“Creating the American Newspaper Boy” by T. A. Postol

The issues discussed in the article of Postol are highly relevant to the reality of lives of the American children at the beginning of the previous century. The author explicitly analyses the notion of newspaper boys that emerged in the 1930s and shaped the reality of the beginning of the working-age of the US boys for a considerably long period of time. In his article, Todd Alexander Postol gives a detailed account of all events preceding and accompanying the emergency of the profession of a newspaper boy performing the daily route services, the way it was treated and how it evolved within decades.

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The thesis of the author is that the profession of a newspaper boy was underestimated in terms of cultural analysis, as it is proved to have been playing a much more important role in the life of the US growing population and shaping its experiences than it had been previously thought. Besides, the main argument the author uses is the fact that performing daily route services was not that much of exploitation of child labor, as it is often treated, but a deeper cultural phenomenon of that period of time – the fact that being a newspaper boy was the first job of many boys from financially stable families were underestimated, thus distorting the real understanding of the reality.

At the beginning of the article, the author pays much attention to the history of the emergency of the market of daily route services. He explains the reasons for this notion as the unrivaled decrease in the newspaper sales, resulting in the incentive for editors to search for other methods of sales:

In the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash, advertising revenues for daily newspapers in the United States swiftly declined. Managers responded to deteriorating conditions with one of the few resources at their command-juvenile workers. Beginning in 1930, the industry launched a national campaign to increase home newspaper readership by instructing route carriers in the principles of door-to-door subscription marketing.1

However, looking deeper at the work of Postol and reading further, one will discover that the author is not that much concentrated on the history of being a newspaper boy, but the economic implications of the profession. He shows that at the beginning of the job’s spreading the function of newspaper boys was pure delivery defined by the boys’ inability to market their goods. The notion of marketing, especially this way, was simply absent at that moment of time – neither newspaper boys nor the editors who were their employers, did not know how to make people buy their products:

Early newspaper carriers, however, were not trained in salesmanship. They worked free of adult supervision and were not encouraged to get people to buy something they did not want.1

It is clearly stated in the article of Postol that the requirements the first newspaper boys had to meet were the timely delivery of the ordered goods – the newspapers. From the reminiscences of some newspaper boys (the examples of Devine and Leslie who later occupied high governmental positions), it becomes clear that the editors did not think of a way to increase sales volumes of their products but were more concerned about the innovative techniques of delivery of newspapers to their clients to increase their satisfaction.

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However, the evolution of the market was, as usual, inevitable, so there appeared people who clearly realized the whole set of potential profits that could be achieved with the help of such services as newspaper delivery. The first techniques emerged, making newspaper boys become not only the deliverers but the real sellers:

In early 1929 Charles Payne, circulation manager of the Indianapolis Star, began a sales school for Star carriers using the informal role-playing techniques to teach boys how to market newspaper subscriptions.1

The profession was reshaped and gradually acquired an absolutely different profile. Newspaper boys now had to possess specialized skills and abilities in order to market the goods they were selling – now the chief goal became not the quality of the timely delivery but the sales volumes that had to be constantly increased. The change was highly significant for the whole process of conducting sales in the United States, and later all over the world, this is why it is necessary to avoid underestimation of the event:

The sales performances reflected a long-term shift in American business culture toward the celebration of salesmanship and aggressive product promotion.1

This fact may be proved by the recognition of salesmanship emerging in the USA and developing at an unrivaled pace at the beginning of the twentieth century as compared to other countries in the world:

In the early nineteenth century, many nations, certainly all the European ones, had traveling peddlers and peddling networks. But no nation developed organized sales forces to the same degree as the United States by the early twentieth century.2

The customer became the central figure in the whole marketing process. Thus, all activities of salesmen, both preparatory and fieldwork, were concentrated on the ways to increase the attraction of goods for the consumers. The issue of the change in the basics of promotion, advertising and sales were taken seriously; their hidden potential was fully realized and developed in the following years, which can be witnessed from the facts given by Postol in his article:

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During the Progressive period, many large corporations developed “scientific” sales training policies for their customer representatives; throughout the 1920s major advertising agencies relentlessly preached the virtues of personal consumption, encouraging manufacturers to excite and then satisfy new customer desires.1

Thus, it becomes possible to say that the article focuses more not on the newspaper boy profession on the whole, but on the innovation of the sales representatives who are mobile in their marketing activities and who deliver the promotion of the goods to every household by themselves, freeing the consumers from the necessity to watch TV, read the newspapers or go to the shops – they will get everything delivered and advertised at their threshold.

The ways to expand the thoughts of Postol in connection with the changes that took place in American society within the 20th and the 21st century are enormous. The author of this article conducts his personal research on the issue of how the deliverable products marketing technique evolved and developed, how it shaped the culture of the American nation less than a century ago and what changes it introduced in contemporary society. It is possible to say that the goods delivered to the threshold of one’s home did a good favor to many groups of the American population making people’s lives easier. At the present moment of time, there is a great set of products that one may order and receive within the shortest period of time delivered directly to the person’s address.

No one will argue the fact that delivery of goods is a very comfortable innovation – Americans are always busy, they rarely have time to go shopping, so if they do, they buy products and items necessary in the household in large amounts. Housewives also do not have much time for shopping as they spend the majority of their time taking care of the house and the family, rarely having time for themselves. Thus, a short talk with a sales representative and further following the incentive to buy an extremely cheap and extremely necessary item (as it is usually represented by the salesman) may become a usual practice for those women who are not satisfied with some products they use but who have no time to go and look for something else.

One more advantage of buying goods from sales representatives is that they have always been good at engaging the interest of purchasers by adding some benefits to the standard bought product – they added some discounts or interesting proposals coming soon. Under the condition of buying some good the consumer would receive an additional discount for another series of products or would get some product for free – anyway, the main focus was made on making people believe that by spending money they were actually saving it. This approach to marketing goods is also no innovation – it was developed long ago by the same newspaper industry workers to be applied by newspaper boys:

A typical approach was to argue, as a carrier from Flint did, that “this paper is not an expense-it is a saving to you.” Newspapers offered drug store coupons and featured weekly grocery specials.1

Actually, as soon as the service appeared it enjoyed great popularity because it was a way out for many people to save their time and money. Sales representatives were welcomed at the houses of many people; the population expressed agile interest towards them and eagerly bought the promoted goods being happy with them. The event that broke the successful flow of events and interfered with the activity of sales representatives was the tendency against aggressive promotion and active advertising as well as marketing that arose at the end of the 20th century and activated the social interest. People rebelled against the fact that they were made to buy what they did not want to and began to struggle for the right of choice of time and place of buying goods according to their own taste. The anti-promotion movement decreased people’s trust in sales representatives, so now it is possible to say that this sphere of economy is experiencing time far from being the best.

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Nevertheless, it is necessary to return back to the issue of newspaper boys who are reasonably considered to become the first salesmen in the USA and who formed the culture of the USA in terms of salesmanship. Despite the overall opinion that it was a pleasant extra job for kids who wanted to have pocket money the reality turned out to be not that optimistic, bright or promising:

Newsboys first appeared on city streets in the mid-19th century with the rise of mass-circulation newspapers. They were often wretchedly poor, homeless children who often shrieked the headlines well into the night and often slept on the street.3

Anyway, coming up to a conclusion it is possible to state the sales representatives’ introduction in the usual way of conducting sales in the USA was a great breakthrough in economy and marketing, the achievements of this innovative sphere are still used all over the world and will continue to evolve to satisfy the consumers’ needs.

Works Cited

  1. Postol, Todd Alexander. “Creating the American Newspaper Boy: Middle-Class Route Service and Juvenile Salesmanship in the Great Depression”. Journal of Social History, Vol. 31, No. 2. (1997), pp. 327-345. Web.
  2. Friedman, Walter E. Birth of the American Salesman, 2004.
  3. The Progressive Era: Newsies, 2009.

Endnotes

  1. Todd Alexander Postol, “Creating the American Newspaper Boy: Middle-Class Route Service and Juvenile Salesmanship in the Great Depression”, Journal of Social History, Vol. 31, No. 2. (1997), pp. 327-345.
  2. Walter A. Friedman. Birth of the American Salesman, 2004.
  3. The Progressive Era: Newsies, 2009.
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