The first book-length edition of David Copperfield appeared in November 1850, as soon as the last serial installment was published. In this way, Charles Dickens reached two distinct readerships: the newspaper serial readers who couldn't wait for updates and the book-buying readers who had more money to spend on leisure.
Eventually, serial fiction fell away as "more serious" matters filled the newspaper, and books and magazines took over the publication of fiction. There's a noticeable difference between fiction that was published in serial installments and fiction that was originally published in book form. Modern readers easily become impatient with serial fiction like David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers. It moves slower, and the plot lines sometimes appear to slacken or completely fall away. But plot is less important than character when you have to wait four weeks between installments, and the author can measure the public's reaction to certain characters and plot lines as he goes along.
For instance, perhaps Dickens' friends and fans told him they simply must have more of Wilkins Micawber after he disappeared toward the middle of the book. What would be more natural than to have him back? Bring back that beloved character and throw him into the midst of the action that was developing without him. This can't be done with a novel that is published all at once. The novel develops in hiding and appears as a whole, laid bare to praise or criticism but fixed in its form and content.
Or is it? Just as the form of fiction was shifting during Dickens' day, we're seeing major shifts now with the blossoming of ebooks. What part will ebooks play in the evolution of fiction in modern times?
I've noticed that some fiction writers are presenting their fiction as if they were episodes in sitcoms or TV dramas. This is an interesting combination of two modern forms of storytelling, but book readers typically come away very frustrated from these attempts. Often, these TV-inspired ebooks leave the reader hanging with absolutely no resolution at the end of an episode, which is a tactic employed by many TV producers.
Another way ebooks are changing the face of modern fiction is by bringing back the short story. For many years, short stories have been ready solely in literature classes, but they're making a comeback. Authors are writing short stories, publishing them as $.99 ebooks, and then compiling them into longer books when they have enough stories centered around a certain theme. This is reminiscent of Dickens hitting two markets with his serials that were published as books as soon as he finished the last installment. Ebooks have given modern writers new outlets to allow them to reach more readers.