disposable income

Before Day’s Sun, newspapers derived revenue mostly from subscriptions. In lieu of cash, printers sometimes found themselves accepting a couple of chickens or a bushel of flour for a year’s subscription. Advertising didn’t generate much revenue. With the Sun, however, Day found merchants eager to pay handsomely for space to reach his growing readership of potential customers. This can, in large part, be attributed to two important developments that stemmed from the Industrial Revolution. The first one was the exponential growth in the quantity and variety of manufactured goods that

were available to consumers. The second development was the increase in disposable income that allowed more people to purchase these goods. Therefore, the manufacturing boon resulted in an economic climate that was highly favorable for newspapers and the advertisers who provided their revenue.

The Sun and other new-style newspapers quickly became advertising-dependent, and the necessity to fund papers with subscriptions diminished. The advertising-based newspaper industry became the model upon which the magazine and, later, radio and television industries were structured.

Advertising also eliminated political sponsorship of newspapers. In fact, historians call the pre-New York Sun era the Partisan Press Period. Although partisan media have endured to this day, the sudden arrival of penny papers undermined their role as a major element in media economics and content. The advent of the Sun marked a new era of growing public confidence in media as a neutral source of information.

This hardly meant that politics were no longer significant in media content, but partisan commentary generally came to be confined to specifically labeled sections like editorial pages. Magazines generally took a similar approach. When radio and television came along, the idea of media as nonpartisan became enshrined in government licensing requirements. Federal regulations by and large forbid broadcasters from taking sides and shutting out opposing views. The shift from sponsorship and subsidy from political parties reduced one set of pressures and replaced them with another. Complications arose, in part, because advertisers now wielded the financial clout to control media content in their self-interest.

If advertisers thought that an article or program would offend audiences or cause controversy, they would ask the publisher or network to adjust the content. If they were not satisfied with the adjustment, they would withdraw the advertisement, which would hurt the publication or network financially. Nevertheless, however dependent upon advertising media became, they prospered. The new advertising-driven environment triggered unprecedented growth in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. That was, at least, until the Internet became a game-changer.

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