Literality to Literary: Advertising Books in British Newspapers 1850-1902

Peter Robinson
The University of Tokyo

This richly illustrated paper draws on a number of leading national
and regional British newspapers to explore the hypothesis that, for
various reasons, the final decades of the nineteenth century saw a
fundamental loosening and weakening of direct control over book
advertising in newspapers by publishers, thereby undoing what had, by
the mid-eighteenth century, developed and solidified into a
sophisticated complex of rhetorical structures, tropes and strategies
in response to the emergence of new reading arenas and discursive
spaces, taking full advantage of expanding distribution networks.
During the middle of the nineteenth century, the well-established
model of discrete, stand-alone book adverts, controlled by publishers
in the form of ‘placed ads’ which had prevailed for a century,
became increasingly unfit for purpose, as ‘Book Pages’ and later
book review supplements -carried by a range of newspapers- radically
altered the reading public’s exposure to new titles. Publishers
increasingly abandoned the idea of a direct advertising interface with
potential and returning readers, and bolstered (in some cases sought
to manipulate) the emerging phenomena of advertising by literary
review. Although there had long been review journals, most famously
the Monthly Review and the Gentleman’s Magazine, by the middle of
the nineteenth century the most important intermediary between readers
and books was reviewer-created material. This had a profound impact on
the profile of publisher output, including, but not limited to, genre,
medium, and format. It had a direct impact on the serialization of
novels. One obvious, but by no means unique example of this process of
transformation was the Times newspaper, which replaced its book pages
with a separate, now well-known publication, the Times Literary
Supplement (TLS) in 1902. After charting these various developments,
the paper concludes by suggesting that this important change in the
way books were marketed in newspapers can be best characterized as a
shift from literality to literary.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900