7 months ago
The United Kingdom (UK) has a long heritage of championing the commerce of ideas. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many of its powerful institutions emerged to disseminate such thought. Here are a few of those British institutions that pioneered the spread of information and commerce in order to get us to the digital marketplace we know today.
One of the great feats of the modern digital marketplace is its massive database of content. In a similar vein, the UK’s rich literary history reveals the foundation of compendiums and encyclopedias of print and data. Operating continuously since 1584, Cambridge University Press is the oldest publisher and printer in the world. The London Gazette claims to be the oldest surviving English newspaper and the oldest continuously published newspaper in the UK, having been first published on November 7th, 1665. Trailing after is The Spectator, founded in 1828, which is both the oldest weekly magazine in the world, and the oldest general-interest magazine continuously in print. The tomes of Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Chambers’ Encyclopaedia, both published in print for over 200 years, made available accumulated knowledge to the common man in homes and libraries worldwide. In addition, the Chambers Dictionary is still one of the most authoritative guides on the English language.
With such a massive database of content, the digital marketplace also relies heavily on the rapid delivery and dissemination of content, another staple of many British institutions. The Royal Mail, dates back to 1635, when it was decreed that the system of royal post was going to be extended to the public for a fee, with the receiver paying postage. The first-ever direct-marketing campaigns were seed catalogues authored by William Lucas in 1667. It wasn’t until 1840, that the first adhesive stamp was used to indicate the pre-payment of postage, the iconic Penny Black. Not long after, the term ‘snail post’ turned up in an 1843 article in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, a clever play on the German ‘Schnell (fast) Post’, which had a reputation for being slow.
Public service broadcasting was another offshoot of the postal service. Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company was formed in 1897, after the grant of a British patent for wireless technology. Having built the world’s first radio factory in Chelmsford in 1898, Marconi was responsible for many important advances in radio and television. BBC Radio was licensed through the General Post Office (GPO), which then had control of the airwaves. The British Broadcasting Corporation is now not only the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation but also the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees.
Telecommunications was also a monopoly of the postal service prior to being privatised. After Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876, the GPO began to provide telephone services from some of its telegraph exchanges. These innovations paved the way for call centers a century later, when in the 1960s, the Birmingham Press and Mail installed Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) to have rows of agents handling customer contacts.
Customers have been spoilt for choice in the UK ever since the first department store was established in 1796 on Pall Mall, London, showcasing wares of different kinds. Around the same time, Josiah Wedgewood came up with concepts such as direct mail, the money-back guarantee, traveling salesmen, carrying patterns for display, self-service, free delivery, buy-one-get-one free, and illustrated catalogues, many of which would go on to become the basis of modern marketing, to increase the demand for his eponymous porcelain and china brand. He went so far as to employ French-, German-, Italian- and Dutch-speaking clerks to answer foreign buyers’ letters in their native languages.
Around the turn of the last century came Selfridges, the renowned department store, which prided itself on the motto ‘the customer is always right.’ It introduced the ideal of shopping for pleasure rather than necessity, and employed various techniques to keep customers in the store for as long as possible.
As more shoppers head online these days, the UK celebrates 30 years of the idea that Tim Berners-Lee dreamed up – the worldwide web – which his boss had once described as ‘vague but exciting’ and has since gone on to revolutionise not only commerce, but culture and society.
BORN’s European headquarters are located in Angel, Islington – just like the Angel Islington property in the Monopoly board game and named after the former Angel Inn pub. A stone’s throw away are King’s Cross station – first train station after Go! – the renowned Sadler’s Wells theatre and the City of London university. The area has gotten a new wind with a range of startups and tech companies setting up shop, especially along the Northern Line, which stops at Old Street Station.