What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”
It was a familiar refrain. John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, called on subscribers to pay their bills, echoing notices that printers throughout the colonies regularly inserted in their own newspapers. He appealed to reason, but also threatened legal action. In the process, he provided an overview of his persistent attempts to convince subscribers to settle their accounts.
Carter reported that the “Ninth of November closed the Year with most of the Subscribers to this Gazette.” That milestone made it a good time to make payments, but nearly three months later “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.” Carter had already attempted to collect, noting that he “repeatedly called on” subscribers “by Advertisements,” but they “still neglect settling their Accounts, to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.” He suggested that continuing to publish the Providence Gazette depended on subscribers paying what they owed. So many of them were so delinquent that Carter claimed that he “does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.” Subscriptions, however, were not the only source of revenue for Carter or any other printer. Advertising also generated revenues, often making newspapers profitable (or at least viable) ventures.
The printer hoped that subscribers would feel some sympathy about the costs he incurred, but he also determined, “reluctantly … and with the utmost Pain,” to sue those who still refused to pay. Carter lamented that “he finds himself compelled to acquaint ALL such, that their Accounts must and will be put in Suit, if not very speedily discharged.” Despite his exasperation and emphasizing that he felt “compelled” to pursue such a course, Carter likely never initiated any suits. Printers frequently made such threats, but rarely alienated subscribers by following through on them. After all, selling advertising depended in part on circulation numbers. Printers realized they had the potential to come out ahead on advertisements even if they took a loss on subscriptions.