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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Monday, January 24, 2011

The print age of Wizard ends

by John Jackson Miller

As Comics Buyer's Guide reports, Wizard magazine is suspending publication of its print version immediately, turning to a digital format in February.

Wizard came on the scene in the early 1990s with a bang, capturing — and contributing — to the boom period in comics with its attention on new publishers, its monthly price guide, and its high production values. The self-titled "Wizard Age" of comics was bound up tightly with the themes of that era: from hot new creators at Image to comics hot with speculator interest.

Wizard copies sold by Diamond, 1998-2006
The end of the print publication comes at the end of a long period of circulation declines. (The graphic shows 1998 to 2006, the period in which I was tracking it monthly based on Diamond's reporting.) The magazine's preorders in the direct market were higher than 100,000 copies for years; the last month it broke that mark was in October 1998, for #87. The magazine dipped below 50,000 copies in the direct market for the first time in late 2005, just after a price increase to $5.99. Direct market orders for #233 in December, the last issue for which full Diamond orders are available, were close to 17,000 copies. These figures are certainly not the only copies Wizard sold; the publication had heavy circulation through the newsstand for many years. But that distribution system has seen hardships of its own.

I saw Wizard from an unusual perspective, working as an editor at Krause Publications' trade magazine and later as editorial director of the Comics and Games Division. Comics Buyer's Guide was twenty years old when Wizard came on the scene,  and for the years while I was there, Wizard really was our Moby Dick. It needn't have been — our business model as a newsprint shopper's guide was completely different, and many of their advertisers would never have bought into our publications or vice versa. Our readerships were worlds apart. But that didn't stop the corporation from wanting to find ways to compete with it, anyway.

A famous in-house story involved a meeting in the early 1990s in which Krause executives asked the CBG publisher what it would cost to transform the weekly newspaper into something that could compete with Wizard head-to-head. When the publisher provided his estimates of what it cost to produce a single issue of Wizard — from the full-color printing to the paper quality to the comparatively high freelance rates — the room erupted in incredulous laughter from the higher-ups. The production costs were astronomical, compared to what hobby publishers were paying. Krause didn't yet have a single magazine designed fully on computer — my Comics Retailer was the first, in 1994 — and the freelance budget was minuscule by comparison. (CBG, which hits its 40th anniversary in February, would remain a weekly newspaper until the conversion to a monthly magazine with limited color in 2004.)

But while there would be no head-to-head competition, the presence of Wizard did provide a great example of what was possible for a comics magazine, and it definitely caused us to work harder. Many resources were contributed to the comics division that might otherwise not have been available, if not for Wizard's example. It'll be interesting to see how the electronic version fares — but the end of the print publication represents the end of an interesting era for the industry. Best wishes to those involved with the print publication in the future!
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nick said...

Now that Wizard is gone. Can Comic Foundry come back? That magazine was the perfect comic mag.

Tim Stroup said...

Here are some earlier numbers from Matt High's analysis of Capital City numbers:

Nov. 1994

Wizard #40 - 177,400

Jan. 1995

Wizard #42A - 89,910
Wizard #42B - 69,190
- total = 159,100 units

Feb 1995

Wizard #43 - 159,040 units

For all of 1993, Wizard #21 was 180th best selling issue by quantity and 59th by dollar amount. As a reminder, this is the year of speculator frenzy Adventures of Superman #500 (Return of Superman), Batman #500, and all the second tier Image #1 titles like Deathblow, Maxx, Bloodstrike, and Stormwatch.

- Tim Stroup

Jon Gorga said...

I second Nick's statement above.

John Jackson Miller said...

Thanks for the numbers, Tim. I have some older numbers further back in the files somewhere, but that was what I had at hand.

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