What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION.”
When it came to generating revenue, eighteenth-century printers often found advertising more lucrative than subscriptions for their newspapers. James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, was fortunate to have so many advertisements for the November 1, 1769, edition that they filled more space than the news and editorials. He distributed the advertisements throughout the issue. Some ran on the first page, others on the second, and still more on the third. Advertisements comprised the entire final page. Readers could not peruse any portion of that issue without encountering paid notices inserted by other colonists.
Johnston gave a privileged place to a subscription proposal for a proposed book of essays about “the Indians on the Continent of North America … interspersed with useful Observations relating to the Advantages arising to Britain from her Trade with those Indians.” It appeared at the top of the second column on the first page, immediately below the masthead. In that position, it quite likely would have been the first advertisement that registered with readers. To further help draw attention, the word “PROPOSALS” appeared as a headline in larger font than almost anything else in the newspaper. Only the font for the masthead and Samuel Douglass’s name in his own advertisement on the fourth page rivaled the size of the font for “PROPOSALS.” A trio of legal notices appeared immediately below the subscription notice, making it the only advertisement that vied for consumers to make purchases. All of the other advertisements for various goods ran on other pages.
The “CONDITIONS” stated that the proposed book would “be put to Press in London as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscriptions are obtained.” Johnston was not himself the printer but instead a local agent. The final line of the advertisement advised that “SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by the Printer of this Gazette.” Even though the proposed book would not come off of Johnston’s press in Savannah, he was involved in its production, at least as far as marketing, acquiring a sufficient number of subscribers, and corresponding with the publisher were concerned. Quite likely he would also participate in the eventual distribution of the book, printing another advertisement to inform subscribers to send for their copies and perhaps collecting payment on behalf of the publisher. Serving as a local agent created opportunities for Johnston to profit, but it also allowed him to boost a fellow member of the book trades who was not a competitor. Placing the subscription notice in such a conspicuous spot very well could have been an in-kind service for an associate on the other side of the Atlantic.