Parley's Illuminated Library pirated the tale in January 1844, and, though Dickens sued and won his case, the literary pirates simply declared bankruptcy. Dickens was left to pay £700 in costs, equal to £63,000 today. The entanglements of the various suits Dickens brought against the publishers, his resulting financial losses, and the slim profits from the sale of Carol greatly disappointed Dickens. He felt a special affection for the book's moral lesson and its message of love and generosity. In his tale of a man who is given a second chance to live a good life, he was demonstrating to his readers that they, too, could achieve a similar salvation in a selfish world that had blunted their generosity and compassion.
The novella was adapted for the stage almost immediately. Three productions opened on 5 February 1844, with one by Edward Stirling sanctioned by Dickens and running for more than 40 nights. By the close of February 1844, eight rival Carol theatrical productions were playing in London. Stirling's version played New York City's Park Theatre during the Christmas season of 1844 and was revived in London the same year. Hundreds of newsboys gathered for a musical version of the tale at the Chatham Theatre in New York City in 1844, but brawling broke out and was quelled only when offenders were led off by police to the Tombs. Even after order had been restored in the theatre, the clamorous cries of one youngster drowned out the bass drum that ushered Marley onto the stage as he rose through a trap door.
Other media adaptations include films, a radio play, and a television version. In all there are at least 28 film versions of the tale. The earliest surviving one is Scrooge; or Marley's Ghost (1901), a silent British version. Six more silent versions followed, with one made by Thomas Edison in 1910. The first sound version was made in Britain in 1928. Other media adaptations include a popular radio play version in 1934, starring Lionel Barrymore, an American television version from the 1940s, and, in 1949, the first commercial sound recording with Ronald Colman.
In the years following the book's publication, responses to the tale were published by W. M. Swepstone (Christmas Shadows, 1850), Horatio Alger (Job Warner's Christmas, 1863), Louisa May Alcott (A Christmas Dream, and How It Came True, 1882), and others who followed Scrooge's life as a reformed man – or some who thought Dickens had gotten it wrong and needed to be corrected.
Dickens himself returned to the tale time and again during his life to tweak the phrasing and punctuation, and capitalised on the success of the book by annually publishing other Christmas stories in 1844, 1845, 1846, and 1848. The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain were all based on the pattern laid down in Carol – a secular conversion tale laced with social injustice. While the public eagerly bought the later books, the critics bludgeoned them. Dickens himself questioned The Battle of Life's worth. Dickens liked its title, though, and once considered using it for another novel which instead became A Tale of Two Cities.
By 1849, Dickens was engaged with David Copperfield and had neither the time nor the inclination to produce another Christmas book. Disappointed with those that followed Carol, he decided the best way to reach his audience with his "Carol philosophy" was via public readings. In 1853, Carol was the text chosen for his first public dramatic reading with the performance an immense success. Thereafter, he read the tale in an abbreviated version 127 times, until 1870 (the year of his death), when it provided the material for his farewell performance.