January 2

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

“Received many intimations and advices, from numbers of our Subscribers.”

Boston Chronicle (January 2, 1769).

When the Boston Chronicle concluded its first year of publication, printers John Mein and John Fleeming inserted a lengthy notice that listed several proposed “Amendments and Additions.” These included “enlarg[ing] the size of our Paper one half more,” starting on the first Monday of January 1769. When that day arrived, however, Mein and Fleeming published a new address “To the PUBLIC” to explain that they had further revised their proposals in response to requests received “from numbers of our Subscribers.” Rather than a larger newspaper delivered once a week on Mondays, those subscribers stated a preference for an “additional Paper on THURSDAY, or SATURDAY.”

While certainly informal compared to modern standards, this feedback amounted to market research for the printers. Mein and Fleeming weighed the evidence before making their final determination about the new plan for their publication. In choosing between Thursday and Saturday for a second edition, they opted for Thursday due to “the greatest number of our Subscribers inclining to have it on that day.” Yet they did not wish to disappoint those who desired a Saturday edition. To that end, they devised an alternative when circumstances permitted: “to oblige our friends, who wish for part of the paper on SATURDAY evening, whenever the southern post arrives before seven o’clock, we shall publish four pages that night.” Subscribers who lived in town could send for their newspapers two hours after the arrival of the post. Any who declined to do so could depend on the newspaper being delivered on Monday as usual.

Mein and Fleeming underscored that they made these changes in acknowledgment of the needs and desires expressed by their customers: “this alteration is made at the request of a great number of our Subscribers, and is designed for the better entertainment of the whole.” The printers made it their “first and principal study to give them satisfaction.” In other words, when presented with the results of rudimentary market research, Mein and Fleeming adjusted their business model accordingly in order to better serve their customers. In so doing, they commenced a new publication schedule unlike that of any other newspaper in the city. The Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette all continued as weeklies. The Boston Chronicle became a semiweekly in response to customer demand, at least according to the address “To the PUBLIC” the printers inserted in the first issue for 1769.

January 13

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jan 13 - 1:13:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 13, 1768).

“PROPOSED to be published, a PAMPHLET.”

James Johnston inserted a subscription notice for “a PAMPHLET … entitled ‘Religious and Moral Observations selected from the Writings of approved Authors’” in the January 13, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. He did not promote a product already available for customers to purchase; instead, like many other eighteenth-century publishers, he presented a proposal in order to gauge public interest in the pamphlet. It would go to press only once a sufficient number of “subscribers” pledged to purchase it.

Publishing by subscription significantly reduced the financial risk. No printer wanted to invest time and materials only to produce a book or pamphlet that never sold enough copies to turn at least a small profit. With that in mind, Johnston instructed that readers “willing to encourage” the proposed pamphlet “may send in their names to the printer of this paper.” As names arrived, he would compile a subscription list (which printers sometimes inserted in proposed publications as a means of acknowledging patrons who supported the project). Johnston did not specify a publication date. Instead, he stated, “The publication will commence as soon as a sufficient number have sent in their names to defray the first expence of publishing.” Although that would not cover all of his costs, the printer considered it enough to indicate that other buyers would eventually step forward to acquire the pamphlet. For initial subscribers “the price of the pamphlet will be two shillings sterling.” Subsequent buyers could expect to pay a higher price. Offering a bargain to those who invested in the project early often helped to stimulate interest.

As part of his effort to promote the pamphlet, Johnston offered a brief description and outline. He estimated that it would be approximately sixty-four pages or “four sheets in 8vo. [octavo].” (This meant that a single sheet was folded in half three times in order to form eight leaves that were one-eight the size of the original sheet. With text printed on both sides of each leaf, this produced sixteen pages per sheet. Four sheets yielded sixty-four pages.) As the title suggested, these sixty-four pages would contain “Religious and Moral Observations” intended to bring together “the opinions and most enforcing arguments of different eminent authors.” The passages would be carefully organized “under proper Heads” and the names of the authors or books included for further reference. The pamphlet would also include “original Notes” intended to “illustrate and enforce the several passages.”

Johnston published the subscription notice to determine interest in the pamphlet, but he also planned to use the pamphlet to assess interest in “a larger publication of the same nature.” He considered the pamphlet a “specimen.” If consumers reacted positively, he would publish a more extensive version. The combination of the initial subscription notice and, eventually, sales of the pamphlet (if the subscription notice proved successful) constituted market research to guide his decisions about printing a substantial volume.