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The holiday season for game mags is right upon us, and that means plenty of review covers, ad pages, Ken Levine interviews (he and/or his game appear in nearly every mag this month except Nintendo Power)...and, for most titles, circulation statements.

Around this time of year, you'll often see mags publish an official-looking circulation statement toward the rear. These statements of ownership have been popping up in U.S. mags since the early 1970s, and for the dedicated statistician they're a treasure trove of information -- especially if the mag in question doesn't otherwise release any official circulation figures. So why do publishers print them? It's the law -- required by the U.S. Postal Service if the mag wants to take advantage of their special Periodicals Class mailing rates, which most US game titles do. (The exact numbers are way too complex to get into here, but we're talking about a postage discount of up to 40 percent compared to plain ol' regular mail, depending on assorted circumstances.)

Despite the discount, not all game mags go for the Periodicals Class discount. This can be for one of two reasons: it's not worth all the extra paperwork and USPS bureaucracy, and/or the publisher just doesn't want to make its circulation records public at all. Still, these statements are valuable for mag dorks like myself -- I'll list circulation figures for all the mags below, then comment on historical trends in some future column.

For now, let's check out all the US mags of the past few weeks. Prepare for more BioShock coverage than you ever imagined...

Nintendo Power December 2007

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Cover: Super Smash Bros. Melee
Average Distribution 2007: Not listed (Nintendo of America never used Periodicals, but Future does, so expect a statement next year)

Here it is! The first Future-published issue of Nintendo Power! And...it's not much different at all, actually. If it weren't for new EIC Chris Slate's introductory editorial (his Mii is quite fetching) and the fact that the back page advertises the "Holiday 2007" issue, I may not have noticed that anything had changed. (The masthead lists both Future and Nintendo editorial and art folks, indicating that this was probably a "transition" issue while Future gets its local production all ramped up and squared away.)

Mr. Slate writes both cover features (Brawl and Mario & Sonic at the Olympics), with Chris Hoffman contributing a Trauma Center piece and Chris Shepperd playing backup with a Mario Galaxy feature. There are entirely too many Chrises on this magazine. Someone needs to switch to his middle name, stat. Top interviews this time around are with Michel Ancel (who comes off as an incredibly nice guy) and Treasure head Masato Maegawa.

Overall, diehard fans will not be disappointed, nor may they notice that anything's amiss at all. I'm looking forward to Future injecting more of itself into future issues, tho.

GamePro December 2007

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Cover: Super Mario Galaxy
Average Distribution 2007: 221,670 (219,766 paid)

It seems like almost every issue of GamePro this year has had one major event or another behind it, and this one's no exception, 'cos it marks the departure of Wes "Brother Buzz" Nihei from the magazine. Wes joined the mag with Issue 2 in 1989 and was EIC for most of it, serving as editor at large for the past couple years as he eased into retirement. He's a nice guy (and I'm not just saying that because he gave me my first office job in games), and I wish 'im the best.

Anyway, this is the biggest GP in a while (144 pages), and the extra edit pages really make a difference in making the issue seem "full." The editors get pretty BioShock-happy in the news section, interviewing Ken Levine and taking the opportunity to sing the game's praises in a couple other small soundbite-like pieces. The Mario Galaxy piece is nicer than Nintendo Power's -- in a way, GP takes NP's style of feature and does it better a lot of the time, as this one seems like it has tons more information and presents it in a more engaging way visually. Legendary, which you last saw on Hardcore Gamer's cover as "Legendary: The Box," gets a more traditional GI-style feature which is nice but not quite as meaty. Afterwards, there are the reviews -- tons of 'em!

Electronic Gaming Monthly December 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Ninja Gaiden 2
Average Distribution 2007: 631,524 (629,223 paid)

Something seemed a bit fishy to me about release dates, and this issue of EGM confirms it -- Ziff will be publishing a "Holiday 2007" issue Future-style this year, the first time they've tried it since 2004. Having 13 issues a year has a benefit to the reader, of course, but chiefly it's in the publisher's best interest because it means two issues during the holiday shopping season instead of one -- and one more opportunity to reap in holiday advertising dollars from game publishers than before. A win-win, in other words.

EGM's BioShock coverage encompasses a piece exploring whether it'll encourage other devs to take risks...or simply to clone BioShock instead. It's filled with quotes from Ken and EGM's usual lineup of quotable folks (Randy Pitchford, Cory Barlog, that Wedbush Morgan analyst guy). The cover-story preview is kinda neat, kicking off with Tecmo's NG2 and continuing with pretty much any and every Japanese game a normal person would care about at this point.

Play November 2007

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Cover: Golden Axe: Beast Rider
Average Distribution 2007: Not listed

Only Play (and, okay, Game Informer) would put a brand-new game on the cover of their holiday issue. Play's difference is that they usually get awesome art for said covers. The feature inside is nice and packed with interview stuff (including a sidebar with the producer of the original arcade game), although the game looks a tad early in the screens to be a Q1 2008 release.

This issue is 132 pages, which makes the mag seem enormous thanks to the higher-quality paper stock Play uses. It's pretty well-packed too, with an enormous Tokyo Game Show feature occupying most of the book's second half. (It's interesting how Play's evolved, by the way -- non-game coverage like anime and movies occupies only 4 edit pages this issue, when it was nearly half the mag when it premiered.)

Hardcore Gamer November 2007

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Cover: Uncharted
Average Distribution 2007: Not listed

HCG is a pretty well-oiled machine at this point, and this issue's little different in style and substance from the past twenty. Even this mag, though, gets some BioShock coverage in, publishing an (admittedly late) review of the game.

Games for Windows: The Official Magazine November 2007 (Podcast)

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Cover: Army dudes
Average Distribution 2007: 199,901 (197,554 paid)

The thinking man's PC magazine doesn't seem to have gotten much of a boost from holiday ads, but it's nice-looking as always. Ken Levine gets a multi-page interview (I swear, he must've just gone from one office to the next this month), but the top bit this time around is undoubtedly the piece on why The Sims remains to damned popular after all these years.

PC Gamer December and Holiday 2007 (Podcast)

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Covers: Hellgate: London, Crysis
Average Distribution 2007: 216,643 (213,883 paid)

In classic style, PC Gamer rounds out its holiday with two exclusive-review covers. Not a heck of a lot else new to report, however. The Holiday '07 issue is a whopping 164 pages, but 30 of that is a cell-phone advertising section. Ugh.

Game Developer November 2007

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Cover: BioShock
Average Distribution 2007: 45,095 (34,138 'normal' U.S. distribution)

The conference season over, GD goes back to its usual more petite ways. Non-gamers will definitely want to read the BioShock postmortem piece, written by the project lead and covering exhaustively how much the project changed over its development cycle.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]