BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Cox, Howard & Mowatt, Simon. Revolutions from Grub Street: a history of magazine publishing in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. ix, 263 p. ISBN 978-0-19-960163-9. £35.00 [E-book available at the same price.]
You will not be able to find Grub Street on any modern map of London, it ran from Fore Street north to Chiswell Street, through what is now the Barbican development and part of it remains, renamed as Milton Street. Because of the proliferation of small publishing and printing houses in the area, and the writers they attracted, the name came to signify not the place, but the class of literary hacks who lived and plied their trade there, from the 17th century to the early 19th century.It was here that the periodical publication was born, or at least from where its growth began.
The Gentleman's Magazine was not the first periodical publication, but it was the first to emerge from Grub Street and the first to use the word magazine in the context of publishing. It was enormously successful as a literary magazine and continued to be published for 175 years, finally disappearing in 1907, at which time it was in the hands of the publishing house, Chatto and Windus. Any successful venture is bound to have imitators and the success of the Gentleman's Magazine spawned many, some longer lived than others.
The authors of this essential text for anyone interested in publishing tell the story of Grub Street and the emergence of the magazine industry in a manner that is both entertaining and scholarly and recount the history that revolves around some of the great names of magazine publishing. For example, George Newnes, who first published the highly successful penny magazine, Tit-bits, in 1881. Newnes had been a sales representative for a haberdashery firm in London and opened a vegetarian restaurant to raise enough money to publish his magazine. It is interesting to reflect that the publishing giant that eventually became Newnes-Pearson had its foundations in salad dishes! By the end of the nineteenth century 600,000 copies of Tit-bits were being printed and in 1884 it was taken over by Associated Newspapers, eventually disappearing from the newspaper stands in 1989.
The rise and fall of individual magazines and their publishers is the focus of this book and it tells the story chronologically, noting the takeovers and mergers that are a continuing feature of the industry, as well as dealing the technological developments that have taken place that have at one time an another served to create greater economies or, as at present, threaten the very existence of the business. The huge diversity of the magazine industry is also explored and the index of magazine titles lists more than 500 titles (including newspapers) covering pretty well every conceivable subject from children's comics to literary magazines and from BMX bikes to vintage cars.
The influence of the computer in publishing is dealt with, as a composition tool in the early days, and, in the final chapter, as giving rise to a potential threat to the industy. Through the development of desk-top publishing, internal computerr networks and the Internet, by 1998,
the editor of Mountain Bike Rider, Brant Richards, was able to edit the magazine and source copy by contracting and coordinating freelancers from his home using an Apple Macintosh and modem. (p. 143)
and 'by the early 2000s electronic forms of submission had become far more prevalent.' We can also point to a modest contribution to this development with the first publication of this journal in 1995 without any use of paper at all in its production and distribution. However, I can find no mention of open-access publishing in the book.
The computer age has brought many stresses to the existing publishing industry, particularly for newspapers, and many new entrants to the industry. We also have the emergence of the completely virtual magazine, with no paper equivalent, and where paper continues to exist, the associated tablet computer app and the magazine Website are seen as valuable marketing tools for the printed version. The authors note, however, that in spite of the use made of the Internet, the average consumer seems to remain fairly conservative with regard to the printed page. Perhaps this has something to do with the ease with which a paper magazine can be skimmed to locate interesting items, which is more problematical with an electronic version; perhaps it is the fact that it is just as portable, if not more so, than a tablet computer and can be read without the use of supporting technology. Whatever the reason, it may be that the printed magazine has a lot of life left in it yet: it all depends upon publishers coming up with interesting products.