Arthur Conan Doyle and The Strand Magazine
The Strand Magazine's offices
on Southampton Street

Popular literature, such as the Sherlock Holmes stories, came of age along with another 19th-century innovation: the popular magazine. Magazines had existed in some form since the 18th century, but they had never been as cheap or as generally available. This new medium demanded art forms that could be consumed in small bites: on a train trip, or during a few leisure moments after a busy day. In earlier times, literacy generally extended only as far as the middle class, but, with the Education Act of 1870, elementary-school education became compulsory across England. Changing labor laws had given workers more leisure time and disposable income. Increased train travel, especially the advent of daily commuting, triggered a demand for light reading material. Typesetting, although still a complex and labor-intensive technology, had improved to the point where printing houses could mass-produce high-quality material that included photographs and engravings. Finally, the onerous Stamp Tax had been reduced, making printed material more widely affordable.

Strand Magazine typesetters at work

The Strand's electrotyping room

George Newnes, owner of The Strand
and Tit-bits

Publishers quickly learned to target their publications to the needs of particular segments of the population. Working-class people with an elementary-school education read "penny weeklies" such as Tit-bits, which contained short articles, bits of interesting information (what we might call "sound-bites"), and serialized stories. For the middle class, especially those with intellectual aspirations, magazines provided more in-depth articles on politics, science, history, economics, and the arts, as well as fiction that appealed to slightly more developed tastes than what appeared in Tit-bits.

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