones, or doesn't flip on the radio when hopping in the car, and audio books have become a great option. But once the commute is over, many people would likely rather get their reading done in text form.

Startup Serial Box is trying to build a business solving the disconnect between those two mediums.

The content platform offers original series, as well as official continuations of well-known stories, that bundle short audio books and e-books, allowing users to switch back and forth between listening and reading without losing their place.

If you're walking to the subway, you might opt for the audio option. But if you're lucky enough to find a seat during your commute, you could pull up the e-book and pick up right where the audio left off.

"Having both the auditory and visual experience makes it more immersive in a very busy world and increases comprehension," said Molly Barton, the CEO and cofounder of Serial Box. "It's really flexible and geared toward moments when you're in transition."

The company raised its first capital in 2017, then spent the next few of years developing serials in order to have a lineup of content ready to go, Barton said.

The company's original goal was to tap into existing sci-fi and fantasy fandoms, and one of its first hits, "Orphan Black: The Next Chapter," was a continuation of BBC America thriller series "Orphan Black." The serial was narrated by the show's star, Tatiana Maslany, who maintained a strong fan base even after the final season in 2017.

While the sci-fi and fantasy group is still an important demographic, a larger content library will draw different types of readers and listeners, Barton said. Users can choose from 31 titles as of now, but Barton said by the end of the year that number will be up to at least 50.

In March, Serial Box secured a partnership with Marvel to release stories like "Thor: Metal Gods," which is available for preorder now and launches Dec. 12. It also has a series based on "Black Panther" in the works, Barton said.

Serial Box partners with Warner Bros. as well for content like "The Flash," based on The CW show of the same name, and three more series that will be announced later in the fall, Barton said.

Serial Box tracks social conversation to inform storylines

Besides tapping into established fandoms, Serial Box keeps up with the desires of fans by tracking conversation on social media, according to Barton.

Since installments are released in increments and not all at once, Serial Box writers have even taken social media sentiment into account as they work.

"We're able to observe reader and listener reaction to storylines and characters, so in some cases we have actually altered the stories based on fan reactions," Barton said.

Serial Box wants to take that strategy one step further by facilitating fan conversation as well as monitoring it, Barton said. The company is currently in the process of running experiments with small groups of fans to see what works best.

"China and other Asian markets are way ahead of us in terms of having community threaded into the content experience," Barton said. "We're looking at their platforms closely and thinking about how we can interpret them for Western markets."

'We're delivering stories the way TV does'

Serial Box also hopes to build new fandoms around its original series, too.

Both "The Vela," a story about a refugee crisis in space, and "Ninth Step Station," a cyberpunk police procedural that takes place in Tokyo, generated enough buzz among fans that second seasons were greenlit for each, Barton said.

And Serial Box originals feel different from a typical audio book or e-book because they're created more like TV shows, Barton said.

Over 100 writers create content for Serial Box, and they do it in a writers room setting in teams of about three to five as opposed to flying solo, Barton said. The result is a series of short installments that contribute to a larger story.

"Essentially, we're delivering stories the way that TV does, but doing that through an audio and written form," Barton said.