Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction, But Public Domain Pulp Fiction Is A Whole Lot More Fun!

If you're in to republishing Public Domain fiction, the "pulp mags" of the 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's can provide you with a HUGE untapped treasure chest of fictional short stories to reintroduce to the world.

You could literally create a publishing company solely dedicated to the republishing of pulp magazine short stories and never have to worry about running out of content!

Pulp Fiction covers a WIDE variety of genres as well, so no matter what you're fictional preferences are, you're likely to find a genre that you can enjoy working with for years ~ fantasy, science fiction, detective, mystery, western, adventure, romance, you'll find it all covered in the pulp fiction classics of yesteryear.

When I was a boy I spent a LOT of time lost in the pages of reprinted stories from the old pulp mags (hiding under the covers with a flashlight when I should have been sleeping!), especially stories from the classic pulp mag, "Weird Tales" (I was a real sucker for anything written by Robert E. Howard).

I haven't gotten to it yet, but it's always been a dream of mine to publish collections of public domain pulp short stories in hardback omnibus editions.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, then you could do something similar very easily ~ there's plenty of content to go around for both of us!


First, let's start with a proper introduction to the world of "the pulps"...

A Crash Course In
Pulp Fiction History:

(courtesy of

"Pulp magazines (or pulp fiction; often referred to as "the pulps") were inexpensive fiction magazines. They were widely published from the 1920s through the 1950s. The term pulp fiction can also refer to mass market paperbacks since the 1950s.

The name "pulp" comes from the cheap wood pulp paper on which such magazines were printed. Magazines printed on better paper and usually offering family-oriented content were often called "glossies" or "slicks". Pulps were the successor to the "penny dreadfuls", "dime novels", and short fiction magazines of the nineteenth century.

Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are perhaps best remembered for their lurid and exploitative stories, and for their similarly sensational cover art.

Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of "hero pulps"; pulp magazines often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters such as The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Phantom Detective.

Pulp covers, printed in color on higher-quality (slick) paper, were famous for their half-dressed damsels in distress, usually awaiting a rescuing hero. Cover art played a major part in the marketing of pulp magazines, and a number of the most successful cover artists became as popular as the authors featured on the interior pages.

Among the most famous pulp artists were Frank R. Paul, Virgil Finlay, Edd Cartier, Margaret Brundage and Norman Saunders. Covers were important enough to sales that sometimes they would be designed first; authors would then be shown the cover art and asked to write a story to match.

Pulps were typically seven inches wide by ten inches high, about half an inch thick, having around 128 pages. In their first decades, they were most often priced at ten cents, while competing slicks were twenty-five cents.

The first "pulp" is considered to be Frank Munsey's revamped Argosy Magazine of 1896, about 135,000 words (192 pages) per issue on pulp paper with untrimmed edges and no illustrations, not even on the cover.

While the steam powered printing press had been in widespread use for some time, enabling the boom in dime novels, prior to Munsey, no one had combined cheap printing, cheap paper and cheap authors in a package that provided affordable entertainment to working-class people. In six years Argosy went from a few thousand copies per month to over half a million.

At their peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, the most successful pulps could sell up to one million copies per issue. Among the best-known titles of this period were Adventure, Amazing Stories, Black Mask, Dime Detective, Flying Aces, Horror Stories, Marvel Tales, Oriental Stories, Planet Stories, Spicy Detective, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Unknown and Weird Tales.

The Second World War paper shortages had a serious impact on pulp production, starting a steady rise in costs and the decline of the pulps. Beginning with Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1941, pulp magazines began to switch to digest size; smaller, thicker magazines.

In 1949, Street & Smith closed most of their pulp magazines in order to move upmarket and produce slicks. The pulp format declined from rising expenses, but even more due to the heavy competition from comic books, television, and the paperback novel. In a more affluent post-war America, the price gap compared to slick magazines was far less significant.

The 1957 bankruptcy of the American News Company, then the primary distributor of pulp magazines, has sometimes been taken as marking the end of the "pulp era"; by that date, many of the famous pulps of the previous generation, including Black Mask, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Weird Tales, were defunct.

Most all of the few remaining pulp magazines are science fiction or mystery magazines now in formats similar to "digest size", such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Over the course of their evolution, there were a huge number of pulp magazine titles; Harry Steeger of Popular Publications claimed that his company alone had published over 300, and at their peak they were publishing 42 titles per month. Many titles of course survived only briefly. While the most popular titles were monthly, many were bimonthly and some were quarterly.

The collapse of the pulp industry has changed the landscape of publishing in that pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories; combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, people attempting to support themselves by writing fiction must now generally write novels or book-length anthologies of shorter pieces.

Pulp magazines often contained a wide variety of genre fiction, including, but not limited to, fantasy/sword and sorcery, gangster, detective/mystery, science fiction, adventure, westerns, war, sports, railroad, romance, horror/occult (including "weird menace"), "spicy/saucy" (soft porn), and Série Noire (French crime mystery). The American Old West was a mainstay genre of early turn of the century novels as well as later pulp magazines, and lasted longest of all the traditional pulps.

Many classic science fiction and crime novels were originally serialized in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Black Mask."


Now, let's get our feet wet by dipping our toes into the wide variety of pulpy goodness hosted at "The Online Pulps Site"...

The Online Pulps Site:

"Welcome to the Online Pulps site. The purpose of this site is to provide a wide selection of stories from the pulps. Here you will find stories from nearly every genre...detective, science ficton, adventure, romance, western, weird menace, sports, aviation, and even finance!

One final comment about these texts before you start downloading them ... they are not edited for political correctness. They are a reflection of the times in which they were written and sometimes that mirror shows us something ugly. It is my opinion that it is better to look into that mirror and recognize how far we have progressed and hope that we continue to do so, rather than try to change the past."

The Online Pulps Site acts as a repository for vintage pulp fiction and as such, draws together hundreds of short stories from many of the best pulp mags in publishing history.

The Online Pulps Site contains many stories from the following pulp titles...

[pageview "Pulp Magazines represented by the Online Pulps site..."]

Volunteers at the site have done an amazing job of gathering, scanning, editing, and placing hundreds of pulp fiction stories on the site in downloadable PDF format.

=> Click Here To Browse Stories by Magazine

=> Click Here To Browse Stories by Author

Now, A Word of Caution...

While I truly believe that the owner and volunteers at this site have done an excellent job of checking the copyright status of each story before placing on this site, you should still do your due diligence before republishing any story found here.

Checking the copyright status of any story found here is easy and involves the exact same process used to determine the copyright status of a magazine article originally published in the U.S. (NOTE: there are some stories reprinted from U.K. and Canadian pulps listed here as well ~ these are very clearly marked).

For indentification, each story lists which mag it was originally published in as well as the month and year published.

To Determine The Copyright
Status Of A Particular Story...

1) First check the copyright status of the magazine issue that the story was originally published in...

2) If the magazine issue has entered the public domain, then you'll want to check the copyright status of the story itself.

We talked a little bit about how to verify the copyright status of a magazine here...

How To Tell If A Magazine Is In The Public Domain…

If the story has entered the public domain as well, then you're free to republish!

Also, don't forget that ebay and abebooks are excellent resources for tracking down copies of these old pulp mags that are chock full of great stories that you can scan in yourself (probably goes without saying that you should verify public domain status first).

Have fun!

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  1. Dan says

    What is the actual name of the old dime books/magazines that you often see in the old western movies. I believe they are referred to as pulp, but not sure. And where is the best place to find a library of them. Thank you in advance.

  2. says

    Hi Dan,

    They were commonly referred to as “dime novels”. Interesting side note – in Europe, the equivalent publications were referred to as “penny dreadfuls” or “shilling shockers”. The term dime novel was used to describe these things for years (even when they didn’t actually cost just a dime) then later they morphed into what’s come to be known as “the pulps”, “pulp mags”, or “pulp fiction”.

    If it’s the old dime novels you are interested in, I’m not aware of any one big source yet that archives issues of these things but and are great places to search.

    For instance I know of one small collection on right now…

    Click here…

    (actually I just noticed that it looks like is having technical difficulties today, link may not work until later)

    With these types of things it’s usually best to do some research and find the titles of some of the dime novels that were published. Searching by title will produce much more fruitful results.

    ebay and are also great sources for dime novels that you can purchase and scan yourself.

    Hope this helps.

    Thanks Dan!

  3. Soufian Kader says

    Hello, I’d like to find full-colored pictures about detective novels, or sci-fi, or mystery. As mush as possible, the digitalized version of them. Can you tell me where I must look for them? Thank you.

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