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DC Comics Nielsen Survey Results Are In, They Are Interesting

Audience Participation

A few months ago, DC Comics teamed up with the Nielsen Company for a consumer research study on their relaunch, the New 52. As soon as fans caught wind, the link to take the online survey spread like wildfire with new readers and long-time readers alike encouraging everyone possible to take it. The results have just been released and well, take a look. 

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DC gave the results at the ComicPro meeting in Dallas, Texas yesterday of the survey conducted in comic shops (167), online (5,336) and through digital comic retailers (626). On the DC Source blog, they listed these findings (we’ve bolded specific bits):

  • The launch of DC COMICS-THE NEW 52 galvanized the traditional fan base for superhero comic books: male readers, who were already—or have at one time been—comic book fans.
  • The survey results are not a reflection of all comic book readers or the broader audience for graphic novels. This was a survey of consumers who specifically purchased DC COMICS-THE NEW 52 comic books, either in print or digital format.
  • DC COMICS: THE NEW 52 appealed mainly to avid fans and lapsed readers. More than 70% of those surveyed categorized themselves as avid fans who visit the comic book store every week. More than a quarter of in-store consumers were lapsed readers. The survey indicates that 5% of those polled identified themselves as first-time, new readers.
  • More than 50% of DC COMICS-THE NEW 52 readers were between the ages of 13 and 34. And more than 50% of in-store DC COMICS-THE NEW 52 consumers had an annual income of $60K or less. The data supports and arguably validates our philosophy of holding the line at $2.99 which DCE is committed to maintaining.
  • The majority of titles generated strong interest and likely reader retention.
  • Avid Fans purchased up to 20 titles out of the 52 titles.
  • Digital: of dual mode readers, digital is far from replacing print.
  • Impulse buys: Up to four-in-ten respondents reported that a NEW 52 title they were interested in (at a physical store location) was out of stock. Nearly two-thirds made a spontaneous purchase.

DC Entertainment’s EVP of Sales, Marketing and Business Development, John Rood spoke more about the results to ICv2. The article states, “Among the key findings of the survey was the fact the ‘New 52’ titles appealed primarily to avid comic book fans, who represented 70% of the survey’s respondents and lapsed readers (more than 25% of in-store consumers were lapsed readers), while 5% were new to comics.” Not as many new readers as they’d probably hoped.

“Other key findings include the fact that under 2% of the respondents were under 18 (which demonstrates that comics really aren’t just for kids anymore and takes some of the sting out of the attacks on the New 52’books for their more mature content, see “TV Report Targets DC Comics”), that 93% of the respondents were male,” says the article.

A few things to note:

  • They introduced the survey after only the first month of the relaunch which meant buyers had only one issue of each book to go on.
  • Just over 6,000 surveys were completed. That’s a small number overall and looks even smaller when you consider over 200,000 issues of Justice League #1 were sold.
  • New readers, who may have not been as familiar with the DC Universe, may have been disqualified from the survey partway through thanks to a trick question about a fake book. If you answered you were planning to purchase that one, your survey ended there.
  • The survey was not a general “who reads comics” survey, it was a “who bought our New 52” survey.
  • The words “women” and “female” are not actually used anywhere in their reports. Something which, to me, is extremely telling about the way they look at their business.

DC weren’t shy about telling the world they were targeting males 18-34 with the relaunch. Odd, since that was a demographic they already held. Now they’ve proved they still have them. I fear that they’ll take this information and say, “Look! Women don’t read our books, now we can really stop trying to make them accessible.” And not just the publishers but the segment of male comic fans that get annoyed whenever a woman writes about their disappointment when it comes to DC or other publishers. And yes, as DC Women Kicking Ass proves, it’s already started. But as DC themselves made sure to point out, this is not a reflection of all comic book readers.

The important thing to remember when reading these results are, nothing DC did for their relaunch was aimed at women, so the results shouldn’t really be surprising. There were titles, like Birds of Prey, that were absolutely female-friendly but unless you were already in the comic world, there was no way of knowing that. From the outside, it looked like business as usual and it turns out, that’s exactly what it was. So yes, sales are up for now but only because you “galvanized the traditional fanbase” and brought back a few lapsed readers.

It comes down to this, DC is working against decades of the notion that men and children are the only ones who read comics. I get that. But guess what? The survey proved that children aren’t even reading your comics. The relaunch was to revitalize your sales, you don’t do that by appealing to the audience you already have. You do that by extending your audience. No, most parents don’t want their children reading comics in which body parts are being severed left and right. No, most women don’t want to read comics where female characters are objectified in the worst ways. You need children and you need women if your business is to continue and thrive. End of story.

It doesn’t stop there though. There’s always room to grow, but the marketing for the New 52, when aimed outside the “geek circle” (which didn’t even extend that far), was gender neutral and missed a slew of opportunities. Take the Demon Knights title for example. It’s a fantasy, sword and sorcery book. Were fantasy communities or websites given opportunities to preview the book to introduce them to a title they might be interesting in spending good money on? No.

Wonder Woman is another great example. She’s an icon whose reach extends far past the comic pages. Was there a feature in Vogue or Elle talking about her updated look (which could easily have extended into an interview about her new direction and reasons why their readers should try the book)? No. They didn’t even go to a popular female-centric site like Jezebel (who may have been more open to the idea than Vogue) and that’s probably because they knew they hadn’t done enough in their relaunched books to make them welcoming to women. Instead, DC hit up regular, every day news sources like USA Today, the NY Daily News, etc. where non-comic readers would most likely pass over a story with a title about comic books. You have to give people specific, compelling reasons they should buy your product, not just say, “Hey, look! We’ve started over!”

I can ignore ignorant internet commenters making throwaway statements that women are wrong to feel the way they do or that we should start our own company if we don’t like the way DC does things, what I can’t ignore or condone is a struggling publishing company fervently ignoring a huge potential audience. For what? To hold on to an outdated notion of what superhero comics are supposed to be?

Another angle to consider, if you aren’t bringing in new readers and aren’t bothering to make books children will read (or be allowed to read), who will be writing your comics in twenty years? Because the people who currently write and illustrate for DC, love DC Comics or they’d be publishing their original ideas elsewhere. Where will your creative talent come from in the future if a younger audience isn’t being draw in now who will grow to love DC comics enough to give you rights to their original ideas?

The bottom line? It’s not that women aren’t reading comics, it’s that a lot of women aren’t reading DC comics and there are legitimate, concrete reasons for that. Why do women make so much noise about what’s going on at DC? They WANT to read your comics. They LOVE your characters. They’re just turned off by how they’re represented. It’s an incredibly easy fix if you’d just try. We know you’re not that oblivious, we know you’re used to doing things a certain way but you’re not going to completely lose 18-34 year old males if you respect your female characters and draw them with slightly smaller breasts. You know what you might do if you try that? More female readers.

We have to remember, this survey wasn’t meant to tell DC what they were doing wrong or what they could do to get more women to read their books (even though many respondents absolutely told them in the space provided). All the survey proves is that your lack of trying to do anything to gain a female audience did exactly what was expected – nothing.

(via ICV2 and DC Source Blog)

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Jill Pantozzi
Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."

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