Months ago, a comic book publicist and I were chatting about this and that and he suggested, rather ominously, “Have you ever tried counting how many stories on comics news sites are actually about comics? You’d be surprised.”
The idea percolated in my head for a while. And it took a while to do it. But I did. And the answer probably won’t surprise you a bit. Only about 30% of the stories on the top 6 comics news sites – CBR, ComicBook.Com, Bleeding Cool, Newsarama, Comics Alliance and this very site – are about comic book news. More than half – 54% – are movie, TV or nerdlebrity news. The rest is a melange of toys, wrestling, video games and what I’d call “related business news” like conventions, collectibles and human interest.
Before I dig in to all the groovy charts I made using Excel’s oh so easy automated pie chart button, let me explain how I did this so future generations can drill down.
Scope: Going by Google search results (above) and Alexa, the top five site for comic book/graphic novel news are the five sites I mentioned above. I did not include IGN because its a subsection of a larger site, or places like Nerdist because they are not primarily comics branded. Comicvine doesn’t really run news. I’ve never been able to figure out what CosmicBookNews is. And no to Comicbookmovies.com.
I included The Beat both to keep myself honest and also because it’s still one of the top results for comic book news; in traffic studies I’ve done, it comes in after the Big Five but comfortably ahead of any other “comics sites.”
Methodology: For this study I used the week of Monday, January 16th through Sunday, January 22. This was actually very fortuitous. It was the week before solicits, so there was a lot of actual comic book news, but more importantly, after January 20th the entire world’s attention would be sucked into the ongoing drama of the United States government. So this was sort of the last normal news cycle.
In order to categorize the stories run on these sites I used the RSS feeds from Feedly, copied all the story titles, imported them into Excel and counted and sorted them by hand. A complete list of stories is here. Warning: it is a 75 page PDF.
I’ll put this right at the top: this is not rigourous. While I was going through CB.com’s 600 stories about Ben Affleck, I may have just had an eye glaze and miscategorized a story or two. It took me so long to do this that I really only had one pass through. Still, I think the numbers are correct within a percentage or two.
Categories: I assigned one of six categories to each story.
Comics: a story about comic book or graphic novel publishing news, including cartoonist interviews, reviews, previews, personnel changes and so on.
Business: In retrospect I should have called this “Related” but it was too late to go back. I put stories about conventions, and related “human interest” stories – collector finds Action #1 – and anything that seemed to relate to the comics industry that wasn’t directly publishing or creator related news.
Media: Anything that was about a movie, TV show, celebrity news, or in a few cases, music.
Video Games: Ditto
Wrestling: I didn’t expect this to be such a huge category but thanks to CB.com’s huge wrestling news section, it turned out to be a strong related category. What this means, I’ll get to below.
And now the results!
Overall: It was a huge week for comics news with the final episode of Sherlock, Ben Affleck addressing the Sad Affleck meme, Mark Hamill reading Trump’s tweets in the Joker’s voice, and a new trailer for Logan.
Let’s look at the over all picture.
As you can see, ComicBook.Com won the race for most stories overall, with nearly 600 stories, nearly twice as many as BC and CBR. However they ran only three more comics stories than the smallest site, The Beat. Here’s the over all breakdown of all the stories across all sites by category:
Where things get really gnarly is this chart which shows the percentage of comics stories on each site:
Newsarama was the surprise winner here, with the Beat a couple points behind. CBR, BC and Comics Alliance all fell in the “golden ratio” of about 40% comics based stories. ComicBook.Com ran only 7% actual stories about comics, which is probably even lower than you thought it was.
If I really wanted to drill down on this, I would have broken down the comics stories by publisher; perhaps some day when I have a lot of spare time and President Pence is running things, I’ll do a follow-up study. At a GUESS, I would say that at least 2/3rd of stories were about Marvel and DC. CBR’s comics numbers are a little bit skewed by the fact they run a lot of previews that are just that, previews released weekly by the publishers. However, at least they cover IDW, Boom, Dark Horse and so on. If you are not Marvel or DC you are probably going to plan your big news stories with EW, Paste, io9 or some other comics-adjacent site.
And now some comments on each site, their slants and story content. This was only a cursory look at headlines, but I could draw some conclusions. I’ll list the sites in order of percentage of comics stories.
Despite its checkered past and changes in ownership and editorial over the last few years, Newsarama turned out to be a pretty solid site about comics. I do credit editor Chris Arrant for turning things around here. While they do run the odious slideshows, they also have occasional in-depth analysis about industry trends or issues. In addition they have the basic media news that impacts the industry. There’s still a lot of Big Two/solicitation based news but like I said, solid. (Disclosure: Chris Arrant used to write for me at PW.)
The Beat is a much smaller site than the others, both in number of stories and traffic, but…hey I’m still here. Staying a top ten comics site in a time of consolidation, slipping ad sales and internet fatigue is no mean feat. The Beat does run more “Business/related stories” than most sites, reflecting my interest in behind the scenes coverage. That 2% wrestling is one story – the death of Jimmy Snuka – otherwise, that’s not really a category we cover regularly.
The “crisis in comics news” really began last year when Jonah Weiland sold this site to Canada-based Valnet, but despite what feels like an uptick in media coverage, comics news still makes up a strong 43% of the site. As noted above, though, this is padded a slight bit by a couple dozen previews. Also, CBR is running an increasing number of clickybaity round-ups (Beast Mode: Marvel’s 16 Most Bestial Baddies) which doesn’t really count as strong content. There’s a lot of filler here, but at least Brian Cronin has become a mainstay of the site presumably due to traffic.
BC ran the exact same number of comics stories as CBR. They also ran more stories that no one else covered, to be fair, although a lot of stories are rewritten alerts from various company newsletters to retailers. But hey, it’s news. And BC is also into those amorphous “related” stories. BC does a good job of breaking news from sources, but the addition of Jude Terror has turned it into a kind of “Borowitz Report” for comics, except not funny and punching down. Also, can every lede stop being about how awesome Bleeding Cool is? Classic sign of low self-esteem.
I was really stunned by the sheer number of stories on CB.Com – 592 – and how many of them were based on random tweets, quotes or instagram posts of celebrities and wrestlers. Like, if Randy Orton tweets something, CB.com will write a story about it. And when John Cena tweets back, CB.com will also write a story about that. Sorting through these took a long time, but I was able to streamline the process a bit by sorting by alphabet and then quickly labeling any story that started with the words Ben Affleck or Ryan Reynolds. I would call CB.com a borderline content farm, but they have some excellent writers like Lucas Siegel and Christian Hofler, and the stories about the tweets are well written. If only they didn’t have those horrible videos at the top of each story. I guess BC has that too, but I have an ad blocker now and hopefully I’ll never again know for sure. I was also amazed at the number of stories about wrestling on CB.com – 78 to just 42 about comics. I guess that tells you everything you need to know right there about where the traffic comes from. I’m sure if comics news stories got more traffic ComicBook.com would run more stories about comics.
I didn’t learn anything too startling from this exercise, although Newsarama and ComicBook.com’s evolved content mix was a bit of a surprise. I know full well that it’s hard to make a living running a news site that’s just about comics, and the fact that most comics news sites now run more stories about what’s on the Doctor Strange dvd than about what’s inside the covers of a Doctor Strange comic is a little sad but not unexpected.
What did jump out at me is how little news about anything other than Marvel or DC gets out there. Since CBR went “corporate,” The Beat has had more opportunities than ever to work directly with publishers, and it’s obvious to me why: very few sites with any reach are publishing news about indies or even Image, Dark Horse and IDW. On a personal level, this kind of gave me a little boost. After 15 years of doing this, it’s hard to get too inspired about anything, but know you’re filling a niche is very satisfying.
Given how the internet works these days, it would be hard for a new site to get even to the traffic level of the Beat without a serious investment in marketing. It’s niche and there is too much competition. Yet there is a lot of territory that isn’t being covered, and there IS a lot of room to make comics coverage better.
Just to give one example, yesterday Top Shelf sent out a press release about Home Time Under the River. Although the creator is unknown the book is coming from a major publisher (IDW, the #4 publisher of the year) and the art is as good as anything out there. While running news from a press release is utterly basic, as shown above, comics news sites have a pretty low bar to clear on that. However the Beat was the only major site to cover the news, along with a resurgent but byline-less Comicon.com that has hired Hannah Means-Shannon as executive editor.
Another thing that is increasingly missing from comics news is anything other than a puff piece. We don’t even have Cup of Axel in DiDio in Charge any more. Of course investigative journalism takes time, as this very piece shows, and without a good reason to mess up your exclusive relationship with a publisher, what’s the point.
At any rate, there may be a lot of comics news that isn’t being covered, but if you want to know what Ryan Reynolds tweeted about Nick Spencer, rest assured, the comics news internet will be all over it in no time. Mostly likely because deep down, that’s what you really want.