How Many Comic Book Fans Are There?

By | Monday, September 17, 2007 3 comments
One interesting thing about any fandom (at least, to me) is the notion of community. That by saying, "I read Detective Comics every month" that provides a potential association with somebody else who can say the same thing. If you read Astonishing X-Men, there are well over 100,000 other people who you can connect with at least on that one level. You can find similar notions in every fan-based community...

"I watch every Cincinnati Reds baseball game."

"I have copies of every filmed version of Shakespeare's plays."

"I own a complete set of Hummels."

But a question specifically relating to comic fandom that occurs to me is: how many comic book fans are there? How big is that overall comic book community?

Well, the question is impossible to answer realistically. In the first place, people go in and out of fandom all the time. The term "gafia" gained some popularity in science fiction fandom as an acronym for "getting away from it all" to shorthand that notion. (Curiously, the phrase originally was used in reference to joining fandom and getting away from the mundanity of the real world, but eventually reversed itself and came to mean leaving the internal politics and strife within fandom.) In the second place, how does one define whether or not s/he is a fan? Does merely reading each new issue of Green Lantern qualify one as a GL fan, or would it be necessary to be able to rattle off a dozen real names of other-world Lanterns? Or maybe being able to recite the GL oath from memory? Or maybe participation in one of the many online discussion forums about the GL Corps. Or having a GL costume? What are the qualifiers here?

Another point to consider is that, even if one person is a fan (using any definition) of Wolverine, that doesn't preclude them from being a fan of Teen Titans also. I suspect, in fact, that anyone who considered themselves a fan of comic books isn't exclusive to one character or title. And since there's no single, unifying body that covers all of fandom, a head count would necessarily include at least some redundancy. To wit...

For the sake of simplicity, let's assume ICv2's estimates of Diamond sales numbers are equal to the number of fans of each character. If that were the case, the JLA would have 131,420 fans (at least in August). The New Avengers, under the same assumptions, would have 117,906 fans. Even assuming those numbers are gospel, we have no way of knowing how many of those New Avengers fans also bought the JLA book. We can safely assume that at least 12,000 people who bought JLA didn't buy New Avengers but that's about it.

Of course, using ICv2's sales estimates is rife with problems. First and foremost, they're estimates based on Diamond's closely-guarded actual numbers. Secondly, it only addresses the direct market of comic books, and not all of it, at that! While marvel and DC have exclusive distribution agreements with Diamond, the same is not true of all publishers. Any LCS can order books from a number of other sources, including publishers in many instances. And that's just part of North America! That doesn't even begin to include at least six continents! (To be fair, though, I suspect comic book sales in Antarctica are statistically insignificant.)

You can look to the 125,000 attendance number at this year's Comic-Con International as a guide, since convention organizers have worked hard to filter out dual countings. But, of course, CCI and events like it don't draw in comic book fans exclusively. How many folks are there for the movies or Star Wars or what-have-you? Not to mention the certainly significant numbers of people who simply can't even attend. And, oh yeah, we're still talking about the U.S. almost exclusively.

I think it's pretty safe to say that 100,000 comic book fans, even in just the United States, is a decidedly conservative estimate. I'd wager that 200,000 is below the mark as well. But what about 300,000? 500,000?

But, is it even a fair question to ask? Does it really matter how many comic book fans there are? Because, at the end of the day, we're still talking about a pretty broad swath of people. Can the guy who regularly reads anything with Superman in it have any real connection with someone who's into the work of Michel Rabagliati? Is the larger notion of comic book fandom even valid in that kind of scenario? Should we only even discuss the individual, smaller fandoms of creators and/or characters?
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I suspect comic book sales in Antarctica are statistically insignificant.

But possibly a significant proportion of sales of Whiteout.

That is, until next year when the movie is released and every Barnes & Noble puts a P.O.P. display of the TPB in every one of their stores to cash in on the publicity generated by the film itself.

SilverWolf said...

Add me to the fans' numbers