This book is a must for anyone interested in popular fiction in the first half of the twentieth century. When a new hardback novel cost maybe 7/6d, the fiction magazines, costing anything between 4d and 1/-, were vastly better value, and achieved much higher sales – the Strand reaching half a million in the 1910s.
Who read them? Everybody. According to Muriel Ciolkowska, writing in the Egoist during the War:
In England, on the other hand, everyone reads – but what? Let me see what that type-writing girl, traveling third class, is absorbed in: it is Nash’s Magazine. Let me see what fixes that first-class-travelling nice-looking officer’s attention: it is Nash’s Magazine.
Mike Ashley’s excellent survey includes histories of seventy-odd major magazines, giving details of their style, readership, strengths and weaknesses, and some of the authors most likely to be found within their covers. There are shorter accounts of another seventy. It has sent me looking at magazines I would not otherwise have considered, and has answered questions that I was wondering about – such as “Where was Edgar Wallace publishing stories during the War years?” and “Where else can I find stories by A.M.Burrage?”
The book also tells you which libraries have significant holdings of the magazines (The British Library and the Bodleian are the best bets for most.)
Ashley is now undertaking a massive project – a complete index to British fiction magazines, 1880-1950. This will be on CD-ROM and published by the British Library, but I don’t know when it will appear.
Mike Ashley has also done a lot of bibliographical work on science fiction and crime magazines, and there’s an interesting online interview with him, mostly about SF and Algernon Blackwood.