The Early 20th Century Link Economy

How long has the “link economy” been killing newspapers? Hint: it goes all the way back to before a Russian inventor filed a patent for a system of transmitting images by way of a cathode-ray tube. For the non-geeks, that’s the primitive invention of the Television.

Fascinating piece over at the Guardian on the history of some of the well-respected “elite” evening newspapers that crossed around England at the turn of the last century (underlined portion/emphasis is mine):

The Pall Mall Gazette (1865-1923), the St James’s Gazette (1880-1905), the Westminster Gazette (1892-1928) and the Globe (1830-1921) were clubland papers because their target reader was a gentleman relaxing in his club (probably in Pall Mall or St James’s Street) between work and the night’s social events. It was a gilded market, but a tiny one, with circulations on a scale that modern-day political blogs might hope to exceed. The 1949 Royal Commission on the Press estimates that a typical clubland paper sold “about 5,000” a day in the 19th century; the newspaper designer and historian Allen Hutt suggests “an average of no more than around 20,000 at best”.

Like political blogs, however, clubland papers could rely on the amplifying effect of a link economy. In The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, Stephen Koss puts it from the point of view of JA Spender, long-time editor of the Liberal Westminster Gazette:

“The stature of a journal was measured by the gratitude it received from those whom it praised, the resentment it incurred from those whom it censured, and ‘above all’ – according to JA Spender – by the number of lesser journals that duplicated its contents.”

This link economy brought the Westminster a reputation in some circles as “the most powerful paper in Britain”. It didn’t bring money: the paper never turned a profit in three decades of existence.

The piece notes that the death of this sect of newspaper journalism by this fancied reputation driven economy started to set in around 1921, two years before the television patent. And by 1923, the remaining parts of the Globe and Pall Mall Gazette were absorbed into standard papers.

See – we’ve been killing newspapers for years. It’s not a new thing to rely on reputation.

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