Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dragon Magazine Circulation

I seem to recall reading a breakdown of the circulation of Dragon magazine during its lifetime, but I can't recall where for the life of me. I've searched all the obvious places and cannot find it. That may be because I've somehow overlooked it, but it might also be because it's somewhere I don't regularly visit.

Does anyone else recall this breakdown or, better yet, remember where it might be found?



  1. It's a bit spotty (only citing specific issues), but covers a broad range of issues from #4 (1976) to #177 (1992). Seems circulation steadily increased from about 5,000 to about 125,000 over that period, except for a big jump from the late '70s into the early '80s (as might be expected from the mass-marketing approach begun at that time):

  2. d6 fireball did a post about this a few months ago...

    was that what you were looking for?

  3. James,

    You have mail. Er, should have mail...


  4. This was definitely discussed in detail in an ENWorld thread a while back. Unfortunately, I can't find it right now with a quick Google search.

  5. I think the post I saw was on ENWorld, but I never visit there anymore and, even when I did, I found it interminably slow and impossible to find anything, so I'm not going to go digging for it.

    I've now been privately sent information from multiple sources that seem to confirm what I expected: the circulation of the magazine declined significantly after its best years (1984-1985), where circulation was above 100,000 and continued to do so until the 3e era, when it picked up somewhat. However, even at its post-3e height, it never managed to have a circulation as high it had even in the mid-90s (which was itself a "low" period compared to earlier times).

  6. I think the post I saw was on ENWorld, but I never visit there anymore and, even when I did, I found it interminably slow and impossible to find anything, so I'm not going to go digging for it.

    Ditto on all that. Glad you got the info by other means.

    Sometimes current WOTC-boosters will claim that the 1980's numbers were inflated or fraudulent or something. Pretty skeptical of that, but I've seen the argument numerous times.

  7. Delta,

    Lots of people seem committed to the, to me, incredible notion that D&D's growth wasn't faddish and so they have a hard time accepting that, between 1980 and 1984 or so, the game reached a level of popularity -- and profitability -- that it will likely never again see. But the reality is that, excepting for a year or two after a new edition is released, when we see a big spike in sales, D&D's numbers are not as impressive as they were during the three to five years when gaming was a huge fad.

  8. Using Dragon's circulation numbers, however, is a pretty flawed method of gauging the game's popularity for several reasons:

    (1) The quality of the magazine has varied over time.

    (2) Players of previous editions used to buy the magazine because it was so easy to convert the material; that probably became less true following the mathematical inversions and mechanical additions of 3rd Edition.

    (3) Magazines in general have suffered deflated circulation numbers in the post-Internet era.

    (4) There was a time when DRAGON was the primary method of support for the game. With the supplement explosion of 2nd Edition that was no longer the case. And with the 3rd Edition and the OGL, non-magazine support became abundant.

    Which is not to say that I don't believe D&D had a larger market penetration in the mid-'80s. I'm not sure this is entirely due to it being a fad (although that certainly has some influence).

    In the 1980's TSR produced a complete version of the game with everything you needed to play in a box that could be sold through mainstream markets. This has not been true now for more than a decade. (WotC's "pay me for a limited teaser" products are not the same thing.)

  9. Erik Mona posted the numbers (for both Dragon and Dungeon) at ENWorld a couple years ago. I'm sure he still has them if you email him...

  10. And Dragon was translated to other languages. In Spain we got differents edition of the mag from 1992 to 2004, more or less.

  11. James, I'm in 100% agreement with your comment above.

    Personally, the most striking thing to me was a poll at ENWorld asking "when did you start playing D&D?". There's an enormous spike in the 1979-1981 era, x5 higher than the entire rest of the graph. I keep it on my wall over the computer as the most telling representation of D&D's history.

  12. I did a lot of the research for that Acaeum piece, and I think I can help clear one thing up: those aren't just numbers for "certain issues," but are the figures from the actual Publisher's Statements that all U.S. periodicals have to publish at least once per year.

    (a.k.a.: "Those boring boxes that most magazines bury somewhere amidst a bunch of advertising that not a lot of people are looking at anyway")