It seems the pressure to create a franchise is just as great for indies, if not greater, as it is for those published by mainstream houses. John Locke, who wrote the book on indie marketing, seems to take it as a given and his Twitter account is in the name of his franchise character, Donovan Creed.
When I sold my first novel to Dutton, the editor, Dick Marek, asked me if I was willing to write similar novels if he bought this one, and of course I replied I was. To build a brand name for an author, it's necessary to stick to a particular genre, the narrower, the better. It's one step further, then, to create a franchise, a series where the same main character and ancillary characters appear every time in an endless stream to satisfy readers who have come to expect this, and nothing else, from the author.
Rex Stout, for instance, wrote 77 novels and stories featuring Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and the whole cast of characters and readers never got tired of him. The other side of that coin, however, is that no one had any interest in reading any of Stout's books that did not feature Nero Wolfe.
It clearly is a way to get mega-sales. Think of Janet Evanovich with Stephanie Plum and all the mystery writers, of Daniel Silva with Gabriel Allon and all the thriller writers, and I presume it's true for paranormal, fantasy and other genres as well.
It is, in fact, one of the ways to distinguish literary fiction from genre fiction. Literary writers have a different set of characters, different locations and so on for each novel. Their "brand" may include a certain voice, or tone, or themes, but the characters and plots will vary.
Can an indie aspire to be "literary" in this sense, attracting a fan base just on the basis of the quality of their writing? Probably, though it is much harder.
It depends in the end on what you want out of writing and self-publishing. If you want sales, it's going to be much easier to get there with a franchise or at least a narrowly focused brand. If you are writing for the art, self-publishing gives you the freedom to indulge that, but it would be a fluke to get volume sales.
I've branded by self-publishing imprint Barnaby Woods Books as "Suspense Fiction." I would like to establish Lord Leighton from The Grand Mirage as a franchise. But these books require considerable research and it will be hard to get one out more often than once a year. To keep busy writing while doing some of this research it would make sense to produce some other books. I have a good start on a contemporary political thriller -- a different sub-genre than the historical thriller. I want to re-issue Gold, the financial thriller I sold to Dutton. I've started at least two different Vatican thrillers. I've also talked to my brother, a retired police officer, about collaborating under a pen name with a series of police procedurals.
So a somewhat fuzzy brand, but hopefully consistent enough in quality and intelligence to appeal to a core audience of readers who enjoy a variety of suspense fiction, as well as in each instance to aficionados of each sub-genre.
So I guess I would answer the question yes and no. I envisage a couple of franchises within a wider brand that would include one-off thrillers of various sorts. But who knows, the liberating influence of digital publishing may inspire me to write other kinds of books as well -- humor, literary, even nonfiction, why not?