New Mass Media Impact Late Nineteenth Century Seed and Nursery Trade

This past weekend I attended a conference called The NarrativeArc at Boston University.  The focus was on narrative nonfiction, helpful for a writer who wants to tell a story rather than impress a reader with facts.

Loved the experience.

Media critic and Professor at Columbia Journalism School Dean Starkman, one of the speakers, said at his morning session: “The mass market is dead.  It is now a market of niches.”

Burpee's colorful image in the Company's 1893 catalog

The idea of “niches” refers to today’s social media like Twitter. Facebook, and LinkedIn which provide interaction with individuals.  Blasting  a message to a mass audience in print or broadcast is a thing of the past.

That made me think of a pivotal period in the seed and plant industry in this country: the 1890s.

I had been reading about the emergence of mass culture at the end of the nineteenth century. The invention of new communication technologies made it possible to print for a mass audience.  Newspapers, magazines, and, of course, garden catalogs, like Burpee’s [above], were printed in the hundreds of thousands for a national market.

That had never happened before, though we had books, newspapers, and magazines.  It was the ability for the first time to reach a mass audience that made that period a pivotal time.

Businesses used that technology to create a mass market.

American gardening would never be the same, because after that companies like seed firms  and nurseries sought to attract a national market with their products.  Gardeners had more choices for plants, garden accessories, and anything else garden-related than ever before.

The world of the gardener had changed forever.

That is, until social media came along.

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