The Audience Of One: Lessons From The Past On Serving Both Readers And Advertisers Of Magazines… From The Mr. Magazine™ Vault

April 8, 2020

From the Mr. Magazine™ Vault

Taking a brief break from the series Publishing During A Pandemic interviews with magazine and magazine media executives, here is a blast from a century ago, with a very nice soothing cover… Enjoy this latest From the Vault of Mr. Magazine™ and will be back later today with the series of interviews on Publishing During A Pandemic.

Some might think that the idea of specialization and customization of magazines to reach specific audiences is a new one.  Some might even argue that with digital printing it’s easier than ever before  to customize every single copy of a magazine.  But what if I told you, that specialization and customization are probably as old as magazines themselves? 

A century ago, in the April 1920 issue of The Modern Priscilla magazine (1887-1930), the editors wrote the following:

“A SPECIALLY printed edition of PRISCILLA for each subscriber would seem almost the only answer to the many, many letters we receive from our friends who are enthusiasts on special phases of needlework or handicraft, but lukewarm or stone-cold on others. Of course you know as well as we do the impossibility of any such delightful dream; but it is to meet to some extent the demand for a fuller treatment of certain subjects that please a limited audience that the Priscilla Special Service Sheets have recently been made a feature of our magazine.

Magazine space for any one subject is limited, as of course you realize. If, for example, you are not interested in Bobbin Lace, you would not want us to omit one or two pages of your favorite crocheting in order to give enough bobbin lace patterns to suit Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Smith. In order, therefore, that we may maintain the variety of interest which makes the magazine of widespread value, and at the same time give you more information on your particular “hobby,” we are supplementing various articles and subjects by these Service Sheets – which are really magazine pages printed just for you. The minimum charge of two 2-cent stamps which we make for these sheets in no way covers the cost. It is merely a safeguard against wastage of valuable material.”

So the solution to the problem 100 years ago was to develop specially printed pages for the specific needs of the audience, leaving the magazine as general interest as possible, with the additional on-demand sheets being personalized for the niche audiences.

 The editors continued to write:

Eight Service Sheets are now in print. No. 1 is a sheet of beautiful and simple Batik designs. In this connection some of our readers will be glad to know that we are able to supply a limited number of copies of the September, 1919, PRISCILLA, which discusses Batik work at length. These copies can be had for 15 cents each. Special Service Sheet No. 2 gives a group of interesting and usable patterns for Bobbin Lace, with complete directions. Sheet No. 3 is a supplement which gives in full the lengthy instructions for the Venetian crochet pieces shown in the January, 1920, issue of THE PRISCILLA. Sheet No. 4, devoted to Household Linens for the Hope Chest, was planned by Amy Gay for the bride-to-be. It gives quantities, sizes, and discusses the proper marking of linens. Sheet No. 5, Costume Embroideries, offers suggestions for suitable designs for blouses and frocks. Sheet No. 6, Church Laces, gives block patterns for beautiful filet altar-pieces. Sheet No. 7, Baby Embroideries, gives various designs for tracing, which mothers will find helpful in making dainty baby things. Sheet No. 8, Bead Chains, is an answer to the plea for more patterns for the pretty and popular sautoirs. Watch the magazine each month for the announcement of new Special Service Sheets which may include the very things you most desire. Your turn is sure to come.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is nothing new under the sun, not even delivering an individualized copy of a magazine or even just an article…

And talking about The Modern Priscilla, I was amazed to see all the calls to support the advertisers in the magazine in the folio of every editorial page.  Here are some of those marginalia nuggets of supporting the advertisers:

We guarantee the reliability of every advertisement in The Priscilla

Advertising identifies goods of unquestionable value

Read the advertisements before you turn the page

There is a world of interest in reading advertisements

Advertisements help you to live better, dress better, be better

Advertising keeps you posted

When you ask for an advertised article, don’t accept a substitute

Advertising offers money saving opportunities

It is safer to rely on advertised goods than on non-advertised goods

Advertisements are really interesting, read them and see

Things you need are advertised in every issue of The Modern Priscilla

Go shopping with our advertisers. We guarantee you against loss

The more you read advertising the more interesting if becomes

Cultivate the habit of specifying the brand you want to purchase

Advertisements are news. Good news – Timely news – Helpful News

The very thing you most desire may be advertised in this very issue


Precious audience first advice from a century ago… happy holidays, stay safe, stay well, and stay inside.  This shall pass too.

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