What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the Royal American Magazine are taken in by the Printer hereof.”
Although it took longer for Isaiah Thomas to publish the subscription proposals for the Royal American Magazine than he first anticipated, once they appeared in his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, on June 24, 1773, he set about building an advertising campaign to attract subscribers from Boston and beyond. In the month of July, the subscription proposals appeared in newspapers fourteen times. In the initial insertion, Thomas declared that he accepted subscriptions, as did “many gentlemen in the country whose name will short be published” and “the printers and booksellers in AMERICA.” He had plans to create an extensive network.
By the end of July, the subscription proposals ran in the Massachusetts Spy four more times (July 1, 8, 15, and 29) and in six other newspapers. They first appeared in another newspaper published in Boston and then in newspapers in four other cities.
- July 12 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Bost-Boy
- July 19 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
- July 22 – New-York Journal
- July 24 – Providence Gazette
- July 26 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
- July 26 – Newport Mercury
- July 26 – Pennsylvania Chronicle
- July 29 – Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
- July 29 – New-York Journal
- July 31 – Providence Gazette
Booksellers throughout the colonies imported magazines from England, but no other colonial printers published magazines. Thomas intended that the Royal American Magazine would serve all of the colonies rather than one city or region. He also realized that he needed to enlist subscribers from beyond Boston and the surrounding towns if he wanted to make the magazine a viable venture. Printers had attempted about a dozen magazines in the colonies over the past thirty years, but most of them folded within a year. None lasted longer than three years. Thomas marketed a monthly publication of “essays, instructive and entertaining to all classes of men,” that “men of the greatest abilities in the literary world” would collect and preserve in their libraries, unlike newspapers “only noticed for a day, and then thrown neglected by.” At ten shillings and four pence, the Royal American Magazine cost more than a subscription to the Massachusetts Spy, at six shillings and eight pence, for only twelve issues rather than fifty-two weekly issues throughout the year. Even if the contents appealed “to all classes of men,” only certain colonizers could afford to subscribe. That meant that Thomas needed to widen his marketing efforts far beyond Boston. Inserting the subscription proposals in newspapers published in New York and Philadelphia, two of the largest cities in the colonies, as well as Newport and Providence, two more busy ports, helped the printer reach the sorts of genteel and affluent colonizers likely to have an interest in supporting an American magazine that catered to them as an alternative to imported English publications.