University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

John Bull Spawns the Dominant Woman: the Emergence and Sustained Rise of Odham's Press, 1847-1939

Cox, Howard and Mowatt, S. (2011) John Bull Spawns the Dominant Woman: the Emergence and Sustained Rise of Odham's Press, 1847-1939. In: Association of Business Historians Annual Conference, 1-2 July 2011, Henley Business School, University of Reading. (Unpublished)

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In the period immediately prior to the outbreak of the First World War, the market for popular weekly magazines in Britain was dominated by two publishing businesses: the Harmsworth’s Amalgamated Press and the collaborating enterprises of George Newnes and Arthur Pearson. Operating highly capital-intensive, vertically integrated printing and publishing companies, these two firms were able to erect entry barriers that other magazine publishers found insurmountable. One title alone was able to offer serious competition for the weekly pennies of working class readers; the brash, controversial, frequently libellous, but always entertaining John Bull. The success, collapse and rebirth of this magazine, along with the undulating fortunes of its proprietor Horatio Bottomley MP, is an enduring feature in the folklore of Britain’s periodical publishing history.

Notwithstanding the dubious merits of John Bull’s literary outpourings, from a business history perspective its significance resides in the competitive opportunity it provided for the small printing firm that rose to prominence on its coat tails. In 1906 the family-run Odhams Press was on the verge of bankruptcy when its new, young business manager, Julius Elias, contracted to print Bottomley’s controversial organ. With a combination of skilful manipulation and good fortune, Elias was able to exploit the substantial (albeit erratically remitted) income generated by John Bull’s weekly sales of over one million copies to establish a publishing empire that by the 1930s rivalled even that of the Amalgamated Press. Whilst Bottomley languished in jail following a conviction for fraud, Odhams’ business went from strength to strength, developing new titles and emerging as Britain’s most progressive periodical printing and publishing firm. In 1937, the company launched its flagship Woman magazine, printed in colour using the cutting edge, high-speed rotogravure presses at its newly built plant in Watford. By 1939 Woman had revolutionised women’s magazines in Britain and would dominate the weekly market for decades to come.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: John Bull, Odham's Press, printing, magazines, publishing
Subjects: T Technology > T Technology (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: College of Business, Psychology and Sport > Worcester Business School
Depositing User: Howard Cox
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2011 12:57
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2021 09:24

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