‘Refusing to obey orders’

The Day Book (1916)

The Day Book, E.W. Scripps’ Chicago-based ad-free daily, in 1916 reported on an unusual fight between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and all of St. Louis’ major department stores.

The Post-Dispatch introduced a slick new rotogravure section to showcase its photography, but the department stores balked at the 50 cent per line ad rate, the highest “ever charged in St. Louis for newspaper advertising,” The Day Book reported.

All of the major St. Louis department stores refused to advertise in the new section, so the Post-Dispatch said it would accept ads from the big out-of-town mail order houses.

The local stores said it would be a “dirty deed” for the Post-Dispatch to accept mail order ads and vowed to withhold all advertising.

Despite the threat, the Post-Dispatch accepted and published on March 12 an ad for women’s apparel placed by Franklin Simon & Co. of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

And sure enough, on Sunday, March 19, all of the city’s major department stores boycotted the Post-Dispatch.

No Famous-Barr. No Stix Baer & Fuller. No Scruggs Vandervoort Barney, Sensenbrenner’s, Sonnenfeld’s or Nugents.

“It’s a clear case of a newspaper refusing to obey orders issued by the organized department store managers and as a punishment having all advertising withdrawn,” The Day Book reported.

It was, in theory, a big blow — department store ads made up nearly 25% of all Post-Dispatch advertising at the time.

But the Post-Dispatch also was a rich paper, dominating all of its rivals — the Globe-Democrat, Star, Republic and Times — in both total advertising and circulation.

The boycott, as expected, was short-lived — all of the stores were back within a week or two.

The Day Book pointed out this wasn’t the first time the Post-Dispatch “got in a jam” and faced an ad boycott.

When the ads started running again, both sides claimed victory.

The Day Book never quite made its goal of having 30,000 paid subscribers and stopped publishing in November 1917.

The Post-Dispatch, of course, is still publishing. All the department stores that boycotted the paper are long gone. And all of the Post-Dispatch rivals — the Republic, the Times, the Star-Times and the Globe-Democrat — also are out of business. (Originally posted Jan. 31, 2023)