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The penny press revolution

Posted by: | September 27, 2010 | No Comment |

Imagine something as ubiquitous as a newspaper being too expensive for the average person to afford.  This is exactly how it was for many Americans prior to the invention of the penny press.

Credit: janeheller.mlblogs.com

Credit: janeheller.mlblogs.com

Newspapers were set at an average of 6 cents per copy prior to the introduction of the penny press.  Because of this, only the wealthy could afford most newspapers.  Historic Pages claims that newspapers prior to the introduction of the penny press sold yearly subscriptions that usually had to be paid in advance.  The website also says that these subscriptions cost about the same as an average middle class American’s paycheck for one week.

Benjamin Day published the first penny press newspaper, The (New York) Sun, in 1833.

CSU Professor Matthew Blake has outlined the major newspaper changes that the penny press has provided for the newspaper industry, some of which are:

  1. Distribution moved from subscription-only to what we have today (street and store-based sales.)
  2. Political-neutral reporting became the norm.
  3. Sports reporting emerged.
  4. The trend of sensationalism in journalism started to appear.
  5. Readership changed from an elite few to the general public.
  6. Newspapers began to hire reporters to cover local stories.
  7. The introduction of daily publication of newspapers.
The New York Sun. Credit: Wikipedia

The New York Sun. Credit: Wikipedia

The revenue of newspapers also changed considerably with the introduction of the penny press.  Prior to the 1830s, newspapers relied on individual sales to survive.  In contrast, penny newspapers relied on advertisements for a lot of its production costs.  Jennifer Vance claims on her website that this shift in revenue allowed for the newspapers to sell for only a penny.  Vance also says that the same practice of advertisements paying for a lot of the newspaper’s production costs continues today.

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