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The American Origins of the Modern Consumer Magazine in Inter-War Britain

Cox, Howard (2012) The American Origins of the Modern Consumer Magazine in Inter-War Britain. In: Economic History Society Annual Conference, 30 March-2 April 2012, St Catherine's College, University of Oxford. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The late Victorian era saw a major boom in the publication of popular consumer magazines. Beginning with the launch of Tit-Bits by George Newnes in 1881, a revolution in publishing occurred in Britain and during the following three decades the number of magazine titles available to consumers roughly tripled, to around 3,000. The most successful of these such as Pearson’s Weekly and Answers were selling the unprecedented volume of one million or more copies per issue. On the back of this rapidly growing market, mainly for weekly magazines, three firms had emerged by 1914 as industry leaders: George Newnes & Co., C. Arthur Pearson Ltd. and Alfred Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press, This latter enterprise was one arm of a highly capital intensive publishing empire which by 1919 ranked in the top 20 among Britain’s privately owned modern industrial corporations. By contrast, the dynamism of the popular magazine industry rather waned between the wars as the modern mass circulation daily newspaper truly came of age. In the 1920s and 30s the established publishers of Britain’s consumer magazines, exploiting the advantages of large scale production and vertical integration, tended to adopt a simple strategy aimed at building the readership of their leading titles in order to expand revenues both directly, from consumer sales, and via the growing appeal that their periodicals held for the manufacturers and retailers of branded consumer products. Despite the formidable entry barriers which protected these incumbent magazine publishers and their leading titles, a largely American-inspired process of modernisation did take place in the magazine publishing industry between the wars. This paper analyses the three main new entrants whose operations underpinned this change. First it looks at the strategy adopted by American transplants: W.R. Hearst’s National Magazine Company and Condè Nast Inc. These enterprises both gained success in the fortnightly and monthly market for glossy magazines, which were carefully and deliberately aimed at a well-defined target audience that could be served up to suitable advertisers. Respectively, their leading titles Good Housekeeping and Vogue were U.S.-originated magazines that carved out a secure market in inter-war Britain. Second, the paper considers the strategy of Odhams Press Ltd, the printer and publisher of John Bull magazine, which used the success of its leading title to develop an increasingly sophisticated range of periodicals, before obtaining the UK-rights to the high-speed rotary photogravure technology developed by the U.S.-based Alco-Gravure Corporation. This development culminated in the launch of Woman, in 1937, which transformed the market for women’s weekly magazines. Finally, it shows how the new practice of photojournalism, utilising the hand-held Leica 35mm camera, was successfully adopted in Britain by Hulton Press for the launch in 1938 of the path-breaking weekly Picture Post, an innovative emulation of the American Henry Luce’s Life magazine. With the emergence in particular of Woman and Picture Post, the modern consumer magazine truly came of age in Britain. References Alford, Bernard W.E. (1965), ‘Business Enterprise and the Growth of the Commercial Letterpress Printing Industry, 1850-1914’, Business History, vol.7(1): 1-14. Ashley, Mike (2006), The Age of the Storytellers: British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950. British Library: London. Chase, Edna Woolman and Chase, Ilka (1954), Always in Vogue. Victor Gollancz: London. Cox, Howard and Mowatt, Simon (2011), “Vogue in Britain: Authenticity and the Creation of Competitive Advantage in the UK Magazine Industry”, Business History, vol.53(7). Dilnot, George (1925), The Romance of the Amalgamated Press. Amalgamated Press: London. Gerald, J. Edward (1956), The British Press Under Government Economic Controls. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis. Greenhill, Peter and Reynolds, Brian (2010), The Way of the Sun: The Story of Sun Engraving and Sun Printers. True to Type Books: Claremont, Ontario. Head, Alice (1939), It Could Never Have Happened. Heinnemann: London. Jackson, Kate (2001), George Newnes and the New Journalism in Britain, 1880-1910. Ashgate: Aldershot. Minney, R.J. (1954), Viscount Southwood. Odhams: London. Political and Economic Planning (PEP) (1938), Report on the British Press. PEP: London. Proctor, Ben (2007), William Randolph Hearst: Final Edition, 1911-1951. Oxford University Press: New York. Reed, David (1997), The Popular Magazine in Britain and the United States, 1880-1960. British Library: London. Seebohm, Caroline (1982), The Man who was Vogue: The Life and Times of Condé Nast. Viking Press: New York. Yoxall, Harry W. (1966), A Fashion of Life. Heinemann: London.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
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Uncontrolled Keywords: consumer magazines, Inter-war Britain
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: Academic Departments > Worcester Business School
Depositing User: Howard Cox
Date Deposited: 29 Aug 2013 14:52
Last Modified: 29 Aug 2013 14:52
URI: https://eprints.worc.ac.uk/id/eprint/2361

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