Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19:1 (Spring/Summer 2018), pp 173-209.
PORTZ-PRIZE-WINNING ESSAY, 2017
Throughout the 1840s and ’50s, localized and specialized periodicals serving specific regions, religions, pastimes, and vocations inundated the American magazine market (Lupfer 249). The vast majority of these publications were short-lived; Heather A. Haveman, a sociologist who in 2015 conducted a quantitative analysis of historical American magazines, estimates that the average lifespan of a magazine between 1840 and 1860 was a mere 1.9 years (29). As book historian Eric Lupfer says, “most were risky ventures— undercapitalized, poorly advertised, haphazardly managed, and with limited circulation” (249). However, magazines with the stability and capital of a sponsoring publishing house, as opposed to independent upstarts, could withstand the challenges to the fragile and rapidly changing publishing industry:
After 1840 the production of magazines became ever more bound up with the production and promotion of books, newspapers, and other printed materials. Book publishers began issuing their own house magazines, magazines printed advertisements for newspapers and books, and the text generated by editors and contributors flowed freely between them all. (Lupfer 250)
One publishing house thrived by implementing this business model: Harper & Brothers. The New York City-based giant grew to be the largest publishing house in the world by 1853. It spent the 1850s producing books written by English authors and then serializing these same stories in their periodical Harper’s Monthly (Harper 91). The magazine was successful not only because of the desirable content that circulated though the Harper & Brothers publishing house but also because of the way the content was curated and marketed; unlike most of its localized competitors, Harper’s Monthly aimed to have something for every reader across the country (“A Word”). The publishing house had the capital to push the periodical nationwide through newly established transportation and distribution networks, and it had the content to intrigue subscribers.