"It's the most successful product launch since I've been here," said 10-year Copley veteran Tim Cien, the syndicate's sales and marketing manager. "And it's continuing to build steadily."
Universal Press Syndicate introduced its Sudoku offerings a year earlier -- in June 2005 -- and signed a whopping 500 print and online clients in 12 months. (Universal, like several other syndicates, distributes various kinds of Sudoku puzzles, including one just for kids and even one with words.)
"It was so exciting to see the sales reports every week," recalled Kathie Kerr, the syndicate's assistant vice president/ communications. "We can't remember anything else at Universal that came out of the gate as quickly as Sudoku," including blockbuster comics "Calvin and Hobbes" and "For Better or For Worse."
Kerr added that Universal is still signing a number of new Sudoku clients, albeit at a slower rate than during those first 12 months. One reason sales growth ebbed somewhat is that many other syndicates began offering their own takes on the puzzles.
Tribune Media Services got into the Sudoku market in July 2005, and Creators Syndicate did the same a month later. Following them were King Features Syndicate and King Features Weekly Service that fall; United Media, TMPress Features, and The New York Times Syndicate in early 2006 (NYTS with a variant called "Hyper-Sudoku"); and the aforementioned Copley this June. DBR Media and the Puzzle Features Syndicate have Sudoku offerings as well.
Several syndicates also distribute (or plan to distribute) the more challenging Kakuro puzzle, which adds an element of math to Sudoku. Kakuro is selling well, but not as well as the number puzzle that started it all.
The classic Sudoku contains a grid of 81 squares, some of which contain a number. The goal is to fill the empty squares so that the numbers 1 through 9 appear only once in every row, column, and individual block.
The Sudoku craze began sweeping the Western Hemisphere in 2004, when Wayne Gould introduced the puzzle to The Times of London. (He discovered Sudoku in a Tokyo bookstore seven years earlier.) Gould then started syndicating Sudoku to newspapers in the U.S. and other countries via his Pappocom company.
Other syndicates are glad they followed Gould into the market. Creators, for example, has sold Sudoku to more than 100 newspapers, according to National Sales Director Margo Sugrue, who added, "It's doing great."
Sugrue and John Osborne, general manager/managing editor of TMPress, noted that Sudoku has sold better than the average new feature.
At King Features Weekly Service, where Sudoku is part of a 75-feature package, the puzzle is "frequently requested when people look at the package," said General Manager David Cohea. "Newspapers of all sizes want it."
Why is Sudoku so popular with readers?
Cohea suggested that the puzzle offers a challenge that's not too arduous, but not too easy, either: "It has a mid-range difficulty to it."
Although people are interested in various puzzles, Sudoku has the benefit of being relatively new, said Osborne, adding: "It really grows on you."
Kerr said "people who love words" have had crossword puzzles for decades, and now Sudoku provides "people who love numbers" with a feature of their own. "But you don't have to be a mathematician to love it," she added. "It's a game of logic."
How have space-strapped newspapers found room for Sudoku, especially since some run two or three of the number puzzles?
Sugrue said some papers have opted to pull less-popular bridge columns.
Susan Hegger, assistant managing editor/features at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the paper didn't dare drop any other puzzles when it bought Sudoku. "The response would have been pretty overwhelming," she noted. "Each puzzle has such a dedicated following." Instead, the Post- Dispatch utilizes space previously used for feature-story jumps.
Will Sudoku become a perennial feature like crossword puzzles or yet another passing fad?
"It's too soon to tell, but so far, so good," Cien replied.
"My guess is that Sudoku will probably cool somewhat, but have a loyal following for some time to come," added Cohea.
And Sugrue said: "At first I thought it was just a fad, but it really has legs."
Astor, Dave. "Sudoku: Big Sales Numbers for Number Puzzles." Editor & Publisher (2006). General OneFile. Web. 26 May 2010.
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