Monday, September 17, 2012

Return of the Penny Dreadful

Way back in the 19th Century, even before the rise of the pulps, another form of cheap amusement haunted the eyes of the reading. Short, lurid, quickly written and dismissed as so much trash, it nonetheless was the most popular form of written entertainment of its time, cranked out by the thousands and sold on the street like so many apples and oranges. In America there was the Dime, virtually mass produced stories that focused on the sensational and lurid. Cowboys and Indians, urban crime stories and so on, spread out across multiple volumes and editions, with series running on for years on end. In England they had the Penny Dreadful, serial short stories of lurid (there's that word again) nature in appearing in magazines and booklets. Both were targeted at audiences of young boys and men, part of the growing numbers of the literate public spawned by the Industrial Revolution. The rise of the pulps would eventually kill them off (as they in turn were killed off by the Second World War and the rise of the paperback.) But today, with the rise of the ebook, we may see a return of this old format, at least in part.

One of the big advantages of digital publishing is the low cost of production. No paper, to printer, in the end it's all nothing more than electrons, 1's and 0's and what time you choose to put in in terms of arranging them. Publication in instantaneous, as is purchase. Which, if one thinks about it, is perfect for a model similar to that of the old dimes and dreadful's. Quickly written, short, sensational in content and lurid in presentation...and serialized. Instead of laboring for years on end, writing, editing and re-writing thousand word doorstoppers, a writer (or team of writers - see Fantomas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre...) with a knack for publicity and a talent for compelling plots could do well for himself (or themselves) cranking out serialized stories released weekly. People often complain about the 99 cent price point as being economical. Maybe it is...for full length novels. But an old-fashioned (so old it's new) serialized story, released electronically over dozens of installments.

Now that could be something....

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