Asking the people what they want

After all, I can’t very well give the people what they want if I don’t even know what it is, can I? With that spirit in mind, I undertook a survey of my readers at the end of 2016 to better understand their comic reading (and purchasing) habits and tastes. While the answers confirmed much of what I already suspected, I was a bit surprised by some of it, too…

Rather than present the survey results as just a series of pie charts, I also want to share what I was trying to find out with the questions I asked. The first section was gauging reader knowledge of my online comic. Not surprisingly, most everyone who responded (91.3%) already knew I published a FREE weekly comic online. I was more interested in their reading habits, and was pleased to find out how many read my comic every week, and that they tend to stick around once they do:

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82.6% of readers read the text blurb following my comic, too, so I’ll keep using that to plug upcoming shows and comic releases. I also like it as a way to provide context or commentary on the strip.

My next question was really a backdoor invitation to get readers to sign up for my e-mail list, follow me on Twitter, or friend Watusi’s Facebook page, just in case they weren’t aware of those options already:

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Much like with signups at comic shows, I didn’t pick up as many adds as I’d hoped. (In hindsight, I should have asked which one they found most useful for their strip reminders.)

I suspected that most of my readers follow my comics only because I know them personally (but pleasantly surprised that’s the case only 30.4% of the time). Unfortunately, that personal contact– even if in a convention setting– is also how most readers (76.2%) found out about my comic. While I know better than to expect social media to be a magical cure-all, it’s clearly not pulling its weight in this instance!

I also asked for direct response to my strip, and the answer to my next question was perhaps the most intriguing I received:

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I expected more readers to want Watusi storylines resolved more quickly via 2-3 episodes a week. Instead, an additional strip seems to hold more interest! And readers don’t seem to mind long storylines at the weekly pace, either, given that the favorites (when there were any) were the longer stories I’ve done in the strip.

While I wasn’t just fishing for compliments with my “any final thoughts to share” question, I appreciated all the kind words I received. My favorite may have been “I like Wednesdays when the next installment arrives!” Or maybe “I love it, always makes me smile and sometimes laugh.”

I also wanted to find out more about where and how they read comics online. Most of them (78.3%) read on PC/MAC, 26.1% read on their phones, and 21.7% read on a tablet. Yes, I know that adds up to more than 100%, but some read on multiple platforms. 91% read at home, with only 4.3% sneaking it in at work.

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Most of them read very few comics online. Some of their online favorites include: Phoebe and her Unicorn (twice!), Dick Tracy, Boogieland or Bust!, Bloom County (2016!), Zinc Comics, Star Trek, The Incredible Retros, xkcd, Bad Machinery, and Scary Go Round. Most readers (73.9%) still read comics in the newspaper. Which means that the pacing of my strip is probably a tasty comfort food for them!

I also wanted to learn more about their comic purchasing habits, which paints a different picture than the reading side of things: half of them do not purchase comics at all, but of the half that do, half of them purchase both single issues and trades. Only 1 responder was “trade only”. Most purchase from a variety of sources, with their local comic shop (go local!) and direct from the artist faring well. Digital comics, not so much (which squares with my own sales experience). Most are moderate spenders, too:

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As far as purchasing copies of Watusi comics go, while a majority of readers (60.9%) were aware of 2016’s “Watusi and the Emerald Serpent” release, that did not translate into sales. Even though every time I linked to it, it had a clear “order here” link. I should have asked my “have you purchased any Watusi comics” question to cover a more recent period, since the way it was worded it covered 14 years worth of publishing!

I was also interested in if my readers were regular comic convention attendees, since it feels like conventions have been skewing away from comics and towards a more general “geekfest” as cosplayers and people looking for sketch covers and fan art have become a bigger part of that scene. Looks like my feeling that cons aren’t my ideal exhibit venue was right. At least of those that do attend, they at least make a pass through artists alley:

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I also wanted to learn more about readers’ online habits, specifically how it related to crowdfunding. Facebook and Twitter are far and away the platforms most used … yet not where readers go to find new comics, which was more often found through GoComics.com, ads, links, or review websites. Just over half have contributed to a crowdfunding campaign, and most of those have tried multiple crowdfunding platforms:

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A little more than half (56.5%) are familiar with Patreon, my likely first choice for crowdfunding. My “incentives” question was to see what might entice readers when I do; favorite comments were “a really good pitch about why it would help to fund you” (which I’m working on) and “bonus features, like commentary from the artist”. Of course, those of you who read the blurbs and comments on my strip know I do the latter already!

I asked about readers’ genre preferences, to see if future storylines will skew in a way they will enjoy. Fortunately, much of their interests align with mine!
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“Documentary/Nonfiction” scored higher than I would have expected, though. While I doubt I will incorporate that into my Watusi comic, I can see myself working on a project in that genre…

Finally, I wanted to learn a little about the demographics of my readership. What I really learned, though, is that if I give them a smart-ass answer as an option, that’s the one they’ll choose! So while I didn’t get a good picture of geographic spread, my readership is largely male (73.9%), but made up nearly half by cartoonists (47.8%, not that there’s anything wrong with that)– both audiences I need to expand beyond! The age range of my readership (what I was trying to get at with my “who was the President” question) was one of the more pleasant surprises– certainly not a narrow audience in that sense!

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Taking this survey was informative, even if my questions might not have told me exactly what I was trying to find out. I learned a lot about my readers (see “smart-ass” above), and appreciate everyone who took the time to take it for me.

And, for sticking around to the end of this l-o-n-g post (and especially for the reader who said “I’m most curious to know the answers to this question!”), here are the responses to a question I borrowed from one of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga reader surveys: What was your favorite Saturday morning cartoon when you were a kid?

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I don’t know what the question was meant to reveal to Vaughan, but for me it connects to that sense of childlike wonder we still carry somewhere within us, and that I try to tap into with (and for) my own work…

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