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Advertising Enabled Success of Late Nineteenth Century National Magazines

It’s hard to imagine a time when advertising did not drive media.

Advertising, for example, provides revenue for radio, television, newspapers, and magazines to this very day.

But at one time it was a novel idea.

For most of the nineteenth century  literary magazines provided reading pleasure for the  well educated, urban audience.  Then the new mass circulated magazine appeared to attract a national audience of middle class readers, whether living in the city, suburb, or farm.

In her book  The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s  cultural historian Ellen Gruber Garvey wrote: “The most crucial distinction between the new ten-cent magazine and the older elite magazines, and the distinction on which other differences rest was the reliance of the new magazines on advertising rather than sales, with advertising pegged to circulation figures.”

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper's
Peter Henderson Seed Company’s magazine ad in the late 1880s

The national magazine, like Ladies Home Journal, survived because advertising drove its publication.  No longer did articles in the magazine matter for the bottom line.  The magazine succeeded because it could attract advertisers.

Even the garden industry placed ads in such magazines.

The Peter Henderson Seed Company, for example, placed ads in Ladies Home Journal in the early 1890s.

Thus the American gardener encountered a popular seed company among those whose ads became familiar.  National media like newspapers and magazines that circulated around the country  attracted a middle class gardener audience, eager for the newest garden products.

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