Friday, June 24, 2016


History of Newspaper Syndicates by Elmo Scott Watson: Chapter 6


The Syndicate Enters the Metropolitan Field 1884-1900

The syndicate idea had originated in the country field but within the next two decades it was destined to spread into the field of the small city and metropolitan dailies. When it did that it added two media of service, mats and copy, extended the use of syndicated material to newspapers in every part of the country and brought into existence the "Sunday magazine" or "Sunday supplement."

In 1883 Joseph Hatton, the English novelist, came to this country with the famous actor, Sir Henry Irving, to write the latter's impressions of America—one of the earliest, if not the earliest, example of "ghost writing" in the history of American journalism. Thereupon Irving Bacheller, a young newspaper man, made a proposal to a number of metropolitan newspapers that they purchase one of Hatton's novels for simultaneous publication as a serial story.1 The novel was not sufficiently attractive, however, for Bacheller to carry out his scheme.

After Hatton returned to England he wrote a series of interviews with John Ruskin, Miss Braddon and other distinguished English writers, and early in 1884 Bacheller was successful in selling these to the Boston Herald, the Chicago News, the Washington Post and several other metropolitan papers. Encouraged by his success, Bacheller added other features to his service, which he supplied to newspapers in proof sheets or copy form, and began syndicating a New York letter by Amos Cummings and a Washington letter by W. A. Croffot for weekly publication.

A short time later he took James W. Johnson in as a partner and the operations of the New York Press Syndicate, as they called their enterprise, grew to important proportions in the metropolitan field. Moreover, it expanded into the country field under the terms of an arrangement with the Kellogg Company whereby the latter was able to offer to its patrons the work of the Bacheller-Johnson writers for simultaneous publication with the big city dailies.2

By 1892, Bacheller's syndicate was offering to metropolitan papers each week an amount of material equal in volume to one issue of the Century magazine and the features compared favorably in quality with the reading matter in that periodical. They included short stories by such writers as A. Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Crane,3 Stanley Weyman and Mary E. Wilkins, and special articles by such notables as Sir Edwin Arnold and ex-President Benjamin Harrison. During the 15 years that Bacheller's syndicate was in operation he was, as he phrased it, "on the payroll of every great American newspaper except the Baltimore Sun and the Philadelphia Public Ledger."4

In the same year that Bacheller got his start, the New York Sun again entered the syndicate field. This time it was under the leadership of its famous editor, Charles A. Dana, who began selling stories by Bret Harte and Henry James, which he had bought for the Sun, to papers in other cities. His syndicating operations, however, were rather limited in their scope and never became so important as those of another man who, like Kellogg and Bacheller, "started on a shoe-string."

In 1884 a young Irishman named Samuel Sidney McClure, then working for the Century Company in New York City, suggested to his employers that they syndicate stories from St. Nicholas and the Century to country newspapers.5 Realizing, no doubt, that an invasion of this field meant bucking stiff competition with the already-established syndicates, they turned down his idea. When he persisted, they suggested that he go into the business himself if he was so certain he could make a success of it.

Despite the fact that McClure had scarcely enough money ahead to buy more than a week's supply of food for himself and his young wife, he resigned from the Century Company and set up his syndicate office in the cramped living quarters of a tiny East Side apartment. Unable to afford printed stationery or announcements, McClure secured a supply of trimmed bulk paper and wrote enthusiastic letters in longhand explaining his scheme to authors and editors. The authors warmly approved the idea, but the editors were noticeably cool toward it. Undiscouraged by their attitude, however, he launched his syndicate on November 16, 1884.

McClure could have bought a story by any of the best writers of the time for $150 but instead he paid (or promised to pay) $250 to H. H. Boyesen for a two-part story. His returns were meager, the total coming to $50 less than its cost, despite the fact that some metropolitan papers paid him as much as $20 each for the right to run the yarn. But the young couple determined to go on with their venture. Mrs. McClure translated French and German stories into English when they could not afford to buy the work of American writers. They gave their material free of charge to one newspaper which set the copy for its own use and supplied them with galley proofs to mail to their other patrons, thus obviating the necessity for writing them out in long-hand or paying a job printer to set up the material and furnish proofs.

Despite every effort and every sacrifice to make their syndicate a going concern, the early part of 1885 found them owing $1,500 to authors and newspapers owing them $1,000. But just at this critical time Harriet Prescott Spofford sent McClure a story with a note saying that she had meant it to be a New Year's present and hoped that it wouldn't be too late. It was a life-saver, for the proceeds of $275 from its sale to newspapers proved to be the turning point in the career of the young syndicate. Soon afterwards John S. Phillips, a classmate of McClure's at Knox College, joined forces with him and began to put some sorely needed system into the business management of the enterprise.6 From that time on it flourished.

At first the material offered by McClure amounted to about 5,000 words a week. Within a year he had increased that to 30,000 words, including cooking recipes which McClure wrote himself under the name of "Patience Winthrop." Among his first authors were Frank R. Stockton, Julian Hawthorne. H. C. Bunner and Henry Harland, who became well-known about that time as the writer of a novel published under the name of "Sidney Luska." Harland held a job in downtown New York in the daytime and did his writing at night, producing thus a novel, "The Yoke of the Thorah," which McClure syndicated as a serial.

At the end of McClure's second year in the business he was offering the work of Octave Thanet, Mrs. Burton Harrison, Sarah Orne Jewett, Brander Matthews, Joel Chandler Harris, Charles Egbert Craddock and Margaret Deland. By 1892 the "S. S. McClure Newspaper Features," syndicated to a large number of newspapers, included new novels by such literary celebrities as Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Dean Howells and Bret Harte; new short stories by Rudyard Kipling, A. Conan Doyle, and Mary E. Wilkins; special articles by Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt; a woman's page and a youth's page. The following year, when McClure's Magazine was founded, management of the syndicate was left largely to a brother, Robert McClure, and its founder devoted more and more time to making his magazine one of the most popular and widely circulated in the history of American periodicals.
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The next syndicate in the metropolitan field was founded in 1886 by Edward W. Bok.7 He offered a weekly article on current events written by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, for which he paid the famous minister $250. His success with this feature led to the organization of the Bok Syndicate Press, conducted by Bok and his brother.

Bok had seen that the American woman of that period was an indifferent newspaper reader and decided that the absence of any material of special interest to her was the reason why. Accordingly he secured the right to syndicate "Bab's Babble." A chatty, gossipy news letter published in the New York Star. This feature was instantly successful and appeared in some 90 newspapers throughout the country. He next engaged Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the poet, to furnish a weekly women's letter and he also secured contributions from famous women writers and from men who were able to write on subjects of interest to feminine readers.

Included in his service was a feature of his own, "Bok's Literary Leaves," which at one time was appearing regularly in 45 big city newspapers and which he continued even after he became editor of the Ladies' Home Journal in 1889 and made that magazine pre-eminent in its field. The principal contribution of the Bok Syndicate during its career was to aid in the development of a woman's department or page in the newspapers and to foster its growing importance in American journalism.

In the same year that Bok retired from the direction of his syndicate, Tillotson and Son, the pioneer syndicate in England, established a New York office and began offering American newspapers short stories, serials, a London letter, a woman's letter and a children's letter. Two years later the United Press, a news service, added a "literary department" to its news service. This supplied weekly to papers 10,000 words of "the highest class of Sunday miscellany," including short stories, serials, fashion articles for men and women and special articles.

Primarily, the material supplied by Bacheller-Johnson, McClure, Bok, Tillotson and the United Press was designed for the Sunday editions of the dailies. This was the heyday of the "Sunday supplement" and one journalistic historian has pointed out how profoundly it affected the reading habits of the American people during this period.8 He says:

This is a country in which libraries, large and small, abound and there are probably more collections of books in private ownership not dignified by the title of library. . . . Nevertheless and notwithstanding the fact that the output of "best sellers" is enormous, and that the sale of standard works is on a scale which makes the demand for such publications by other people seem small, it is true that the chief mental pabulum of the American people is the contents of their newspapers. And it may be urged, in response to the adverse criticism this sometimes calls forth, that the best products of modern literature sooner or later, in some form or other, find their way into the Sunday magazine which is at once an anthology, a repository of knowledge, a compendium of history and often history itself. It is the fashion to speak lightly of the Sunday magazine because it is not wholly made up of contributions which a fastidious literary taste could approve and it is said that a cultivated person can find in its columns only a small proportion of matter really worthwhile, but if that is a defect, it is one it shares in common with the greatest library whose shelves harbor a hundred books that are never read to one that is.

The popular judgment concerning the value of the Sunday magazine has long since received the endorsement of the most gifted in the ranks of authorship. There is no writer of consequence today unappreciative of the opportunity it affords to get his works before the people, or who disdains the rewards it offers. It has lifted the man of letters out of the slough of despond and given him a chance in the struggle for existence. It has eliminated Grub Street, and has enabled genius to market its wares at a figure somewhat commensurate with their real value. The author of merit no longer burns the midnight oil in a garret; oftener than otherwise he revels in the blaze of electricity and lives in marble halls, because he is able to reach a world of readers through the Sunday magazine. That he can do so is due in large part to the development of the syndicate.

The success of the Sunday magazine soon led to the use of fiction, special articles and departmental material in the weekday editions of the dailies, for the publishers found that these features were a factor in increasing the circulation of their papers. Their readers enjoyed the entertaining information furnished by this syndicated material and it played a leading role in starting the American public on its way to becoming "the greatest newspaper-reading nation in the world."

The first quarter century of syndicate history found the idea firmly established as a vital factor in American journalism. Like any other new and successful business it had called into existence a host of "mushroom" enterprises. The next period was to see the elimination of some of them or their merger with the more substantial organizations.

*** Footnotes ***
1. Irving Bacheller was born in Pierpont, N. Y., in 1859. After graduation from St. Lawrence University in 1882 he became a newspaperman in New York City. He continued in that work for many years and from 1898 to 1900 was one of the editors of the New York World. One of the most prolific of American writers, he is the author of 26 books published during the period 1890 to 1933.

2. For a list of these writers see the broadside illustrated in this section. Moses P. Handy (not Hanly) was once on the staff of the New York Tribune. He, with Noah Brooks, W. C. Wyckoff and Isaac Bromley, composed the verses of a famous jingle, the refrain of which ("Punch, brothers, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passenjare") and its various parodies enjoyed country-wide popularity. Will C. Ferril, perhaps the last surviving member of this corps of writers, is now (1935) editor of the Colorado Herald in Denver. One of the articles which he wrote for Bacheller, a Thanksgiving piece which appeared under the title of "No Grandmothers There" or "A Land Without Grandmothers," has attained the dignity of a "Newspaper Classic." Ellen Osborne and Eliza P. Heaton were the same person writing women's features under the two names. She was the wife of John L. Heaton, associate editor of the New York World.

3. One of Crane's stories which was syndicated by Bacheller and Kellogg was his famous "Red Badge of Courage." Wright A. Patterson, now editor in chief of Western Newspaper Union but at that time a member of the Kellogg editorial staff recalls that the job of editing the manuscript of this story and preparing it for publication was assigned to him. It consisted of 40,000 words written with a lead pencil on both sides of the paper, without a single capital letter or punctuation mark and without any paragraphing from the start of the story to the finish.

4. These included among others the Boston Herald, Brooklyn Times, New York Mail and Express, Philadelphia Press, Chicago Herald, Savannah News, Louisville Courier-Journal, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dallas News, Galveston News, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Kansas City Journal, Denver Republican, Salt Lake Tribune, San Francisco Call, Helena Independent, and Portland Oregonian.

5. McClure was born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1857. He was graduated from Knox College in 1882 and the next year married Harriet Hurd, the daughter of one of the professors at Knox. His first employment in New York City was on the Wheelman, a magazine for bicyclists published by the Pope Manufacturing Company. Next he held a job with the De Vinne Press, going from that organization to the Century Company.

6. Phillips, a native of Iowa, where he was born in 1861, was associated with McClure as manager and treasurer of the McClure's Magazine from its start in 1893 until 1906 when he became president of the Phillips Publishing Company. He was editor of the American Magazine from 1906 to 1915 and since 1910 has been a director in the Crowell Publishing Company.

7. Edward William Bok was born In Helder, Netherlands, in 1863. He became editor of the Brooklyn Magazine in 1882, editor of the Beecher Memorial in 1887 and was editor in chief of the Ladies' Home Journal from 1889 to 1891, serving as vice president of the Curtis Publishing Company after 1891 to the time of his death in 1930.

8. "Journalism in California"—John P. Young.


" is true that the chief mental pabulum of the American people is the contents of their newspapers."
Geez, a hundred years later that statement no longer applies, and hasn't for a while.

Liked how McClure endured early strife to eventually succeed.
Though according to a McClure biography he didn't maintain his riches. A 1963 review of Success Story: The Life and Tmes of S. S. McClure
Hi DD --
McClure's is an interesting story. I've read both his biographies, and there's exactly ONE SENTENCE between the two of them regarding his syndication of comics sections, but never mind. Interesting Reads. In addition to Success Story, I'd recommend My Autobiography, a hagiography ghost-written by Willa Cather. In either one you learn that McClure was one of those "believe in yourself and you will grow rich" fellows. He made a tremendous success almost in spite of his bold and often frankly dumb business moves, but in the end his lack of business smarts was his downfall, and boy did he fall. I enjoy both the Horatio Alger-esque aspect and even the comeuppance for a man who just kept rolling the dice in a game that he didn't even seem to fully comprehend. -- Allan
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