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McLoughlin Brothers and its Competitors

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McLoughlin Brothers and Its Competitors

In nineteenth-century America, the publishing business was highly competitive as companies worked to capture the dollars being spent on books by the nation’s swiftly growing middle class. Mcloughlin Brothers, with John McLoughlin Jr. at the helm, was always striving to put its juvenile books in the hands of more children than any other book producer. McLoughlin Brothers maintained a home office in New York City and built an enormous network of salesmen who distributed its books using wholesale resellers in cities from Boston to Chicago to San Francisco. The firm was very aware of demand, producing a large inventory of affordable and colorful picture books for children, and offered endless variations of designs and sizes in order to reach the highest number of consumers.

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But McLoughlin Brothers wasn’t the only publisher of picture books seeking market share. By 1893, its shop in Manhattan was quite literally surrounded by more than forty other publishers, including large American firms like E. P. Dutton & Company and Hurd & Houghton, and transatlantic publishers such as the London-based Thomas Nelson & Sons. One reporter quipped, “Fifth Avenue below Twenty-third Street in New York is rapidly becoming the American Pasternoster Row,” referring to the famous district in London that was the home of the printing district in that city.

The McLoughlin brothers used a myriad of strategies to stay ahead of the competition, not all of them admirable. They blatantly copied foreign books, putting their own imprint on titles designed and written in England and then sold them for much less than the imported originals. They bought out rivals, or assumed their debts and negotiated advantageous settlement terms that often resulted in their competition getting out of juvenile publishing altogether. They pursued litigation if they felt one of their copyrights or patents had been infringed upon and were ruthless in their legal wrangling, taking one case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1903. In a note to customers in their trade catalog for that year, the brothers stated: “We must request all who use our goods to be on the lookout for counterfeits and to report them to us wherever found, so that we may take any needful steps to protect the interests of our customers and ourselves.” During the 1870 to 1880 period, McLoughlin Brothers became one of the most formidable publishers of the era, outpacing most of their competition in production, price, and distribution.

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McLoughlin Brothers and its Competitors