Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Why comics piracy is bad

I'll keep this as straightforward as I can. The comics news site cosmicbooknews.com is reporting the strong possibility that Marvel in the USA is about to axe 30 titles due to poor sales. 
http://www.cosmicbooknews.com/marvel-comics-likely-cancelling-30-titles

Just look at those low sales figures above. Silver Surfer is a refreshingly enjoyable comic by two top creators (Dan Slott and Michael Allred) but each monthly issue sells a fraction of each weekly issue of The Beano. Others are no better. Admittedly, sales will be down for a number of factors, including stories that have failed to engage enough people, or the high cover price, or readers who are simply waiting for the collected paperback editions. However, I believe there's also the matter of comics piracy eating into potential sales too. When a comic is selling close to its cancellation threshold number (less than 20,000), a few thousand illegal downloads are the difference between life or death for a comic. 

It's no secret that I hate piracy, and I've argued against it several times on forums. I've heard all the excuses: 

"I can't afford all the comics I need." (No one "needs" a comic. It's not food or clothing.)

"I wouldn't pay money for them anyway, so it makes no difference if I get them illegally." (Cobblers. If you're addicted to a comic, you'd buy it.)

"File sharing helps build an audience and then people will buy the ones they like." (Not really. It just encourages more piracy.)

"It's no different to loaning a mate a comic." (Totally different. Piracy is giving an unlimited number of "mates" that same comic, therefore damaging potential sales.)

The worst offenders are the ones who think they're being generous by "sharing" comics, as though it's pure altruism. They're in denial but all they're really doing is helping themselves while giving the comics industry a kick in the balls. It's not "sharing", it's stealing. The crime of piracy is copyright infringement; the illegal publication of work that they have no permission to publish and distribute.

Here's something else to bear in mind; when those Marvel comics are cancelled, the "pirates" aren't "sticking it to the Marvel corp" as some think they are. They're putting freelance writers, artists, colourists, letterers, out of work (or, at the very least, significantly diminishing their income). The "suits" at Marvel will survive. Some of its creators may not. 

My message to those who persist in illegal downloads of the latest comics is this: grow up, stop playing at pirates, have some integrity, and show you're genuine comics fans by supporting the comics industry while it's still around. 

31 comments:

Mike said...

The usual pompous posturing from you. The article says nothing about piracy being responsible for the dip in sales. How do you know it isn't Marvel making its comics available online which is causing the problem? Unless you know for sure just how many comics are downloaded illegally then you're just talking out of your backside. Facts, man, stick to facts. Could just be that reading comics is going out of fashion.

Lew Stringer said...

"The usual pompous posturing" ? Since when? I think you've confused me with someone else. I rarely use my blog as a soap box but in this instance I thought I would.

The article didn't need to mention piracy was another reason that sales were falling. It's obvious that illegal downloads aren't doing the industry any good! Why did it anger you so much anyway? Any genuine fan would be against piracy, "Mike".

Anonymous said...

whatabout all those 2000Ad pages you put up every week? isnt that stealing or is it alright if you do it?

Anonymous said...

To Mike. Hard fact: piracy is illegal. Fact. You almost sound like you're sticking up for it.

Mike said...

Since when? Comics UK forum usually. I am against piracy, but I think your post is just stirring the pot for the sake of having something to write about. So "it's obvious that illegal downloads aren't doing the industry any good"? Even if true there's no way to measure the degree of how it's affecting sales...it may be minuscule. If you want to assert it's a major crisis, supply the statistics. Facts, man, stick to the facts. And why do you always describe anybody you disagree with as "angry". I'm sitting with a Single Malt and I'm in a very good mood.

Lew Stringer said...

For the first "Anon"; 2000AD give me permission to post those preview pages so of course it's not stealing! Don't you understand the difference?

Lew Stringer said...

You come across as angry, Mike. Why else would you react like that? Perhaps it's the drink.

Search Engine Evader said...

Hmmmm.... me sniffs a troll or two here....

Lew Stringer said...

Seems so. Straight for the jugular with an ad hominem remark about "pompous posturing". Well, no more. Anonymous comments are disabled as from now.

Phil Boyce said...

I agree with S.E.E. here, they (if it is indeed two people) are obvious trolls who most likely steal left, right and centre, thinking they're entitled to take whatever they want from whoever they want, with the types of excuses you rhymed off in your post. Nothing but thieves. Sounds like you've hit a bit too close to home for certain people, Lew.

Lew Stringer said...

Indeed, Phil. The lie that I indulge in "pompous posturing" on Comics UK was a typical troll tactic from someone trying to distract from the fact that he can't defend the indefensible. They had their chance at reasoned debate and blew it.

James Spiring said...

A little caveat about those numbers - they don't include digital, it's just direct market sales to retailers. There's probably a few comics there that sell badly in print, but do well digitally - Squirrel Girl is one such example. Piracy would be affecting sales across the board, not just on these sub-20k books.

The article is biased too, DC have 29 comics that sold below 20k last month too.
http://comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2017/2017-04.html

Beano's sales figure including digital is just under 35k, Silver Surfer's without digital (the Diamond figures Comichron, and the site you linked to, use, don't include digital, whereas ABC's UK magazine figures do) is 15k, so I don't know where you got a quarter from - it's nearer to half. Unless Beano has suddenly gained 25,000 new readers in the last three months?
http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/uk-magazine-abcs-winners-losers-and-full-breakdown-as-circulation-declines-average-6-per-cent/

Lew Stringer said...

I'm sure piracy is affecting all comics, James, but it's less damaging to those that sell better than 20,000. It's not going to affect every comic the same way because no one would be downloading the same amount of each title.

Bear in mind The Beano sells 35,000 or more for each issue a week, compared to American comics selling far less per issue in a month. I'll adjust my post about that point though as I didn't make that clear.

garylee said...

I agree completely with your comments regarding piracy, but also feel that the comics themselves have changed too much and too quickly over the last ten years or so and have therefore lost many older readers while not necessarily picking up new ones. The endless events and crossovers don't help, and every book, every month, has guest characters from other books which have become tiresome rather than a selling point. Whereas 2000ad has kept up with it's readers, Marvel and DC sadly have not.

Lew Stringer said...

I completely agree, Gary. I only proposed piracy as another reason because it was one that the article I linked to hadn't considered. The crossover events in comics must shoulder some of the blame but when sales are down to 15,000, piracy really makes survival difficult.

varszava_vavava said...

Hello, for 'They're putting freelance writers, artists, colourists, letterers, out of work (or, at the very least, significantly diminishing their income). The "suits" at Marvel will survive. Some of its creators may not.'

The non-suits have nearly a century of examples of how the American comic book industry works. They knew what they were getting into: their predecessors that created the industry did not. They will make much more money before they get shafted or become suits and do the shafting. They will become they who they warned themselves of: there has been a lot of this in the past two decades.

Lew Stringer said...

Really? I think that's extremely rare. I can think of perhaps Jim Lee as an example of creator-to-boss but the huge majority of freelancers remain freelancers with humble incomes. Yes, we know what we're getting into more than our predecessors did, but that doesn't mean we deserve to be ripped off by pirates. (Not that you were saying that, I hope!)

varszava_vavava said...

Oh no I was not making this as a comment about the piracy aspect. I meant that if you work in American comics then there is no reason now for not knowing what you are getting into. And for non-suits to suits there is all of the original Image gang - of which Lee was one.

Lew Stringer said...

I see. Well, things are better than they used to be in American comics as regards royalties (or so I understand), but most freelancers still remain as freelancers and have no desire or opportunities to become management. It might bring in more income, but the suits have to deal with marketing, admin, etc that most creatives would hate.

paul Mcscotty said...

I have to admit that I don’t think I have ever seen a pirated on line comic or torrent site (you can tell I’m over 30) . However regardless of how people feel about these so called “pirates” activities this is plain and simple stealing, forget about the effect on the “big bad companies” this is intellectual property theft from the “creators”. Disney/ Warner Bros etc probably really couldn’t care less if DC or Marvel comics fold they really only want the characters for use in marketing, films, cartoons, TVs, computer games etc and any loss of income from these pirate sites will just be met with the Marvel/DC just closing the comics (hopefully taking a few idiots to court as well).

For me the comic companies should look at dealing with these “pirates” the way they did with the music companies like Napster , Spotify etc and license them to share comics at cheap prices that way some money would be generated and maybe some format innovations made in their presentation on-line (for me online comics sound horrific) - and hopefully most of the “pirates” will just fade away or be less of an issue-. With the constant advancement of technology this really means that things will only get worse and maybe going “old school” and getting some comics/titles back into newsagents etc and opening them up to more people is an option Disney/Warner have the £ to back this (you can still have specialist comic shops) – unlikely I know.

Lew Stringer said...

It's 25% cheaper to subscribe to the digital Beano, than buy it in the shops, but I don't know why digital editions of American comics are the same price as the paper ones. (Even more expensive since the pound went down after the Brexit announcement.) Yes, the digital editions need to be much cheaper. (Aces Weekly, exclusively digital, is cheap though at only £1 an issue.)

Rest assured that publishers do keep an eye on piracy and try to shut them down where they can. A few years ago, Marvel had one notorious torrent site closed by the FBI. (Which pleased me, as I'd had an argument with the site owner for including my Brickman strips in his torrents.)

A while back, D.C. Thomson sent a cease and desist letter to another site:
http://read.ukprintarchive.com/dc_thomson.html

So publishers do take a stand, but some pirates find ways to avoid being tracked. It's only a matter of time before more get closed down or prosecuted though.

paul Mcscotty said...

Thats good to know Lew - I sometimes find it hard to understand some peoples reasoning that what they are doing is in no way wrong and in their minds is somehow "noble". A thief’s a thief.

Lew Stringer said...

As with anything, people convince themselves of all kinds of things to justify their behaviour unfortunately. Then there are those who simply don't care that it's wrong and think they're untouchable.

Chris said...

I do wonder if Marvel's main digital revenue stream is through their Unlimited app. Basically Netflix for comics, $10 a month and pretty much every comic Marvel publish currently on demand - the catch being 6 months behind on sale date. Much better value but no use for comics struggling now and similar to the "waiting for the trades" in terms of immediate impact for the future of a title.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, very true, Chris. There are all kinds of reasons why sales of U.S. print comics are down (reading the Panini UK reprints instead being another example, as they're only 12 months behind the USA). I still think piracy is a big part of the problem though.

Chris said...

Yes,sorry not intending to dismiss piracy. One of my friends showed me just how easy it was not so long back but that just isn't my thing. However I was surprised at just how much industry there is at ripping off other people's work.

Lew Stringer said...

Yeah, sadly it's definitely a problem. Publishers are taking action, such as Marvel getting the FBI involved, but some slip through the net. I've searched to see if my comics have been pirated and although it doesn't seem they have I chanced upon various sites that had the latest titles listed to download or read online for free.

It's not just the young who are doing it either. I know of people my age or older who think anything they find online is up for grabs for them to take. They've convinced themselves that they're being generous by "sharing", and that anyone against it is mean-spirited! Yet another example of things going Bizarro World in modern times.

Tiniebras said...

Sales of comics in the US are always under a lot of scrutiny. For those interested icv2.com run a monthly coloumn which show the Top 300 comics sales figures and also a monthly coloumn providing analysis of these. To quote from the analysis of the April figures:

https://icv2.com/articles/markets/view/37436/double-digit-declines-comics-graphic-novel-sales

"For the sixth consecutive month, sales of comics and graphic novels to comic stores declined compared to the previous year in numbers released by Diamond Comic Distributors...[]..Marvel Comics is struggling to recover from negative reactions to current storylines and character changes, but it doesn’t appear to be coming soon enough for some. The company took the highly unusual step this week of trying to reassure fans that Secret Empire would end well, as retailers and fans push back against Cap’s apparent lifetime alliance with Hydra..[].. Marvel had no books in the Top 10 graphic novels, a sign that the material it’s collecting isn’t what fans are buying in big numbers right now."





Lew Stringer said...

Yes, people are suffering from "Event fatigue" as Marvel lurch from one crossover event to the next. I thought the Hydra Cap story was a good twist but it's dragging on far too long.

James Spiring said...

The August solicits are out - Silver Surfer seems to be ending, I'm afraid.

Lew Stringer said...

The one I saw said that the story of the Surfer and Dawn was ending but that doesn't necessarily mean the end of the comic. It wouldn't surprise me, however. Pity. It's one of Marvel's best comics (and therefore popular with pirating thieves).

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