The Royal Society’s ‘other’ journals

The Proceedings and the Philosophical Transactions may have been the Royal Society’s best-known periodicals in the twentieth century, but they were not its only ones. It also published (and publishes) a number of periodicals aimed largely at an internal audience of Royal Society fellows. Here is what we know about their circulations.

The Year Book was published annually from 1897, combining the role of directory (of people and procedures) for the coming year, with reports on the previous year. Biographical Memoirs began as Obituary Notices in 1932, as a way of providing space for obituaries of deceased fellows to expand beyond the paragraph or so that could be fitted into the president’s annual address. Notes and Records began in 1938, providing an opportunity for conversations about how the Society operated, brief reports on its activities and meetings, and short articles about its history; it was only much later, in the early twenty-first century, that it became a journal aimed at professional historians of science. From 1980, there was also Royal Society News.

These publications were valuable for keeping the fellowship informed and engaged, but from a financial and editorial point of view, they absorbed resources and generated little economic return. When the Society began to focus more on ways of generating income from its journals, in the mid-1950s, its new sales and marketing team tried to increase awareness of the ‘other’ journals, in the hope of making some sales. The graph below shows that they were successful in the short-term, with paid-for subscriptions to all three publications increasing until the early 1970s… but then declining.

line graph showing circulation of Royal Society 'other journals', rising through the 1960s but declining after about 1970

The trend – of growth in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by long decline from the mid-1970s onwards – is similar to that for  subscriptions to Proceedings A and B and the Transactions A and B [see Figure 3 of ‘From philanthropy to business…‘].

The subscriber numbers were published in the Year Book from 1961, then moved to the Annual Report from 1979. They were no longer made public after 1989, but circulation figures were reported in an internal report in 1995. The later figures for N&R were provided by the Publishing team.

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