DC’s Nielsen Survey

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Braak, comic books
Tags: , , ,

So, remember that DC market research survey I talked about a while ago?  Well, the results are in, and they’re over here.

Quelle surprise, DC has not significantly altered its demographic in any way, just like everyone said they weren’t going to by doing basically exactly the same thing that they’ve always done.

Moreover, no information is available about WHY PEOPLE DIDN’T PURCHASE BOOKS.  Not only THAT!  Not only did they not ask the question!  But it turns out that they didn’t even count surveys in which the respondents didn’t actually purchase a title — which means they have ZERO statistics on the people who looked at, but didn’t BUY any of their comics.

When I was in the 10th grade, I took an anthropology class and we decided to get statistics on the people who came into our classroom by accident (a pretty frequent occurrence), in the hopes of gleaning useful information about them.  Halfway through proposing the study, we realized it would be completely fucking useless if we didn’t check to see how many people DIDN’T come into our room by accident.

In the tenth grade.  Before we even started the survey.

Above all, this was plainly a survey that was not designed to find out what the problems were (because if it had been, they would have asked clear questions about the things they knew were problems), but one that was designed to affirm what DC wanted to believe:  it was commissioned as a way to PROVE THEIR SUCCESS, not to figure out their failures.  Bad science, DC; not only did you not succeed at your goals, but now you don’t even know why.

You guys.

Nielsen is just a bad market research company.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Erin says:

    “…it was commissioned as a way to PROVE THEIR SUCCESS, not to figure out their failures.”

    I don’t think it was either of those. They’ve already proven their success, at least in the short term: that was established by revenue growth. Survey responses serve a different purpose entirely: gaining demographic information about their customers.

    As such, a sample group isn’t as significant here as you’re implying. They’re conducting market research on their actual customers, not their potential customers, because the initiative they’re following is already underway. The time to study their potential customers would have been before launching the New 52, not after. DC’s main objective now is to hold onto as many readers as possible, so they’ll be interested in their current fan base.

    I also notice you’ve neglected to mention that more than a quarter of people purchasing the New 52 were lapsed readers, which was one of the key groups they were trying to reach. Dismissing the initiative as simply unsuccessful is disingenuous at best.

  2. Erin says:

    Whoops: I meant “control group” not “sample group” at the start of my 2nd paragraph. Sorry if it was confusing.

  3. braak says:

    You don’t hold on to existing readers without finding why people aren’t buying your books. Every single one of the new 52 titles has been hemorrhaging readers since this started, and DC is no closer to figuring out why. All they did is establish the fact that the same people are still reading the DC books — the rapidly-dwindling core of male comic book fans in their 20s to 30s — is the same core that they had before the new 52 bumped up their sales. Worse, they have absolutely ZERO information on why they didn’t gain the other new readers they wanted in the first place. How did their female demographic drop? Where were the 15-18 year olds?

    Who knows?

    Moreover, since pitching to their base has been their (failing) strategy for years, getting information about their POTENTIAL customers is exactly what they want. As it turns out, their ACTUAL customers are the same fucking people they’ve always been. And, incidentally, it’s not as though finding out information about their potential customers precludes finding out information about their actual customers. A handful of questions about “why didn’t you buy it”, along with some demographic data, would have been enormously useful.

    Did a lot of women pick up Suicide Squad in the store and then not buy it because it was dumb? Adding ONE QUESTION to the survey (and not throwing out all the surveys by people who read but didn’t buy the comic) would have yielded this information.

    Fuck, what did they even learn? That they picked up a bunch of lapsed readers? Yeah, I know that. I was one of them. I also haven’t bought another DC comic since the first round of the new issues came out, and if DC had bothered to ask, they’d already know why.

    You can’t make draw any useful, appreciable conclusions about how or why or which people are buying your comics unless you’re also getting information about why they aren’t. This is shit science, and it’s shit research.

  4. Erin says:

    “Every single one of the new 52 titles has been hemorrhaging readers since this started, and DC is no closer to figuring out why.”

    DC knows exactly why the New 52 books have fewer readers now as opposed to in September: it’s because new series tend to get a boost at the start, then lose readers over time.

    This isn’t shocking proof the initiative’s failed: it’s the normal trend in the business. If anything, the drop-off has been slower than expected (though I suspect they’re about to take a hit as their initial 6-issue arcs wrap up).

    “Did a lot of women pick up Suicide Squad in the store and then not buy it because it was dumb? Adding ONE QUESTION to the survey (and not throwing out all the surveys by people who read but didn’t buy the comic) would have yielded this information.”

    DC already has a good idea why women aren’t buying Suicide Squad: that information is readily available on a hundred message boards and blogs. The people writing comments on DC Women Kicking Ass are the same people who would have responded to that question: all DC has to do is read their comments at the source. I’m sure they have marketing people doing so already.

    “You can’t make draw any useful, appreciable conclusions about how or why or which people are buying your comics unless you’re also getting information about why they aren’t.”

    Actually, that’s not true at all. If you know why your customers are buying your products and you have demographic information about them, it gives you useful information about how to market your existing product to a larger piece of that demographic.

    Don’t get me wrong: knowing why people aren’t buying your product is useful, but it doesn’t invalidate customer surveys.

  5. Jesse says:

    It’s actually pretty common in market research to disqualify people to get the most “good” respondents, meaning those who are best equipped to answer the question you’re asking. The last research I commissioned involved kids’ comics reading habits. If any of the kids indicated early on that they didn’t like comics, or they thought they did but said that their favorite comic was a TV show, or that they had no affinity to the brands I was representing then the researchers moved on; they wanted to give us the most bang for our buck.

    I think Nielsen did their job in this case, and it’s really their client, DC who you think should have asked different questions.

  6. Jesse says:

    Erin, I’ve always wondered about that accepted wisdom that new series are destined to drop off in sales. I mean, I don’t dispute it, but does it have to be that way, and is it even as prevalent as we think? Longer-running series have peaks and valleys depending on events and creative teams and the general economy; maybe the goal with a new series is to sustain a following long enough to get to those peaks and valleys? That seems to be what happened with the flagship Image titles.

    Are you personally into serial superhero books? Do you buy early issues and stop as a matter of course?

  7. braak says:

    @Jesse: I’m not saying it’s bad “doing your job”, I’m saying it’s bad research. You don’t get more “bang for your buck” by excluding surveys, you get less — in that, for the money that you’re paying, you’ve just got a smaller pool of information to draw from. It’s true that that information isn’t always as good as you’d like, and that the information won’t always be valuable, but *more* information is always better than *less* information.

    I mean: one follow up question (“Why didn’t you buy this book”) to the “Read, but didn’t buy”, would have yielded useful information, there is no question about that. And if you didn’t need that information to highlight the statistics that you wanted, you can always exclude it from your analysis (i.e., “Of the people who bought the book, less than 2% were under the age of 18,” for example), but at least you’d have the information (“Of the people who read but DIDN’T buy the book, 75% were under the age of 18, and 22% listed “cost” as the reason they didn’t buy it”).

    So, yes, obviously my problem is with DC’s boneheaded survey questions, but as the experts in the subject, I’m assuming that Nielsen said to them, at some point, “Guys, if you want to know who is buying your comics, it’s important to know also who ISN’T — who’s looking at them but not buying them — and why.”

    That’s because, of course, that market research surveys aren’t experiments, they’re just comparative evaluations. You don’t use a strictly monitored control group, so much as you compare demographic groups to each other (since the idea of a “control group” in a demographic sample just seems pretty crazy), it’s better to have information that it turns out you can’t use, than to not have it at all.

  8. Erin says:

    @Jesse: “Longer-running series have peaks and valleys depending on events and creative teams and the general economy; maybe the goal with a new series is to sustain a following long enough to get to those peaks and valleys?”

    Absolutely – which is why DC’s shifting creators around and setting up events and crossovers. These are clearly intended to bump sales back up, but I don’t think anyone’s expecting to reach the numbers they got on the #1’s (nor would that be a realistic goal).

    Regardless of whether we’re talking about an event, a new series, a new creator, or just a special issue (i.e.: a character dies or comes back to life), sales will spike then drop down. If the event (or whatever) is successful, sales after the event will be better than before, but I don’t think you ever hit those high water marks in “normal” months. The fact the New 52 has – so far – retained far better sales than DC was managing previously is why it’s widely recognized as a success.

    “Are you personally into serial superhero books? Do you buy early issues and stop as a matter of course?”

    Yes. I’m into superhero comics.

    As for the second part of your question: it depends. I generally give a series a try when it sounds interesting and there’s a good jumping on point. The first issue is the most obvious opportunity, but a new writer or even new story arc can work.

    Obviously, I buy a comic hoping it’ll be good enough for me to keep buying: sometimes it is, other times it isn’t. In my case, I find I pick up a series for at least a story arc about 50% of the time. The other 50% is why comic sales almost always drop off after the first issue: even if I liked it enough to keep buying, not everyone’s going to like it.

  9. Jesse says:

    Yeah, I think I agree with everything but your last sentence about Nielsen. In this particular case, I think it’s clear to most that an audience-expansion exercise could have benefitted from knowledge of the audience that rejected the effort.

    But I’m not sure it’s *always* true. In the example I gave, getting info from the kids who didn’t like comics or didn’t know what they were wouldnt have mattered. We weren’t trying to reach new readers necessarily, just trying to better serve the ones we had in the places they shopped.

  10. John Jackson says:

    I had a big diatribe that was blaming corporate capitalism run by poor interpretations of market research, but not only do I not know anything about it, it really doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to comic book publishing. Writers should write what they want to read, and publishers should publish what they want to read, unless there is an obvious demographic that is left despondent by the roadside (say, I dunno, the thousands of female comic book readers who want women who aren’t solely fantastical sex objects or women in refrigerators). From your reviews of the few New 52, that isn’t what they did, unless all they ever want to read is cheap rip-offs of Spawn. If that’s the case, well, whatever, I can’t be bothered.

    Mostly, I’m just really annoyed by the Runaways showing up in Dakken. It’s fucking pointless. It doesn’t help that the writer doesn’t seem to care about the characters to learn the lore or personalities, but from the stuff with Dakken, it’s just poorly written. A nice concept, but man, really depressingly execution.

  11. braak says:

    @Jesse: Well, look: I’m figuring in most of these cases, I’d rather have the survey complete and then throw it out later, then discard it before hand. It doesn’t cost me anything to administer the survey (it’s all voluntary), and it costs me practically nothing to store the data (since it’s an excel spreadsheet), and it’s less than trivial to exclude the data I don’t want in my analyses (again: spreadsheet). While the data might not be useful, there’s no essential advantage to just not collecting it, and there are potential uses that you might run into later on (for instance: THIS survey was just about serving the customers that you already had; but what if you looked at the data from the kids who didn’t know about comics books, and you saw an interesting or potentially useful trend? Maybe not even actionable, but at least enough to build the next set of surveys on — you don’t gain anything by throwing information away).

  12. Jesse says:

    Absolutely — if the follow up question is fairly quick and easy to parse then you can keep the disqualified respondents on the line for a bit before you hang up. I agree that in my example, asking the kids why they didn’t like comics could have helped us later for other reasons, and the market research company wouldn’t have charged us more (now that I think of it, I think we actually did briefly poll the kids who said they weren’t interested).

    The problem with going too far afield from the stated goal is that it actually does cost money. The respondents are volunteers but the questioners charge you $4,000,000 per hour, plus you have to pay for varying levels of detail in the finished reports. You could keep the respondents on the line forever following tangents but it’s finite: the more you ask the more you have to pay ( and the more aggravated the respondent will be), and the more resulting analysis you ask for the more you pay. They don’t hand you a spreadsheet; they hand you pages upon pages of charts and graphs and prose.

    Plus, in a corporate environment, they’re constantly telling you to focus all of your your effort on the things that bring in the most revenue, and none on the things that don’t (and then, of course, they tell you to “innovate” ha!) and that includes the market research. In other words, only poll the buying audience, in this case.

    Then, with all that being said, have you seen the PW interview with John Rood? He keeps saying that their goal is to expand their audience outside the standard comics fan audience, so either that’s nonsense or they really botched those survey disqualifiers. (Nielsen, of course, just did what they were told.)

  13. braak says:

    All, all right, definitely there are circumstances — I am just saying in this particular case, when it’s actually a voluntary internet survey, so there isn’t even anyone on the line, or more than one person to pay to collect and collate the data (unless Nielsen is just flat-out lying about collecting survey data).

    The John Rood interview was AMAZING.

  14. Jesse says:

    It killed me — he was proud of how anomalous and niche-specific it was to only poll the purchasers, then said that they were using these surveys to help them expand the audience. You know, by surveying the existing audience and not the audience you need to reach.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s