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Evolution of the penny press

Posted by: | September 13, 2011 | No Comment |

It’s almost hard to believe The New York Times was founded as a penny paper in 1851. But then again, it’s not surprising. Of course a newspaper of such prestige was a part of the revolutionary penny press era. The penny press made significant contributions to the newspaper industry. While the penny press is known for its low cost, the true advantages of the penny press are best recognized when answering the question: why was the penny press important?

In the early 1800s most newspapers cost approximately six cents. While that may seem affordable in today’s economy, it wasn’t until the emergence of one cent newspapers that they became available to more than just upper class citizens for the first time. The more people who were able to read the news, the higher the demand for newspapers. As circulation increased, news became more important.

According to Jennifer Vance, a historian, “The heavy dependence on advertising as a major source of revenue was a main reason that the Penny Press was able to sell papers for a lower price than anyone else. Other papers relied heavily on subscriptions and daily sales. The price of paper and materials used to produce the newspapers also decreased making the production of the newspaper itself less expensive.

This video further explores the evolution of the penny press, and the contributions it made to the newspaper industry.


While the penny press is important for numerous reasons, essentially, it’s greatest contribution was in revolutionizing the way newspapers are produced (faster and cheaper), distributed (to people of all incomes) and funded (advertising).


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