Everyone seems to know someone who reads the cards. If you tell someone "I read the cards for fun" you'll find virtually all of them asking you for a "reading." It's easy to explain this away as casual. Who wouldn't want a peak into the future?

I've personally never doubted the popularity of tarot cards. I've heard the numbers bandied about for the last three decades:

* hundred million decks sold (can that be even close to right?)
* Tarot fans have 3.2 decks each on average (that's too low in my opinion!)

So, as author and publisher, since I have access to book scanning data, I set out to research the numbers. After all, for my own reasons I wrote an historical epic, The Last Troubadour (ISBN 9781601640102 from Kunati Books) based on tarot characters, and a large audience of tarot-fans would be good. The Last Troubadour is a fun and humorous adventure tale, described as "genuinely innovative" by a top reviewer, and based on real history -- but will the tarot-link turn away readers? Or draw them? And is there a market for the tie-in illustrated tarot deck we wanted to release with book II?

I didn't find a hundred million decks, although in fairness, book scanning isn't universal and many tarot decks are sold directly by companies such as US Games and Llewllwyn. Plus my data only went back four years. But I did find big numbers. And these are real. Probably conservative. Certainly eye-opening. Not what I hoped, but more than most people would have guessed:

* Over 1000 decks have beeen produced, easily--a quick visit to Tarot Haven, a tarot museum, reveals over 1000 decks on display and that's just one collection!
* US Games alone has in current release over 135 decks
* As expected, by far the biggest selling decks of all time were the variants on Rider-Waite (Original, Universal, Pocket, Giant, Albano).
* In the last four years 1,767,871 decks sold (I'm sure I have half of them) -- not a hundred million, but this is just four years, and it's only the scanned decks, so "roughly" double this number.
* Standard Rider-Waite shows 157,000 sold (yes, that's a whopping 8.8%!)
* Universal Waite shows 37,542 (2.1%)
* Rider-Waite Pocket wasn't as popular at 4310
* Original Rider-Waite 39,499 (2.2%)
* That's a total of about 13% in Rider-Waite alone (not RW-based derivatives, actual R-W decks)
* That leaves a lot of decks sales for the other "thousand or so" designs out there.

So, how about the other "most popular deck" of all time, the Crowley/Lady Harris masterpiece? Well, not bad:

* Book with card package (labeled "other") 12,800
* Crowley Thoth Tarot 14,760
* Thoth Premier Edition 12,800
* Thoth small deck (you know, the nifty one with three magus cards) 32,456

I'm delighted to note, too, that the Medieval decks sell well, or reasonably so, such as:

* Scapini Luigi Medieval 21,104

Morgan Greer is often bandied about as a "Waite alternate" somewhat dissappointing at 1674. However other Waite based decks, especially the ever popular Golden Tarot (Kat Black's deck), Gilded Tarot and so on sell extraordinarily well in the thousands.

Some are dissapointing, mostly the themed decks with narrower audiences (you know, the funky cool fashionable decks that we all buy, then put away after a week or three?) average in the hundreds to low thousands.

Then, there's the special audience decks. They do fine, thankyou. Decks such as the Witch's Tarot Kit and Tarot of the Saints, each with a couple to few thousand. Llewyn Tarot, which is often spoken of with affection by collectors carries about the same weight.

But there's no doubt about it. There are a lot of decks in circulation, and the vast majority of them are Rider-Waite variants. This probably isn't news to anyone, but I thought it was interesting, anyway. I'll be updating the stats in my blog at http://www.lasttroubadour.com

Later, I plan to do something similar for Occult/Magick books in general. Should be interesting.