How did newspapers become mass market media?
This was not an inevitable development and it did not happen everywhere. It happened in Japan; it happened in the Nordic countries, Britain, and Germany; but newspaper reading remained much less widespread in France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. In 2000, there were more than 500 newspapers sold per 1,000 adults in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, more than 250 in the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain, but less than 200 in France, Spain, and Italy, less than 100 in Portugal and Greece.
The market for newspapers grew enormously in India but only from the 1970s on. Until then, the most prominent Indian newspapers were in English, the language of only a small pro- portion—about 5%—of the population. The mass marketing of newspapers took off in India for multiple reasons, technological change among them: not until computerization was it possible to easily print in India's many languages and many scripts.
In the United States, there were two key moments in making newspapers mass market commodities. First, the "penny press" developed in the 1830s and 1840s in the major Atlantic seaboard cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The penny papers were cheap, sold on the street daily by newsboys rather than being sold only by subscription through the mail, and the leading penny papers emphasized local news, including coverage of crime and the courts. The proprietors of the penny papers avowed their commercial ambitions and hoped that high circulation and the advertising it would attract would make them successful enterprises. This proved to be a very effective business model up until the digital age.
The second stage came in the last decades of the nineteenth century when several news entrepreneurs found ways to cut costs or draw in new readers or both. Joseph Pulitzer's pioneering leadership of the New York World in the 1880s and 1890s provided larger headlines, more illustrations, more lively news coverage, and more attention to topics of general interest (like sports) and topics that would draw in nontraditional newspaper readers, notably women and immigrants. In Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Buffalo, publisher James Scripps cut the size of the newspaper page, reducing the cost of newsprint, and cut the investment in news relayed by telegraph to reduce reporting costs. Scripps held that lavish expenditures on reporting were "not appreciated by the common people whom we should seek for our constituency." His formula for reaching people of modest means proved very successful and was widely copied; the number of US daily newspapers rose rapidly from not quite six hundred in 1870 to 2600 by 1910, the high water mark for US newspapers, never again equaled.