In all the gender controversies rattling the comics world, one of the most frequently cited paradoxes is that although research such as DC’s 2011 reader survey showed only 7% of comics readers were female, yet when you walk around any comicksy event you see a lot more than 7% women. Women make up a lot of tweeters, tumblrs, and cosplayers and cartoonists. Why this disparity?
Some argued with the very methodology of the DC study. The online branch of the survey showed a higher number of female readers—23%—but DC went with the lower number.
Several people I’ve spoken with in the last year or so have pointed out that there really isn’t any good, recent demographic information that shows the very obvious growth in female genre fans that you can see everywhere around you. I don’t really know why this is, but this lack of information informs many marketing decisions made at the highest levels of corporate entertainment and tends to reinforce the same old, same old marketing skews.
However comics blogger and political consultant Brett Schenker has been doing some very interesting research using Facebook’s advertising statistics. Demographic information is readily available on Facebook to help advertisers target their messages. On the one hand this is a creepy reminder of why FB is really one big marketing survey that sells your photos of your child’s first steps and drunk selfies to anyone with a buck or two. But as Schenker shows, it can also be used to reveal some very interesting demographics.
Every month, Schenker does a search based on various terms and FB spits back a precise demographic breakdown. In this case, Schenker searched for various comics related “like” terms. He does it every month, and the stats for September can be found here. The results were some 11,600,000 people in the US who “liked” the various terms. The gender breakdown was a lot closer to what observations suggest it might be.
With the gain in male fans, of course the male percentage would increase as well. Men gained about 200,000 fans, while women dropped the same amount. Men now account for 58.62% of the fandom, compared to 57.895 last month. Women account for 39.66%, compared to 42.11% last month.
Although more men joined in August, that’s still nearly 40% female fans. Schenker also looked at the age vs gender breakdown.
While there are many mind boggling things about this chart, it also seems that as the fans age, the female population INCREASES. Maybe all those 50-year-old male fans who say they will never read a DC comic again are telling the truth.
[UPDATE: I understand this rise in readership is because Facebook itself skews 53% female, so more readers are at the older levels. Still, it was a funny joke and I’m leaving it in. ]
I’ve reached out to Schenker to write a guest post explaining more of his methodology and analyzing these results, but these statistics are still eye opening. (He’s run other surveys on various fandom terms and found, for instance, that most Doctor Who fans are female.) Are these numbers accurate? Well, like we said, Facebook has aimed to become the biggest data miner in the known universe, so I’d say they are pretty damned solid.
Are there really more than 11 million comics fans in the US? Hitting a like button is easy, spending $50 on a Floyd Gottfredson boxed set is a bit harder, but I think what we have here is at the very least a start for a more accurate and up-to-date snapshot of the comics-friendly US population than we’ve had in a long time.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.