American News Company

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American News Company
Distributor, Wholesaler
Industry Newspapers, Books, Comics, Magazines
Founded 1864 (1864)
Founder Sinclair Tousey
Defunct 1957 (1957)
Key people
Henry Garfinkle, Myron Garfinkle
Divisions Union News Company

American News Company was a magazine, newspaper, book, and comic book distribution company founded in 1864[1] by Sinclair Tousey,[2][3] which dominated the distribution market in the first half of the 20th century. The company's abrupt 1957 demise caused a huge shakeup in the publishing industry, forcing many magazine, comic book, and paperback publishers out of business.

Background[edit]

American News functioned both as a national distributor and as a local periodical wholesaler. Headed by Henry Garfinkle, the company had over 300 branches blanketing the United States, and employed several thousand employees. During the middle of the century, American News stood as the largest book wholesaler in the world, dominating the industry. It also had a near stranglehold on the distribution of magazines and newspapers within the United States market, dominating that industry as well. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it had more than 5400 stockholders.[4] Headquartered in New Jersey, American News also had offices in downtown Manhattan.[5]

Comic book clients of American News included Atlas Comics, Dell Comics, and Toby Press. National Comics had its own distributor, Independent News Company, and was able to take on distribution for other comic book publishers after American News failed. Comic book publishers who were not able to come to terms with National's distributors quickly went under, and others were limited in the number of titles they were allowed to distribute under the new arrangements—Atlas (later known as Marvel Comics) was rationed to eight titles a month. The change also affected paperback book publishers like Lion Library, which went out of business when Independent News (which was already distributing rival New American Library) refused to take it on. Avon paperbacks, which had been founded as a subsidiary of ANC in 1941 in the early days of the paperback boom, managed to survive the crash and was taken over by Hearst.

Many magazines distributed in the 1940s were in pulp format; by the end of 1955, all had either ceased publication or switched to digest format. This change was largely the work of distributors such as American News, who refused to carry the pulp magazines since they were no longer profitable.[6] The 1950s boom in science fiction magazine publishing, with other 30 new titles being launched, turned overnight into collapse with the failure of ANC. Other pulp fiction genres—western, romance, detective—suffered a similar extinction event. These sections of the magazine field were already in decline and it was simply not worth the effort to rescue already marginal magazine titles.

Demise[edit]

In 1952 the government began antitrust litigation against ANC which was destined to drag on until the company's demise. Around 1955 major magazine publishers began disengaging themselves from ANC and making other arrangements for newsstand distribution. When Collier's and Woman's Home Companion, two of their biggest-selling titles, folded in January 1957, it came as a serious blow to ANC at a time when the company was already on financially shaky ground. In April Dell Publishing announced that they were pulling out and making other arrangements for their distribution.

The mammoth company's abrupt demise in June 1957 has been a source of speculation for decades. One theory is that a speculator became aware that a bookkeeping peculiarity in American News' accounts could allow a large profit from liquidating the company. He acquired control, and proceeded to sell off the assets, ultimately winding the company up.[7] This theory was summarized in a 1960 lawsuit:

In 1955 the defendant Henry Garfinkle and the members of his family acquired 11 per cent of the stock in the defendant American News Company. Soon thereafter he became its president. ... The defendant American News Company, notwithstanding its great size and notwithstanding its apparent dominance in the periodical distribution field, commencing in the fifties began to encounter difficulties. It lost franchise after franchise and began sustaining heavy losses. By 1957 it had sustained losses in connection with its distribution of periodicals in excess of $8,000,000.00. In 1957 it decided to cease its activities as a national distributor and local wholesaler. It laid off around 8,000 of its employees and sold all of the equipment used in connection with its distribution activities. By June 1957, it was entirely out of business as a national distributor and as a local wholesaler.[4]

An alternative (but somewhat similar explanation) for the company's demise has been offered by comic book historian and author Gerard Jones. The company in 1956...

had been found guilty of restraint of trade and ordered to divest itself of the newsstands it owned. Its biggest client, George Delacorte, announced he would seek a new distributor for his Dell Comics and paperbacks. The owners of American News estimated the effect that would have on their income. Then they looked at the value of the New Jersey real estate where their headquarters sat. They liquidated the company and sold the land. The company ... vanished without a trace in the suburban growth of the 1950s.[8]

Repercussions[edit]

The effect on the American magazine market was catastrophic. Many magazines had to switch to one of the independent distributors, who were able to set their own conditions for taking on new business. This often forced the magazines to change from a digest size to a larger format, and to become monthly rather than bimonthly or quarterly. Many magazines could not afford to make these changes, both of which required either high circulation or a strong advertising base, and many magazines folded as a result.[7]

An example of a company that the change in distributor had a drastic impact on is Atlas Comics, which was forced to switch distribution to Independent News, owned by National Periodical Publications, owner of Atlas' rival, DC Comics. Because of this, Atlas was constrained as to its publishing output for the next decade (including the early years of its successor, Marvel Comics).[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Patrick Farrelly," The Publishers' Weekly (April 30, 1904).
  2. ^ "DEATH OF SINCLAIR TOUSEY, MANY WHO FOUNDED AMERICAN NEWS[sic], 'New York Times (June 17, 1887).
  3. ^ "Record of Current Events", The American Monthly Review of Reviews (August 1910), pp 162–165.
  4. ^ a b "PERIODICAL DISTRIBS. v. AMERICAN NEWS CO.," UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK (October 15, 1968).
  5. ^ The Park Place buildings were designed by female architect Fay Kellogg. See: "New York's Real Lure for Women -- Opportunity," The New York Times (November 12, 1911). Accessed May 7, 2011.
  6. ^ Ashley, Michael (1976). The History of the Science Fiction Magazine Vol. 3 1946–1955. Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc. p. 88. ISBN 0-8092-7842-1. 
  7. ^ a b Michael Ashley, Transformations, pp. 191.
  8. ^ Jones, Gerard. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book (Basic Books, 2004; trade paperback ISBN 0-465-03657-0
  9. ^ "Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas," Comic Book Artist (2). Summer 1998. Archived from the original on November 14, 2009.

References[edit]

  • Ashley, Mike (2005). Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 0-85323-779-4. 
  • Vadeboncoeur, Jim (based on a story uncovered by Brad Elliott). "The Great Atlas Implosion," The Jack Kirby Collector #18 (Jan. 1998) pp. 4–7.