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DC’s Own VP of Sales Talks the DC Comics Nielsen Survey and Why It Was Not “Representative”

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DC Comics’ Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development John Rood has given a very interesting interview to Publishers Weekly, regarding the results from the company’s very first Nielsen survey of their readership late last year. In it, he admits, or perhaps clarifies, that the survey is not representative of DC’s entire audience, and has some very interesting news about female readership as portrayed by the survey results.

When the survey’s results were announced last week, showing a dismal lack of brand-new readers, female readers, and young readers to the New 52, there was a lot more that we wanted to know, here at The Mary Sue. Things like the gender demographics from book to book or the gender demographics on digital might have been really interesting to draw conclusions from. The results released last week seemed like just the tip of the iceberg, and Rood reveals a bit more of it in the interview.

If you’re unfamiliar with the survey you could read our post, or I’ll try and sum it up. DC administered its survey in three ways: by physical polling at selected comic book stores on Wednesdays in September, the first month that the New 52 was available; by issuing a survey available only to select purchasers of its digital comics; and by putting an open survey online that eschewed readers who had not purchased actual New 52 issues (with the insertion of a trick question and by asking openly). The results were released last week and revealed that the first issues of the New 52, according to those polled, had been purchased by a group that was only 5% new readers, and mostly men between the ages of 13 and 34. We saw this as pretty disappointing, for a publishing initiative that DC was pushing vocally and repeatedly as a great opportunity to bring in “new fans, people who never even bought a comic before,” and “newer, younger readers,” and to add, overall, to the diversity of their audience.

Here’s what John Rood said about the accuracy of the study:

What we want to do over time with the help of Nielsen and retailers is find a study that is more representative overall. It will have to be an ongoing study that isn’t just on Wednesdays, isn’t just in September and isn’t just around new #1 big and some passionate press activity. We’re very pleased with the study but we can’t suggest the results are representative until we do a consistent study with multiple data points and have a tracker over time.

But the other interesting statistic to our minds is this: in the online surveys, open to anyone who was familiar with and purchasing the New 52, women made up 23% of the survey population rather than the 7% polled in comic stores and through a survey only available to DC’s new digital-only customers.

The in-store and the online exclusively —group 1 and group 3—those were both 93-7 in male/female skew. The middle survey, online only which was open to any self-identified shopper, was 77-23 male/female. So was there a glut of activity specific to wanting to register certain feedback? I can’t say whether females found their voice in that survey or whether they had specific female related issues to report on, but this is something that stood out.

Also? The sample size on those two surveys that cited the female population of comic readers as a mere 7%? It was an order of magnitude smaller than the open online survey (that still corrected for knowledge and purchase of the New 52).

For what it’s worth, in-store we had 167 completed, the online survey was over 5000 completed surveys and then from our online list that we solicited via third party email, the people on our digital purchase list, we had over 600 completed surveys.

Sample size aside (and that’s a pretty big aside), there might still be some things DC could learn from that more than 300% difference in the percentage of women readers between the differently administrated survey. In Rood’s case, he says the difference might have been because women (or “females,” as he says) had specific concerns they wanted to address, and hence had a greater impetus to complete the survey that was made available to them. Ultimately, he admits, he has no way of knowing. Seems to me, that if you had the data you could find the respondents that voiced concerns about, say, gender representation either in characters or in creators, and then look at the gender demographics of those respondents. While I’m not going to discount the possibility that wanting to voice your opinion when the comics industry openly asks for it motivated more than three times as many women as men (if the surveys with much smaller sample sizes are taken to have gotten the gender ratio right), it seems unlikely to me that it would have had a 300%+ effect on those ratios. Maybe women are more active in online fan communities, and therefore more likely to have been alerted to the online survey? Maybe their female fans, while smaller in number, are more dedicated to what they like about the brand? However, like Rood says, I can’t actually draw any concrete conclusions from the current data.

Interviewer Heidi MacDonald questioned Rood directly about some of the results of the survey in her penultimate question:

The number of women was very low and the number of younger readers was very low. Is there any concern about that? Or initiatives going forward?

ROOD: I don’t think there is surprise associated with it. We have an ongoing imperative to reach as many people as we can. So I’m proud of our track record in female characters, female storytelling and female creators. We’re going to keep at it to make sure that all are welcome, at our site, in our partner stores etc. I think we want to do this [survey] ongoing for this very reason, so we don’t get skewed by the wild success of September and skewed by the limitations of this first survey.

I know as VP of sales, Rood is pretty much required by his physical constitution to voice every confidence in his company, but lets just point out that he, when asked specifically about the New 52, said he was proud of a track record that, while it includes a number of really great titles about female superheroes, reduced the number of employed female creators by around 90% and also saw a decrease in the number of major female characters in the publisher’s line up.

Rood confirmed that there will be another survey done sometime during this year, in keeping with the company’s new, President-Diane-Nelson-mandated, focus on demographic research, which makes it the most comprehensive campaign to scientifically demographically map the comics reading community. Which is still somewhat admirable, even if it’s the first. All in all, I think DC’s commitment to get hard data on comics readers is long overdue, and I hope that not matter what the hard numbers turn out to be, it shows the industry a better way to do business in any and all respects.

You can read the whole interview here.

(via DC Women Kicking Ass.)

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