Jess Nevins (ratmmjess) wrote,
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Pulp Magazine Statistics.

This is, perhaps, the geekiest thing I’ve done in many a month, but it does help me answer a question that’s been bothering me for a while: if the pulps are supposed to have died around 1950, why were there so many pulps published after that?

Certainly, it seemed to me that there were a lot of pulps published after 1950, and that the "death" of the pulps was overstated. But there was really only one way to resolve this: a spreadsheet. (Yes, I’m a stat wonk, I guess).

So, here you go. The link brings you to a spreadsheet I created, covering the years 1896-1960, with seven categories: Overall, Detective Pulps, Romance Pulps, Saucy/Spicy Pulps, Science Fiction Pulps, Sports Pulps, and Western Pulps. (I’d present the information as an easy-to-read table, but—-embarrassingly-—I never learned how to make them). Each entry is for the number of magazines—-not issues—-in that category published that year, so for 1898 there was only one pulp published, in 1931 there were 150 pulps total published, including 28 detective, 24 romance, 8 saucy/spicy, 8 science fiction, 2 sports, and 33 westerns. The number in the Overall category won’t equal the sum of the other categories because I omitted smaller pulp genres (boxing, weird menace) and pulps publishing general pulpy adventure fiction and because some pulps, like Western Rodeo Romance, fit into two categories.

Now, admittedly, this is a hasty and imprecise collection of data-—what would be more useful would be a) the number of pulps published broken down by month as well as by year (can’t be done-—that information simply isn’t possible to get for too many pulps) and b) the sales figures (someone may have some of that data, but, again, that information simply isn’t possible to get for too many pulps). But we can draw some tentative conclusions from this.

First, the pulps didn’t die around 1950. That was the peak post-WW2 year for them. The death of the pulps was a gradual thing, although by 1955 the end of the medium and its replacement by the digest format must have been obvious. Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that the death of the pulps and the transition to digests took a while. One obvious precursor was the transition from dime novels to pulps in the 1910s. I don’t have the data to do a similar spreadsheet on dime novels (although, hmm, I could put one together using Galactic Central), but I know, based on the western and detective dime novels, that their death and replacement by the pulps in the 1910s was gradual and not sudden. I think the death of the pulps was like that.

Second, and I know this will be hard for the sf zealots to read, but...sf wasn’t the most important genre for the pulps. (And, please, never write the phrase "the pulp genre." There was no such thing. The pulps were the medium, not the genre). Until 1939 there were more spicy pulps published every year than sf pulps. (Why the number of spicy pulps declined is another question, one I can’t answer). From 1937 to 1951 there were more sports pulps published every year than sf pulps. Westerns clobber sf. And romance pulps...well, this will gall the geeks, but romance pulps were more important to the industry than sf pulps. (And the average pulp romance story was approximately eight times better written than the average pulp sf story, but that’s another issue).

Third, take a look at the saucy/spicy list. The first one came out in 1912. That’s before detective pulps, before westerns, before sf, before romance, before everything except general fiction, adventure, and railway. The saucy/spicy pulps are criminally understudied, not least because they are much less available to scholars than even the romance or sports pulps, but they were around for a long time and deserve further study. Hell, from 1915 to 1924 they made up at least 10% of the entire industry.

Fourth-—the number of Westerns! Criminy! For such a formulaic genre (with a few exceptions) it was remarkably popular. In terms of market share, from 1936, Westerns were the heavyweight of pulps, never making up less than 25% of the entire market.

Fifth, look at the overall numbers for 1929-1931. You’d think that the first three years of the Depression wouldn’t have been a good time to enter publishing or increase the number of pulps that you were already publishing, but clearly people thought it was. I don’t have numbers to hand, but I suspect the economy took a substantial dip from 1931-1933, which would explain the decrease there, but after 1933 the numbers resume increasing.

I’m sure other conclusions will occur to me later, but that’s what I’ve got for now.
Tags: pulp data
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