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  The Man of Letters as a Man of Business William Dean Howells

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Whether the newspapers will become the rivals of the magazines as the vehicle of literature is a matter that still remains in doubt with the careful observer, after a decade of the newspaper syndicate. Our daily papers never had the habit of the feuilleton as those of the European continent have it; they followed the English tradition in this, though they departed from it in so many other things; and it was not till the Sunday editions of the great dailies arose that there was any real hope for the serial in the papers. I suspect that it was the vast demand for material in their pages--twelve, eighteen, twenty-four, thirty-six--that created the syndicate, for it was the necessity of the Sunday edition not only to have material in abundance, but, with all possible regard for quality, to have it cheap; and the syndicate, when it came into being, imagined a means of meeting this want. It sold the same material to as many newspapers as it could for simultaneous publication in their Sunday editions, which had each its special field, and did not compete with another.

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I do not think the syndicate began with serials, and I do not think it is likely to end with them. It has rather worked the vein of interviews, personal adventure, popular science, useful information, travel, sketches, and short stories. Still it has placed a good many serial stories, and at pretty good prices, but not generally so good as those the magazines pay the better sort of writers; for the worse sort it has offered perhaps the best market they have had out of book form. By the newspapers, the syndicate conceives, and perhaps justly, that something sensational is desired; yet all the serial stories it has placed cannot be called sensational. It has enlarged the field of belles-lettres, certainly, but not permanently, I think, in the case of the artistic novel. As yet the women, who form the largest, if not the only cultivated class among us, have not taken very cordially to the Sunday edition, except for its social gossip; they certainly do not go to it for their fiction, and its fiction is mainly of the inferior sort with which boys and men beguile their leisure.

In fact the newspapers prefer to remain newspapers, at least in quality if not in form; and I heard a story the other day from a charming young writer of his experience with them, which may have some instruction for the magazines that less wisely aim to become newspapers. He said that when he carried his work to the editors they struck out what he thought the best of it, because it was what they called magaziny; not contemptuously, but with an instinctive sense of what their readers wanted of them, and did not want. It was apparent that they did not want literary art, or even the appearance of it; they wanted their effects primary; they wanted their emotions raw, or at least saignantes from the joint of fact, and not prepared by the fancy or the taste.

The syndicate has no doubt advanced the prosperity of the short story by increasing the demand for it. We Americans had already done pretty well in that kind, for there was already a great demand for the short story in the magazines; but the syndicate of Sunday editions particularly cultivated it, and made it very paying. I have heard that some short-story writers made the syndicate pay more for their wares than they got from the magazines for them, considering that the magazine publication could enhance their reputation, but the Sunday edition could do nothing for it. They may have been right or not in this; I will not undertake to say, but that was the business view of the case with them.

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The Man of Letters as a Man of Business
William Dean Howells

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