When the number of Australian periodicals doubled between 1890 and 1922, trade and commercial publications provided the bulk of the increase to reach a total of 139 titles. The 1930s Depression shook out 105, but there were still 260 in 1947 and 464 by 1964.
Trade periodicals exist because manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers need to inform each other about innovations, and their availability and prices. The process was exemplified by the Journal of Commerce, which began in 1854 as a shipping register. In 1870, the diversity of commodities encouraged its publisher to print the Australasian Trade Review and Manufacturers Journal as one of the first periodicals to service wholesalers, agents and retailers; its advertising content grew to 60 per cent by 1882. During the next 20 years, the arrival of branded products in the areas of hardware, clothing, food, beverages and medicinals led to the launch of rival periodicals for each of the trades that advertised in the Review, which by 1903 had shrunk to 20 pages, with only one of advertising; it was absorbed back into the Journal of Commerce.
The inaugural editorial of the Australasian Hairdressers’ Journal and Tobacco Trade Review in 1900 contended that: ‘In these fast-living days of ours each particular interest has its “organ” of communication between its own circle, and those beyond its perimeter.’ Indeed, most journals came out on behalf of trade associations. Once launched, a publication could strengthen the parent body. For example, the staff of the Australasian Bakers and Confectioners Journal organised that trade’s first national conference in 1904. Starting in 1911 for the Victorian Grocers’ Association, the Southern Grocer recognised that ‘the trade press is the advance of all organisation movement to-day the world over’. The core of that organisation was price-fixing, which must ‘always remain the very first and foremost plank in any fighting platform worthy of the name, and hang the public!’ Trade journals were also backed by the firms they serviced, such as when Prouds and Angus & Coote underwrote the Commonwealth Jeweller and Watchmaker (1915).
Trade journals earned less from subscriptions than from advertisers, who found it more effective to pay a premium to reach 500 subscribers with proven purchasing power than to access a circulation of 50,000. Firms also took advertisements to support their trade organisation or to square a chum. However, sales and subscriptions do not necessarily measure readership, and process engravers were sceptical throughout the 1930s about promoting their services to rural and suburban printers who did not read the trade journals.
The proliferation of trade journals in the late 1920s allowed what Newspaper News described as ‘The Unscrupulous Publisher’ to profit from a journal that was ‘either “written” with the scissors, or complied by cheap, journalistic hacks’. Publishers also launched magazines to fill up slack times in their print shops. Since almost no printer employed a full-time accountant before the 1950s, costings were woeful; they escaped scrutiny because so few printers were public companies.
Postal arrangements allowed almost any British periodical to be delivered in Australia for the penny post paid at ‘home’. However, despite this ‘dumping’ of UK publication into Australia, the appeal of the local versions was their summarising of the overseas trade press. American journals were available only by subscription until the 1920s, when G. Jervis Manton imported titles on ‘Advertising and Business, Mining and Engineering, Dress and Fashion, Office System, Factory Organisation’.
Why do trade periodicals appear when they do? The Industrial Australian and Mining Standard started in 1888, the year BHP issued shares. Three years later, the Pastoralists’ Review united the squatters against the shearers’ insurrection. The London publishers of the Draper of Australasia (1901) hoped to profit from ‘the change of conditions of business caused by the establishing of free-trade throughout Australia’. Media periodicals matched new media, printing techniques and mass marketing. The arrival of plastics transformed all mass products, and added rivals the Australian Plastics Journal (1946) and Practical Plastics (1950).
The pattern of proprietorship was diverse. Some houses produced similar journals and economised by carrying the same editorials and news items in the same typeface and column-widths. J.C. Macartie managed monthlies for cordial-makers, confectioners and bakers, but also the leather trades. Peter Guthrie Tait (1880–1953) started with Mining and Engineering Review in 1908; he later divided it into the monthlies Chemical Engineering and Mining Review and the Commonwealth Engineer, before adding a weekly newsletter, Tenders. In 1924, he began Electrical Engineer and Merchandiser, and finally Manufacturing and Management in 1946.
George A. Taylor (1872–1928) founded five journals in the domain of building, town planning and engineering with his architect wife, Florence (1869–1969). Their Building Publishing Co. Ltd ran 11 titles, including the Radio Journal of Australia and Australian Home, which incorporated Real Estate and Soldier. On George’s death, Florence closed eight titles but continued to edit Building (later Building, Lighting and Engineering), Construction and the Australasian Engineer.
The trade journals provided berths for men of letters. In 1891, Richard Twopenny co-founded the Australasian Pastoralists’ Review with a literary section to rival the Bulletin’s ‘Red Page’, while the editor of the Australasian Builder and Contractors’ News, James Green, was documenting the Sydney art scene.
As well as resisting British imports, local journals voiced interstate rivalries. Victoria’s electrical trade supported its own journal from 1924, and in 1936 the Queensland Electrical and Radio World appeared as ‘yet another outcome of the recent moves from Sydney’ to treat the rest of Australia as its outer suburbs. United Press in Perth had the west sewn up in the 1920s by publishing for farmers, grocers, motorists and Masonic Lodges. New Zealand had to be content with ‘Australasian’ in the title of assorted trade journals.
Newspaper News observed that trade journals, ‘to be of any real use’, must be ‘written by men who not only understand trade conditions, but who also have some grasp of economics, industrial organisation, banking, currency, ￼￼￼￼￼national finance, and so on’. In 1889, one had scorned US ‘grandmotherly legislation’ for pure food. The founder of a chain edited the People’s Weekly for the colliery-owners during the 1923 NSW lockout. Many campaigned for ‘sane optimism’ to counter ‘Depression propaganda’, or linked Bolshevism to racial pollution. Hence the middle classes were not as forgotten as (Sir) Robert Menzies declared when marshalling anti-Labor forces in 1942.
The Tailors’ Art Journal and Cutters’ Review closed in 1913, with moans against the ‘cringing, scorpulated mind’ in the trade against advertising itself. However, the Tailor appeared later that year with a third of its pages taken by advertisements before seeing the advertising share of the journal grow to 45 per cent with promotions of food and alcohol. Because trade journals could not produce full-colour advertisements, clothiers distributed tear-sheets from the Australian Women’s Weekly.
Few circulation figures are reliable before the 1960s, when readership of Australian Fashion News increased from 3750 to 5540, while that of Tailor and Men’s Wear plummeted from over 5000 to below 2000. Retail Week fluctuated around 20,000—the largest subscriber base—followed by Building and Decorating Materials at 10,000 and Australasian Hardware Retailer—which had been redesigned in response to an ABC Television program for handymen—at 8000.
Trade journals today are brighter in appearance, breezier in content and accessible online. Analysis and technical advice have mostly disappeared, with some going to academic journals. Hard copies look like printed web pages, with snippets in place of the ocean of expertise that confronted readers before the 1970s.