What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All those who choose to continue taking the said Whig Papers … let the Printer know.”
Many American printers resorted to subscription notices to assess interest and incite demand for books and other items they considered publishing, but John Holt, publisher of the New-York Journal, experimented with another means of attracting customers for one of his projects. He offered a premium to those who subscribed to his newspaper. As Holt explained in an advertisement inserted in the August 4, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, he had been republishing “Half a Sheet weekly of the Papers called the American Whig, and others relating to that Controversy.” The “Controversy” referred to “the Residence of Protestant Bishops in the American Colonies.” Holt distributed the first twenty-six half sheets gratis to those who already subscribed to the New-York Journal, but he expected interested readers to subscribe to subsequent half sheets from the American Whig series. He established a subscription rate of “one Dollar for every Fifty-two Half Sheets” in addition to the usual subscription fees for the New-York Journal. Holt instructed those who wished to continue receiving the American Whig supplements to “let the Printer know it in Time, otherwise no more than the said Twenty-six Papers will be sent.”
In terms of generating content for the American Whig, Holt adapted the standard practice that printers throughout the colonies used to fill the pages of their newspapers. They participated in networks of exchange, receiving newspapers from near and far and reprinting items previously published elsewhere. This method gathered and distributed all sorts of news, but Holt suspected that some readers might be interested in creating and preserving a volume devoted specifically to the controversy over Protestant bishops. To that end, the additional half sheets featured only reprinted items relevant to that debate, published separately “for the Conveniency of binding” into a book upon collecting sufficient number. Although Holt reported that he undertook this project “at the Desire of many of his Subscribers,” his initial widespread distribution of the free half sheets combined with his notice calling for subscribers to commit to paying for subsequent items in the series demonstrates that he hoped to enlarge the number of customers who purchased the American Whig. He used the free issues as a tool for enticing subscriptions for publishing a book.
Innovative as this marketing strategy may have been, it seems to have fallen short of Holt’s goals for attracting subscribers. He issued enough half sheets for two volumes, the first drawn from the original twenty-six distributed gratis and the second consisting of the subscription series, but a proposed third volume never went to press. Through his various advertising efforts, Holt managed to generate sufficient interest to sustain the project beyond its initial stages, but not enough to continue it for as long as he intended.