Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Voices from the Past: Recreation vs. Outing Magazine (1897)

I really enjoyed Finn Featherfurd's feature on the Outer's family of magazines. It reminded me of something I ran across that dealt with the subject of readership. After all, how many people read a magazine? And how do you count them? I deal with this issue with my own Fishing for History Magazine, which is getting downloaded many, many times in a month -- but is being read by more than that as it is emailed, posted to chat boards. etc.
All of this brings up the question of circulation. How did magazines tabulate this all-important figure? Some magazines, like National Sportsman touted their figures on the front cover, but where did they arrive at their figures?
Perhaps they pulled them out of thin air. At least this was hinted at by one magazine editor irate that one of his rivals claimed a higher circulation than he should have.
In the January 1899 issue of Recreation magazine, the following exchange was printed between George O. Shields, editor and manager of Recreation magazine, and Mr. F. Cortez Wilson, a loyal advertiser in Outing Magazine and a manufacturer of minnow buckets and tackle boxes. The background to this is Outing's claim to have a paid circulation of 83,000, to which Shields' called shenanigans. Shields' circulation was 40,000, and he claimed it to be TWICE the circulation of Outing. And you know what? Shields was willing to put his money where his mouth was. Here is the most excellent exchange:
Mr. F.C. Wilson is a Chicago advertiser who uses OUTING. Mr. L.S. Abbott is the Chicago representative of RECREATION. He called on Mr. Wilson and advised him to use RECREATION; stating, as one of the reasons why he should use it, the well known fact that RECREATION has a larger circulation than OUTING has. Mr. Wilson is not well informed as to these 2 journals, and so disagreed with Mr. Abbott. A discussion followed, the outcome of which is best told in the following correspondence:
Mr. G.O. Shields,
Editor and Manager RECREATION.
Dear Sir: I called on F.C. Wilson yesterday and made a statement about our circulation which he disputed, and said he would bet $100 if I dared to take him up, that we could not prove as large a circulation as Outing has. If you want to take this bet, and if you are ready to prove this circulation, you can make $100. Do you not think it would be well to accept his challenge? Awaiting your reply I am yours truly,
Lynn S. Abbott.
New York, July 6, 1897
Mr. F.C. Wilson, Chicago, Ill.
Dear Sir: Our Mr. Abbott writes me you question my claim to having more circulation than Outing has, and that you offer to bet $100 I cannot prove this claim. I accept your challenge and enclose herewith my certified check for $100 which is to be placed in the hands of Mr. Raymond, of the J. Walter Thompson Agency, of your city, as stake holder. Please deposit with him a like amount.
The conditions of this proposition are that I and the publisher of OUTING. are each to make affidavits as to the number of copies of each magazine printed for each of the months of January to July inclusive, 1897. Furthermore. each publisher is to furnish affidavits from his printer and his binder, as to the number of copies printed and bound in each of these months. Furthermore, each publisher is to furnish an affidavit made by an officer of the American News Co. as to the number of copies of each of these magazines bought by that company, for each of the months as above enumerated. and as to the number of copies of each magazine returned during these 7 months.
Furthermore, each publisher is to furnish post-office receipts. signed by the postmaster of New York City, or one of his assistants. for postage paid in the months of May. June and July, on said magazines.
If you cover this bet, I will appoint one man, you arc to appoint one mans there two are to select a third to act as judges, and to pass upon the affidavits and proof to be submitted; to decide whether or not such testimony is competent, and to pay over the stakes to you or to me as the judges may determine.
I submit this proposition through our Chicago office, and invite you to go with our Mr. Abbott and see that the check is properly deposited in the hands of Mr. Raymond.
Yours truly,
G.O. Shields. Edr. and Mgr.
Mr. G.O. Shields, N.Y.
Your favor enclosing certified check for $100, and the bet proposition received. I compliment you on your promptness in this matter. It is exceedingly gratifying that you should be willing to put up your money on such a challenge as this.
Mr. Wilson read your letter several times, drew his check, after some little discussion about various things contained in the proposition you made, and agreed to meet me at the Thompson office this afternoon at 4 o'clock sharp to make his deposit. Yours truly, Lynn S. Abbott.
Dear Mr. Shields: I have just returned from Thompson's office, where I went at 4 p.m. to meet Mr. Wilson. He was not there but telephoned me he would not put the money up unless the publishers of Outing would agree to show their hand. He said he had telegraphed them and they replied by referring him to Rowell's directory. I told him this was no proof and he would have to furnish proof according to our offer. He replied that he had written them, explaining the matter, and that if they would show their hand he would bet. I have an appointment to see him again on Monday, July 19th.
Yours truly.
Lynn S. Abbott.
New York. July 17, 1897.
Mr. F.C. Wilson,
Chicago, Ill.
Dear Sir: I understand OUTING declines to furnish proof of circulation. I therefore amend my proposition and will bet you $100 that RECREATION has more than TWICE as much actual paid circulation as Outing has. Same conditions as to proofs, are to govern in this matter as stated in my letter to you on July 8th.
My certified check will remain in the hands of Mr. Raymond for a reasonable time, awaiting your deposit of an equal amount. Yours truly, G.O. Shields, Edr. and Mgr.
Chicago, Ill. July 20, '97.
Dear Mr. Shields: I have again called at Mr. Raymond's office, where I learned that Mr. Wilson has decided not to put up his money, because OUTING writes him they will not stand by him and will not furnish proof of circulation, even on your second proposition. Mr. Raymond will therefore return your check. Yours truly,
Lynn S. Abbott.
452 Rookery
Chicago, July 20. '97.
Mr. G.O. Shields,
19 West 24th St., New York.
My Dear Sir: Enclosed I return your certified check of $100, which your Mr. Lynn S. Abbott deposited with me, on a bet as to Outing's circulation.
Mr. F.C. Wilson. who first proposed to make this bet, failed to put up his money.
Please acknowledge receipt of this check, and greatly oblige.
Yours very truly.
H. M. Raymond.
And thus ends this remarkable incident. The publisher of OUTING has recently printed a full page ad in Rowell's Newspaper Directory. and a quarter page ad in "The Fourth Estate," in both of which he claims a circulation of 83,OOO. Yet he declines to stand by an assertion, made by one of his advertisers, that OUTING has more circulation than RECREATION has; and RECREATION claims only 40.000. Then he declines to stand by this advertiser on a proposition that Recreation has twice as much circulation as Outing has: and still RECREATION claims only 40.000.
The OUTING man had a chance to win $100 on either proposition, and to prove his claim to this 83,OOO; but he declines to show up.
Why? Because he dare not.
My offer to bet $100 on this latter proposition still holds good. and will during the remainder of this year. Any man may accept, no matter who. or where he lives.
Advertisers will draw their own inferences.
G.O. Shields.
Edr. and Mgr. RECREATION.

Shields made the Outing folks look like fools, and in retrospect, helps us realize that declared circulation was very different than real circulation.
-- Dr. Todd

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