Some of the world’s greatest fiction was published in serial form. “Madame Bovary,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Anna Karenina” and much of the work of Charles Dickens all first appeared as installments in newspapers or magazines.
Serial publication reached its peak in the 19th Century. Now, seeking to stem the tide of the 21st Century’s digital revolution, the Star Tribune is trying something new by trying something old.
“Giving Up the Ghost,” an original work of fiction by Midwest author Mary Logue, is being serialized in the newspaper and online in 50 installments that began last week. The newspaper is also selling the novel in its entirety as an e-book for $3.99 through iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
“The revenue is incidental,” said Star Tribune spokesman Steve Yaeger. “This is more of an experiment on behalf of our readers. It’s part of the continuing experiment in how we can bring interesting, compelling content to our readers in a variety of channels.”
It’s not the paper’s first foray into the serial/e-book format. That came last year, when reporter Curt Brown’s “In the Footsteps of Little Crow” sold thousands of e-books and cracked the New York Times’ e-book best-seller list for nonfiction. But it’s the first in the fiction genre.
And readers can expect to see more of it. It’s a natural fit, Yaeger said, for one of the nation’s most literate metro areas. His thought was echoed by Kate Parry, the Star Tribune’s assistant managing editor for special projects and features. Parry, along with books editor Laurie Hertzel, supervised the latest serial.
“I think we have an unusual number of people here who love to read books,” Parry said. “We have our local publishing houses, and we have this giant population of writers. It’s the newspaper dovetailing with the culture of the market.”
Hertzel used her contacts with local writers and publishers to unearth a half-dozen completed, unpublished manuscripts. They chose Logue’s, both for its quality and for its author’s willingness to experiment.
“We have our challenges because of the digital transformation,” Parry said. “Authors and publishers and the book business have their own version of that; they’re all trying to experiment the way we are. And Mary is very entrepreneurial.”
So far, the latest serial is performing well, with more than 1,000 e-books sold in the first week. Parry didn’t have figures on web traffic for the serial, but said a live chat with Logue last week attracted more than 500 online participants — a huge number. And the serial isn’t intended to be click bait anyway, she added: “It’s just fun for newspaper readers to encounter something really unexpected.”
For nearly a decade now, industry analysts have urged newspapers to be bold, to experiment, to try new things to stay relevant versus the allure of the Internet. The Star Tribune, which recently won a couple of Pulitzer prizes for old-fashioned newspapering, is doing just that with its literary serial. More power to them.