On occasion, I look back at the N.W. Ayer & Sons Directory — an annual publication that for more than a century under various names included information on periodicals for the use of advertisers. In addition to publisher addresses and physical dimensions of their ad spaces, the Directories include information from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the B.P.A., postal statements of ownership, and more.
Comics publishers are included, and I have not generally spent much time on the records because titles are aggregated; the volume says which comics are included, but there’s no title-by-title breakdown. Still, what they say about those totals is interesting, as we can see the publisher-by-publisher breakdowns.
Here’s what the 1960 edition has, which means the numbers are coming likely from the end of 1959:
American Comics Group • 650,000 copies monthly
American Romance Group • 325,000 copies monthly
Archie • 3,216,979 copies bimonthly
Charlton • 5,000,000 copies bimonthly
Dell • 9,686,424 copies monthly
Dennis the Menace • no figures cited
Harvey • 5,029,759 copies bimonthly
Marvel • 2,253,112 copies monthly
National (DC) • 6,653,485 copies monthly
Now, of these, Archie, Harvey, Marvel, and National/DC’s figures were all from ABC audits. The others are from publishers’ estimates to Ayer & Sons; Charlton was a “sworn” statement to Ayer, according to the book. American Romance is actually another imprint of ACG, which included Confessions of the Lovelorn and My Romantic Adventures. Dennis the Menace is listed as a separate publisher but actually it’s coming out of the Fawcett offices; regardless, there are no figures cited with it.
The monthly/bimonthly thing appears to be how the publishers were packaging their titles for ad buys — in that event, the monthly totals would look like this:
Dell • 9,686,424 • 37%
National (DC) • 6,653,485 • 25%
Harvey • 2,514,879 • 10%
Charlton • 2,500,000 • 10%
Marvel • 2,253,112 • 9%
Archie • 1,608,489 • 6%
ACG • 975,000 • 4%
TOTAL: 26,191,389 monthly copies
OK, now there are clearly some publishers missing (Dennis/Fawcett among them), and I’m iffy on bringing in some other magazines with some comics content, like Calling All Boys. But if we take these as given, they’re not too far off the rank order we might imagine. Charlton may seem high, but recall this is 1959 — and Charlton was churning out Westerns and war comics like crazy. Harvey I’m wondering a little about, but they are ABC figures.
And there are some interesting things here, were we to take these as everything there was. Marvel would appear to be selling a million more comics in the direct market today than it was 50 years ago (3.27 million copies monthly, the average through 2008 to date); so much smaller was its publishing slate back then — or at least the list of titles under audit. And now we would have a minimum of 26.19 million for 1959 monthly circulation — or 314.3 million copies annually at at least $31.43 million retail.
But I don’t want to take these as exactly given until I can do some cross-checking to see what the publishers were including in these batches and what they weren’t. The Ayers listings for each publisher say which titles are counted in the totals; it’s possible some books aren’t, which would mean the totals printed above for these publishers are, again, lower than reality. Another issue is that we can’t just take the Statements we’ve seen for 1960 and compare them; DC’s 29 titles with Statements found so far for 1960 had a total of 8.75 million copies sold monthly, but remember that many of the titles on that list were not monthly, so that total shouldn’t be counted as a monthly average.
So I’ll be doing more work with various Ayers guide in the future, but this is an interesting snapshot.
Comichron founder John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 25 years, including a decade editing the industry’s retail trade magazine; he is the author of several guides to comics, as well as more than a hundred comic books for various franchises.
He is the author of novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Dawn, Star Trek: Discovery – The Enterprise War, and his latest release, Star Trek: Discovery – Die Standing. Read more about them at his fiction site.
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