the Emergence Of The Penny Press and Getting Rid Of It

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In the streets of the United States in 1838, for the first time, the newspaper the New York Sun, which sold only one cent of the smallest unit of money. In contrast with the 15th century, printing technology has just appeared, and the prices of the two print matters are very different. Speculum historiale edited by Vincent of Beauvais in 1474 sold up to twenty-four florins for each copy, and this price is equivalent to the annual income for a craftsman (Benito 42). Even if we do not consider the content, the cost of the printing is not a small amount. At that time, it was not available to a middle-class people, so the main buyers of these prints were some nobles and merchants. Comparing the prices of the two print matters, it is not difficult to find that their prices have changed greatly in the course of history. These price changes can often highlight the progress of printing technology and materials, as well as its social and political changes. Therefore, this essay will focus on how these factors change the price of printing matter, and how these changes affect people.

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When people discussed the progress of printing technology, especially those relying on machines, it must be inseparable from the important historical event of the industrial revolution. Since Gutenberg invented printing in the 15th century, there are only a few changes over the next three centuries. Although in 1787 the British Stanhope manufactured an iron printing press to replace the original wooden printing press (Moran 49). The entire production process still requires manpower to print. The new printing press has not fundamentally changed its basic principles, processes and printing efficiency. In the early printing factory, there are two craftsmen usually worked on one printing press, and these printing presses involved highly complex technology. Even a small mistake will make misprinted, so these craftsmen need to be trained enough to have a practiced skill to use it. At the same time, the machine needs a craftsman to push the platen with the content engraved on it. However, this printing process has a very obvious disadvantage, its lack of stability. Even a small printing area needs to press the platen twice to ensure that content is printed on the paper (36). Therefore, the early printing process was very slow, and there is also the risk of misprinted. What changed the entire printing process and efficiency was the advent of steam printers in the industrial revolution because it makes printing from manual printing to mechanized printing. By using steam printers to replace a large amount of labor, and which means labor costs are greatly reduced. At the same time, mechanized printing guarantees stability, so the risk of misprinted is greatly reduced. So it is these improvements on the technical level that ensure a reduction in the price of print matter.

In addition, people have solved the problem of printed paper. Since Ts’ai Lun invented papermaking in c.105 and spread it to other countries, they have continued to use Chinese papermaking, which is used rags as raw materials and produce by hand. Even though the paper is a more common substrate, it is limited by the technical difficulties of production, so its cost is high. The paper machine was invented by Nicolas-Louis Robert in 1798, but the advent of paper machines did not immediately and vigorously improve paper production. The main reason is the limited source of rags, the main raw material of papermaking (Särkkä 163). Driven by the increasing demand for prints, the demand for paper has also increased substantially. So people eager to looking for a new papermaking raw material to solve this problem. To solve this problem, about half a century later, Friedrich Gottlob Keller and Charles Fenerty developed a method of using wood fibers for papermaking (22). They used wood fiber to replace part of the rags to solve the problem of insufficient raw materials for rags. Although the quality of the wood fiber-containing paper produced by this method is poor, it is sufficient for newspapers. Later, papermakers could even use sugarcane bagasse, bamboo and other fibers to produce paper without wood fibers (21). These technological improvements have greatly reduced the price of paper, as well as the quantity and efficiency of its production. Therefore, paper as a necessary product for printing, the improvement of raw materials has further reduced the price of prints.

In fact, the improvement of print machine and paper have made the price of printed matter at a very low level. Prints are no longer an item that only nobles and merchants can buy. But the penny press newspaper such as The New York Sun is still very unusual. Therefore, we still need to take look at the causes of these penny press newspapers in American social situations at that time. Since the end of the American Revolution in 1787, there has been increasing interest in presidential elections and changes in political progress, and voters’ participation has increased. So the parties at the time looking for a way to promote their party and candidates (Baldasty 11). The cheaper reading matter like newspapers have become the best way to propagate parties. At the time, a partisan newspaper was priced at just 6 cents. Although this price is very cheap, it is not enough to support a newspaper office, so they often rely on party financial subsidies (19). With the popularization of education and the mass sales of partisan newspaper, more and more people use newspaper as a source of daily news. But with the decline of American political culture, people are no longer interested in political news. So the penny press such as The New York Sun entered the field of vision of people. The most obvious feature of this kind of newspaper is that it no longer provides political commentary and party propaganda news, but focuses on the news that people want to read. At the same time, Financial support for newspaper office is no longer dependent on subscribers or financial subsidies. They provide a large areas in the newspaper to advertisers and receive most of the financial support from advertisers (48). This means that sales volume has become the primary pursuit of these newspaper offices, so they lower the price of newspapers to increase sales. For those advertisers, their advertisings will be seen by more people. So this is a marketing method that benefits all people.

From book that only nobles and merchants can buy, to now everyone can use it. Progress in technology is particularly important here. From the advent of printing in the 15th century to the present, every technological advancement and change in the period has affected people’s use of print matter. Therefore, the appeared of penny press is also the product of technological development and social change. But in general, by studying the price of prints, we can very intuitively see the changes in the entire printing technology and printing industry. Because of these factors, the price of the penny press can be so low like The New York Sun. At the same time, more people can access news, knowledge, and entertainment through these cheap newspapers, which not only meets people’s demand for knowledge but also enriches people’s lives.   

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