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Mad Sales Figures

Circulation as Reported in Publishers' Statements of Ownership
Filed with the United States Postal Service

A part of American pop culture for more than half a century, William Gaines' humor periodical Mad began as a comic book in 1952, before switching to magazine format with #24 (at right, June 1955). That act had the dual results of protecting the publication from the oversight of the Comics Code Authority, while also giving it a better position than the comics shelves, where newsstand sales of those books were declining. But while Mad is not generally considered a comic book due to its size, the fact that most issues contained majority-comics content has included it among those titles Comichron tracks. And the numbers connected to it dwarf any other comics series: counting copies just of the main title beginning in 1960, Mad sold more than 400 million copies. The overall figure since 1952, reprints included, is probably past half a billion.

Mad had already run several years' worth of Statement of Ownership filings when the U.S. Postal Service changed the rules in 1960, requiring actual sales data. On reading the form in issue #61, the world of comics readers discovered that Mad was selling in excess of a million copies an issue, just slightly more than the top-selling comic book, Uncle Scrooge. But the sales figures thereafter went in opposite directions, with no American comic book topping a million copies sold until Star Wars #1 in 1977 — whereas Mad's sales went upward, nearly steadily, through the 1960s.

An on-ramp to the counterculture for younger readers, the title became a staple of Baby Boomer life in the 1960s; it topped 100,000 subscribers in 1969, a number never seen for any other comics periodical. The title reached its peak circulation in 1974, the culminating year for Watergate, with average sales per issue of 2,132,655 copies. (Perhaps the title's most controversial cover, #166's upraised middle finger, thus landed at the absolute height of the magazine's popularity; many retailers refused to stock it.) Mad's imitators were many over the years, three of which — Cracked, Crazy, and Sick — ran postal circulation statements, but none was in Mad's league when it came to sales.

But even though Mad's position on magazine racks gave it a relatively safer position than comic books had in the newsstand market, the channel was in overall decline. The last year the title had sales over 1 million copies was 1982, perhaps not coincidentally when coin-operated and home video games were dominating youth culture. The growing comics shop market didn't do much business in Mad, which was largely seen still as a newsstand and subscriber-targeted product. Still, sales hovered near three quarters of a million copies through the second half of the 1980s, with a six-year peak of 784,206 copies in 1989. That year saw the title buoyed in part by an issue and a special parodying Batman, a property owned by its then-parent company, Warner.

A television show added to Mad's brand in the 1990s, and the publication moved from its longtime eight-a-year schedule to monthly. But the decade saw the magazine's circulation drop down below 300,000 copies, more than 100,000 of which were by subscription. Subscription sales would pass dealer copies in 2005, and they would continue to be the largest portion of sales until 2014.

By that time, sales of the now-bimonthly issues were below 140,000 copies, only slightly exceeding that number in 2018 when Mad moved its production from New York City to the West Coast and rebooted its numbering in 2018. That iteration was reported in July 2019 to be eliminating new content, except for specials, and also ending newsstand distribution.

Mad is the last majority-comics periodical still publishing Statement of Ownership reports, as seen below. It was the only one to report, only occasionally, digital circulation in its forms. Should either the magazine or its Periodical Class subscriptions end, that would bring to a close (possibly temporarily) a data source that had first become available in 1960.

—John Jackson Miller
Updated: July 4, 2019


 

19601961196219631964
Issue Statement appearing in:#61 March#69 March#77 March#85 March#93 March
Date of filing:10/1/6010/1/6110/1/6210/1/6310/1/64
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:$2.00$2.00$2.00$2.00$2.00
Cover price during year:$0.25$0.25$0.25$0.25$0.25
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):1,891,0621,936,000
Sales through DEALERS (avg):1,000,0001,374,0101,369,373
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):48,55055,07055,255
Total PAID circulation (avg):1,048,5501,209,9181,293,7051,429,0801,424,628
Samples by MAIL (avg):00
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00
Total FREE circulation (avg):00
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:1,429,0801,424,628
Copies not distributed (office):
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):461,982511,372
Reported % Paid/Requested:
Copies existent:1,048,550001,429,0801,424,628
19651966196719681969
Issue Statement appearing in:#101 March#109 March#117 March#125 March#133 March
Date of filing:10/1/6510/1/6610/1/6710/1/6810/1/69
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:$2.28$2.28$2.11$2.40$2.40
Cover price during year:$0.30$0.30$0.30$0.35$0.35
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):1,957,1482,121,9602,370,3362,434,1372,466,650
Sales through DEALERS (avg):1,473,2231,564,1111,703,2541,746,2611,782,713
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):59,70371,50177,30185,387101,789
Total PAID circulation (avg):1,532,9261,635,6121,789,5551,831,6481,884,502
Samples by MAIL (avg):0002556
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00000
Total FREE circulation (avg):0002556
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:1,532,9261,635,6121,789,5551,831,6731,884,558
Copies not distributed (office):
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):424,222486,388589,781602,464582,094
Reported % Paid/Requested:
% of RUN RETURNED:21.7%22.9%24.9%24.8%23.6%
Copies existent:1,532,9261,635,6121,780,5551,831,6731,884,558
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:78.3%77.1%75.5%75.2%76.4%
19701971197219731974
Issue Statement appearing in:#141 March#149 March#157 March#165 March#173 March
Date of filing:10/1/7010/1/7110/1/7210/1/7310/1/74
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:$2.40$2.95$2.95$2.95$4.00
Cover price during year:$0.35$0.40$0.40$0.40$0.50
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):2,505,2532,557,7762,550,9062,651,6772,810,388
Sales through DEALERS (avg):1,761,0311,743,8181,804,2171,958,4882,018,283
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):103,412101,507101,756100,748114,372
Total PAID circulation (avg):1,864,4431,845,3251,905,9732,059,2362,132,655
Samples by MAIL (avg):5254596565
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00000
Total FREE circulation (avg):5254596565
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:1,864,4951,845,3891,906,0222,059,3012,132,720
Copies not distributed (office):600600600600
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):640,758711,797644,274591,776677,068
Reported % Paid/Requested:
% of RUN RETURNED:25.6%27.8%25.3%22.3%24.1%
Copies existent:1,864,4951,845,9791,906,6322,059,9012,133,320
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:74.4%72.1%74.7%77.7%75.9%
19751976197719781979
Issue Statement appearing in:#181 March#189 March#197 March#205 March#213 March
Date of filing:10/1/7510/1/7610/1/7710/1/7810/1/79
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:$4.00$4.00$4.80$4.80$6.00
Cover price during year:$0.50$0.50$0.60$0.60$0.75
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):2,793,9962,498,6322,417,3852,446,4952,380,566
Sales through DEALERS (avg):1,798,6591,676,2541,626,4421,530,3801,467,019
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):129,480111,67495,07396,07294,308
Total PAID circulation (avg):1,928,1391,787,9281,721,5151,626,4521,561,327
Samples by MAIL (avg):6565656565
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00000
Total FREE circulation (avg):6565656565
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:1,928,2041,728,9931,721,5801,626,5171,561,392
Copies not distributed (office):600600600600600
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):865,192710,039695,205819,378818,574
Reported % Paid/Requested:
% of RUN RETURNED:31.0%28.4%28.8%33.5%34.4%
Copies existent:1,928,8041,788,5931,722,1801,627,1171,561,992
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:69.0%71.6%71.2%66.5%65.6%
19801981198219831984
Issue Statement appearing in:#221 March#229 March#237 March#245 March#253 March
Date of filing:10/1/8010/1/8110/1/8210/1/8310/1/84
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:$6.00$7.17$7.80$7.80
Cover price during year:$0.75$0.90$1.00$1.00$1.25
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):2,262,4892,133,6101,910,4811,774,6191,666,313
Sales through DEALERS (avg):1,263,0131,016,903930,019816,266732,790
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):79,62777,18271,70562,80950,402
Total PAID circulation (avg):1,342,6401,094,0851,001,724879,075783,192
Samples by MAIL (avg):6565656565
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00000
Total FREE circulation (avg):6565656565
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:1,342,7051,094,1501,001,789879,140783,256
Copies not distributed (office):600600600600600
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):919,1941,038,890908,092894,879882,456
Reported % Paid/Requested:
% of RUN RETURNED:40.6%48.7%47.5%50.4%53.0%
Copies existent:1,343,3051,094,7501,002,389879,740783,857
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:59.3%51.3%52.4%49.5%47.0%
19851986198719881989
Issue Statement appearing in:#261 March#269 March#277 March#285 March#293 March
Date of filing:10/1/8510/1/8610/1/8710/1/8810/1/89
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:
Cover price during year:$1.35$1.35$1.50$1.50$1.75
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):1,600,3971,611,5991,626,0131,649,8321,685,393
Sales through DEALERS (avg):701,246695,580685,324694,415705,906
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):43,57144,46257,41968,92078,298
Total PAID circulation (avg):744,817740,442742,743763,335784,206
Samples by MAIL (avg):6565656565
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00000
Total FREE circulation (avg):6565656565
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:744,882740,507742,808763,400784,271
Copies not distributed (office):600600800800800
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):854,915870,492882,605885,832900,322
Reported % Paid/Requested:
% of RUN RETURNED:53.4%54.0%54.3%53.7%53.4%
Copies existent:745,482740,707743,608764,200785,069
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:46.5%45.9%45.7%46.3%46.5%
19901991199219931994
Issue Statement appearing in:#301 March#309 March#317 March#325 March#333 Jan/Feb
Date of filing:10/1/9010/1/9110/1/9210/1/9310/1/94
Issues published during year:88888
Annual subscription price:
Cover price during year:$1.75$1.75$1.75$1.95$1.95
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):1,660,5741,594,1781,461,4971,439,3831,231,287
Sales through DEALERS (avg):601,018509,886436,937407,993332,372
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):80,70874,92366,81970,39276,972
Total PAID circulation (avg):681,726584,684503,576478,385409,344
Samples by MAIL (avg):656566565
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):0000700
Total FREE circulation (avg):65656565765
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:681,791584,749503,821478,450410,109
Copies not distributed (office):8008008001,056689
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):977,9831,008,629956,876959,877820,509
Reported % Paid/Requested:33.2%
% of RUN RETURNED:58.9%63.3%65.5%66.7%66.6%
Copies existent:682,591585,674504,562479,506410,798
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:41.1%36.7%34.5%33.2%33.2%
19951996199719981999
Issue Statement appearing in:#342 Jan/Feb#353 January#365 January#377 January#389 January
Date of filing:10/1/9510/1/969/20/979/30/989/30/99
Issues published during year:812121212
Annual subscription price:$24.00$24.00$24.00$24.00
Cover price during year:$1.99$2.50$2.50$2.95$2.95
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):1,086,8511,048,9901,036,806946,945693,908
Sales through DEALERS (avg):293,663237,243227,187207,109191,440
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):66,27372,24382,47386,471102,281
Total PAID circulation (avg):359,936309,911309,660293,580293,721
Samples by MAIL (avg):652009001,013937
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):1,463460571744731
Total FREE circulation (avg):1,5286601,4711,7571,668
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:361,464310,571311,131295,336295,389
Copies not distributed (office):9,0227,0953,9613,6010
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):716,365731,324721,714648,008398,519
Reported % Paid/Requested:33.2%32.5%99.5%99.4%99.4%
% of RUN RETURNED:65.9%69.7%69.6%68.4%57.4%
Copies existent:370,486317,241315,092298,938295,389
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:33.1%29.5%29.9%31.0%42.3%
20002001200220032004
Issue Statement appearing in:#401 January#412 December#424 December#436 December#448 December
Date of filing:9/27/009/18/019/16/029/15/039/29/04
Issues published during year:1212121212
Annual subscription price:$24.00$24.00$24.00$24.00$24.00
Cover price during year:$2.99$2.99$3.50$3.50$3.50
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):624,330591,540577,740520,177497,156
Sales through DEALERS (avg):137,428122,596122,153114,891114,435
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):95,98085,86983,28892,40297,038
Total PAID circulation (avg):233,408208,465205,441207,293211,473
Samples by MAIL (avg):04500788776
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):4501,4172,1671,750875
Total FREE circulation (avg):4501,9672,1672,5381,675
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:233,858210,332207,608209,831213,123
Copies not distributed (office):00000
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):390,472381,208370,132310,346284,033
Reported % Paid/Requested:99.8%99.1%99.0%98.8%99.3%
% of RUN RETURNED:62.5%64.4%64.1%59.7%57.1%
Copies existent:233,858210,332207,608209,831213,124
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:37.4%35.2%35.6%39.9%42.5%
20052006200720082009
Date of filing:#460 December9/20/0610/4/079/22/089/22/09
Issues published during year:121212124
Annual subscription price:$24.00$24.00$24.00$24.00$14.99
Cover price during year:$3.99$3.99$3.99$4.99$5.99
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):495,336488,314433,830371,269301,410
Sales through DEALERS (avg):103,96482,22481,87164,15357,722
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):108,732108,732124,019106,54890,382
Total PAID circulation (avg):212,696190,956205,890170,701148,104
Samples by MAIL (avg):1,9982,1182,6783,0332,200
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):8336,0422,500833625
Total FREE circulation (avg):2,8318,1605,1783,8662,825
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:215,527199,116211,068174,567150,929
Copies not distributed (office):00000
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):279,809289,198222,762196,702150,481
Reported % Paid/Requested:98.7%95.9%97.6%97.8%98.1%
% of RUN RETURNED:56.5%59.2%51.3%53.0%49.9%
Copies existent:215,527199,116211,068174,567150,929
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:42.9%39.1%47.5%46.0%49.1%
20102011201220132014
Issue Statement appearing in:#507 February#513 February#519 February#525 February#531 February
Date of filing:11/8/109/27/1110/1/1210/31/139/30/14
Issues published during year:66666
Annual subscription price:$19.99$19.99$19.99$19.99$19.99
Cover price during year:$5.99$5.99$5.99$5.99$5.99
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):304,540294,669304,409298,802275,219
Sales through DEALERS (avg):84,81956,86463,86982,04676,725
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):104,00696,36492,46984,73262,746
Total PAID circulation (avg):188,825153,228156,338166,777139,471
Samples by MAIL (avg):00000
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):00000
Total FREE circulation (avg):00000
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:188,825153,228156,338166,777139,471
Copies not distributed (office):000
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):115,715141,441148,071132,025135,748
Reported % Paid/Requested:100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%
% of RUN RETURNED:38.0%48.0%48.6%44.2%49.3%
Copies existent:188,825153,228156,338166,778139,471
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:62.0%52.0%51.4%55.8%50.7%
20152016201720182019
Issue Statement appearing in:#537 February#543 February#549 FebruaryV2#5 February
Date of filing:10/30/159/30/169/28/1710/22/17
Issues published during year:6666
Annual subscription price:$19.99$19.99$19.99$19.99
Cover price during year:$5.99$5.99$5.99$5.99
Total Copies PRINTED (avg):267,174261,625264,273269,200
Sales through DEALERS (avg):66,61975,46654,340 46,466
Sales by SUBSCRIPTION (avg):56,28958,04684,258 102,159
Total PAID circulation (avg):122,908133,512138,598148,625
Samples by MAIL (avg):521,0731,1251,301
Samples OUTSIDE mail (avg):0022
Total FREE circulation (avg):521,0731,1271,303
TOTAL DISTRIBUTION:122,960134,585139,725149,928
Copies not distributed (office):
Copies not distributed (RETURNS):144,214127,040124,549119,272
Reported % Paid/Requested:100.0%100.0%99.2%99.1%
% of RUN RETURNED:54.0%48.6%47.1%44.3%
Copies existent:122,960134,585139,725149,928
SELL-THROUGH at RETAIL:46.0%51.0%52.4%55.2%




Statement history
Starting with #10 in April 1953, Mad had run Statements of Ownership, Management, and Circulation for years before the postal rules changed in 1960, requiring publishers to print average circulation numbers. Mad wasn't required to run subscriber counts yet in 1960 but did so anyway. It would begin regularly doing so once that data was required in 1963.

There are some errors in the filings. There was a math error in the 2000 dealer sales that we've fixed; Mad's math in the free-copy numbers in 2004 doesn't add up, and those we didn't fix. Mad didn't run the correct subscriber numbers in 2013 and 2014; the correct figures have been calculated and printed above. Returns were not included in the 2018 form; those have also been calculated.

Mad never missed publishing a single filing, and was the only majority-comics publication to run the forms after Archie stopped publishing data in 2016. It was the only title to include the later-mandated digital sales; these smallish numbers appeared in 2016 and 2017.