Friday, February 10, 2012

DC fails miserably to expand new readership

Hey, remember how DC's 'New 52' was supposed to expand their reader base, attracting new readers who were not part of the already existing comic book fandom, especially hoping to draw in new female readers to expand the traditionally male demographic?  Well, it looks like it didn't exactly work out that way.  According to the Nielsen survey, only 5% of their current readership were new to buying comics when the DC reboot began, and only 7 % of the overall readership were female.  Yes, DC did increase their overall readership, but mainly by attracting already existing-readers who had in the past stuck with either Marvel or the various indy companies.  In other words, the overall numbers increased, but the demographics pretty much remained the same.

Is it any surprise that DC failed to attract new female readers?  Especially when the portrayal of several of their female characters has been, to say the least, problematic?  Even putting aside the negative publicity that DC garnered with the reboot's early portrayals of Starfire and Catwoman, there were only a handful of female creators involved with the New 52, and the few female characters that were starring in their own titles were still firmly entrenched in the superhero mold; while there have always been female readers who like superheroes, they've also always been a minority, and if you want to seriously expand your reader base to include a greater percentage of females, you're going to have to step outside the traditional confines of the four-color superhero genre.   You're also going to have to expand access outside the comic book shop - digital is a good first step, but that's not necessarily enough. 

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that only 2% of DC's readers are under the age of 18.  If DC (and also Marvel, presumably) isn't being read currently by kids, then who will be reading and supporting the comic book industry in the years and decades to come?  Publishing a 'kiddy' version of your superhero comics isn't the answer, because kids more often than not don't want to read comics aimed at kids.  You need all-ages comics that are accessible to younger readers, but are also well-written enough to draw in older readers as well.  The trouble is, so many writers (and fans) desperately want their four-color adolescent power fantasies to be respected as serious literature, and as a result many of the superhero comic books out today, in their attempts to be more 'adult', aren't accessible as an all-ages story - the need to appeal to aging fanboys who desperately require their superheroes be faux-realistic and overly gritty is doing so at the cost of future generations of readers. 

I wrote last week about how DC could expand both their female and younger reader base.  I still think it's a workable option, but even so that's only one property for DC to exploit.   If DC is really serious about getting both younger readers and getting a larger female fanbase as well, they have to massively expand outside of their current publishing paradigm, making a concentrated effort to both attract younger readers, and to go beyond the superhero genre to draw in female readers who might enjoy comic books as a medium, but need something besides the usual four-color stuff to attract their interests.  Moreso, you can't just try for a few months and then give up when initial sales aren't what you hoped they would be.  If DC is serious about changing and expanding the current demographics of their readership, they're going to have to commit to the long-term.  Because if DC wants to be a viable entity throughout the 21st century, then business-as-usual simply isn't going to cut it.

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