Born to London coffee-house proprietor Thomas Jemson in 1734, Lloyd’s List was, for centuries, a leading shipping newspaper. Few of the city’s merchants had their own offices in the early 18th century. They conducted business mostly at exchanges or in London’s bustling coffee shops, each of which sought to dominate a particular type of business. Edward Lloyd’s specialized in shipping. During the 1690s, Lloyd briefly published a newsletter detailing shipping traffic through England’s ports. Although his shop passed to new owners (including Jemson) following his death in 1713, Lloyd’s name became synonymous with shipping intelligence. When Jemson started his own newsletter years later, he called it Lloyd’s List.
The earliest surviving edition of Lloyd’s List, dated Jan. 2, 1741, noted customers could pay the three-shilling quarterly subscription at the bar. “Such Gentlemen as are willing to encourage this Undertaking, shall have them carefully deliver’d according to their Directions.” News items were terse, such as: “The Willingmind, from N.foundland for Leghora, has received so much Damage that she is obliged to unload at Portmahone.”
So prized was such information that customers largely directed the publication’s affairs. When the original Lloyd’s café degenerated into a petty den of stockjobbing and gambling during the 1760s, customers induced a waiter to open New Lloyd’s Coffee House—with its own New Lloyd’s List. The two establishments competed for several years until the latter prevailed.
Intense reader engagement offers perhaps the most satisfactory explanation for Lloyd’s List’s longevity. While countless publications relied primarily on advertisers, it depended on subscribers and ran its first ads as late as in 1854. (An annual subscription in 2013 costs $3,150.)
Even so, no long-lived publication can ignore fundamental shifts in how its customers receive their news. Current owner Informa recently announced it would cease publication of the print edition of Lloyd’s List effective Dec. 20, after a readership survey found just 2% consulted it exclusively. This partly stemmed from delays caused by printing and mailing, but most preferred speedier delivery via website or iPad app. Editor Richard Meade told readers he saw little point in “sustaining a format that cannot match our, or our customers’ demands.” On their smartphones and tablets, the latest generation will get their shipping news with the same immediacy as when Edward Lloyd posted the latest gossip on the wall of his coffee shop centuries ago. But they’ll receive it at a coffee shop, bus station or office of their choice.