The study of the evolution of literature is one of the most fascinating and yet convoluted journeys you’ll ever take. There are many tributaries that flow into the massive river that runs longer and deeper than the Nile and Amazon combined. Many things influence the path literature has taken.
Many of us can state that the printing press changed the course dramatically. We can also say that many of the technological advances have done the same, but what we forget sometimes is that other influences outside of technology can make a huge impact, including that of genre.
Thus came the dime novel….
What do you think of when you hear see ‘dime novel’? For me, it is a thin, cheaply printed book that contains extremely dramatic stories that keep you on the edge of your seat or up all night in fear. That’s only part of what a dime novel was but doesn’t dive into how it changed the course of literary history.
During the mid-1800s, literacy began in to increase. It wasn’t just the well-to-do that could read books. Literacy was reaching beyond that social class though it still wasn’t where it is today. With it came a desire for reading material.
Now let’s combine that desire and increase in literacy with new technology…
Paper now could be made much faster and cheaper than ever before. Newspapers were flying off the printing presses like never before. Some publishers came up with an idea to do the same with books. Why not? If the news and gossip could be distributed so quickly, why not books? It is not like they all had to be bound in leather or anything.
Publishers, Beadle and Adams, printed hundreds of books on cheap paper and bound in a cheap covering with very little on it, at times not even the title. Between the paper covers were stories that started off as reprints of earlier books. They were priced at…SURPRISE! … a dime.
The Price Factor
Okay, a few publishers after that charged fifteen cents, but the name ‘dime novel’ stuck. As publishers began to see how fast readers were gobbling these books up, more got in on the action. Original works began to appear with a few becoming anthologies and collections. Romance, adventure, shoot-outs, and more were revealed in these cheap novels.
Today, we know these types of work more as pulp fiction pieces that are pushed out at relatively quick speeds for public consumption more than for literary value. Yet they have great value in the history of literature.
Books became even more available to the masses than ever before. More titles were to be chosen from and even new authors found venues that weren’t there before. As today with ereaders opening the door for more self-publishers, the ability to create more books faster and cheaper opened the door for more titles and more lovers of books.
The dime novel played a huge role in how books are where they are today.