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

CHAPTER 10
Ambivalent Advertising
Books, Prestige, and the Circulation of Publicity

Ellen Gruber Garvey

.  .  .

When publishers advertised, they generally had one of two goals. They could reach out to sell books to the many who rarely or never bought them. Or they could market particular books to the minuscule number of Americans who regularly purchased hardbound books. Until the 1920s, the old-line publishers largely targeted existing readerships and the bookshops that supplied them. Other publishers, including those specializing in cheap reprints, pirated editions, and popular formula fiction, reached out to patrons of newsstands and stationery stores, and tried mail-order campaigns and subscription sales.

Reprint and mail-order publishers certainly supplied books to more Americans than bookstores, but their readers were considered culturally marginal by the taste makers and gatekeepers who read the elite magazines and circulated judgments on contemporary literary standards. Yet different publishing strategies were sometimes used for the same titles—either because different publishers pirated the same English editions, or because cheap publishers reprinted works of old-line publishers. Thus, the value of more expensive books did not rest merely on their texts.

As Richard Ohmann’s article in this volume explains, the old-line publishers traded in cultural clout and works of individual genius, while the cheap edition purveyors sold entertainment to the masses. When they used advertising, oldline publishers asserted the superiority of their books over the works available on newsstands, tried to consolidate their reputation, and attempted to defend higher prices as a symbol of value.


Prestige and Books’ Peculiar Relationship to Advertising

Advertising became increasingly significant and visible in the United States from the 1890s on, as manufacturers sought national markets for their goods, as new kinds of goods came on the market, and as new promotional media such as advertising-dependent magazines, billboards, and eventually radio increased

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