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More than 192,500 comic book and graphic novel circulation figures online!
Welcome to Comichron, a resource for comic book circulation data and other information gathered by
John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Friday, December 16, 2016

First comics industry Statement of Ownership with electronic-copy sales data appears

by John Jackson Miller
Since 1960 when the U.S. Postal Service began requiring publications that shipped Second Class (now Periodical Class) to include circulation data in their annual Statements of Ownership, Management, and Circulation, comics researchers have been collecting them; I currently have 3,854 out of a projected 4,100, with the remaining balance mostly in Charlton and Harvey titles from the 1960s. (Learn more about Statements here.)

The decline of comics by postal subscription has narrowed the number of titles including the Statements dramatically, from around 170 in the early 1960s to less than a dozen now. Among comics publishers, only Archie continues to publish them since Marvel stopped several years ago — and those only in a handful of titles.

But there is one other comics-related title we've long tracked: Mad, which on schedule published in issue #543 (Feb 2017) its 57th consecutive annual Statement, adding to my complete set for that title. In my rankings of postal data, I've always kept Mad apart because it's only partially comics — and, of course, for many years its numbers blew away anything happening on the spinner racks. Those numbers remain high; its 2016 average paid bimonthly circulation of 127,040 copies would make it #1 in the Direct Market some months. That readership is heavily subscriber-based; each issue in 2016 had 75,466 average subscribers, well over half. It's easy to see why the title still carries a postal license!

What's interesting about the 2016 filing, however, is something new to the form itself. The USPS has fiddled with the form every few years, requesting additional information; in the early 1960s only a single sales figure was required, whereas later in the decade print runs were added, as well as (usually inaccurate) information on the most recent issue shipped.

In 2012, a new version of PS Form 3526 appeared (since updated again in 2014) which included electronic sales data for the first time. You can see the section in the image just above; click to enlarge. The change was made in response to newspaper publishers' lobbying efforts to see that their subscribers who converted to digital would still be counted.

And while it appears Archie and Mad were using the older forms before now, the 2016 Mad form is the new version. Reported digital circulation in the Mad Statement is listed at the very end of the print data. (It appears below, with the relevant section inverted for clarity; again, click to enlarge.) The Mad form lists 412 average electronic copies paid and requested of each issue in 2016, with a much larger 2,470 digital copies of the most recent issue before filing, #541. In the reverse of the print case, one would tend to expect the most recent digital data to be more accurate, not less, since there are no digital copies sitting in newsstands waiting to be returned.

It's not clear through which channels those electronic copies were distributed — whether it was some of the electronic storefronts or all, or just the publication's own service. Given that we don't know, I would strongly recommend against extrapolating. My hunch is the real digital total is probably higher. And while the copies are reported as paid, we don't really know what they went for. 

The more interesting thing really is the fact of it: had the digital comics revolution occurred just ten years earlier, Marvel would have still been publishing Statements and there were still 40 titles still reporting data; we'd have had a wider sample to draw conclusions from.

Archie's Statements, once printed like clockwork, have been turning up later and later in the following year, so it'll be a while to see whether they've switched to the new form as well.

John Jackson Miller has tracked the comics industry for more than 20 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 several novels including Star Wars: Kenobi, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, and Star Wars: A New Dawn, now available in paperback. All three volumes of his novel trilogy for 2016, Star Trek: Prey, are now on sale.

Visit his fiction site at And be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook.
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Bob said...

Question, since MAD only publishes 6 issues a year, wouldn't that 412 average would translate to 2472 copies for the six issues, or (allowing for rounding) exactly what the nearest issue reported? So did they only report digital for a single issue, or did someone get the numbers wrong, or is there another plausible explanation?

John Jackson Miller said...

I wondered about that, too. As I see it, they just took the current issue's number -- 2,472 -- and divided by six issues, as you suggest, implying that they had no historical data to draw upon. That could well be, particularly if the editor was in a different department/building/city from whoever handles digital traffic.

There's a huge paper trail on what sold of individual print copies, but getting backwards-looking data from the e-book retailers might be harder if you're not keeping tabs on it yourself.

Since Mad's ads are all house ads (apart from a few for Warner TV brands) they're probably not as sensitive as the newspapers would be to making sure the average number is as high as possible. The newspapers care about anything that makes their rate bases seem smaller, hence why they lobbied for the new forms.

Mike P said...

Fascinating stuff (as usual), John. Thanks for all your time and effort and continued dilligence (and OCD, lol). Love it!

John Jackson Miller said...

Thanks! The OCD really helps in this sort of work.

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