One effect of the e-book revolution in the English speaking world has been a resurgence in the popularity of short stories, novellas and serialized fiction. I already wrote a couple of posts about this topic, which you can find here, here and here.
Now the renewed popularity of novellas and serials in e-book form is something new for the English speaking world, where both novellas and serialized fiction largely died out with the demise of the pulp magazines in the 1950s.
However, in Germany the pulp novella never really died out. Indeed, it just happily chugged along through the postwar area in the form of the so-called “Romanhefte”, novella-length stories published as digest-sized 65-page magazines and sold at newsstands and in supermarkets.
“Romanhefte” come in a wide variety of genres. Romance is the most popular with the subgenres medical romance, aristocratic romance (stories about fictional princes, counts and other aristocrats), “Heimatroman” (stories set in the Alps), family romance and gothic romance, but there are also westerns, crime fiction, horror/dark fantasy, historicals, war fiction, adventure stories, and science fiction. Some “Romanhefte” are complete standalones (romances mostly, but also westerns and war fiction), some are series featuring the same character in more or less self-contained adventures (many crime, fantasy and horror series, but also medical romances), others are continuing serials that have been running for decades on end in some cases. I’ve written about “Romanhefte” on my blog several times and also have also published a number of articles on specific genres and series.
The parallels between the “Romanheft” model (novella and novelette length stories, low price, wide variety of genres, high publication frequency, bundling*) and the indie e-book publishing model are obvious. As a result, one would also assume that “Romanhefte” would be ideally positioned to take advantage of the e-book revolution. And indeed, the three big “Romanheft” publishers, Bastei Lübbe, Kelter and Pabel-Moewig all offer their “Romanheft” lines past and present as e-books. Particularly, Bastei Lübbe and Pabel-Moewig also have detailed digital strategies.
Here is an article from Deutsche Welle about Bastei Lübbe‘s digital strategy. It’s a lengthy read (and only in German), but quite interesting, especially since Bastei is using similar strategies to many indie authors and is also expanding internationally by offering e-books in English and Chinese, written as “work for hire” by local authors, because this is supposedly cheaper than hiring translators, which I for one find a little disturbing.
Meanwhile, the German e-book news site Lesen.net offers up the longrunning SF series Perry Rhodan, published by Bastei‘s rival Pabel-Moewig**, as a model for a successful digital serial publishing. The article also discusses German indie SF serials modelled on Perry Rhodan.
Perry Rhodan has been running since 1961, which makes it one of the longest running “Romanheft” series. However, the longest running “Romanheft” series focussed on a single main character and one of the most successful is G-Man Jerry Cotton, which chronicles the adventures of the New York based FBI agent Jerry Cotton***. Jerry Cotton solved his first case back in 1954, which means that the series turned sixty this year. This article on Deutsche Welle marks the anniversary, though it sadly can’t resist snarking about the series and using derogatory terms like “Trivialliteratur”.
Also from Deutsche Welle, here is another article about the “Romanheft” phenomenon, which attempts to explain why these novellas are so popular in Germany. Once again – well, it is Deutsche Welle – the author can’t really lay off the snark and has to use terms like “Trivialliteratur” and “Heftchenromane”. He also comes to the conclusion that the reason “Romanhefte” are so popular in Germany is because Germans love happy endings and escapism. I guess the author has never seen a Harlequin/Mills & Boon romance.
*Unsold “Romanhefte” are returned to the publisher, stripped of their covers and then bundled as collected editions based on genre or series.
**Perry Rhodan and its spin-offs are now the only “Romanheft” franchise still published by Pabel-Moewig, since they stopped publishing their other “Romanheft” franchise, the WWII series Der Landser, in 2013 after protests that the series glorified Nazi war crimes. Of course, Der Landser has been published since 1957 and has always been its icky war-glorifying self (When buying one for research purposes, I always felt dirty), though for some reason the periodic complaints about this never bothered anybody until 2013. What is more, Der Landser survived its demise and reappeared under the title Weltkrieg, now published by a Swiss company that seems to be affiliated with Neo-Nazis.
***Together with the horror/urban fantasy series Geisterjäger John Sinclair, Jerry Cotton and Perry Rhodan make up the big three of the German “Romanheft” world.