Western Newspaper Union Suspends Printed Service
End of an Era for 1,412 Weekly Papers Using 1,250,000 Copies
By Ray Erwin (E&P, 2/9/52)
Printed Service, the “ready-print” or “patent insides” used through the years by thousands of weekly newspapers, will be discontinued by the Western Newspaper Union on March 29, marking the end of an era.
The preprinted four-page half, backed up with four pages printed locally, has been a fixture in the weekly newspaper field since Civil War days.
Victim of Costs
WNU officials told Editor & Publisher its widely known Printed Service has fallen victim to rising costs of newsprint, production and distribution, coupled with a declining need for a preprinted service because of faster, more modern news and feature dissemination methods.
The company plans to continue and expand its many other syndicated feature services to newspapers.
Western Newspaper Union assured the 1,412 publishers of weeklies who currently are ready-print users that newsprint equal to the amount included in their Printed Service and feature material in grooved plate, mat or copy form, will be available. Hardship is not expected to result for most weekly newspapers as nearly all of them now have typecasting machines and casting boxes so they can make plates from mats.
“The decision for the suspension was reached because mounting costs required a price increase which would have taken the Printed Service out of the category of a sound, economic value for most weekly papers,” explained Farwell W. Perry, WNU president.
While hard, economic facts dictated the suspension, it was obvious that recognition of newspaper publishing progress in the rural field was involved in the action. With improvements in weekly newspaper machinery, with the decrease in the number of weeklies and the increase in the number of larger and more prosperous weeklies came a decline in the need for the readyprint service.
“We helped them grow and then lost them,” observed W. W. Brown, executive vice president of WNU, with a broad smile. “There are no more frontiers.”
Printed Service has been furnishing 1,250,000 copies, produced in 27 plants throughout the U.S., each week for its current 1,412 customers. At one time, it printed four pages each week for approximately 7,000 newspapers. WNU was still supplying Printed Service to 4,500 newspapers in 1923.
While Printed Service once represented 100% of the company’s income, it was only 5% of last year’s sales volume. The total volume, incidentally, increased from $7,000,000 in 1938 to more than $22,000,000 last year.
Expansion was accomplished in other feature service sales, merchandising of paper, printing machinery and equipment, plastic plates, commercial stereotyping, typography and electrotyping for advertisers and advertising agencies.
Plans were announced for expanding the company’s editorial, art, sales and service efforts for further improvements and development of all types of newspaper features tailored especially for non-metropolitan newspapers.
WNU’s Budget Service, providing two pages of material in mat form, is available to the papers that have been using readyprint, in addition to other editorial features. Some small dailies use the Budget Service.
Charges made to the papers failed to cover costs of newsprint, features and delivery, according to Mr. Brown. WNU had the privilege of selling national advertising in a certain amount each week and this made up the loss and provided a little profit, which meant that, in effect, part of the advertising receipts went to the weekly publisher by making up the loss in the operation.
The company will still offer Christmas, graduation and other special features, including cartoons and comics, in plate form, to be used on patented grooved metal base.
Gone with Buckboard
“As the buckboard, five-cent cigar and nickel beer have disappeared from the American scene, so goes Printed Service,” observed Mr. Perry. “America has been a richer place for having had all of them but it is not poorer for having outgrown them for indeed they have been outgrown even as many of the elements considered essential today may be outgrown in the future.”
An anti-trust suit, entered at Jacksonville, Fla., by Attorney-General J. Howard McGrath against WNU and two of its subsidiaries (E & P, July 7, 1951, page 15) is still pending. The suit, charging the defendants with attempting to monopolize supplies and services to the rural printing industry of the U. S., grew out of a complaint by a Florida weekly.
WNU officials said one reason they have maintained Printed Service as long as they have is because they sell ink, type, printing paper, machinery, stitching wire for job plants and other supplies to the customers from the company’s 17 paper houses, which carry a $3,000,000 paper stock.
None of the company’s 44 branch offices will be closed. It is expected that only 40 or 50 printers will have their employment affected and it was explained that they easily can obtain other work in their field. Six or seven of the WNU plants will continue to do commercial printing.
It was in 1865, when the Civil War was creating a labor shortage, that Ansel N. Kellogg, publisher of the Baraboo (Wis.) Republic, a weekly, made arrangements with the Madison (Wis.) Daily Journal to print half of his paper, filling it with material already used in the Journal. The daily paper branched out and began supplying such service to other weeklies.
Mr. Kellogg went to Chicago, formed the Kellogg list and began supplying readyprint to weeklies in competition with the Madison daily. Later, the West Virginia list, the New England list and other similar groups were formed for readyprint services.
George A. Joslyn supplied a list of weeklies in Iowa. He managed to buy other lists, combined them into a Western Union of lists, with headquarters in Omaha, Neb., to serve the recently established newspapers in the vast trans-Missouri empire. Mr. Joslyn’s enterprise grew into the company now known as the Western Newspaper Union and spread its operations over the entire country, gradually adding other services and supplies. The general office was moved to New York in 1929.
Perry Takes Over
John H. Perry, publisher of multiple dailies and weeklies in Florida, became president in 1938 and a year and a half ago he became chairman of the board and his son was chosen president. Readyprint pioneered syndication as an economical and practical production aid to early handset papers in tiny communities that could not support eight pages a week.
“The weekly publisher was able to give his readers a well-balanced community newspaper in a way that would have been impossible had it been necessary for him to set all the material and print it himself,” asserted Mr. Brown. “The history of Printed Service, then, corresponded exactly with the growth of weekly newspaper enterprise. Both coincided with the wonderful growth of America.
“There was a far different pattern to newspaper work in those days,” he continued. “The itinerant printer, with a ‘shirt-tail full of type and a G. Washington hand press’ was a familiar character. These pioneer publishers formed the van of westward emigration. From the 1870s up to about 1910, each new community, when its population reached 200 to 300 and supported a few stores, had its newspaper.
“Just how much this Service contributed to the beginnings of American journalism can hardly be estimated,” he continued. “This was before rapid distribution of dailies; news magazines were nonexistent; radio and television had not been invented. Yet the weekly newspaper, using readyprint, brought both local and world news to the small towns.
“But, even as rural America changed, so did the market for Printed Service,” Mr. Brown added. “The quality kept pace and the price remained right but the need declined. Rural roads were improved, villages grew up or were overshadowed by larger towns. The weekly newspaper population of the nation declined. Those weeklies remaining, for the most part, improved their printing facilities.”
During this early period, news of agriculture was needed to improve the farms. Printed Service played it up. There was a dearth of good fiction in small towns for 50 years before community libraries were established. Printed Service ran hundreds of complete novels in serial form by such writers as Rex Beach, Jack London, Booth Tarkington, Zane Grey and others.
Readyprint featured for many years the grassroots cartoons of Magnus Kettner, the “Weekly News Review” by Ed Pickard, sports by Dixie Carroll, illustrated fashion notes by Julia Bottomley and Nellie Maxwell’s “Kitchen Cabinet.”
Despite indications to the contrary in this article, the syndicated comics business of WNU also ended this same year. That business was sold to another company which claimed to have big plans for it, but those plans never came to fruition. WNUs comic strips, most of which were reprints bought from other syndicates by this time, all ended in 1952 – Allan