by Walker Martin

   A question came up on the Yahoo PulpMags group earlier this week. Why, it was asked, didn’t Thrilling/Popular Library convert their pulp magazines to the smaller digest size in the mid-1950s?

   As a magazine collector I’ve often thought about this topic. I also like Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories and I guess one reason as to why they did not make the change to digest was that they simply did not see that the digest era was upon them.

   The pulp format had been very successful for 50 years and maybe they figured they could continue somehow. But the digest format swept everything aside (excepting Ranch Romances).

   Maybe they figured even the digest format would not survive. They had seen Street & Smith convert all their pulps to digest in 1943 and then finally give up on the digests in 1949 (except for Astounding).

   Same thing with Popular Publications. They changed most of their pulps to a slightly larger digest format but it was a failure also They then switched back to pulp size but within a couple years killed all their SF, detective, western, sport, love pulps.

   Look what we are going through now. Newspapers and magazines are all suffering from declining circulations. The digital, online format may be next since they cannot continue to lose massive amounts of money with the hardcopy, print format.

   My hometown paper, The Trenton Times, has made so many editorial and staff cuts, that the paper is a shadow of its former self. This is happening across the country to many newspapers and magazines.

   The digest era now appears to be just about over. Very few outlets bother to carry the magazines at all. In the the Trenton area, the only place left for me to buy the SF or mystery digests is Barnes & Noble. My Borders superstore bit the dust recently and that chain appears doomed.

   I checked the circulation figures in the January or February issues of the SF digests:

       ANALOG SF — 30,000 average
       ASIMOV’S — 23,000 average
       F&SF — 15,000 average

   The above figures are a fraction of what these magazines used to announce. The downward decline has been going on now for years and in the future people may say how come the SF digests did not see that the digest era was over. Is digital the answer? Asimov’s I believe has already started. Maybe the others are also available on Kindles, etc.

   But I have no interest in e-readers or reading fiction online. I have a houseful of pulps, digests, slicks, literary magazines. Like Startling and Thrilling Wonder I’m in for the duration and like them I’ll be holding out until I die.

   So as collectors and readers, our battle cry has always been “Remember the pulps!” Soon we will add another cry which will be “Remember the digests!” Will the book format be next?

   Not for me, and my final words will be “To hell with the e-readers!”

Previously on Mystery*File:   Part Six — Are Pulp Collectors Crazy?.