2012 Reader Survey: the first-glance overview

Our 2012 reader survey closed late last night, and it looks like about 3200 of you responded. Before I get into anything else, let me just say THANK YOU to each and every one of you who took a few minutes to take the survey. Since all the Offbeat Empire sites are very much community-driven, it's important to me to make sure I have a solid feel of who y'all are and what you're looking for. We can't always provide it, but I like to know!

Obviously, there's a huge amount of data to sit with and consider, but I did want to share some of the overview demographics revealed by the survey.

Gender

2012 reader survey genderNo big surprises here:

  • Female: 97.7%
  • Male: 1.2%
  • Other: 1.2%

As in years past, the overwhelming majority of the Empire's readers are women, with only 2.5% identifying as Male or Other. I'm fine with this. While we aim to make the sites as inclusive and welcoming as possible, ultimately I've always been clear that the Offbeat Empire primarily produces women's publications. I'm all for everyone who's interested reading and hopefully feeling included (hence the Offbeat Families rebrand!), but I'm also fine with the fact that we are what we are: a network of publications catered to women. These numbers were relatively consistent across all the sites, even Offbeat Empire and Offbeat Home — which both have always had completely non-gendered content.

Age


2012 reader survey age
The age of the average Offbeat Empire reader is about 28, with almost two thirds of you in the window between 24-29. Offbeat Families readers skew the tiniest bit older and Offbeat Brides skew a bit younger, but the differences are very small and hardly significant. Basically, across all the sites the majority of readers are in their mid- to late-20s. This means that at 37, I'm officially about a decade older than most of you, which means I definitely need to keep including the cultural context links when I talk about something that was on TV the year most of ya'll were born.

Racial identity

2012 reader survey race
Yep: most of y'all are white, with 10% identifying as not-Caucasian or mixed (and 4% of you declining to answer). I got some written feedback from a mixed-race reader that they wished the could check all their cultural boxes instead of just having to choose "mixed," but that would make the data incredibly difficult for me to parse, and realistically I'm not the census… I'm just trying to ensure that we're making solid efforts to have the sites' posts represent the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of our readership. My goal as publisher is that the rate of non-Caucasian content at LEAST matches the level of non-Caucasian readers… so my editors and I should be always working toward at least 15% of each week's posts having a non-Caucasian focus. We're actually close to meeting this goal on Offbeat Bride, but Offbeat Families and Offbeat Homes have a ways to go.

LGBTQ

2012 reader survey lgbtAcross the Empire, almost exactly one quarter of you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. This percentage is up from years past, when we've hovered at around 20% LGBTQ readers. As a resident of Washington State (where gay marriage equality just became legal a couple weeks ago) I like to think that the increase reflects the increasing number of states where same-sex marriage is legal.

My theory might not hold water, however: the Offbeat Empire site that has the highest percentage of LGBTQ-identified readers is actually Offbeat Families, with 27%. As the mother of a kid with four lesbian grandmas, I am pleased as punch about this.

Also, not only are we totally nailing matching our representation of LGBTQ in our content, we're exceeding it — there are some weeks where fully 30% of the weddings we feature on Offbeat Bride are LGBTQ.

Work & School

2012 reader survey employment
2012 reader survey education
This is the stuff that interests me the least, personally. I ask these questions because it's information that advertisers always want, but the results aren't especially surprising or remarkable to me. 53% of Empire readers are employed full-time, 40% of you have an undergraduate degree, 13% of you are full-time academics, 20% of you have Master's degrees, bla bla bla. For the most part, y'all are educated and busy.

That said, I also got a lot of quibbles from readers about these questions, with several complaints about how the categories didn't convey people's specific situations. To this I say, HOORAY FOR THE "OTHER" OPTION! Given how little I personally care about this info, and how frustrated some readers were by having to check "other," I may not even ask these questions next year.

Community-size and location

2012 reader survey community size
Two-thirds of y'all are urban, which is no surprise to me. That said, this is one of those questions where there were big differences depending on the site. Offbeat Empire readers are way more likely to be urban, with 40% of you residing in big cities. Interestingly, it's NOT Offbeat Families readers who are the most likely to be suburban — it's actually Offbeat Home that has the highest percentage of Suburban readers, at 19%.

Now, in terms WHERE y'all live, I got one outraged email from a reader:

At no point did you ask what country I am from. I would have thought, seeing as how many of your readers come from outside the US, that you would have been interested in getting more data on the percentages of your foreign readers.

Put down your pitchfork, sweet friend. I don't ask about reader location on the survey because I already know! Google Analytics gives me obsessive information about exactly where readers are located, what browsers and computers they use, what size their monitors are, and other creepy details like that. Here's a quick peek at Offbeat Bride's stats, which are pretty indicative for the whole Empire:

  • USA: 72%
  • CAN: 8%
  • UK: 8%
  • AUS&NZ: 8%
  • Others combined: 4%

2012 reader survey location

OMG SO MUCH MOAR DATA

Ok, so that's the very basic overview of the data that came in. I need to sit with the data more before I can answer questions like:

  • How do Offbeat Empire readers identify? (feminist academic nerds, and SO MUCH MORE!)
  • Staff razzies: Which editor racked up the most "Honestly, the editor kinda bothers me" votes?
  • Which site has the most mobile users?
  • Which categories of post are we killing dead because readers universally hate them? (And which are we keeping, because they fund the sites and enable us to stay online?)
  • How can we make our tag archives more visible, so that people won't write in saying we never do posts about X, only to realize that it's just that they hadn't ever found our X tag archive?
  • What new developments will we launch in 2013 to better serve the needs of our readers?

PS: For those of you who didn't get a chance to take the survey, I hope you know that you don't need a survey as an excuse to give us your feedback on any of the sites. My digital door is always open to your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

  1. Hey this is great stuff! My analytical brain loves it! Just one little suggestion regarding the level of education and employment stats. I know some folks may find this offensive but I find it fascinating. Simply because it eludes to what income level we are talking about. This should be something you strive to diversify.

    Of course the employed with highest levels of ed attainment are your highest readers – higher chance we have a computer and the skills to use it. I work in a very different field (brownfield redevelopment) but I struggle to break into the lower income groups of folks where I live so we can diversify our perspective on my industry. I just don't think it's all that bad because you could apply the same method as you do for race to this by looking at income level. I hope you don't take offense to my comments, just think diversity is always a great thing and understanding social status is a factor in diversity. :)

    0 agree
    • I am one of those "lower social status" readers who answered High School as her highest education and I'm here to tell you that does not indicate a lack of intelligence or of technological understanding. On top of being a high school graduate I also happen to be a commercial pilot. You don't go to university for that. The stats are skewed for that very reason, it's rather dissapointing to read that kind of attitude actually.

      10 agree
    • Tracy, you make an interesting point! Here, however, is a related question that's not going to win me any fans: if very-low-income readers are bad for my business model, should I aim to cater my products to them?

      The Offbeat Empire has always been a for-profit entity, and as such we're only able to stay online thanks to sponsoring businesses who want to reach our readers. There have been times when we've posted about sponsors that weren't financially accessible to some of lower-income readers. Out of frustration, these readers left disparaging comments on sponsored posts saying things like "This is too expensive!" "Who can afford this $300 jewelry?" "Why would anyone ever buy this?" This has happened repeatedly, and these comments have lost me business.

      While diversity in readership has always been a priority for me, I do have to wonder at what point it's financially prudent to say, "This particular niche [ie, those making under $20k/year] does not benefit my business, so I am not going to cater to it"?

      I don't have an answer here, and I fully realize that even asking the question makes me sound callous. I'd love to hear from other business owners who have wrestled with this issue.

      8 agree
      • As one of those < 20,000-a-year-ers who would never make a rude-ass comment like that and enjoys fantasizing about the pretties… I vote keep doing what you're doing. There are plenty of blogs aimed at saving money, I read those too… I also read blogs about $4000 dresses. (Maybe aim to drive away the impolite subsection of the readership…and let me know if you figure out how. Sigh.)

        24 agree
        • I've made a comment or two in the past to the tune of "Must be nice to have that kind of money." I've also contributed positively to the community for the last couple years. I had no idea until Ariel's comment above that this has driven away business. Perhaps letting us know the implications of those comments would be better than purposefully driving us "impolite" folks away?

          At the time I didn't consider it impolite to voice frustration over a major life hurdle once or twice a year on a blog about inclusion and understanding. Now that I know it is the one topic we shouldn't discuss or else the entire site could shut down for lack of money, I will gladly not bring it up anymore and enjoy the rest of the content. And I will continue to be the typically polite commenter I always have been.

          1 agrees
          • Perhaps letting us know the implications of those comments would be better than purposefully driving us "impolite" folks away?

            The issue is addressed on each site's Commenting Policy, under the Sponsored Posts section: http://offbeathome.com/about/comments

            Now that I know it is the one topic we shouldn't discuss…

            You've taken a pretty significant leap in logic here. I am ALL for readers voicing frustration about money and budgeting on the vast majority of posts on the Offbeat Empire. (Heck, Offbeat Home has a whole category about budgeting!) For readers who want to support the Empire, however, Sponsored Posts are the worst possible context for venting that frustration.

            Imagine you're a business owner: you've paid money to reach Offbeat readers. You're excited about the post going up. What will the response be? Wouldn't it completely bum you out if the first comment was "BAH I DON'T HAVE MONEY FOR THIS"? Why would you want to reach a readership that's so vocal about not purchasing their services? Why would you ever pay money again to reach that readership?

            I know issues of money and business are charged, but this isn't an attack on my lower-budget readers. The sites have always been free to read, and I love my lower-budget community (I would LOVE to get more guest-posts from y'all!). The question is whether I should be expending energy to bring in MORE low-budget readers… and I'm asking if that makes financial sense.

            14 agree
          • @ariel: I think that's a risk that a business who pays for a sponsored post takes.

            In terms of monetizing your site, of course it makes sense to not to expend your money to bring in low-income people. I know that's a privilege issue (lol), but you are a business owner. At the end of the day, you gotta do you. You don't run a charity, you run a business. It's sad to think that OBB may turn aspirational for some people, but that's a reality. It's all about the Benjamins.

            4 agree
          • You're right it's a risk they take — and it's a risk they may only take once, if the response is negative.

            And just to make sure I'm being clear: there's no suggestion that we're going to change ANYTHING about how we do the sponsored posts. The issue here isn't "Should I start doing posts about $30,000 engagement rings?" (we never have, and we never will), but rather "Should I start making a point do more posts about $30 engagement rings?"

            0 agree
          • Ariel, I wasn't directing my comment towards you or the blog. I was trying really hard to word things well but apparently I failed epically. Sorry about that. I didn't like Alex's comment that anyone who has made a remark about not being able to afford something on a sponsored post is a rude person who should be encouraged to leave the community. As that person who honestly didn't know any better and tries my best to be a good person, the sentiment struck a nerve.

            Though to be honest, I said the line about not being able to discuss money issues because I genuinely am uncertain about when it is ok to discuss money and when it isn't. To be more specific, do sponsors look at the other posts and comments on the Empire? I really wouldn't want you to lose business because I was expressing budget concerns or touting a cheaper way of doing things on an unrelated post. I'd rather never bring up money again and not risk it.

            1 agrees
          • I genuinely am uncertain about when it is ok to discuss money and when it isn't. To be more specific, do sponsors look at the other posts and comments on the Empire?

            Many sponsors do read the Empire blogs, but seeing a reader comment "I'm so broke!" on a post titled We stopped fighting over money when we started emailing just isn't the same as a similar comment on a sponsored post.

            I'm definitely not encouraging anyone to misrepresent their financial realities or silence themselves Empire-wide (commenters are free to talk about money and budgeting challenges all over the Empire)… I'm just encouraging folks to consider the implications of doing so on a sponsored post.

            1 agrees
          • Many sponsors do read the Empire blogs, but seeing a reader comment "I'm so broke!" on a post titled We stopped fighting over money when we started emailing just isn't the same as a similar comment on a sponsored post.

            As a sponsor, a comment of "wow, I wish I could afford that" doesn't hurt my feelings (I think I'm correct in assuming that many sponsors are one/two person businesses, not corporate megaliths?); "how could someone spend so much money on that" does. One is a comment on where you are at that doesn't say anything about me other than that maybe you like my work; the other implies that what I do isn't worth what I'm charging for it.

            14 agree
          • Excellent point.

            "I'm broke" isn't a criticism — it's a statement of fact.

            "This is too expensive," on the other hand, comes off as a criticism of the sponsor — even though it's completely relative, ie what's actually being said is "This is too expensive… for my budget."

            11 agree
      • My take on it (as a lower-income reader myself) is that it's definitely important to look out for your bottom line, because I want to be able to keep reading stuff, and I know that the only way that you can let me do that is if you can make the Empire fiscally viable. So, I would definitely not cater *just* to the lower-income end. I'm not one of those who will post ragey comments on expensive things, though — I just look at them, wonder to myself at the fact that people pay that much for stuff, and move on. It doesn't really bother me, I just gloss over it, and understand that it helps pay the bills.

        Another thing to note, though, is that some of us lower-income people are hoping to someday have higher incomes (I'm still in school, my husband just finished his Master's, and neither of us has a steady job yet…). Some fraction of your lower-income readership will be (hopefully) temporarily un-/under-employed, and may one day be able to afford to buy things that support your business. So, from the perspective, it's good to keep that readership. I guess my take on it would be to post things at a variety of price-points, ranging from DIY fixes that even the lowest-income of us can do, up to crazy-fancy stuff that most of us will just look at and move on, but that those who do have some money to burn might just buy… (In other words, basically what you're already doing…)

        12 agree
      • This has been something I've been thinking about a lot this year; it is extremely important to me to make my work as accessible as possible. I mean, *I* couldn't afford my high-end work as a customer, and it's most fun to work with people "like me" so I've been concentrating on adding quality but lower priced options all year, and letting people in funky, budget-oriented venues know about them … with mostly crickets in response, though the new options themselves sell reasonably well to people who came to me looking for something else. I would be totally happy selling 10 $250 options instead of 2 $1250 options, but it just isn't happening.

        I'm never going to stop offering (and wanting to work with) a wide budget range, but I can't afford to concentrate 90% of my marketing energy on "my people" anymore if they're only going to be 10% of my customers. And that makes me really sad, but also, I have constantly growing kids to keep clothed and one must be practical.

        I understand that "OMG that costs so much I don't get it" response, emotionally, but, well, why post it? Especially on a sponsored post where you *know* the person making it will see it?

        7 agree
      • I work for a social/society magazine (a free full-color, glossy, 100+ page print publication.) After a few years in operation, we sat down with a few key clients and asked what we could do better. They all said that they weren't sure our content was aiming at their clientele. We sort of pondered on it and just decided to make a few tweaks to our content. We dropped some things, we simply refocused some things. It felt a little uncomfortable for me because I was afraid it would lead to a lot of exclusion problems, but it actually allowed us to see and correct some shortcomings in terms of exclusion.

        And suddenly, we were a "good fit" for more advertisers.

        And suddenly, we got fewer complaints from readers. How's THAT for a surprise?

        I can only guess at the effect, but I feel like by trying to be everything for everyone, we were sending mixed messages about what we WERE. But honestly, it was almost overnight. We were fielding calls about content before, people wondering why we didn't cover this or that. Then all at once, silence. I think people "got" it. We even started getting some "I love your magazine" calls.

        This was obviously our unique situation, but I'm just saying that it doesn't have to be a total, instant disaster wherein everyone feels left in the cold! Haha I know the OBE will always be ridiculously mindful of inclusion. But it was our experience that we WERE trying so hard to follow every lead, every suggestion from readers that our advertisers felt confused and disconnected from the content.

        This comment thread, and some other feedback we got about our Wedding publication, has actually got me thinking a lot about the ways we try to cater to readers. I think that's fine and helpful to make sure we HAVE a readership, but at the same time, is it helpful to include something that's chanting DON'T BUY ANYTHING when the ad beside it pays for the paper? I think it's true of the OBE that the readers are pretty sensitive to the content while our readers, not as much, but our advertisers are DEFINITELY sensitive to the content.

        I have a lot of thinks.

        9 agree
        • I think this is a really good point. Some of my frustration with higher-priced sponsors stems from coming to the Offbeat Empire to read about "people like me" which in my case is relatively lower-income. The high-priced products can seem out of place.

          1 agrees
          • Some of my frustration with higher-priced sponsors stems from coming to the Offbeat Empire to read about "people like me" which in my case is relatively lower-income.

            I think that's the issue right there — plenty of our readers are NOT low-income. Our readership is really diverse, and I get concerned when readers say that if a given post isn't relevant to them, it doesn't belong on the site.

            31 agree
      • This is so interesting! I am not lower income as my household makes about 100k /year, but that's a recent change. My impression is that OBH does cater to lower income folks, actually, although the higher end vendor posts are also not really my thing generally, just in terms of aesthetics…. Which I think may have to do with my age (30s) more than anything. (?) I wish there was a midpoint between Apartment Therapy and OBM. I just don't buy a lot of things on the internets. I think what this post highlights is how important it is that we talk about money. I have loved the budgeting posts on OBM for this reason. I would lOve to see more like this…. Posts about deciding where to give donations, prioritizing choices in life related to finances (baby? Roof on the house or putting in a garden? Buy or own? Debt or vacation?), etc.

        0 agree
    • There is one demographic that doesn't fit neatly into the educated and wealthy category though. PhD students are some of the most educated and poorest of the readers, and I have a feeling that there are quite a few of us in the Empire community. Other than the expensive sponsored posts, the Offbeat content is pretty relevant to the student lifestyle. And don't forget that the most accurate box for us to check is "master's degree" completed and that is a decent-sized chunk of the "education completed" graph. So maybe Ariel is reaching more lower-income folks than one would think.

      9 agree
      • While I know that 2.7% of Empire readers have their PhDs, I don't know what portion of the 13.2% of full-time academics are PhD students.

        0 agree
        • Still, I'm sure that it's a larger percentage than say, Martha Stewart Living's readership. And that's because so much of the Offbeat content IS relevant to students.

          0 agree
          • Wouldn't one think that the difference between full-time academics and phd holders is probably made up of mostly graduate students? not to mention that many phd's are insecurely employed as adjunct staff or whatnot, which would cancel out the odd working non-student MA holder in academia. So probably a 10% estimate of grad students might not be too far off. That said- I wouldn't really want to much more grad student targeted content (as a recent former, probably future grad student myself). I used to be active on the Phd comics forums and I felt like it was bad for my identity to be pouring so much into grad student life and thinking about grad student life as its kind of a weird perma temporary place to be, and I don't find grad student specific issues all that interesting myself.

            1 agrees
  2. Just a side note on the racial identity pie chart- I checked 'other' because 'Native American/Alaska Native' only applies to one countries aboriginal peoples-not aboriginals of all countries. Perhaps for the next survey, that check box could include 'Other Aboriginal Group' or 'Native of another country', as over a quarter of readers are from a country other than the United States.
    Just a happy suggestion!

    10 agree
    • Excellent suggestion! What if the resulting number was so small that it didn't show up on the chart? Is it better to be grouped into a visible "other" or to potentially fall of the chart? (I have no idea if that would happen, but my sample size isn't that large, and I worry that data could get lost between the cracks.)

      Edited to add: oh wait! I mis-read your suggestion. You weren't saying to add another category, but rather to make the Native American/Alaskan category more internationally relevant. YES. Totally doing that next year.

      7 agree
  3. I'm interested by the breakdown of racial census groups- I am white, but not american, so I feel that I don't fit into any category designated as an "american census group". So it's pleasing that your google analytics cover the international readship.

    3 agree
  4. I just wanted to mention how it would be great to have a few more vendors for us Australians. I know there are a few, but I just wanted to let you know we are interested, like them, and want more, since many of them are online. Thanks!

    3 agree
    • Oh man, we so SO want this too! It's hard to convince AUS vendors to list with us, though. They're always like, "But only 7% of your readers are Australian!" and we're like "But omg, that 7% are SO eager for more AUS vendors." The few vendors we have are awesome, but we definitely need more.

      If you ever have vendors you'd recommend who you think we should be talking to, please let us know.

      6 agree
  5. While diversity in readership has always been a priority for me, I do have to wonder at what point it's financially prudent to say, "This particular niche [ie, those making under $20k/year] is not good for my business, so I am not going to cater to it?"

    I don't have an answer here, and I fully realize that even asking the question makes me sound callous. I'd love to hear from other business owners who have wrestled with this

    I wish i had more to add to this part…i'm currently struggling to FIND and cater to my niche both in style and finance. I love love LOVE helping people, but i cannot do free. I've just started reading parts of "worth every penny"…so i could really get some kind of idea how to emotionally DEAL with this. I'm having to remove myself from things that maybe are not my best connections anymore, and accept that i'm supposed to reach a certain group of people. I like the middle ground a lot. Free begats more free, cheap shoppers begat more cheap shoppers. It does sounds so lame and callous – but this is all business and networking. It all makes logical sense when you remove the emotion part. I just try to maintain the end result as "maybe i'm not the person to do business with you"….i guess this can translate into a lot of places in life. I just wanted to say a few words, whether or not that makes sense….i dunno – but i'm feeling this post! :)

    1 agrees
  6. It's interesting that you mention the country breakdown right after the community breakdown, because I did kind of struggle with the community question, precisely BECAUSE I am not American. I consider my community urban, but urban in the Netherlands means something COMPLETELY different than urban in the US, so I wondered what the best answer really was for me…

    4 agree
    • I chose 'urban, small city', because, well, all the cities over here are small compared to LA / NYC / Chicago and the like :). All urban Europeans fall into that category with the exception of Londoners and Parisians (and maybe Berliners), I would guess.

      2 agree
    • To echo what Katy said, I'm just looking for a general idea. I so appreciate that you guys take these questions so seriously, but the options given in the community-size question are intentionally vague. I don't need to know exactly how many people live in your community … I just want to get a general sense of whether my readers identify more as city rats, or country mice. :)

      0 agree
  7. Dataaaaaaaaaa. If you're comfortable sharing this stuff, I would love to see the raw numbers at some point, not least because omg I bet I could do some super-nifty datavis projects, especially with the tickyboxes for "offbeat identities".

    1 agrees
    • I'mma be doing a whole post about those numbers, and would be happy to share the raw data — especially if it meant some pretty datavis. Email me and we can scheme: http://offbeatempire.com/contact

      1 agrees
  8. I know you're not all that interested in the employment status stuff, but I think it's really interesting in light of the material on OBF. It seems to me that a lot of the focus at OBF is about really little kids and babies. But if we're majority working or otherwise-out-of-the-house moms, I would love to see more stuff about how we balance our "offbeatness" with the regular hum-drum of "how to be a working mom." I know that you rely on reader submissions for this stuff, but that's something that interests me a lot.

    Also, in terms of ads, I'd hazard a guess that other working moms do a lot of their gift shopping online, so ads for cool toys and activities for older kids (not so much clothes and books) would be awesome. I love finding that neat thing that no other kid has but everyone wants to play with.

    2 agree
  9. Something that has always made me wonder, Do you have many readers that read JUST one of the sites, or are most like me and read through them all?

    2 agree
    • Excellent question. I totally have this data, but it's a question of figuring out how to parse it:

      0 agree
    • Ok, Mich. I've got an answer for you! Here are the percentages of each site's readers who read that site ONLY, and no other sites:

      Offbeat Bride: 40%
      Offbeat Families: 23%
      Offbeat Home: 14%
      Offbeat Empire: 3%

      0 agree
  10. as far as employment, i was a little surprised that stay at home spouse was not an option but stay at home parent was.

    i don't really expect specifics as how i spend my time, but i was surprised. maybe it's weirder than i thought. lol

    2 agree
    • This is why I like the term "Homemaker." There's no gender, nor implied judgment on whether that home includes kids.

      2 agree
      • yes & it's better than unemployed b/c that hints at wanting a job, but not having one.

        0 agree
  11. I was surprised to see that only 3.7% of readers are employed freelance or telecommunting, as that demographic seems way over-represented in posts and comments. Maybe these people just have more time to write articles and post comments than the working-outside-of-the-home people.

    1 agrees
    • Interesting observation! I don't feel like we run many posts about working from home at all. On Offbeat Home, it looks like we're averaging about 3 posts a year. Are you thinking of other posts that aren't included in the work-from-home tag archive, or are you sensing an over-representation on Families or Bride?

      1 agrees

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