The 100 most popular ships in 2015 on AO3: what place for women?

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Title: The 100 most popular ships in 2015 on AO3: what place for women?
Creator: Mrs. Pekkala and mmepsychosis
Date(s): July 20, 2016
Fandom: panfandom
External Links: Witch Sandwich, Archived version
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The 100 most popular ships in 2015 on AO3: what place for women? is a statistical analysis of fanfiction posted on AO3, with a focus on female characters and whether they are more likely to appear in primary or secondary pairings in fanfiction. It was published to Witch Sandwich on July 20 2016.

It set out to continue the work carried out by users like centrumlumina (who published the AO3 Ship Stats series) and destinationtoast, both of whom create lists of the most popular ships on AO3, but without distinguishing between whether or not these pairings are the central focus of the fic. Mrs. Pekkala and mmepsychosis confined their analysis to longer fics (of at least 10,000 words in length) that might have multiple pairings, and included a breakdown of ships that were listed first on a fic (dubbed "central ships") versus ships that were listed second or later (dubbed "secondary ships"). This allowed them to determine the gender mix of ships that are the primary focus of a work, versus ships that appear in the background or are not the central focus of a work.


What are the most popular ships on AO3? This question has already been addressed by centrumlumina or destinationtoast using results from the AO3 search engine. We used another method, by collecting individual data on unrestricted fics. This allows us to complement their results, by distinguishing “central ships”, that are the focus of the fics, from “secondary ships”, that are in the background of the stories. If women are relatively scarce in fanfiction, they also tend more to be part of secondary ships than central ones.
Data: We wrote a script to collect individual data about unrestricted fics posted on AO3 in 2015. That is, for each fic: fandom, title, author, length, date, language, rating, characters, ships, freeforms, warnings, kudos, hits, bookmarks, chapters, category and status (complete of in progress). In order to have a sample of manageable size, we limited ourselves to long fics, that is fics with more than 10000 words. Those fics account for 13% of the fics published or revised on AO3 in 2015, that is already more than 75000 works. Even if chosen for pratical reasons, this 10000 words limit in not totally arbitrary, in the sense that if defines a subset of fics of novella and novel length.
This list of central ships confirms that female characters are more often than male characters present in relationships secondary to the plot. Indeed, in this list, there is 64 slash, 25 het, 9 femslash and 2 gen pairings. Female characters are now involved in 35 pairings, against 43 in the first list with all ship tags. The 100 most popular central ships pair 124 male characters and only 38 female characters. If we look at the ships that disappeared between the our first and our second listing, it appears that they are overwhelmingly involving female characters and het pairings. Most of them are canon, which would explain why they are chosen by default for the background on stories not centered around those characters.