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How would you run comic survey?

Much discussion has been generated over the Denver Post dropping 21 comic strips based on a survey of 18,000 (which is a HUGE survey). The question of surveys generates heated discussion as most of you who read or participate in the comments know. The “editors should do their job and pick” response might be popular amongst the cartoonists, but doesn’t seem to be how editors feel about the comics. If cartoonist HAVE to work in an environment where editors run surveys, how would you as the cartoonist run the survey? And saying, “there shouldn’t be a survey” is not a valid response.

To get the conversation going, The Cedar Rapids Gazette is reformulating the question:

The Gazette is preparing a promised survey of readers’ satisfaction over the comics we run. We are trying to determine which comics are readers’ favorites. We’re taking heat for dropping “Retail” in January. If that comic were to return, something else would have to go. And maybe we need to shuffle the deck with some of the older comics we run.

We won’t learn people’s true interests simply by asking people what they read every day. Instead, we want to ask people what comics give them the most pleasure and which ones they live without. Hopefully we can roll that survey out soon. We’ll let you know, in the newspaper and also online, when it is ready.

Community Comments

#1 Rosscott
March/5/2010
@ 9:57 am

I’d be interested in seeing which ones people don’t read. It gets out of playing favorites and into which ones people scan over and ignore. From my own comic reading experience it isn’t about which ones I do read, it’s about which ones I scan past.

#2 Jim Thomas
March/5/2010
@ 10:07 am

I would make the survey so that it is not a series of buttons they push but comment fields where they are asked to explain why they want a strip to stay or go. Or, when asked which strip is to go explain if it is because they don’t like it, haven’t read it, it ain’t Blondie….etc.

As with all surveys the more detailed the answer the clearer the result. Simply asking people to fill out a form doesn’t let the editor take the results and make an informed decision. It would help to know WHY the decisions are made.

I think the largest issue with the surveys is that they are not used to aid an editor in a decision, but it sounds as if they themselves are the deciding factor.

#3 Dave Blazek
March/5/2010
@ 10:31 am

I would tweek my Comics page before I did a survey. How? Like this:

You make one quadrant a Classics Comic area (Beetle Bailey, Peanuts, etc.). You make two quadrants Current Favorites with one of those quads devoted to strips (Lio, Pearls, Zits, etc.) and the other devoted to panels. Then you save a couple of slots where you regularly run in new comics. That way people aren’t judging just what’s currently in the paper but what’s currently out there. Then, once a month, you ask people to rate the new comics and the old. Then every six months, you drop out the lowest rated Classic/Current Comic and add the highest rated New Comic.

Oh, then you tighten up the space between comics. Squeeze the space in the horoscope and the word jumble and create a 1.5 inch strip that runs across the top of the section. Then you sell that strip to Barnes & Noble (or Target or Borders or Toys R Us) where they offer 20 percent off any book from a comic on the page.

(Disclosure. I’m kind of trying to make this work in Philly right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.)

Now you have a comics mix with that changes every few months and constantly feeds new work into the pages. And when you survey, people can now see not just what they’re seeing, but what they’re missing.

#4 Stephan Pastis
March/5/2010
@ 10:38 am

If the newspaper HAS to run a poll, they MUST require the voter to provide personal information, including a local address, email or telephone number where they can be reached. Then they must follow through with a random spot check by calling some of those numbers and confirming that the person exists and is local.

What made the Denver poll such a farce was that the poll asked for none of this, thereby making no differentiation between someone voting locally and someone stuffing the ballot from any number of other cities in in other states. The result of that is not a poll that accurately reflects what readers of the Denver Post want. And it is an invitation to fraud.

What made this Denver poll so infuriating was that it was used to determine our livelihoods. I assure you that the editors in Denver would not want me to do an online poll that would determine whether they should stay in their jobs. And if there was going to be such a poll, they certainlyl wouldn’t want people to be able to vote from anywhere in the United States, whether or not they were readers of the Post.

As to comic polls in general, what is so frustrating is that these editors don’t do this with any other section of their paper. Why? Because they know that if they were to do such a poll to determine: 1) which editors they kept; 2) which sports columnists they kept; and 3) which features writers they kept, the result would be to throw out anyone who was opinionated, distinctive or controversial, resulting in a newspaper filled with the most watered-down, lowest common-denominator content.

And yet they do it with our comics.

The result? A comic section largely filled with the most watered-down, lowest common-denominator content.

It is no surprise that so many comic sections are an archaic joke to most people in their teens and twenties.

#5 Norm Feuti
March/5/2010
@ 10:38 am

I think it’s also worth noting that it is the readers themselves who are pointing out what they perceive as a flaw in the way the paper conducted previous polls.

http://gazetteonline.com/blogs/mulling-it-over/2009/12/24/new-comic-strip-dustin-coming-to-the-gazette-in-january

“I wonder what kind of response you would get if you changed the wording of the question to ask which comics people read AND ENJOY every day. I used to read them all out of habit, whether I liked them or not, so to answer that question truthfully I would have to say that I read the outdated ones that I don’t particularly like every day.

What’s more important-the fact that the strip is read or that it’s enjoyed? “

#6 Scott Lincoln
March/5/2010
@ 10:53 am

I think one of the main issues with a survey is getting people to fill one out in the first place.

The reason I think most surveys lack depth is because they need to be convenient or people won’t fill them out, yet without a broad base to draw a conclusion from the results will only come from a certain demographics (which is also misleading).

If all they ask is what your favorite is then, yes, that’s not helping the editor figure his audience’s point of view. What about a degree system to check off based on a comics two facets, Art and Writing? For example (this is where I put my foot into it up to my knee):

Ralf the Destroyer

Art
a) Walt Kelly would be green with envy
b) Attractive and expressive
c) How old are you?
d) Many fine museums would gladly place this in their dumpsters

Writing
a) A masterpiece of linguistic expression
b) Entertaining and engaging
c) Almost good enough for a sitcom *snicker*
d) I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention

You could add an “Over all score”, but with even this bare set of questions they start taking up as much paper space as the comic strip itself, which starts detracting from convenience.

I do think it would be interesting to see how a survey taken online would differ from a mail in survey, though… and I’m still waiting to see a survey on the most/least popular syndicated writers or columnists (editors pay for that content too).

#7 Scott Lincoln
March/5/2010
@ 10:57 am

…and I’m totally with Stephan on voter accountability.

#8 Stephen Beals
March/5/2010
@ 10:58 am

In addition to what everyone else has said, I think it would be interesting to have a poll on the actual comic page.

Print the numbers 1 through 10 beneath the comic. Circle your rating. Leave comments at the bottom of the page.

Mail it in with your name, number and zip code. That way they know you actually bought (or obtained) a copy of the paper.

Of course, to accomdate all of that, the comics would have to be shrunken down (even more) for a day and it would cause other costs.

But they always title the results of these polls with the headline “We Care About Your Comics” …. they just don’t care to do any hard work or spend any extra money.

#9 Anne Hambrock
March/5/2010
@ 11:05 am

I agree with Stephan that voter accountability is CRUCIAL.

Editors I have spoken with take tremendous care with accuracy for polls that have to do with anything political, but nothing else.

I also really like Dave’s suggestions for restructuring the comics page.

#10 Dan Thompson
March/5/2010
@ 11:06 am

I think any strip that is 1 to 3 years old should be exempt! I don’t have a chance in heck going up against Blondie, or anybody for that matter! Totally unfair for a new strip that needs all the papers it can get!

#11 Mike Cope
March/5/2010
@ 11:36 am

Everyone listening? Here’s one way to counterbalance reader polls …

If/when a syndicate catches wind of a comics readership poll, they should be providing the newspaper with a full-colour comics insert (i.e., “flyer”) that promotes either all of the strips that they offer, or new ones that they are trying to break-in.

After all, the door-to-door salesman approach is obviously not working because newspaper editors are continually turning to their readers for opinions to help them make their decisions. The syndicates should be using this to their advantage by marketing their content directly to the readers.

Provide them with a colorful, diverse selection — not to overwhelm them with choices, but to say to both new and the devoted comics fan, “Look at all these great features that you could be reading in your paper! Tell your editor which ones you want to see ADDED!”

Of course, we all know that this costs money … But think of it as an investment in winning back the readers.

Right now, it just seems that a comics poll comes up, and all that we do is come here and complain.

FIGHT!!!

#12 Mike Cope
March/5/2010
@ 11:40 am

P.S. … The syndicates could also incorporate their own “cut along the dotted line” poll slip, and direct readers to mail it directly to their newspaper editor (address provided).

#13 Mark_Tatulli
March/5/2010
@ 11:42 am

Oh, Stephan, Stephan…the dogs bark and the caravan passes on…

bark away, little doggie. The editors driving the caravan don’t care.

#14 Tom Wood
March/5/2010
@ 11:44 am

Unless the poll is conducted under controlled conditions, it’s not a real poll. They would need to hire ($) an actual pollster like Pew to conduct the poll using correct statistical methods. Otherwise, these so-called polls are really just a way to engage some of the readers (nothing wrong with that in and of itself) and pretend to be responsive.

#15 Scott Metzger
March/5/2010
@ 11:55 am

Well said, Tom.

#16 Terry Rowe
March/5/2010
@ 11:57 am

Sadly, Mr Tatulli is right. Editors don’t like it when you challenge them. They don’t readily admit mistakes. They’re kind of like politicians. This Denver poll is an abomination and its after effects will hurt comics for some time to come. Dan Thompson’s wonderful strip Rip Haywire has no chance against the old and stale stuff that has been around for 50+ years. Look at the list of Denver drops. Most of the strips are new. All of those elderly readers want melba toast in the morning and for the most part in Denver, they’ve got it.

#17 Steve Skelton
March/5/2010
@ 11:59 am

I just got back from the future in my time machine. In the future, eyeballs are embedded with a chip and every time someone looks at an article or a cartoon or a photograph online, they automatically pay a tiny fee from their webbucks account. Cartoonists in the future live in sprawling mansions and eat the freshest fruit from Brazil.

#18 Mark_Tatulli
March/5/2010
@ 12:41 pm

Look, not to belittle Stephan’s statement; I happen to agree with every word he says…but how do you make editors care? Editors only run those polls to free themselves of any responsibility for making comic changes. When people call to complain they can say, “well, that’s what the readers want! See the poll!” They don’t care if it’s accurate or true. The only hope we have is readers complaining, complaining, complaining about the polls. Editors don’t listen to cartoonists…they listen to readers.

#19 Mike Cope
March/5/2010
@ 12:59 pm

“Editors don?t listen to cartoonists?they listen to readers.”

@Mark_Tatulli: This is exactly why I suggested in #11 that syndicates should try marketing their content directly to the newspaper readers.

I mean, c’mon, if a small local business can afford to distribute flyers in our paper, then why can’t a syndicate do the same to help generate sales??

#20 Terri Libenson
March/5/2010
@ 1:01 pm

I am so with Stephan (and Mark). And as a “newer” creator, I love Dan’s idea.
I have more of a niche audience (with a feminine twist on top of that), so I always stress about these polls geared to the masses.
Which makes me wonder about Dave’s idea…I kind of like the quadrant theory, but cartoonists might fret about being “replaced” every six months. Character-based strips, especially, may need time for readers to grow attached. But still, a cool idea.
Anyway, back to stressing…

#21 Mark_Tatulli
March/5/2010
@ 1:12 pm

There is no scientific or good way to run polls. They are all flawed. And they are all subject to cheating, just like what happened in the Denver Post poll. Comics polls should not decide what comics stay or go…editors should make the call completely. Comics polls should be eliminated entirely.

#22 Stephan Pastis
March/5/2010
@ 1:24 pm

Yes. I agree with Mark.

My point is that if they are going to do the poll come hell or high water, steps need to be taken to ensure the absence of poll-rigging.

And I left two things out: (1) If they really want the poll to benefit their paper, they have to make sure the poll is representative of their readership. If 30% of their readers are under 40, but that age group only constitutes 10% of their poll responses, they need to weight their votes higher. This is a real problem b/c older people tend to vote disproportionately higher simply b/c they have more time to cast votes.

And (2), if the point is to GROW circulation, they need to poll people in Denver who DON’T get their paper and see what features they want. How can you attract new readers if you keep asking only the present readers? The point has been made here before, but it would be like McDonalds trying to bring in new customers by asking current customers what they like on the menu.

#23 Norm Feuti
March/5/2010
@ 1:30 pm

I guess whether a poll is good or bad is irrelevant if the person making the decision isn’t knowledgeable about the industry. I found this quote from the CR Gazette perplexing.

“A few folks have raised a valid question about comics ranking below ?Retail? that are not being removed. Many of those ranking below ?Retail? in terms of being read every day are relatively newer comics with potential for growth or comics with strongly loyal audiences. Examples of relatively newer comics with potential, at least based on what we know now, are ?Frazz? and ?Cul de Sac?. Examples of newer comics with potential and also strong loyalty are ?Get Fuzzy? and ?Pearls Before Swine.?

“Frazz” launched in 2001. “Retail” launched in 2006. Not sure how Frazz qualifies as “relatively newer”. Nothing against Frazz – just sayin’.

I also got a big laugh out of “Pearls Before Swine” and “Get Fuzzy” being described as “newer strips with potential”.

Yeah, that Pastis kid might just make it big some day.

#24 Ed Harrington
March/5/2010
@ 1:36 pm

QUOTE: “And (2), if the point is to GROW circulation, they need to poll people in Denver who DON?T get their paper and see what features they want. How can you attract new readers if you keep asking only the present readers? The point has been made here before, but it would be like McDonalds trying to bring in new customers by asking current customers what they like on the menu.”

Agreed, but newspapers are no longer in the business of getting new readers. They are desperately trying to hang-on to the ones that they already have. Sad to see it this way, but it’s true.

#25 Stephan Pastis
March/5/2010
@ 1:43 pm

“Agreed, but newspapers are no longer in the business of getting new readers. They are desperately trying to hang-on to the ones that they already have. Sad to see it this way, but it?s true.”

There’s nothing I can say to a paper that has adopted that approach. Because then I’m just looking at someone who is burning the framing of their own house to keep warm for the winter.

#26 Bill Kellogg
March/5/2010
@ 1:48 pm

“Agreed, but newspapers are no longer in the business of getting new readers. They are desperately trying to hang-on to the ones that they already have. Sad to see it this way, but it?s true.”

That’s unfortunate. They need to do both. No business can survive long-term without attracting new customers.

#27 Tom Wood
March/5/2010
@ 1:59 pm

It seems to me that the alt weeklies have always been doing what everyone says the local dailies should now do – focus on local events and issues.

Wouldn’t the next step business-wise be for the alt weekly to go daily, or the local daily to merge with the local alt weekly?

If so, aren’t the alt weeklies more open to newer comics?

#28 Ed Harrington
March/5/2010
@ 2:00 pm

It is indeed unfortunate (since a lot of us rely on them for our income — full disclosure: I’m a managing editor/graphic designer/cartoonist for an Alt-Weekly), but that’s the way it seems to be going. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers right now, and Management’s priority is to stop the exodus.

#29 Milt Priggee
March/5/2010
@ 2:03 pm

A comics survey is rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

#30 Rick Kirkman
March/5/2010
@ 2:46 pm

The Arizona Republic has done very few in-paper comics polls (or Internet), but one thing I they used to do–and I don’t know if this is still done– was to do a phone survey. They hired a professional survey company to do random phone surveys among their subscribers and used those results to help with their comics decisions.

I’ve never been called in one of those surveys, but I did see the results of one of them once. They included the comics preferences as well as demographic information and breakdown of the survey participants. The phone survey could not be manipulated in the same way that paper ballot or Internet surveys could be, and they could be pretty certain that the survey was taken among actual readers since they used a subscriber list.

They did these phone surveys on a regular basis, but most o the time, did not publish them.

#31 Richard Thompson
March/5/2010
@ 2:59 pm

Weirdly enough, three or four years ago I got one of those phone polls about the Washington Post’s comics section. It was pretty in-depth, with all kind of demographic questions (how many in the household, how old, who reads what newspaper sections and for how long). The pollster went through each comic and asked who read it and how would it be rated: favorite, always read, sometimes read, etc. It was pretty impressive, but I don’t remember if there was any tangible outcome on the actual comics page. I do remember the pollster being pretty chatty. She was somewhere in Texas and had never read the Post, but she always liked Peanuts.

#32 Cam Millward
March/5/2010
@ 3:12 pm

I don’t know what Stephan is crying about he is in enough papers to make a very good living, I recall what he does when he’s trying to get into a new paper is run’s his best strips. Which gives him an unfair advantage over other artist who would be running their regular strips during the test period.

#33 Stephan Pastis
March/5/2010
@ 3:17 pm

Hey Cam…Email your telephone number so I can confirm you’re a real person and we can talk.

#34 Stephan Pastis
March/5/2010
@ 3:18 pm

Email it to me at theratandpig@aol.com

#35 Ed Harrington
March/5/2010
@ 3:23 pm

I am all for telephone polls for the exact reasons that Mr. Kirkman sated above. But, like Mr. Pastis stated, this does nothing to bring in new readers — it just gives the current readers a say. A telephone poll of potential readers in the area may work, but the only caveat is that would I really want the opinions of people who actually answered random phone polls? Plus, most people in the younger age brackets don’t even have land-lines anymore, so any telephone poll may automatically skew older.

Could a paper’s facebook/twitter page have a poll that would bring in younger readers, and perhaps edgier comics?

#36 Stephan Pastis
March/5/2010
@ 3:27 pm

I’m waiiiiiiitiiiiiinnng

#37 Dave Blazek
March/5/2010
@ 3:36 pm

The real surveys they should be taking are research surveys of the demographic makeup of Comics reader for their papers. I asked our Research folks at The Philadelphia Inquirer to give me some numbers before I sat on a panel at the NCS weekend last year, and I recall the numbers were impressive. I recall (and give me a break here, I’m recalling and there was no label on those “vitamins” I took earlier today) that we had something like 100,000 households with incomes of 100K+ who were regular comics readers. That establishes a real monetary worth for the eyeballs on the comics page. Alas, many papers have a wall between the business side and the editorial sides. Thus, the ad people might see the research and reject it because there aren’t ad slots on the comics pages. But those facts never reach the editors. Hence, the only value they can place on readers is derived from their own opinions and unscientific reader surveys.

#38 Garey Mckee
March/5/2010
@ 4:26 pm

I like Dave’s idea of segregating the comics page. DEsegregation never worked in education, why would it work in comics?

I also agree with Mark’s observation that all polls, by their very nature, are flawed. Thus their validity is null and void.

#39 Wanderlei Silva
March/5/2010
@ 4:59 pm

People keep saying that they want “edgier” comics in the papers. Can someone define what “edgy” means?

Take Pearls Before Swine as an example. I find the comic funny but I wouldn’t consider it edgy if by edgy I’m supposed to react to the comic with an “oh no he diiiiiint”.

A comic I consider edgy is Minimum Security. I consider it edgy because I can’t figure out if it is outrageous satire or a goofy gag comic. The main theme of the comic is that corporations are evil institutions hell-bent on destroying the earth and trees and lakes and all that.

The confusing part comes into play when you visit the creator’s website. Suddenly you’re encouraged to purchase books from a presumably non-evil Amazon.com corporation. Books that are printed on presumably non-tree derived paper. All of this makes you think the comic is satire and the creator is really a capitalist making fun of earth-people.

But then you scroll down and see a video of the creator, reading from a sheet of paper, calling to action all anti-corporate rebels. However, the manner in which she reads makes one think she’s reading under duress – as if she’s been taken hostage by a band of unwashed hippies who are forcing her to spread their Mother Earth message. And in another video I think I see a shotgun in the corner.

Minimum Security is good for a laugh and it’s unique. But if that’s what “edgy” is, you can’t help but agree with editors who feel safer running a Marmaduke or a Cathy.

And to briefly address the actual topic of this thread:

I agree with Stephen Beals’ suggestion of mailed-in voting forms. But I wouldn’t force them to include names and numbers and zip codes, etc. The fact that they paid for a vote should be good enough. Can’t have them thinking they’ll be swarmed with calls from telemarketers. Or worse. Stephan Pastis.

#40 Terry Rowe
March/5/2010
@ 6:16 pm

Test strips are common in sampling a new comic in potential new client newspapers. Why would someone test a comic and then drop them into ongoing storylines without any point of reference? Readers would be confused and much of the humor lost on the new audience.That would ensure failure in a test sampling scenario. Any smart creator should put their best foot forward in a test situation, that’s what people do when they are applying for a job.

#41 pattyleidy
March/5/2010
@ 6:25 pm

that poll was a farce. The editor took NO responsibility for the cuts…
Everything I said was met with’ Well, the people voted, THEY decided..I didn’t …..yadda yadda….” Sure lady.
NO accountability or any interest in discussing with me why a VARIETY of comics offered in a paper is a good idea… New and some old.. sigh..give new guys a chance….

Granted the poll has a “controlled” online voting system.I.e once you voted your url was no longer accepted if you tried again. But again, who’s to say WHERE or WHAT state that vote came from.

That paper has practically noting to offer anymore.
Ads galore, news feeds from the AP wire I saw online the night before… no exciting columnists…and now…. sigh,….
less comics…
And Stephan is right, they are doing nothing to attract new readership…just rehashing the same ol same….

#42 Scott Metzger
March/5/2010
@ 6:26 pm

Wanderlei, I understand what you?re saying, but newspaper “edgy” is different than “edgy” in other media. When compared to most other strips in the paper, Pearls Before Swine is edgy. When compared to South Park or Family Guy, Pearls is tame.

I’m one of those people who has said “I want edgier strips in the paper.” What I mean by that is I want strips that might make fun of people, institutions, etc. Or maybe challenge the reader sometimes with humor that’s ‘out there.’

By newspaper standards, Pearls is edgy. Lio is edgy. Even Zippy is considered “edgy” because it’s so quirky. I love all three of those strips.

Some people say: “Go to the web to get your fix of edgy or quirky humor.” I do that all the time. But I still read the paper, so I still care about the comics in the paper. But I gotta say….I used to care a lot more when I was trying to get my own strips syndicated.

I don’t think edgy is always better. There are several strips in my local paper that are “safe and mainstream” that I enjoy (Zits, Sherman?s Lagoon, Baby Blues, etc). And there are a lot of edgy and “subversive” strips in alt weeklies that are downright awful.

#43 Tom Wood
March/5/2010
@ 6:43 pm

I think the best way to be edgy is to say something interesting about your subject.

They just ran the All in the Family episode where Edith loses her faith because her friend was murdered. What kind of god lets bad things happen to good people? Always an edgy subject. That episode is over 30 years old.

That episode would make a great long-form comic. It runs you up and down the emotional roller coaster as all good drama should.

#44 Tony Piro
March/5/2010
@ 9:12 pm

New comics should just be put online for a test run, and then if Scott Adams likes it enough to link to it, then we know the comic is legit (I joke, I joke!)

#45 Scott Kurtz
March/6/2010
@ 1:30 am

these “reader polls” are a horrible follow the queen game played out on a city street on a card board box. The poll is there so that editors can cut a bunch of strips, save some money, and point to the poll as a reason.

The poll is B.S. It’s like saying that you consulted an astrologist to determine which strips should stay in.

They don’t want to pay for this stuff anymore.

And look what strip they picked up. The new one. I wonder what that cost them, if anything?

The reader polls pointless. It’s just so the editors can claim it’s not their fault/decision.

#46 Stephen Beals
March/6/2010
@ 2:35 am

Does anyone have an example of a newspaper doing well with their comics page(s)?

It’s too late to actually use my brain, but off the top of my head it seems like the Houston Chronicle is pretty progressive with their comic selections.

I also imagine the papers that will survive the bad economy and exist in the future are doing good things right now. I don’t have a crystal ball to figure out which ones they are and what they are doing right, but I bet they’re out there.

The Denver Post seems to be an example of a company that can barely hold onto the audience it already has while doing business the same ol’ way.

I’m more impressed with our local weekly paper than any daily I’ve seen in awhile. The weekly has grown in leaps and bounds and isn’t exactly a weekly anymore. We get local news about three times a week. I read it because it’s the only source for the kind of information they’re publishing. Their “comics page” consists of Hi & Lois and Bizarro, which is an odd pair to run by themselves.

#47 Mike Peterson
March/6/2010
@ 6:53 am

A number of years ago, I was asked to re-do the comics page at a small (35,000) daily where I was working.

First, we didn’t call it a “poll” because it wasn’t going to be scientific. We simply told readers we were going to make some changes and we wanted to make sure we didn’t inadvertently cancel a favorite or keep something nobody wanted.

Which means we didn’t release “ratings” because there weren’t any. And we didn’t relinquish control of the page to a bunch of unweighted numbers. Nor did we invite second-guessing based on those numbers.

Second, we didn’t ask readers to rate each strip. We exempted one syndicated strip because it was drawn by a local person. We divided the remaining 21 strips into three categories of seven each — Family, Social Commentary and something I’ve forgotten.

Then we asked readers to choose one strip in each category that they would most like to see dropped, and one they would most like to see kept. If anyone chose more than one of each, we tossed out the ballot. Follow directions, folks.

We got about the same number of responses by mail as we did by email, and, as expected, the vast majority in both media were in the 55+ demographic. Vast vast vast majority. Very few in the under-18 group. Less than point-one percent.

We divided the responses by demographic and went through them to get a sense of how people felt about our strips. There were a few surprises — younger women also like “The Lockhorns” despite the stereotypes, and there was widespread hatred of one strip (no, I’m not naming it) that I thought was probably very popular.

We didn’t simply tote up the numbers. We did what we said we were going to do — we used them to confirm that we weren’t making any major mistakes. We dropped five strips and added six (putting Cleats in the sports section).

We got fewer than a dozen complaints, and some of those were “I’m sorry you dropped ____, but I’ll give these new ones a try.”

I also negotiated a new contract for our Sundays in which a custom section ended up much cheaper than the package we’d blindly bought on the assumption that it was cheaper. Overall, we saved money — very low five figures, but a savings.

POSTSCRIPT: That was about 6 years ago. I left the paper two years ago. A year ago, either corporate or the new publisher published a decree and half the comics were axed without a poll. They went to a smaller, cheaper package for Sundays. Moral: It’s a different world today than it was at the turn of the century, even this one.

#48 Stephanie McMillan
March/6/2010
@ 8:13 am

@wanderlei, I’m glad Minimum Security makes you laugh! But sorry it’s confusing… I don’t mean it to be. Perhaps I should have a “for new readers” page, and/or a “here’s what this is about” page… In fact, I *will* do that. So thank you for your comments!

And fyi, the links are to buy books from me directly, not from Amazon. It’s not, sadly, possible for most individuals to withdraw from the capitalist economy while it still dominates the scene.

#49 Ted Rall
March/6/2010
@ 9:45 am

Readers polls should be abolished. They cannot be reformed.

First, there is no way to poll about a strip that has NOT run in the paper. It might be that the readers of The Denver Post would love Minimum Security. But because it’s not already in the paper, they won’t be asked to consider it.

Second, scientific polls are push, not pull–pollsters should contact readers to ask their views rather than ask them to mail them in.

Third, what about non-readers? It may be that there are people who would buy the paper if it carried cooler comics. Those are potential subscribers who are missed.

There is only one time-proven way to get good comics into the paper: good editors with good taste, guts, and the support of management to do what they think is right to keep readers and attract new ones.

Editors.

Not polls.

#50 Ted Rall
March/6/2010
@ 9:51 am

To elaborate on point two above, imagine a public opinion poll conducted the same way as a comics survey.

Newspapers could ask voters to mail in their answers to the question: “Who will you vote for, John McCain or Barack Obama?”

Opinionated partisans will respond. People who don’t care as much will not. But you won’t get anything close to a result that mimics how people will actually vote on Election Day.

Similarly, readers who don’t care a ridiculous amount, or don’t feel like spending the time answering the survey, will not reply to a comics survey. But those people still have opinions that ought to be taken into account.

And of course, there’s another point: Some strips require months, maybe years, before readers start to understand, much less like, them. They need editors who believe in them to protect them.

#51 Mike Peterson
March/6/2010
@ 5:08 pm

Imagine a public opinion poll conducted that way?

Geez, Ted, you’ve got to start using those internets that came with your computer. You’ll find those kinds of polls everywhere.

And they’re just as accurate as the comics polls!

#52 Donna Barstow
March/6/2010
@ 6:05 pm

How many papers are you in, Stephan?

I have a friend who is slightly paranoid. He says stuff like this all the time:
f the newspaper HAS to run a poll, they MUST require the voter to provide personal information, including a local address, email or telephone number where they can be reached. Then they must follow through with a random spot check by calling some of those numbers and confirming that the person exists and is local.

Or is this an audition for Dwight at The Office?

#53 Wanderlei Silva
March/6/2010
@ 6:45 pm

@Scott Metzger, I agree with most of what you said (except your appreciation of Zippy, that’s just unreasonable and almost unbelievable).

@Stephanie Mcmillan, sorry about the Amazon error. I’ve proceeded to lock my fact-checker in a box for a week with nothing but a can of beans and a single square of thrice recycled toilet paper. But I’m glad that you are, in fact, a naughty entrepreneur.

@Teditor Rall, I disagree with you about your distaste for mail-in polling. If anything, a person who takes the time and expense to mail in a vote is a person who is more likely to subscribe to or purchase a newspaper. Someone whose opinion I’d value much more.

You can’t use an election poll as a comparison. In an election you’re voting for what you think you can get. With a newspaper polling you’re voting for what you will buy.

However, I agree with your point that an editor is needed to cut through the crap (can I say cr-p?) if only to be economical and efficient. The comics page isn’t a charity. You’re either Peanuts or you’re peanuts with a small “p”.

Or Dilbert.

#54 Ted Rall
March/7/2010
@ 10:04 am

@Wanderlei: “If anything, a person who takes the time and expense to mail in a vote is a person who is more likely to subscribe to or purchase a newspaper. Someone whose opinion I?d value much more.”

That’s demonstrably untrue. Take any newspaper, and only a small percent of subscribers will respond to a comics survey. Yet we know that most of them read the comics. Logically, then, we know that most subscribers–the vast majority of them–read the comics but would not reply to a comics survey.

(I’m one of them. Unless someone pays me, I’m not going to do work for some for-profit company.)

The kind of people who send in mail-in comics surveys tend to be:

Older: Younger people don’t mail anything. Not letters, not even their phone bills. They do everything online. I know people who don’t even have stamps or envelopes.

Devotees: If you LOVE a comic strip, you are more likely to stand up for your fave strip.

The average age of a newspaper reader is 55. But lots of young people still read print newspapers. Two-thirds of elderly people do; one-third of Americans aged 18-34 do. (Please see http://www.naa.org/TrendsandNumbers/Readership.aspx.)

Relying on mail-in surveys ensures that the tastes of older readers will be disproportionately taken into account by the editors of comics pages. They’re also a self-fulfilling prophecy, as those decisions help drive away younger readers who check out the paper every now and then, confirm the content isn’t of interest to them, then give up.

I wish I had millions of dollars to start an experiment: Launch a daily print newspaper with the following components:

News covered aggressively, from a strong/opinionated point of view, crusading journalism – don’t just report news, make it

Investigative journalism and exposes

Cool arts and culture coverage that engages readers across age, class and race lines

Heavy emphasis on cartoons, comics, charts, maps and other graphics

News analysis/background pieces that set new stories in context, provide historical background, explain the players, especially for complicated international stories

It would take years, many many years, before people caught on and reading something like this became a habit. Make the purchase price low–a quarter?–rely heavily on advertising. Online edition free to subscribers, searchable and costlier to everyone else.

#55 Jesse Cline
March/7/2010
@ 10:47 am

I had no idea Wanderlei Silva was such a comics enthusiast.

#56 Wanderlei Silva
March/7/2010
@ 2:25 pm

@Teddy Rallcats, I like your newspaper idea. Sort of a hyper-partisan print version of Huffington Post for everyone left of, say, George Clooney.

I’ll subscribe tomorrow if:

a) you include at least a few columnists with opposing political opinions

b) you challenge Sean Hannity to a fist fight on national TV.

@Jesse Cline, heh.

#57 Ted Rall
March/7/2010
@ 3:26 pm

I said opinionated, not of uniform opinion. I think you have to mix things up, um, [I can’t think of a cute nickname on par with Teddy Rallcats, so insert one here].

#58 Jeff Stanson
March/7/2010
@ 6:17 pm

ONLY three ways to do it right:

(1) Turn the comics over to the circulation department. Create a focus group of subscribers to form a comics panel. Make sure you have some people on the panel who say they buy the paper pretty much for the comics (news editors deny these people exist). Make sure you have a mix of age groups, ideologies, geographic location, and economic status. Meet a couple of times each year to discuss the comics.

(2) Print an insert with ALL syndicate comics, with sponsorship. Send it out to all papers. No more time lost picking and choosing, and cost savings comes from creating only one insert.

(3) Since #2 is absurd, go back to #1.

#59 Tom Wood
March/7/2010
@ 9:12 pm

@Rallcats – That description of a newspaper sounds a lot like what we have here in the Austin Chronicle, just not daily.

#60 John Lotshaw
March/8/2010
@ 8:09 am

Rallcats: the new internet meme!

I can haz newzpapr? :)

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