By Brett Schenker
Two years and some months ago, I posted the first study of what Facebook told us about comic book fans. 45 or so posts later on the subject, I’m still gathering data with various breakdowns of not just comic fans but other fandoms as well. At Small Press Expo, I talked with Heidi about these types of statistics and mentioned what I’ve been doing when a discussion about studies and surveys began. While what I do isn’t perfect, it does give us an idea of the trends over a period of time. But as Heidi asked more questions, it was clear what I was doing might not be obvious to most folks, so she offered me a chance to go a bit more in depth about the topic, covering how I get this information, but also why it’s important.
The reason I began this was simple, some comic “experts” were debating how many comic book fans existed in the United States, stating it was between 300,000 and 400,000 fans. While it’s impossible right now to get a proper survey done, like the Entertainment Software Association does every year for video games, there were data sets that existed that could be used to give a rough idea. Working in politics, I deal with data daily and use it to get candidates elected or advocate some issue. I decided to take what I learned in politics and apply it to the comic industry, hence this.
The Methodology (aka How the Hell I Do This)
The first study I did imediately blew that belief of 300 to 400,000 people out of the water. I quickly found over a million fans on Facebook in the United States alone (that took me just a few minutes to do). Since it was first done, the system I manipulate in Facebook has improved and evolved allowing me to expand my search and find even more individuals. The way I do all of this is Facebook’s advertising platform. Facebook isn’t just a social network, it’s a massive database of information, the information you provide when you put your location, age, gender, and your “likes.”
It’s those “likes” where I find the data I aggregate. Anyone can do this really and marketers do it every day delivering ads they think might be important to you. For instance, when I recently got engaged and changed my relationship status, I started to receive ads for tuxedo rentals and buying houses, my fiancé received ads for bridal dresses and wedding items.
What I do is compile a list of “likes” I think are relevant to the comic book industry and fans. I use terms like “comics,” “graphic novels,” and the names of numerous publishers among other terms. I stay away from characters or authors. Just because you like Superman or Neil Gaiman, doesn’t mean you like DC Comics or comics in general. Movies, television, and video games are kept separate as well. In all over 50 terms are used (I stopped counting a while ago) and I max out the number you can do in Facebook’s system.
Today, the terms I use regularly return over 11 million fans in the United States alone. At that 11 million mark, each term I add brings back less and less, showing a lot of overlap (Facebook tells you how many fans a term has before you add it, so you can figure that part out). Even when I add characters names, like Superman, I max out at 22 million and have struggled to get higher than that.
Obviously the first flaw is that this is based off of what people tell you, but so is a survey. A “like” does not equal someone who goes to comic shops, but I then retort and ask why they don’t. If someone is a “fan” and “like” Marvel or DC and not buying comics, it is a failure of this industry in not getting them to do so. They are fans, they are just not engaged. In the political flipside, this is the equivalent of my motivating someone to get out and vote. I do this type of work every day, it’s a pain in the ass, but it is possible.
There’s also a flaw in the data, period. The first being, those under the age of 13 are under counted due to privacy laws. This would be an issue in most cases though.
The second is, women generally make up the majority of Facebook users in the United States; globally that’s not the case (and in my global studies, I look at 22 total nations). However, that’s not as off as you’d think compared to the general population of the United States. Women in the US account for 50.8% of the population as of a 2012 estimate, for Facebook they account for 53.41%. If anything globally, they’re underrepresented making up 46.29% of the Facebook population but in the actual world, the percentage is very close to 50/50.
Often in studies we see the count of female fans increase so they’re the majority. I often contribute that to how the general Facebook user stats shake out. So, this should be kept in mind when looking at what I present.
So why does this matter?
Here’s the dark secret about politics, with a little bit of information, I can tell you how you’ll vote. By knowing your gender, education, and income, for examples, I can tell you what party you belong to and how you’ll vote. We also have massive databases going back years with that information too. We look at when you have voted to determine if you’ll vote in the future. If someone goes to the poll every primary and election and is doing so in Democratic primaries, I can probably count on them to keep doing so. That simplifies it all, but hopefully gives you an idea of where I’m going.
So, let’s take that logic and apply it to comics. I’ve talked about looking at customer differently in the past, and why data and databases are important, but here’s the simplest scenario. You have comic “A” which is enjoyed by men that are 30 years old primarily, and comic “B” that’s enjoyed by 30 year old women. If you wanted to find more buyers for comic “A,” you’d target 30 year old men and “B” target 30 year old women. To treat the audiences of these two comics as the same is a mistake and bad business.
I’ve shown that fandoms differ. Doctor Who fans are 50% female. Transformers fans are almost 59% male. Fans of female comic book characters are over 62% female! Fans of comics, and geek culture as a whole, is diverse with each niche’s make-up differing from the next. We need to wake up and realize this and use the knowledge and data that’s out there to our advantage, getting the right interests in front of the right people, sharing our love of our hobby.
[Brett is a political consultant who resides in Arlington, VA. He grew up in Cleveland, OH and Buffalo, NY and attended the University at Buffalo, majoring in Political Science. Since then Brett has made his mark on politics working in various positions such as a Legislative Staffer for the Erie County Legislature, Special Assistant for Senator John Kerry, as the Database Administrator for Forward Together PAC, Deputy Internet Director for Chris Dodd for President, and Internet/Database Director for Virginians for Brian Moran, and Email Deliverability Czar for Salsa Labs. In 2007 Brett formed 5B Consulting providing his expertise on database solutions, new media and email strategy. He’s a long time geek, reading comics since he was a child and learning to spell his name on an Atari 800. When he’s not working, he’s reading comics, playing video games and relaxing with a nice cup of tea. You can follow him on Twitter @bhschenker]
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.