Thursday, January 3, 2013

Number Crunching in the Pulps

Continuing on my previous post about circulation numbers for the pulps, I found this information in the same article called "The Love Pulps" that Thomas Uzzell wrote for Scribners in April 1938. This is either going to be way more information than you ever cared to know about pulp history, or you'll find it interesting and maybe it will answer some questions. For one thing, it answers the question as to whether unsold copies were returned.

Here is Uzzell's detail on the numbers that are used to determine profit for one issue.

"The rates paid love-pulp writers are not high: their editors make money by not spending much of it. In the boom days of the 1920's, pulp romances brought as high as four cents a word, or around $200 a story. Today, two and a half cents is probably the top; LOVE STORY, for instance, averages around one and three-quarter cents. LOVE BOOK pays two cents, but averages less, while the Wyns pay around a cent and a half.

"In a single issue, the total fees paid authors for an average of six stories, two installments of serials, and space-filling poetry are from $500 to $2500. The ratio of this expense to the total cost of a successful pulp book can be seen in the cost sheets furnished by one of them which totals 128 pages, has a print order of 100,000, and sells for fifteen cents on the newsstands. These other costs are: printing $1400; paper, $1000; engraving, $230; illustrations, $175; editorial salaries, $200; overhead, $100. The total, including an average charge of $700 for the authors is $3790.00

"The publisher sells the entire print order to the distributor for eight and a half cents a copy and is credited with $8500. At the end of the sale period, the distributor returns unsold copies at nine and a half cents each. The sale varies from forty-five to fifty-five per cent. On a fifty per cent sale the net return to the publisher is his credit of $8500 less $4750 or $3750. Advertising space for this magazine is calculated at from eighty cents to a dollar per page per thousand, minus a twenty-five per cent agency commission and staff costs. Allowing $250 as the net on advertising and a similar sum for resale of the returns abroad, we have a net revenue of $4250 and a net profit of one issue of $460."

So there you have it. All that work for a net profit of $460. What I found interesting was the editor salaries of $200. If there were two editors, then you'd guess that they were making $100 each per week. That's $400 a month, and $4800 a year. By comparison, Daisy Bacon, in her own writings, disclosed that she made $12,000 a year throughout the Depression.

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Barry Traylor said...

This sort of thing is fascinating to me so thanks for digging this out for us. Obviously for a pulp publisher to make money he had to have quite a few titles to put on the stands. Harry Steeger became quite wealthy from his pulp Empire as one example.

Walker Martin said...

As Barry points out some publishers made big profits because they had several magazine titles each month, not just one title making approximately $500 a month. Harold Hersey in his book PULPWOOD EDITOR mentions the breakdown in cost also and shows how a publisher with several titles could become rich.

Also the example that the article uses estimates a print run of 100,000 with only 50,000 sold. Many pulp titles did far better than this by selling well over 100,000 an issue. For instance, LOVE STORY, ARGOSY, WESTERN STORY, all sold several hundred thousands of each issue during various periods of their history.

$500 profit for 50,000 sold could become $1,000 for 100,000 and $2,000 for 200,000. Plus the article uses an example saying only 50% of the print run would sell. Many magazines sold far more than 50% of the print run and thus would earn alot more on each issue than $500 per 100,000 printed.

But even saying you only had one title at $500 a month, that still comes to a total of $6,000 a year. In the 1930's or 1940's this was a good living and over $60,000 in today's money.

Laurie Powers said...

I don't think Uzzell was trying to make the argument that one magazine was profitable. He was just giving us the breakdown of what the profits and costs were. As for the 50% return, thanks for the clarification, but again I think that figure was used for an example. In any event, your clarifications are much appreciated.