Monday, December 31, 2012

LOVE STORY's Circulation: Myth, Mystery, or Fact?

Happy New Year, everyone.

I have a question for you readers. Most of you who collect pulps or are interested in the history of them know that LOVE STORY MAGAZINE was at one point had the highest circulation of any pulp magazine. Its peak was hit in 1929, when it hit 600,000 copies a week, which comes to thirty million a year.

What I am struggling with and I'm hoping that you experts out there can help me - is this the number that was printed? Or sold? And what is also confusing to me is something that Thomas Uzzell discussed in his article "The Love Pulps" (Scribner's, April 1938) about how public the circulation numbers were.

He writes:

"The exact circulation of these magazines cannot be learned because of the grouping of the circulations for advertising purposes. This bulking of circulation, moreover, enables the publisher of a sudden success to keep it dark- until he has a jump in the field. So tight has been this censorship at times that even the editors of the magazines don't know their own sales figures. Daisy Bacon, editor of LOVE STORY, at one time regularly learned her weekly circulation at a cocktail party attended by the representative of the distributing company. Another editor learns her circulation by figuring one thousand to every seven letters from readers. Roy Barnhill, manager of a New York agency for pulp advertising space, reports that even he cannot learn the circulations of the separate magazines. 'The only way to get the figures for a magazine is to get a job on it and be put in charge of deliveries.'"

First of all, I'm wondering how in detail this "grouping of circulation" worked and how it kept actual numbers in the dark. I know they sold advertising space by bulk, did this have something to do with it? Any why would someone like Street & Smith want to keep those numbers so secret? Is it my imagination or is this process full of holes? And if it was such a secret, where and when did the figure of 600,000 come from? It's all as clear as mud to me.

(By the way, I do have some scribblings from Daisy, on the back of an envelope, believe it or not, that list LOVE STORY'S circulation.600,000 is the # for 1930.

Any help would be appreciated.

I hope that all of you have a safe, healthy, and happy new year.

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pulpmags said...

This is a great question, Laurie, and I'm looking forward to whatever your readers can offer in response. I've often wondered about this myself, from a slightly different angle. If the Love pulps were produced and sold in such great quantities, then why are so few copies of them still around today? The obvious answer would be that readers just didn't hang on to them; they tossed them out, paper drives bundled them all up and re-pulped them during the war, etc. But then, that still doesn't really answer the question. If they were so popular with readers, to be produced and sold in such numbers, then why did readers not hang on to them more often? Why did that popularity not represent, translate to, or eventually bring about a more durable fanbase? By virtue of sheer numbers alone, you'd suspect that Love pulps would be as common as Time or National Geographics at a Goodwill.

Barry Traylor said...

I don't have a definitive answer for you. But I suspect either Walker or Ed might. My best guess is it would not have included the mags that were unsold and returned. Or at least the logo was stripped off and returned for credit. But publishers tend to inflate their circulation so they can charge more for their adv rates. I'll be looking forward to reading what Ed and Walker have to say about this interesting question.

Walker Martin said...

I've often wondered about such figures also. I've heard that LOVE STORY sold 600,000 an issue which would make it the best selling pulp. I can believe this because the teenage girls and young women must of bought this magazine and read it like eating candy. I've also heard big figures for WESTERN STORY(500,000 and issue) and ARGOSY(400,000 an issue). Back in the twenties and thirties boys and men loved western fiction so I can also believe the figures.

On the other hand Street & Smith and other publishers did shroud circulation figures in secrecy. They often quoted the "group" figures of over a million to attract possible advertisers. The ads would then appear in all the different group titles. I just looked at some of my POPULAR MAGAZINE covers and they trumpet the statement "Over one million readers an issue".

But what this figure really means is not copies sold, but the old standby estimate of there being 3 readers for each copy sold. In other words POPULAR MAGAZINE probably sold around 300,000 copies per issue.

But since the publishers were trying to attract advertisers, all such figures are suspect even if compiled by the so called independent audit.

Concerning why there are alot of some pulps around and not many of other pulps, my theory is that working class guys and adult men and women were simply not collectors. They passed these magazines around to their friends and then tossed them into the garbage. The exception being the readers of SF and WEIRD TALES. Despite these magazines having low circulations(compared to LOVE and WESTERN STORY), many SF titles are not that rare. Why? Because teenage boys and young men are often collectors and carefully kept them. On the other hand, the adults DID NOT collect them.

LOVE STORY has never been collected by many people. Most collectors are male and have no interest in romance magazines. There are a few exceptions of course. Thus we do not see many LOVE STORY issues in collections.

DavidMEarle said...

I have the Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for 1928 and 1931. Unfortunately, they list the S&S mags combined, both by the month and for the six month period. You might be able to do some retroactive math if you have other circulation numbers from other mags. Regardless, it gives the complete distribution (copies printed and distributed), which is the number they normally would have multiplied by three for circulation (though I am not sure when this became an industry standard). The distribution for all nine S&S titles in December of 1928 was 1,183,235. In January of 1931 it was 1,083,021 for eleven titles.
Hope this helps somewhat.
--David Earle

DavidMEarle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurie Powers said...

That does help, David, and so does everyone else's comments. Now for a big "duh" on my part - if I had continued to read Uzzell's article (and I SWEAR I had read this before but just didn't remember it), he goes on to talk about a lot of what you all have questioned. I will cite it in a post later today.

Cap'n Bob said...

A question rather than an answer. Did the pulps have to include a yearly statement of circulation the way magazines of today do? They would break down the number printed, distributed, returned, and given away. This was/is required to maintain second-class mail rates.

Walker Martin said...

Cap'n Bob: During the pulp era of 1896-1955, the publishers were not required to include a yearly statement of circulation. They often had a statement of editor, publisher, address, etc, but no breakdown of circulation figures.

Anonymous said...

As others have noted, magazines typically reported circulation only for the purpose of attracting/assuring advertisers, and in the case of the pulps, circulation when reported was totalled across all the pulps from a given publisher (since advertisements were sold across all those pulps). Even then, figures reported were with various degress of accuracy: sworn to vs. estimated and so on. Such figures as were reported can be found in the N. W. Ayer Directories (title varies over time). Pre-1923 Ayer directories can be found free online, but for later ones you will need to find and consult in a library that acquired and retained such. Pre-1923 at .

Denny Lien, U of Minnesota (librarian and pulp fan)

Todd Mason said...

Circ figures (for the mailing permits) weren't required in those statements until 1960, iirc.