What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The printer of this paper entreats his customers to pay their subscription monies.”
In the period before the American Revolution, printers regularly inserted notices asking newspaper subscribers to “pay their subscription monies,” as James Johnston did in the July 1, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. His notice was particularly short; others went into greater detail in their attempts to get customers to settle their account, some suggesting that many subscribers were in arrears not for weeks or months or rather for years. If colonial readers did not make timely payments for their newspapers, that helps to explain why advertising was considered such an important means of generating revenues for newspapers.
This raises a question about printers and their business practices. Did advertisers pay for their notices before they were inserted in the newspaper? Or, did printers extend credit to advertisers as well as subscribers?
Printers certainly encouraged newspaper advertising. The colophon of the Georgia Gazette indicated that it was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.” This was fairly standard for publications that included colophons that ran across all the columns at the bottom of the final page. That same week, several printers included similar language in their colophon, including Sarah Goddard and Company (Providence Gazette), William Goddard (Pennsylvania Chronicle), John Holt (New-York Journal), James Parker (New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy), Alexander Purdie and John Dixon (Virginia Gazette), and Robert Wells (South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal). Two of them, Holt and Purdie and Dixon, even indicated the costs of advertising, but neither indicated that they needed to be paid in advance.
Although printers frequently advertised that subscribers needed to settle accounts, they did not make similar requests of advertisers. There are at least two possibilities to explain this. Possibly advertisements had to be paid in advance. Alternately, printers may have considered advertising valuable content that helped to attract readers who would (eventually, hopefully) pay for their subscriptions. They may have been more lenient with advertisers who fell behind with their accounts as a result. This is a question that I would like to pursue in greater detail the next time I have a chance to consult printers’ records.