Please Note: This was written from my own personal observations of the sub-genre within concert posters known as street fliers, gig fliers, and telephone pole posters from the late 1970's through the early 2000's. While the themes here are common to concert posters from other genres, there can be dramatic differences in certain numbers - especially original print quantities.
The typical concert promoter will work with multiple venues, lining up acts on several nights of the week across multiple cities. The size of the venue tends to dictate the number of posters printed (not many seats = not many posters). High cost-per-ticket shows or dual-city dates can also boost quantities printed.
For most street flyers in the Ultrasounds collection, original print runs typically hovered around 300 copies for each 11” x 17” telephone pole poster. It’s not uncommon for them to dip down to 150, or up to around 500.
These were inexpensive advertising, designed to be displayed. However, the process of getting them to their final, telephone pole destinations meant they crossed several hands for both approval and distribution. Along the way, it was normal for a handful of copies to be kept for approvals from the promoter, the designer, and the printer.
Stacks of posters are sent by the printer to a local hub (like a record store) where individuals from “street teams” come to pick up the total they’re responsible for putting up. The street team members would staple (or paste) them to telephone poles or sides of buildings around town. If the record store had any copies leftover, they were likely tossed into either the trash or a box for customers to rummage through.
What’s a file copy?
These are original print copies of the poster. Although they were printed to be displayed, these were essentially “filed away” by someone that was close to the original creation or distribution process.
What's a display copy?
These are original print copies of the poster. They show evidence of having been used as advertising (regardless of whether they were publicly displayed). Evidence of display is generally staple holes, pin holes, tape, or paste. Those displayed outdoors tend to also be weathered and have a distinct visual quality.
How many copies were displayed?
Generally speaking, 99+% were displayed. However, the Ultrasounds collection proves that’s not always true. It seems that file copies are more prevalent when there’s a well-known act playing. It makes sense for at least a couple reasons: (1) Those shows sold out more quickly. (2) Individuals close to the distribution process were likely more apt to grab a copy for themselves or a friend.
As a general rule of thumb, I’d assume any poster advertising for a venue that holds more than 100 people to have the potential for 4 - 5 file copies. When the band was still in their early days, they were almost always displayed. I’d assume most 11x17 pole posters, where 300 copies were printed, have around 10-20 file copies.
Where print runs for venues like Roseland Theater may have had 500 - 750, It seems that desirable posters from big name acts can sometimes have up to 50 file copies. In rare occasion, they can exceed 100.
The bottom line
Somewhere around 5% of 11x17 copies were likely filed and about 95% or more were displayed.