What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PROPOSALS, For printing by SUBSCRIPTION, A NEW Periodical Production, entitled, The ROYAL American Magazine.”
Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, continued his efforts to garner subscribers for a new publication, the Royal American Magazine, in August 1773. He previously disseminated subscription proposals in his own newspaper, first on June 24 and then in four of the five issues published in July. By the end of that month, he inserted the extensive proposals in two other newspapers published in Boston (the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boyand the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter) as well as both newspapers published in Rhode Island (the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette) and one each in New York (the New-York Journal) and Philadelphia (the Pennsylvania Chronicle). In total, subscription proposals for the Royal American Magazine appeared fourteen times in seven newspapers in five towns in July.
In August, those proposals ran another thirteen times, as listed below. Thomas inserted them in his own newspaper three more times. He also concluded the cycle in three other newspapers. Most printers charged a set rate for an advertisement to run three times and then additional fees for each insertion after that. The proposals made their second and third appearances in both the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle in August (and already made three appearances in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in July). According to the colophon for the New-York Journal, advertisements ran four times before the printer assessed additional fees. The proposals made their third and fourth appearances in the New-York Journal in August 1773. They also ran for the first time in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette. That meant that all of the newspapers published in Boston carried the proposals at least once, reaching readers in that city and beyond who did not regularly read the Massachusetts Spy. Thomas may have struck a deal with his fellow printers in town since three of those newspapers printed the proposals only once. Thomas also added another newspaper to the roster of those that disseminated the subscription proposals. The Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, carried them on August 24, the first time for a newspaper in that colony. The proposals filled nearly two columns (out of twelve) in that issue. Three days later, the proposals ran in the New-London Gazette.
Thomas realized that to successfully attract enough subscribers to make the only magazine published in America at the time a viable venture, he needed to market the proposed publication widely. That meant saturating the market in Boston as well as establishing a network that included towns in other colonies. Advertisements in newspapers published in New York, Philadelphia, Providence, New London, Newport, and Hartford reached even wider audiences than the Massachusetts Spy and its counterparts in Boston. Thomas engaged “the printers and booksellers in America,” near and far, to act as local agents who collected subscriptions for the Royal American Magazine on his behalf.
- August 2 – Boston-Gazette (first appearance)
- August 2 – Newport Mercury (second appearance)
- August 2 – Pennsylvania Chronicle (second appearance)
- August 5 – Massachusetts Spy (sixth appearance)
- August 5 – New-York Journal (third appearance)
- August 9 – Newport Mercury (third appearance)
- August 9 – Pennsylvania Chronicle (third appearance)
- August 12 – Massachusetts Spy (seventh appearance)
- August 12 – New-York Journal (fourth appearance)
- August 16 – Boston Evening-Post (first appearance)
- August 19 – Massachusetts Spy (eighth appearance)
- August 24 – Connecticut Courant (first appearance)
- August 27 – New-London Gazette (first appearance)