Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940

By Carl F. Kaestle; Janice A. Radway | Go to book overview

Introduction

Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway

.  .  .

The publishing trades were profoundly affected by the economic, social, and cultural forces that transformed every aspect of American life between 1880 and 1940, thus creating a “culture of print.” Technological changes in transportation and communication, economic integration, professionalization, and bureaucratization all helped to change the country’s trade in words. Although these forces affected each aspect of print differently, the trade itself was transformed from a collection of independent, interacting businesses into a system of loosely integrated parts.

As the population exploded and dispersed geographically across the continent, many in the trade sought to profit from newfound access to readers and the opportunities it presented. These increasingly coordinated efforts both intentionally and inadvertently intensified the commercial orientation of American publishing. Throughout the period examined here, publishers also thoroughly transformed and multiplied the commodities they offered. This section aims to trace schematically the histories of the main publishing trades and to track the business of integration within the trades themselves, among them, and in their relation to the developing consumer economy. It also tracks the transformation of publishing from a trade, principally, in words, text, and printed books, to a trade in subsidiary rights and fungible “content,” diversifying print forms, audience attention, images, and social, cultural, and political prestige.

This is not to suggest, of course, that prior to 1880 American publishing was not commercially oriented. Notwithstanding the traditional trade’s famously clubby tone, its reputation as a gentlemanly pastime, or its literary orientation and investment in the public interest, publishers still sought to regularize and systematize their relationships with writers while maximizing sales through predictable relationships with readers. Both Richard Ohmann and Ellen Garvey reveal in chapters 6 and 10, in fact, that in the years before 1880 some of the most prestigious literary houses had created periodicals that acted both as “vestibules to the house” and as elaborate advertising vehicles for their lists of titles. This commercial synergy was augmented in the years after 1880 by increasingly integrated relationships between branches of the publishing trade and by the

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