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They are perhaps best described as the television of their day, containing a variety of serial stories and articles, with something aimed at each member of the family, and often illustrated profusely with woodcuts.
Popular story papers included The Saturday Journal, Young Men of America, Golden Weekly, Golden Hours, Good News, and Happy Days.
In 1874, Beadle & Adams added the novelty of color to the covers when their New Dime Novels series replaced the flagship title.
The New Dime Novels were issued with a dual numbering system on the cover, one continuing the numbering from the first series and the second and more prominent one indicating the number in the current series; for example, the first issue was numbered 1 (322).
By the end of the war, numerous competitors, such as George Munro and Robert De Witt, were crowding the field, distinguishing their product only by title and the color of the paper wrappers.
Beadle & Adams had their own alternate "brands", such as the Frank Starr line.
As a whole, the quality of the fiction was derided by highbrow critics, and the term dime novel came to refer to any form of cheap, sensational fiction, rather than the specific format.
The term was used as a title as late as 1940, in the short-lived pulp magazine Western Dime Novels.
Dime novels are the antecedent of today's mass-market paperbacks, comic books, television shows and movies based on dime-novel genres.