Just 10¢ a Day Will Buy You an Understanding of SF Circulation

“It pays to read advertising,” some advertiser in Science and Invention claims, “it will save you time, money and effort. It will help you dress better, eat better, and live better” (404). Alongside stories of “scientifiction” and within the context of American technocratizing, here we find a mechanization of the magazine’s reader. With the help of industrialized corporations, you too can become your most fashionable, healthy, and fabulous self.

Though the language of this advert is not strictly in the genre of “self-help populism… met up with Mechanism,” the accompanying adverts that (over-)populate the pages of Science and Invention imply an automated self-improvement in the reader (Luckhurst 51). Throughout, adverts offer opportunities to “Master Electricity by Actual Practice,” “Be a Radio Expert,” and “Go to School at Home!” because “You Want to Earn Big Money!” (318, 406, 405). Oriented towards learning, these adverts offer a means to an end. Similar to America’s developing “mastery” of “recalcitrant Nature,” the engaged reader of Science and Invention likewise moves through standardized skill development to achieve a productive place in modern society (Luckhurst 51). Yet, at the same time as these adverts offer mastery of some skill, they claim how little effort is needed in the process. “I Will Train you at Home,” writes L.L. Cooke in an advert for electrician training, which is “Quick and Easy to Learn” (312). And the American Technical Society claims that “10¢ a Day will buy The Job You Want,” after submitting their “Self Betterment Coupon” (315).

These adverts (which iterate in Wonder Stories and Amazing Stories) characterize the interpolated SF pulp reader: he (and he is emphatically he) is ambitious and capable, busy—without time for extensive training—and intelligent—able to read through an eight-volume set of engineering guides (417). And he is also mechanized: exchanging minutes and cents for skills, promotions, and raises that all in some way relate to technological advancement. But does this imagined reader reflect reality? This week, as we think of circulation—here, focused on the interaction between a text and its audience—I would like to consider how the pervasive advertisement of the American SF pulp determines (or deters) its own readership.

2 thoughts on “Just 10¢ a Day Will Buy You an Understanding of SF Circulation”

  1. The question about interpellation through advertisements bleeds again into the question of SF’s “literariness.” I’m thinking of Luckhurst’s reading of Gernsback’s editorial posturing in pulp magazines: “In flat contradiction, a popular culture magazine espouses its allegiance to the scientific and technical knowledge of a professional elite. To do this, Gernsback has to suppress its status as literature” (64). What kind of reading or reader is invited by these paratextual advertisements? If he is “able to read through an eight-volume set of engineering guides,” how does the reading of (non?-)literary SF stories relate to these other practices of (mechanized?) reading?

  2. Want to continue with the subject of shaping readership you bring up. So many appeals for letters from Gernsback! And an apparent avalanche of reader-response that he collates and deploys in his second intro. We see something similar in the issue of _Astounding_ for this week. At least, we see the letters, but their presentation is wildly different, printed out it seems in full in the back of the magazine. Would like to think more about letters not as evidence for readers, because that’s tricky, but instead an aspect of genre formation & institutionalized reading practice.

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