NEW YORK – In an unusual move to draw in readers and advertising dollars, The New York Times (search) is borrowing from newspaper history and serializing a novel, the classic summer tale "The Great Gatsby," by F. Scott Fitzgerald (search).
With help from an advertising sponsor, a group of BMW dealers from the New York area, the newspaper is running the entire novel over the course of the week in its New York metro editions, beginning with a special pullout section on Monday.
Serializing novels was a common practice in the 19th century, and many great writers first published their work in newspapers and magazines, including Charles Dickens (search), Leo Tolstoy and Henry James (search). Fitzgerald, who died in 1940, had two of his novels serialized in his lifetime, "The Beautiful and the Damned" and "Tender is the Night."
Toby Usnik, a spokesman for the Times, said the paper will also serialize three other books this summer under the same sponsorship program: "Like Water for Chocolate," by Laura Esquivel; "Breakfast at Tiffany's," by Truman Capote (search) and "The Color of Water" by James McBride.
Usnik declined to say how much the BMW dealers group was paying, but he said the Times expected the project, which was initiated in the newspaper's marketing services division, to be profitable.
In conjunction with the serializations, the Times is also sponsoring a series of public readings in New York of the novels by celebrities, including a reading of passages from "Gatsby" by the actor Sam Waterston and his daughter Elisabeth.
Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists based in St. Petersburg, Fla., said that U.S. magazines and newspapers had serialized books on an occasional basis in the 20th century, but not nearly to the extent they did in decades before.
He noted that Rolling Stone (search) serialized all of "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Tom Wolfe's novel of the excesses of the 1980s. Also, Clark himself wrote a serial novel in 2000 called "Ain't Done Yet" that appeared in several regional newspapers owned by The New York Times and later distributed on the company's syndicate.
Clark attributed the decline of serialization in print media to the fact that television has "co-opted" the form of serial narrative in sitcoms such as "Seinfeld," dramas such as "ER" and "Law & Order."
"It'll be interesting to see how it plays out," Clark said of the Times' sponsored serializations of the books. "It looks to me like it's a very high gain and low risk marketing adventure."