How the Dime Novel Changed Literature

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See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The history of literature has many influences from the development of a written languages to various cultural movements. What most people don’t know is how much the dime novel changed the path of written literature.

What is a Dime Novel

I could be a smarty pants here and say it was a novel that cost a dime or it came from the dime store. I probably just lost several readers who have no idea what a dime store was. But I’ll stay serious. The dime novel was a mass produced novel that could be sold around ten cents. That was much more reasonable than standard books printed with hardcover/leather binding. Those cost so much that only people of the upper levels of society could possess.

Think of your own purchases at the bookstore. All of you who have to have hardbacks, first editions, and such are excluded from this part as you are not that many and throw my argument off. You are in the minority. Most people gobble up the cheaper paperback books called “mass produced”. They are cheaper and great for those who want to read the book and then move on to the next one.

The dime novel was the first books that could be produced in bulk and pushed out to the public. The future of books was brighter than ever. Literature would never be the same.

The Times

To fully understand how the dime novel changed literature, you have to understand the times the dime novel was born in. Think of today’s book world. Physically you can walk into a bookstore with thousands, maybe even millions, of books for you to browse through and purchase. Online, you can find ten times that. Prices can be as low as less than a dollar on the clearance rack to a few hours of work’s pay. If you don’t want to buy one, you can easily go to the library and borrow one. You can’t say there is no way to get a book. Even out of print ones are suddenly becoming more easily available. One can find almost anything.

This was not the case in the early 1800’s and earlier. There were limited titles, limited number of books, and limited funds to obtain them. Literacy was also not near as high as it is today. It was an entirely different world. Reading a book wasn’t as common as it is now.

When the mid to late 1800’s rolled around, all that was changing. Literacy was increasing. This was mainly due to many social groups that were pushing to better society in the aftermath of the American Civil War. It was a time of increased social attention. That included poverty and literacy. More people reading meant the need for more books.

Impact on Literature

As the printing press was the catalyst that brought more books into the hands of the people, so was the dime novel. Okay, it might not have had such a global impact, but it did change the publishing world in America. You could say it is even similar to the self-publishing explosion at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Writers found new opportunities to get their books published. In prior years, they were denied. Now they had a better chance at being published. The doors of opportunity gave more options. Writing became more prolific. Those with a desire to write took up the pen because there was a chance for them.

Readers had more choices at cheaper prices. People could afford them who couldn’t before. Thus more books were written and read. Literature found itself with another explosion of advancement that paved the way for the prolific publishing of the twentieth century. Books were everywhere.

The Joy of Reading a Dime Novel

Dime novels were printed on cheap paper. The quality of the physical book wasn’t the selling point. It was the point that you didn’t have to spend a year’s salary to buy a single book. They were easily obtainable. If you could read, you could buy one. People shared them as they didn’t cost much and weren’t included in the estate at your death.

Dime novels brought the printed word to more people. That in turn brought the desire for more books from the public. It was a win-win situation.

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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