Print Run Estimates                                                       Home Up
 

The following attempts to summarize what we've learned regarding the print runs of various D&D items.  Where applicable, we'll note the source of the info.


From a Wizards of the Coast employee, who wishes to remain anonymous (thanks to Ralf Toth for forwarding this information):

For stuff before 1980, the record keeping was abominable.  There is a little data on the core books, but nothing on the smaller products, like adventures.  We pretty much had to guess, based on revenues and release schedules....

I don't have the specific data handy right now, but your print runs look extremely high to me.  Throughout the 90s, and up until the launch of 3rd Edition, an adventure module for any D&D brand (including Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, & DragonLance) usually sold less than 20,000 units (some selling as low as 3,000 units).  The original adventures were somewhat higher (since there were fewer available products), but very few of them were above the 100,000 mark, and fewer still above the 200,000 mark.  Anyway, here's what I recall:

1980s: Adventures were selling mostly between 50,000 and 150,000 units.  A few of them (the ones we all know by name) exceeded that.  I think White Plume Mountain was around 175,000.

1990s: Adventures were selling mostly between 7,000 and 15,000 units, though they varied a bit on either side, depending on the brand.  Planescape, DragonLance, and Birthright were on the bottom end of that, Ravenloft in the middle, and Dark Sun and Forgotten Realms were at the top.

Now: Starting with the launch of 3rd Edition, we've cut down the number of adventures from 6-8 per year to 1 per year, so that has cut down on cannibalization of the market.  Thus, sales for a new D&D adventure are now more like 35,000 to 60,000 units.  Keep in mind that these are generally MUCH larger adventures though, with at least 128 pages, rather than the short, 32-page adventures we used to do.

Other manufacturers: Currently, there is a plethora of d20 material on the market, so competition is high.  Thus, most of the other publishers who are doing d20 products are lucky to sell more than a few thousand units.  Even While Wolf and AEG are shipping less than 6,000 of most of their d20 products.  The smaller publishers are barely getting orders for 1,000 or 1,500 per release.  It's a tough market for everyone but D&D.

All of this data applies only to adventures though.  Adventures sell far less than rulebooks do (which is why we stopped doing them.)  Rulebooks are a whole different matter.  In 1989, TSR sold something like 1,000,000 copies of the D&D boxed set in one year.  It was amazing.

Currently, I think they're selling at least 150,000 to 200,000 Players Handbooks per year (probably more with the 3.5 release).


Marketing statistics, found in the 1992 TSR Catalog (thanks to Ralf Toth for this info):

  • First-year release sales of the hardcover accessories average 170,000 units (speaking of 2E AD&D hardcovers)
  • Popular PHBR-series accessory sales average more than 65,000 units
  • 1st Ed Fiend Folio tome sold 190,000+ copies worldwide
  • Forgotten Realms Campaign Set sold 175,000+ copies in total
  • TSR calendars sold more than 75,000 copies annually
  • Spelljammer Boxed Set (TSR1049) sold 39,000 copies in the first year of release
  • As of 1992, each issue of Dragon magazine had over 125,000 copies in circulation
  • Dungeon magazine had a circulation of 15,000 copies

A 1993 interview with former TSR author Harold Johnson:

CTV:  Roughly, what was the average print run of those early books?

HJ:  It changed as we went along and continued to double sales from year to year.  When we put out the Monster Manual, which was the first in the AD&D set, we probably had 50,000 copies total in the first year.  I think the initial print run was 20,000.  When we did the Dungeon Masters Guide (which was the third book) at the time which I joined the company, we actually had two prints runs of 40,000 in two weeks of each other, so it's a little bigger now. 

CTV:  So, what is the average print run for a hard bound today?

HJ:  About 125,000 to start with. 

CTV:  It's interesting to note how the magazines, as well as the older modules, are significantly high in terms of demand and in some cases, scarcity, and at same time, you produce them in very high numbers. 

HJ:  That is true.  We took an approach very much like a comic book, so at the end of the run of a magazine we double the size of the first volume, so that is we're normally printing 12,000 then we print 24,000.  But, after that, we just take the subscription rate plus 10 to 30 percent more for the newsstand.  I think what happened was that there are a lot more people playing games today who were not playing games in the Seventies and they want the heritage, they want to go back and they want to pick up these magazines.  We were printing to our demand, so we were printing around 24,0000 copies of the magazine then.  The first run was probably about 12,000 for Dragon #1 and nowadays we're around 112,000. 

CTVDungeon magazine was another odyssey.  That wasn't available early in the magazine's history from retailers, even though Dragon was always available from retailers. 

HJ:  That's correct.  It was originally just a subscription-based product and you could only get it by subscribing to it for the first year-and-a-half and issue #1 is still available in limited copies, thoughout stores and so on, because of the double print.  But, almost everything up to #21 is very scarce and very hard to find.  Specifically issues #8-#10 were the time at which the U. K.  market started to import Dungeon as well, and they gobbled up all the overprint, so there were none available (even from TSR) except for the subscribers. 

CTV:  Speaking of popular topics, Dragon magazine #4 seems to be far rarer than any other early issue. 

HJ:  I think you're right and I think there are two reasons for that.  First of all, #1 sees a lot of activity out there and it's not because there's many more #1's out there, but that they are circulated a lot more.  They go from hand to hand because people know the vaule of a #1.  But, #4 was at a point where we were coming upon our first year anniversary and again, we were doing some special things and introducing new columns from Gary [Gygax] and I think that brought a lot of attention. 

CTV:  Well, it was also the Empire of the Petal Throne issue, which at the time, was a very expensive game. 

CTV:  There is a lot of demand for that in the market right now.  Although it has been reprinted by other companies in the past, the early version with the plastic maps is not easy to come by.  Back to modules, one in particular, the first printing, the one with the tan border, module B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, was recalled and destroyed.  Would you like to talk about that?

HJ:  [laughs] No, it happened during my time as director of games, so no thank you.  I guess I'll say this about it - TSR has always been sympathetic to our retailers and our distributors.  We published that product and we were on a deadline and the first version rushed out, probably not in the shape in it should have been, with possibly objectionable things in.  When we heard that from a number of distributors and retailers, regarding their objections, we thought it would be better to pull it back, and modify it.  To identify it, the new one had a green border. 

CTV:  Well, let's just say that there were some illustrations that you decided were in poor taste. 

HJ:  Uh, yeah.  [laughs]

CTV:  So, it was formally distributed.  How many do you think are out there roughly?

HJ:  Well, originally we did what was called outer shipping which meant that the product was prepackaged by the printer and sent directly to the distributors and the shops, and did not come to our warehouse, so the full pre-order was shipped before we recalled it.  I would suspect that maybe 10 percent did not return their order.  Most of the rest did. 

CTV:  So, there may be only 2,000 out there. 

HJ:  Yes. 

CTVDeities & Demigods. The fact that it weren't recalled would explain why there are more on the market, but they are still very uncommon.  How many of those do think were produced?

HJ:  My guess is around 12 to 13 thousand. 

CTV:  Are there any other products that were recalled or destroyed after publication that we don't know about?

HJ:  Not really.  There were some damaged things that reduced print runs and made things hard.  Early on, when we first printed the Dungeon Masters Guide we were rushing to print the demand because it was high, and in the first printing there was a plate broken during the printing process.  The press man ran back to the files, pulled the negative, burned another plate, and printed the 16-page signature and inserted it into the product.  When it reached the shelves via outer-shipping, we found that there were a number of pages from the Monster Manual in the Dungeon Masters Guide.  So, we had to recall the 40,000 of the initial print run and tear them apart.  So, there may be some of them out there. 

CTV:  So the first print run of the Dungeon Masters Guide was essentially half of what it should have been?

HJ:  That is correct.  Then, the [follow-up] print run after that had a problem with the binders who had a wire come loose on their boxing machine.  The wire scored half of every other book's front cover deeply, so we could not sell the book and we didn't discover this, again, until it was already in the store.  We recalled it again, [but] there may be some out there with this scar across the front of them. 

CTV:  There are some other interesting tidbits that you've done over the years.  One of them is called Leaves From the Inn of the Last Home.  It was a very thick source book which is kind of a compilation usable not only by the game players, but maybe you thought interesting to the people who are reading all the DragonLance books which have been very popular in mass market bookstores.  What happended with that? Why is it so rare?

HJ:  That was, as you know, a DragonLance product and it was an experiment.  We had a lot of background material and we'd created entire worlds over a year-and-a-half before we published the first DragonLance product.  So, we felt it would be interesting to get that information out there, publish it.  I think the reason it was rare was because when we're doing something for the first time, we tend to base our print run on pre-orders.  With pre-orders on something new, you tend to be cautious and when you get cautious at low volumes, you're going to print small volumes.  I think it's neither fish nor fowl - on the one hand, the people who are going to benefit from it the most are gamers, but it was marketed to the book market as a coffee-table book.  There in interesting news on that; with the popularity of DragonLance, which has sold millions of books, it's in eight or nine different languages now.  We actually will be doing a revised version of Leaves From the Inn of the Last Home that will be coming out in future years.


Individual item estimates, organized alphabetically:

10th Anniversary Collector's Set:  1,000

AD&D Fighting Wheel:  1,000.  Source: Frank Mentzer

B2 Keep on the Borderlands:  1,000,000+.  Source: 1999 Silver Anniversary Retrospective booklet

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (orange cover):  2,000 that escaped the recall.  Source: Harold Johnson

Bohemian Ear Spoon newsletter issue #30 (non-Games-Day version):  2,000.  Source:  Adventurer magazine #6

Deities & Demigods (with Cthulhu mythos):  12,000 - 13,000.  Source:  Harold Johnson

Dragon magazine:

Issue Total Printed Subscription Store Sales Source

4

Dec 1976

5,000

~1,000

~4,000

Dragon #12.  Inferred from figures listed

11

Dec 1977

7,500

1,164

6,217

Dragon #12

22

Feb 1979

10,000

~1,500

~8,700

Dragon #33.  Inferred from figures listed

32

Dec 1979

11,000

1,951

8,934

Dragon #33

43

Nov 1980

25,000

4,558

20,155

Dragon #44

54

Oct 1981

60,000

11,531

48,110

Dragon #55

66

Oct 1982

80,000

19,029

60,387

Dragon #67

79

Nov 1983

118,000

31,136

81,024

Dragon #80

90

Oct 1984

124,821

36,973

81,048

Dragon #91

177

Jan 1992

125,000

?

?

1992 TSR Catalog

Dungeon magazine (1992):  15,000 copies per issue.  Source: 1992 TSR Catalog

  • Issue #2:  10,000.  Source: Issue #2
  • Issue #9:  20,917.  Source: Issue #9
  • Issue #27:  34,102.  Source: Issue #27

Dungeon Masters Guide:

  • First Print:  40,000
  • Second Print (includes Alpha & Beta):  40,000.  Source: Story of TSR, Collectable Toys & Values
  • Third Print (includes Alpha, Beta, Gamma):  40,000.  Source: Story of TSR, Collectable Toys & Values

Fiend Folio:  190,000+.  Source: 1992 TSR Catalog

Forgotten Realms Campaign Set:  175,000.  Source: 1992 TSR Catalog

Ghost Tower of Inverness:  approx 377. Source: various.  Surviving copies have a registry on that page; current tally is 43.

Lost Tamoachan:  approx 377.  Source: various.  Surviving copies have a registry on that page; current tally is 66.

Monster Manual (1st print):  50,000.  Source: Gary Gygax.  Harold Johnson says sales for the first *year* were 50,000; the first actual print was 20,000.

Original D&D Set:

  • First Print:  1,000.  Source: various
  • Second Print:  1,000.  Source: Dragon #11 and #22
  • Third Print:  2,000.  Source: Dragon #11 and #22
  • Fourth Print:  5,000.  Source: Gygax Dec 1975 letter

R-series modules:  2,500 of each printed; only 250 to 500 of each sold (the rest were destroyed).  Source: author Frank Mentzer

R-series pre-publication modules:  100 of each, plus a couple (less than 5) unnumbered DM copies of each.  Source: author Frank Mentzer.  Surviving copies have a registry on that page; current tally is 7 (R1), 3 (R2), and 6 (R3).

S1 Tomb of Horrors:  250,000+.  Source: Gary Gygax verbal comment

S2 White Plume Mountain:  175,000+.  Source: WotC employee

ST1 Up the Garden Path:  600 or less.  Source: author Graeme Morris.  A lot of controversy on surviving copies, primarily surrounding how many were actually sold vis destroyed.  One of the authors, Graeme Morris, doubts that more than 100-200 were actually sold at the two festivals.  Contributor Ian Wright, who attended the 1986 Games Day convention, bought his copy there for 2.50 pounds, but also remembers a number of copies being distributed to retail outlets in the area (of which he was the proprietor of one).  Most likely the remaining (unsold) copies from the convention were shipped to retailers rather than destroyed.  Probably less than 50 copies survive today.

Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition:  5,000 (1,000 of these had lithographs signed by Jeff Easley)

Strategic Review #7:  1,500 (1,200 subscription, 150 store sales, rest were extra).  Source: Tim Kask