During the years between 1865 and 1914, the United States became a nation of periodical readers as a greatly expanded number of newspapers and magazines—many of which contained fictional sketches, short stories, and novels—became cheaper and much more easily accessible to readers almost everywhere in the country. Many factors contributed to this tremendous expansion. For one thing, various technological innovations, including those related to typesetting, printing, and even paper making, made it possible to greatly increase periodical production while simultaneously lowering production costs. In addition, the rapid and extensive growth of the nation’s railroads, public libraries, and postal service made it much easier for periodicals to reach readers in markets that before the Civil War had not been well served. The overall result was that after the Civil War, many periodicals began to address particular market niches, although there was also a good deal of overlap. Story papers, genteel monthly magazines, women’s magazines, children’s periodicals, regional magazines, religious publications, magazines focused on particular ethnic and racial groups, and a small number of avant-garde magazines had their own distinct viewpoints and published particular types of fiction. The periodicals that reached the greatest number of markets and covered them most thoroughly, however, were local newspapers. By the 1880s, in hopes of attracting women readers to their advertising, many individual papers had begun to regularly publish fiction among their news stories and other features. In mid-decade, S. S. McClure and Irving Bacheller founded their respective newspaper syndicates and began selling fiction to multiple newspapers, in widely scattered markets, for simultaneous publication, thereby exposing a highly heterogeneous national audience of readers to high-quality fiction by prominent authors. Building on this model, a number of low-cost, mass-market monthly magazines, all of which prominently featured fiction by well-known writers, were founded in the 1890s to address this same national readership.
The significantly expanded production and distribution of periodicals featuring fiction during the late 19th and early 20th centuries benefited many people but possibly none more so than fiction authors and readers. There were undoubtedly drawbacks for some authors and readers in the development of this new periodical industry and its extensive market reach, but in general the new system aided members of both groups. The higher number of periodicals being produced required a substantial increase in the supply of fiction, which allowed many more people to make their living writing such material. In addition, more readers than ever before could now afford (and have easy access to) a wider selection of the types of fiction they desired.