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Background: Pharmaceutical advertisements have been argued to provide revenue that medical journals require but they are intended to alter prescribing behaviour and they are known to include low quality information. We determined whether a difference exists in the current level of pharmaceutical advertising in print general medical journals, and we estimated the revenue generated from print pharmaceutical advertising. Methods: Six print general medical journals in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom were sampled between 2007 and 2012. The number of advertisements and other journal content in selected issues of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Canadian Family Physician (CFP), Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), British Medical Journal (BMJ), and Lancet were determined. Revenue gained from pharmaceutical advertising was estimated using each journal's 2013 advertising price list. Findings: The two Canadian journals sampled (CMAJ, CFP) contained five times more advertisements than the two American journals (JAMA, NEJM), and two British journals (BMJ, Lancet) (p<0.0001). The estimated annual revenue from pharmaceutical advertisements ranged from £0.025 million (for Lancet) to £3.8 million (for JAMA). The cost savings due to revenue from pharmaceutical advertising to each individual subscriber ranged from £0.02 (for Lancet) to £3.56 (for CFP) per issue. Conclusion: The volume of pharmaceutical advertisements differs between general medical journals, with the two Canadian journals sampled containing the most advertisements. International and temporal variations suggest that there is an opportunity for all general medical journals to reduce the number of pharmaceutical advertisements, explore other sources of revenue, and increase transparency regarding sources of revenue.

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