Piracy in comics

In this issue: Catwoman is reviewed, piracy is discussed, and mayhem ensues!


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  1. Hi guys! Was listening to show, and felt compelled to comment.
    Here we go:
    I am a pirate. I pirate tv, movies, and yes, comics.
    I spend more money on comics because of piracy.
    And I’m not the only one.
    The problem with the piracy discussion is that it always revolves around a central assumption that every download equals some lost sale for the company, or one more person who isn’t buying what they’re selling. This may be true, but recent surveys (which are hastily being covered up by the record industry, but lets not get all conspiracy theory) show that pirates, on average, spend MORE money on the media they pirate than your average consumer.

    Is this true? I don’t know. I’m not a statistician, nor am I involved in the industry. I can only speak from personal experience. Here’s my story: I read comics as a kid, but never had money to buy them regularly. In high school, I began checking them out from the library. In college, the library wasn’t enough anymore, because I couldn’t keep up on current issues of new series. I was listening to some comics podcasts (especially the (then) new Major Spoilers) and I really wanted some books. But again, no cash was available. So I went to my friend the internet, and downloaded the first 35 issues of Green Lantern by Geoff Johns. I was hooked.
    It turns out, there was a local Plasma Donation center. I signed up, and started donating plasma solely for the purpose of buying comic books. I then had about $60 a week in mad money, and the first thing I did was head to my local comic shop and set up a pull list for Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Fables, and Invincible. The first comic I bought was Green Lantern #36, first appearance of the Red Lanterns.
    I was hooked.
    Over time, my pull list expanded to about 12 titles, and every month, I downloaded what I couldn’t afford. I would read the downloaded books while donating plasma, the money from which I used to buy more books. The more I read, the more I wanted to buy. Almost every series I bought, I had pirated first, and deemed to good to miss. I started buying trades and merchandise as well. I bought every single Blackest Night book and tie in. I used my birthday money to pre-pay for every issue of the New 52. It’s been 3 or 4 years, and I now own three longboxes of single issues, and 2 or 3 bookshelves full of trades. And as Rodrigo said, I also disseminate. I talk about comics. I loan them to friends. I have gotten at least 3 people to subscribe to Atomic Robo and Locke and Key. And through it all, I was still pirating.
    I would not have been interested enough, or invested enough, to buy any of those things if I had not started, and continued, downloading books for free.

    Now I’m at a rough time in my life. I got my first full-time teaching job (yay!) which doesn’t pay a lot (boo.) I have moved to a new city, where there are some good comic shops, but not as good as Vintage Phoenix in Bloomington. Also, I no longer have the time to donate plasma anymore, so I no longer have any money for comics. I will continue to pirate them. If I do not continue to pirate comics, I guarantee that my interest will wane, and I will A) not spend as much on comics when I DO have money (holidays and such) because I will feel too out of touch with the goings on and B) will be less liekly to resume my comic buying habits when I have more cash to spend in a few years. Pirating comics will be my lifeline, keeping me hooked on the junk until the time comes when I can happily fork over my paychecks again.
    To sum up: I love comics. I love buying and owning comics. I do it as much as I can. When I can’t, I go to the library, adn where that fails, I download. But downloading comics has, and will continue to, spur my comic buying habits. It has made me a more educated comic buyer (I don’t buy crap, though I may read it from time to time) and has resulted in several hundred, if not thousands of dollars in direct profit for the comics industry that they would have lost WITHOUT piracy. And there would be one less diehard vocal fan out there.

    I really appreciated Rodrigo’s balanced comments on the show, and I love that this conversation is occurring, and I wanted to share my side, where piracy has directly driven comics sales. I don’t know if I’m right, I don’t know if I’m wrong, but I love reading comics and I’ll keep on doing it, and when I can, I’ll buy them. But when I stop reading comics, I’ll probably stop buying them as well.

    Thanks a lot guys! Keep on spoilerin.

    • See, what you do is basically the Robin Hood style of “noble” piracy. And that’s a piracy that does actually help the industry, and a type of piracy that I can’t reasonably condemn. The type of pirates that never spend a cent on the industry they take from, then proceed to feel entitled to their content and complain endlessly when scans are a day or two late (if you wanted the comic on its day of release, how about you go out and buy it!), or–worse yet–complain about how the industry execs don’t understand good comics when a title they like (such as Booster Gold, Manhunter, or the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle) gets canceled, don’t realize that if every pirate who liked the book had spent the $3 to $4 a month to go out and BUY the title instead of pirating it, it would’ve been selling as many issues as Batman.

      Every comic book I have reviewed for Major Spoilers, I have either purchased or been sent a digital review copy by the publisher via Stephen. Some of the digital copies I’ve reviewed I have then proceeded to go out and buy a physical copy of, and recommend to friends. I understand that for most comic book readers, especially those who are students, it is hard to find the budget to go out and buy every comic that they want to read. It’s especially hard during an event to buy enough comics that you can comfortably read the comics that you DO want to buy; oftentimes your book will become a tie-in to an event you’ve never been party to, and it’s hard to blame someone for going out and downloading the Blackest Night ongoing to understand why Ted Kord is back from the dead in Booster Gold.

      I know a lot of people who pirate comics. I know a lot of people who pay $10, $20, $50 a month on comics, and pirate the rest that they want to read but can’t budget for. My approach to the situation is a little different. I got my friend a job, in part so that he could have the spending money to buy comic books. He and I share books, so that we can cover some of the things we want to read but don’t have enough money to buy. Later I found another friend through a D&D game and got him hooked on the New 52. If you make friends with people who buy comics, you can strategize together so that you can all enjoy the entire comics universe.

      When my dad was a kid, he would trade comics with his neighbors. Comics weren’t a “collector’s item” back then, so there was no qualm about trading away your copy of Spider-Man for a Fantastic Four–you had read it once, you weren’t going to read it again anyway. In this day and age I think we’re a little too worried about bagging and boarding and protecting comics as an investment, especially considering that investment will (most likely) not pay off. Swapping a copy of Booster Gold for a Secret Six may mean you won’t be able to say you’ve got a complete run of Booster, but it does mean you can read some incredible Gail Simone work. (And you don’t have to swap–borrowing is an even easier way to do things).

      In summary, I’ve ranted and gone in about five different directions with this post, and if you’ve read this far I appreciate your dedication.

      There is piracy that is bad, there may be piracy that is good, but there is also a perfectly legal way of reading all the comics that you want, if you’re willing to do the legwork and make friends. (And if you don’t have a comic reading community in your area, work to build one!)

      • Well put. I am not sure whether I am the norm or not, and I definitely agree there are good pirates and bad pirates out there. I know I would never scan a comic and upload it myself (hows that for hypocrisy) but I have no trouble downloading and reading them, even when I’m not buying any, because I know it will keep me interested and involved enough to start buying again later. I would like to know what the actual ratio of “good” pirates to “bad” pirates is, but I doubt we’d ever find any real data uncolored by some sort of bias.

        • I have a feeling the ratio of good pirates to bad pirates is surprisingly high if we cancel out the portion of the bad pirates that wouldn’t buy the product no matter what; since digital piracy doesn’t actually involve the consumption of any goods (as opposed to stealing a comic off the rack in a shop), there isn’t a direct loss of revenue to the store. The only actual loss is the loss of the potential sale, which I would guess in ~80% of the situation was never a potential sale in the first place. And as Stephen mentioned, while that pirate may never pay a cent for a comic, they might buy a Batman or a Superman t-shirt!

          Also, an admission: What got me into comic books was someone on a message board that will remain unnamed posting pages from Formerly Known as the Justice League in a topic. I had no idea what was going on with what I was reading, but I knew I loved it and wanted more. Now on the shelf directly behind me are copies of Formerly Known as the Justice League, I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League (autographed by Kevin Maguire), as well as Justice League International volumes 1 through whatever the latest one is (I believe five or six), as well as a lot of other random TPBs.

          Had that pirate not illegally posted those pages from those issues, I may have never really gotten into comic books, and spent the thousands of dollars I have on the hobby.

  2. If I had to go with a Brave and the Bold spin-off, it would definitely be a Aquaman/Atom team up show. Those two have the best chemistry and I think it would be the perfect mix of comedy and action.

  3. Understood, Matthew, with regards to your sadness, but (and I’m sure as a comics historian you know this more than most) comic books would never have been created if not as an advertising medium for novelties. I don’t think the comics of my youth would have existed if not for themed Hostess products, Grit, and X-Ray specs.

    Secret decoder rings, clockwork robots/cars, breakfast cereals…these were revenue streams far before DVDs and video games. In fact, if you look at the boom of web comics a few years ago, the ones that were successful (Sluggy Freelance, Sinfest, etc.) were free, but supported themselves solely through merchandising. Hell, now that I think about it, direct-to-DVD releases are like the radio serials of yesteryear. You can more cheaply produce it than a feature-length film, and easily license it for broad distribution.

  4. What aggravates me about most pirate discussions is that very few seem to make the leap to the most obvious and OLDEST form of online pirating of intellectual property: software. People have been pirating software for as long as there has been software. Nevertheless, (as someone who works in the software industry) many people/companies manage to do pretty well with it.

    There is a statistical software package called SPSS. This software package is one of the oldest in the industry. The company’s been around for 40 years (the software was originally on punch cards). Over the years, someone deliberately made FREE software that competes (cheekily calling it PSPP), and someone else created an open-sourced programming language that also does statistical analysis.

    Regardless of all of this, they’ve done well for themselves, and were recently acquired by IBM for over $1 BILLION.

    Most software companies look at occasional piracy as (at worst) the equivalent of shoplifting at a grocery store or (at best) free advertising (check out “Permission Marketing” by Seth Godin). As Stephen accurately pointed out, even the recording industry had to back off its idiotic claims that their plunge in sales the past decade was due primarily to piracy, and those guys were lunatics about it.

    Anyway, it saddens me that no industry seems to actually learn anything from another industry. Software went through it. Then Music and Text Publishing went through it. Movies are going through it now, along with comics publishers.

    And, each time, each industry gets totally shocked by it. It’s like the 5 stages of grief: denial that anyone would ever buy that way, anger that people are stealing (leading of course to wholesale litigation), bargaining to try to get people to buy the OLD way, depression over people stealing (leading to more litigation), and finally, selling through iTunes.

  5. I remain unconvinced that all those pirates would have bought the product if there would be no means to get that product for free.

    I believe that the majority of people would never give any money for the things they download.

  6. Guys,

    Not to be a retentive, pencil-neck geek on the matter but “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” is a loose adaptation of “The Odyssey”, not “The Iliad”.

    That is all; carry on :-)

    Rui, aka Ariamus

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