When I was an editor at Microsoft, one of my fellow editors was always saying, “What about A/B testing?!” the idea being that if we really wondered how our audience felt, we could quickly do some marketing research and directly and scientifically draw some conclusions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A/B_testing
I am currently reading the book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and so far (I’m up to 1971) it seems as though Marvel did A/B testing with every new release. When sales went up, they encouraged it. When sales went down for too long, it got killed or marginalized.
By the time I was reading Marvel Comics of the 70s and 80s (via Trade Paperbacks and friends collections in the 90s), I felt like someone had direct dialed into my brain. I was so pleased by these stories. I thought it was pure magic, and in some ways it was, but I must give a nod to the corporate machine that kept it from getting too far into any one artists vision, and more a collective world driven in the end by audience reaction. I suppose something like modern movies, but for a much more narrow audience. The audience of those who were inclined to pick up a superhero comic. An audience made up of people like me, voting with their dollars and letters and fanzines, in the same directions I would vote at that age (13-15). For more teens running the show. For more magic and outer space and new dimensions and heaven and hell and high drama. I specifically read New Mutants over X Force – I wanted to read girls my age and their friends being sorceresses and superheroines.
In the past few years I’ve read nothing but indie comics, but most of those are driven by a singular artistic vision, occasionally clearly driven by commercial interests, but not the result of years of A/B testing. I am finally realizing the majesty of the collective that was Marvel comics, owed some of its majesty to being a cold corporate machine that absorbed ideas and spat out the human meat. Of course, they could have at least paid better.