Friday, November 18, 2011

Piracy, Real and Virtual

Tue Sørensen commented:
Great and interesting reading as usual, Jim. All this talk of the mob makes me wonder how things are today. Is there still a mob with significant influence on many aspects of show business (under which I include comics) or did all that fade away a few decades back?
Anonymous said... "The fact that pretty much every comic ever published from 1938 up to yesterday can be downloaded for free right now has got to be having some kind of impact on the industry. I'm surprised anyone is still denying this."
But is this a good thing or a bad thing? With easy availability, a lot of new young people are bound to discover a lot comics that they otherwise never would have seen (both old and new), and some of them will surely hang around as fans and collectors and be drawn to the print versions. 


ANSWER:
Regarding organized crime having an influence on show business: I do not think things are the same as in Bobby Cohen's heyday. I suspect mob corruption/influence is more street level these days, rather than all the way to the top. Less corporate, less big business, more drugs. The bad news at the top has more to do with corporate raiders, financial predators and modern-version robber barons. Yesterday, I spoke with a very wise, high-net-worth person involved in entertainment and entertainment finance about this very subject. The legal (but reprehensible) and quasi-legal financial manipulations that go on are stunning. Financial pirates, not mobsters, are the problem. And not just in entertainment.

Regarding all comics being available free for download: I've heard both sides of the online piracy argument. The "it's good that things are available online for free because of the exposure" argument is predicated on that exposure motivating sales. At some point, somebody still has to buy something in some form if content creators/companies are to make ends meet.

I think the exposure thing works if the creators are established and big enough -- for instance, someone told me that INXS made an album available free for download and people bought the package anyway when it was released. Had to have it. The exposure theory also may work for new or unknown creators to build awareness so they can become established and big.

In either case, however, it only works if that which is given such exposure is a brilliant, compelling product that inspires the gotta-own-a-copy feeling.

And, don't forget, the whole team has to be brilliant. Great script with good-but-not-compelling art, or vice versa, won't cut it. Unspectacular coloring might sink your ship. Or, the writing, art, whatever must be so wonderful that it causes people to overlook the less-than-brilliant bits.

I'm all in favor of rewarding that which is excellent, so, fair enough, but ultimately, available-for-free makes the barriers to entry far more daunting and the bar for success incredibly high.

Available-for-free is happening right now, of course, and it is dramatically changing the business. Companies are struggling and/or dying. We're headed toward a new business model that's all about stars -- those who have already made it and are established, those who are brilliant on their first try, and those who somehow have the resources to try enough times to develop and become brilliant.

How many great talents facing that discouraging prospect wouldn't make the attempt, preferring to take their talents elsewhere? How many wouldn't be able to stay the course long enough? Therefore, how much wonderful entertainment would simply never be created? How much available-for-free wonderful entertainment that people were not quite compelled to buy as hard copies would quickly die? How many brilliant works that are niche-oriented rather than mass-oriented would not garner enough buyers from their limited bases to sustain them? Blah, blah blah, blah, blah.

At first glance, the "star system" seems righteous and fair -- let the stars shine. But, then, the business becomes about making stars out of creators/performers -- ay, there's the rub. Take one hundred equally brilliant creators. One labors at night after his or her day job, does something brilliant and bootstrapping it, with a dollop of luck, out of nowhere, succeeds. Ten do whatever it takes to get the backing from producing entities/companies, or luckily have the wherewithal themselves to produce. Propelled by PR, marketing, advertising and star-making apparati, three of them catch on and succeed. Seven fail anyway. 89 never get anything like a real chance.  "...all the stars that never were are parking cars and pumping gas. Do you know the way to San Jose?"

So, what's the answer. Two main options, I think:

A)  As the music industry did, crack down on people who offer he free downloads and, more importantly, crack down on those who download the pirated works. The music industry went after Napster and others, but also went after individuals who downloaded pirated music. At the same time, the music industry made buying music online cheaper and easier, so, ultimately, it was simpler and less terrifying to just buy the tunes than it was to steal them.  Better to pay $.99 than worry about the FBI knocking on your door. Comics could do the same, but being a less powerful and prosperous industry, I doubt the companies have the resources or the will.

Or....

B)  Embrace the change. Go all-star. Produce nothing but brilliant, compelling, gotta-have-a-copy work. Make or develop stars, yes, but do so in an enlightened manner, as fairly, equitably, honestly and intelligently as possible. Go for or real talent, not flavor-du-jour or one-hit-wonder people. Use the small companies as your farm system,or start one of your own. Do not publish anything except the best of the best. Offer the products online first. Make them easily accessible, well-marketed and at prices low enough to make piracy less appealing. Offer perks and added value at your site to make downloading from there a better experience. Make the print packages excellent and beautiful, to make them extra-desireable as 3-D items. Include things that online downloads can't -- could be slipcases, small collectibles, things you can only get with the 3-D item. (Remember when British comics had a "spiff" attached to first issues and specials? Do they still?) To anyone who says that we'd have a lot of online readers for cheap and few people buying the expensive hard copies, I say that's about where we are now anyway, but we're doing it half-assed, wastefully and inefficiently. There's too much bad stuff produced that no one wants, even free online, much less in a four-dollar book. Too few all-star products that are popular downloads and generate significant sales of the print versions, and not enough effort devoted to them. Embrace the change, do it right.  

Of course, A and B are not mutually exclusive.

130 comments:

me said...

Marvel's all you can eat online venture is a winner. I've read tons of stuff that I otherwise wouldn't have and paid for it. Probably more to their liking, when they only published four issues of The Thanos Imperative online, I went out and bought it in trade. Probably much to DC's liking, I discovered Dan Abnett and I'm buying Resurrection Man in individual issues, something I rarely do. I truly wish DC had something like it, but they seem more interested in soaking me when it comes to their online offerings.

Jay Boaz said...

I would happily purchase digital comics if they were not the same price as the physical copies. If I shell out $4 for a comic, at least I own something tangible. If I pay the same cost for a digital copy, I'm one hard drive failure away from losing that comic, and a hard drive failure is a lot more likely than a flood or other disaster that would destroy my paper comics.

Do you have any knowledge of the costs of digital distribution versus physical Jim? I would think not having to deal with printing, distribution, and storage would make digital noticeably cheaper to produce (even though there are costs associated with digital as well).

I actually like what Marvel is doing with some of their books, offering a digital download code if you purchase the physical book. It lets you enjoy the comic via multiple platforms; I love having comics on my tablet when I'm not at home.

I think if digital was done properly it would drive down the piracy, though I don't think there is any way to flat out get rid of it.

I have more thoughts on this very subject at my blog if you or anyone is interested, at http://doeswhateveracomicsblogcan.blogspot.com/2011/11/lets-get-digital.html.

Kid said...

British comics used to have a free gift for the first three issues of a new title, with others being included in anniversary or special promotional issues and the like.

Nowadays, it's quite common to have cover-mounted giveaways quite regularly (some have them every issue), but the trouble with this is, that people are buying them for the 'gifts' not the comics. It also makes the comics dearer, as the cost of the 'gift' is included in the price.

Also, because the kids are buying whatever comic has the best 'toy', there's no real guarantee of brand loyalty to a title from issue to issue.

World Famous Psycho Chicken said...

Another thing about comic prices are they are way quicker reads than they use to be. Even ten years ago, my twenty issue pile of comics would last the weekend.

Now I can burn thru a pile of new books in two hours. Some issues of Angel:After the Fall come to mind. Good art, nice story, but read it in five minutes. With it costing nearly five bucks, that is an issue.

Glen said...

Hi again jim,
I read your other post on distribution history ( thanks!),and followed the links to Mile Highs blogs and read tons of distribution history pages there.

I am a old fan boy now in my early 40's and will buy what I like regardless of accessibility and price. I do think to attract more new fans to the medium a major shakeup is in order.

Whether its Marvel or DC online offerings, it does not matter how good they are if potential new fans dont know they exist.

I believe some kind of cross marketing sustained campaign is needed- like throw in a comic book with a video game ( digital and paper), offer cards (similar to Itunes free songs) for free digital comics at movies. Its time to market aggressively and get noticed. Sell trading cards with a digital download, throw it in cereal box etc. etc. etc. Basically get in peoples face to get new readers.

I agree with your other suggestions, but I think its critical to get outside of the comic shop and into other places where people whom dont buy comics but might (video game , movie geeks etc) get exposed to it.

Thats my rant, pleasure as always to read this, its become a daily habit.
Glen

Glen said...

Hi again jim,
I read your other post on distribution history ( thanks!),and followed the links to Mile Highs blogs and read tons of distribution history pages there.

I am a old fan boy now in my early 40's and will buy what I like regardless of accessibility and price. I do think to attract more new fans to the medium a major shakeup is in order.

Whether its Marvel or DC online offerings, it does not matter how good they are if potential new fans dont know they exist.

I believe some kind of cross marketing sustained campaign is needed- like throw in a comic book with a video game ( digital and paper), offer cards (similar to Itunes free songs) for free digital comics at movies. Its time to market aggressively and get noticed. Sell trading cards with a digital download, throw it in cereal box etc. etc. etc. Basically get in peoples face to get new readers.

I agree with your other suggestions, but I think its critical to get outside of the comic shop and into other places where people whom dont buy comics but might (video game , movie geeks etc) get exposed to it.

Thats my rant, pleasure as always to read this, its become a daily habit.
Glen

Defiant1 said...

You don't hear a lot about the music industry fighting piracy anymore. The reason is that it's expensive. The reason Metallica led the fight back in the Napster days is because they were still in the studio finalizing a track and yet preliminary versions were already on Napster being shared. The fans aren't to blame for that. It was an insider who leaked the recordings. The lawsuits actually turned the consumers against the music industry and I don't think it's fully erased from people's minds.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122966038836021137.html

In my opinion, quality is the only thing that can truly draw sales. The people who are happy with modern comics are simply the people who haven't abandoned the hobby yet. How many more people have to abandon the hobby before the publishers accept that their own decision have prompted the exodus away from comics?

The audience is still out there, but reaching them is a huge undertaking because most people who left feel betrayed. It's possible to run a digital service that offers print-on-demand for people like me who want a tangible product. I'm surprised that no one has gone that route yet. I think it'd be possible to tack on a higher cost for people who want the tangible product. It's also possible to add bonus content to lure in the extra sale. Whatever road is taken to win consumers back is going to be a slow tedious one. Stockholders don't want to hear that. Stockholders want to see instant results. Upper management bows to the stockholders. The good thing is that with interest rates being low, all you have to do is show a reasonable profit and you are still a sound investments. About 10 years ago, the company I worked for was making about 7% profits. The owners flat out told us that they didn't have any reason to keep us open because they could put their money in the bank and make the same money without taking any risks. The economy collapsing saved our jobs. Now, while everyone else is looking for work, we are experiencing record sales and contracts. Prosperity and reliabilities cbrings with it opportunities. To make a mark in this hobby, all you have to do is turn a profit and convey a sense of reliability. If you do that, you are heads and shoulders above the competition.

Will said...

I LIKE the BOOKS. Not content delivered on a screen. I work at a computer EVERY day. I don't need ANOTHER reason to look at a device. I'm full up.

This is about readers and publishing. Whats a collector supposed to do with digital? I cant touch it or smell it. Theres no thrill of the hunt in finding a missing issue. I suppose a full hard drive is better than space wise than a longbox... but gee-whiz. Its lacking a lot to satisfy why I like comics as a whole.

Not a fan, but totally get that its coming.

Anonymous said...

Hi again jim,
I read your other post on distribution history ( thanks!),and followed the links to Mile Highs blogs and read tons of distribution history pages there.

I am a old fan boy now in my early 40's and will buy what I like regardless of accessibility and price. I do think to attract more new fans to the medium a major shakeup is in order.

Whether its Marvel or DC online offerings, it does not matter how good they are if potential new fans dont know they exist.

I believe some kind of cross marketing sustained campaign is needed- like throw in a comic book with a video game ( digital and paper), offer cards (similar to Itunes free songs) for free digital comics at movies. Its time to market aggressively and get noticed. Sell trading cards with a digital download, throw it in cereal box etc. etc. etc. Basically get in peoples face to get new readers.

I agree with your other suggestions, but I think its critical to get outside of the comic shop and into other places where people whom dont buy comics but might (video game , movie geeks etc) get exposed to it.

Thats my rant, pleasure as always to read this, its become a daily habit.
Glen

JayJayJackson said...

Hey, I'm so sorry some people's comments are getting blocked by the spam filter. I went over the settings again and I can't figure out why and it won't allow me to edit that. If your comments aren't showing up, you could email me, or I will try to catch it as soon as I can:

editor@illustratedmedia.com

DJ said...

Here's the latest British Number 1.
http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.com/
Trying to recapture a flavour of the old days, but mix it in with a modern twist. No free gift though.

Cheers David J.

lpmiller said...

the problem with prosecuting the downloaders, as the music industry found out, is you are prosecuting the fans. No matter how righteous the cause, that doesn't go over well and in the end, hurts more then it helps, which is why you see a lot less of that kind of attack by the RIAA. Instead, they are much more likely to go after the actual torrent sites. Of course, that's a lot like going after individual bees in a swarm, long term, but it's not making the fans into criminals (from a PR stand point, never mind if they actually are or not).

To be honest, the cheap music downloads happened in spite of the music industry, not because of it. Places like iTunes and Amazon made it possible, their success brought the industry on board.

People will pay if they think it's A)helping someone they care about and that b) they think it's a fair price. While both Marvel and DC now have digital downloads, I don't know that they've quite got the price point down yet (really, a subscription service would be ideal, I think). It's getting there however. Piracy will always exist, but it can be controlled if you go have the distributors and offer a product people actually want to pay for at a reasonable price.

lpmiller said...

I like books, but there is something very nice about reading comics on an ipad. Hell, I know my basement really appreciates it.

DJ said...

Whoa!
Here's another, seemingly aimed at a younger audience.
http://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/subscribe/
They're coming thick & fast now.
No free gift either, but you can get a free preview from Waitrose, if you shop there. :)

Nick Yankovec said...

I'm going to go ahead and disagree with you, Jim, on the music business - I don't think coming down hard on Napster and using legal powers ever stopped the piracy; I think the music industry instead found alternatives, including reasonable priced downloads and platforms like Spotify.

The film industry has changed as well, with movies-on-demand, downloads, more films being released simultaneously on different platforms.

With regard to comics, the biggest problem is not digital pirate copies, I strongly believe it's that most of the stuff available is overpriced and not good enough. I do occassionally pirate comics, but, like a lot of people I know, I don't like reading comics on a digital format and download the first comic of an arc to decide whether or not I will buy the trade. If the comic is good, you'll get my money, but I'm not spending £18 or more on a TPB when I know most are going to be a waste of my money.

A related question, Marvel and DC have had a lot of success with their Essential/Showcase lines, lots of back issues on cheap paper in black and white. Would there be a big cost saving if comics were once again printed on cheap paper with limited coloring, like in the good old days (and possibly cheaper shipping costs due to reduced weight)? Is there a market for cheap, low cost comics?

I know I'd certainly be tempted to buy more if the prices were not so extortionate.

DJ said...

Totally agree Nick.
One of the main reasons I don't buy modern comics is the price. I feel as if I'm being ripped off big time. The last "Modern" comic I bought was a "New" Steve Ditko team-up story of the Hulk & Human Torch - nicely inked by Karl Kesel, but at 3 quid (£3.00) for an old inventory story, I felt as if I'd had my throat cut.
To download a digital copy for a similar price? I may as well stick a fork in my eye!

Cheers.
David J.

techberry said...

The real difference between reading/downloading comic books online vs going to a store and physically holding/purchasing a comic book:

Online = consuming
The actual comic book = collecting

Consuming is wasteful and done with little disregard for the work put into the product.

Collecting pay homage and respect to the characters and creaters and provides value.

OM said...

"for instance, someone told me that INXS made an album available free for download"

...Then I'd still be demanding my money back. Especially if it were another INXS chokefest. :P

Anonymous said...

I used to work on CD releases of obscure early rock bands, and for several years it was a viable albeit low-key industry. It came crashing down when every note of music ever recorded became freely available online.

The pirates don't realize (or care) that with nobody buying, there will no longer be anything for them to pirate. The 'obscure reissue' biz is dead, after several decades of success.

CDs are generally not seen as being collectable, so the 'gotta have the real thing' mentality doesn't come into play. Anyone can burn a CD copy and the artwork can be downloaded and printed.

As for comics - 90% of the last 40 years worth of comics are difficult to even give away. I don't think gimmick covers would help much; they didn't work too well in the '90s.

There will likely always be a hardcore of comics collectors who do want the 'real thing' (which is printed from digital files anyway) but not enough to sustain the print side of business.

Pete Marco

Paul Dushkind said...

Remember Barry Smith's ignominious debut with X-Men No. 53? Fans wrote letters and fanzine editorials complaining that Marvel was scraping the bottom of the barrel. But some professionals recognized that he was hired for his potential. He knocked himself out on Conan and became one of the best artists in comics. Not only that, but he went from imitating Kirby to a unique, less formulaic style.

Smith grew because, as comedians say about dive comedy clubs, he needed a place to be bad.

Today, I gather that new artists aren't permitted to do on-the-job training. They're expected to get good first, then get hired. My guess is that this prevents some artists from growing into the kind of stars they might otherwise have been.

jimshooter said...

Dear Nick,


I think I've been pretty clear in all my rants that "not good enough" is the main problem with comics today. Price and other concerns exacerbate the problem.

There probably aren't printing methods cheaper than offset litho available and suitable for comics today. Hand separations today would be far more expensive than computer seps, so no point to artificially limiting the number of colors. Yes, you could save some money with cheaper paper, but at the print runs common today there really is no great advantage with regard to pamphlet comics. The main chance, I think, is to attain the economies of scale that come with bigger print runs. To get there, again, I think it takes consistently outstanding creative work. Quality is key.

Antonio Malcolm said...

Hi, Jim. First, let me say I love your blog and your insights. I think this is my first time commenting, as this one caught my attention, in no small part due to my own industry and background.

A few things:

First, as best as I or any observer can tell, the entertainment industry has ALWAYS been about finding or developing stars, with most attempts ending short of a person's goals. The majority fall by the wayside like waste carbon, while diamonds are plucked out or made from what looks like carbon with great potential or an insane work ethic, or both. The scenario you described is ALWAYS how it has played out. Stuff being freely available likely has little to do with it. If anything, I think you were more correct in your first examination, that making something available for free is probably good for exposure, and even if your product sucks, because you made it so freely available, you'll probably be able to gather a lot of free critique for improvement, to try again. Agreed, this should probably be intentional, however, on the part of the creator, rather than ripped off and given away by someone else.

(I don't think you ned to be an expert to notice the obvious, however, I'll elaborate by mentioning it's not much different in my line of work; startups want only the best and brightest, who will work like mad to meet constant deadlines with the highest possible quality, once they're hired, just like they did while trying to break into the industry. No coasting! And like your industry, my industry has a shortage of those, and plethora of those who are either in the middle or not very good but want very badly to break in. AND, we have our free, open source, give it away stuff, and a well-known history of thieves and pirates...)

While I can agree that pirates who make commercial content free to others illegally should be charged, I think the RIAA and MIAA and their lawyers are bad examples, sucking blood from turnips with what were insanely unjustified costs. They ultimately lost that battle, both in terms of PR, and with the failing patience of judges who became tired of their nonsense, so you're not citing a very good example there. They officially called it quits (except for the porn industry, who came in afterward to beat a dead horse, and judges are losing patience with them, as well).

I'll add that those examples are also a far cry from what's happening in comics piracy. In the music industry example you cited, it was mostly kids and a few adults who didn't want to buy a CD, so they downloaded some songs or movies or what have you, and in doing so, made them freely available to everyone else on their P2P or torrent network, and in many cases probably didn't even understand that those types of softwares work in that manner: making stuff you steal open to be stolen by many others by default. That's not a justification, it's to point out a big difference: in comics piracy, it's a planned, coordinated, intentioned effort- the amount of teamwork, work ethic, and craftsmanship these 'digitizers' put into it could probably get them a job somewhere, if they didn't just get carried away with what is obviously a psychological compulsion, one which may even be a bit unhealthy.

I'll stop there, for now, as this is the sort of discussion which could go on for days.

Anonymous said...

About downloading the comics to your hard drive legally... Comixology (which does Marvel and DC among others) is set up in such a way that the comics are on their servers and you access them--you never physically have the comic files on your personal hard drive. I am not a fan of this method--what if they ever go out of business? Then what?

t.k.

Ethan said...

There are very successful examples of people who offered their work for free and made a killing when they decided to print. XKCD being the main example (millions of hits a day, then the print run sold over 10,000 copies, which is very decent for a esoteric webcomic about stick figures). 'MegaTokyo' and 'Penny Arcade' are others (Penny Arcade has their own convention now). All 3 examples are not what you would objectively call 'brilliant', either in art or story. What all 3 of them did was develop a very loyal readership and like in comics, people followed the 'brand' of the creators. Not to mention how much some webcomics are making with advertisement. Dr. McNinja (which was recently picked up by Dark Horse) makes anywhere from $60 to $100 a day on just one ad banner alone. Oh, and did I mention how much these creators probably make by selling merchandise?

What I think most hardcore comic fans and mainstream creators don't really grasp (or deny) is that there's a huge comic readership out there that only follows non-mainstream stuff, kids who are more familiar with Bryan Lee O'Malley than Barry Windsor-Smith. I know some people will say this is apples and oranges, that webcomics are not real comics. True, there is a discernible difference between quality, but the average consumer doesn't care, someone who doesn't care about the finer points like most hardcore comic readers do.

I'm just saying that there's a whole other industry of webcomics that provides an incredibly successful paradigm, and it's not based on how objectively great the material is, but by how well it is marketed, how accessible the comic is, and how well the creator networks.

Antonio Malcolm said...

XKCD is brilliant, as is TheOatmeal, which sells merchandise based on the comics.

ChrisFusco said...

Ethan said...
"Oh, and did I mention how much these creators probably make by selling merchandise?"

This is pretty much why Disney would shell out $4 billion for Marvel, right? It wasn't for the profits coming in from just comic book publishing.

Side note - still surprises me that they paid $4 billion, what with most of the big marquee characters already having been made into movies, and still under contract to other studios. Very curious to see what lesser known characters they're going to try developing into movies/TV. So far they haven't come in to revamp the publishing side of things...

techberry said...
"Collecting pay homage and respect to the characters and creaters and provides value."

I'm sure they appreciate homage and respect, but I'm guessing creators just want to get paid for their work, whether it's consumed digitally or collected in paper form. :)

On 'piracy' in general - it's funny how much people don't equate it with 'stealing'. If your kid goes into a store and steals a CD (or heck, a pack of gum), you'd ground him. If he downloads the same CD off the internet via torrent, meh. Most parents I know wouldn't worry much about it. But the end result isn't that different. People just don't view it the same way.

Oscar said...

Hey Jim

Been following your blog for a while now. One of those people that you brouhgt into comics for the long run with Secret War.

I live in Sweden and over here the music industry lost the war. CD's are not something you buy anymore. There used to be a chain of stores called megahertz when I was younger. It was a place you sort of hang around at. It was the biggest chain of music. I haven't seen one of those in years now. All cd that are being sold are done so over the internet.

The music industry is a strange example too since many are in it for the concerts. So the cd's are not the important part for many. We use a service called Spotify(listen to songs for free and get commercials inbetween) in Sweden. It has replaced itunes and almost stopped illegal downloading.

A miliar model could be used for comics in the future. Making it so that a archive is acessable for you to read from. Still making sure that no copies of comics exist on your harddrive. With an add system giving creators their income. What I guess would be necessary to make it work like Spotify is a large number of users. Gicing the most viewed comics a more desirealbe spot for commercails and therefore more money.

It would be free or a msall fee every month. Spotify started as free and is now a small fee or you get limited availabilty.

Anonymous said...

I use the virtual comics as my farm system. I download:
a) I like it - I will buy it, even if it's only the trade
b) Don't like it - Delete and never read it again



meaningless joe

Anonymous said...

I feel as though I should defend people torrenting stuff for free on the internet. At our public library right now, is a dvd copy of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. If I wanted to, I could go to the library, check that out dvd and watch it for free. Anybody with a library card, who lives in my town, could go and check out that dvd and watch that movie for free. But, technically aren't we all practicing a form of offline torrenting? In fact the public library is full of books, movies, cds that people can check out for free. The authors, filmmakers, record companies, don't make a dime on anything anybody checks out of the library. So apparently it's okay and legal if the public library practices a form of offline file sharing? And if library doesn't have what your looking for, you can do an interlibrary loan. So another library will send the material to another library so the patron can check it out for free. How is that any different from what a bit torrent site is offering? I guess I just don't understand everybody freaking out about internet piracy. If people want your product they will buy. It's as simple as that. The only different is, pirating a movie or comic, allows you to try before you buy. I can understand why a studio or publisher would freak out about that (especially if they are producing is total crap). And as for comic book companies worrying about me pirating their new comics... that fear is completely unjustified. Outside of Showcases or Essentials I have no interest in buying or reading any of their stuff now-a-days.

Anonymous said...

I have purchased practically every edition of Marvel Masterworks, Omnibuses, Essentials and own thousands of comics. I would now like to have digital files of these as well, to read on an iPad.

So, here's the burning question:

Should I therefore spend several months scanning all of my books to create digital files for my personal use? Is that illegal?

Or can I simply download the ones that other people have scanned already, again solely for my personal use?

At what point, and why, does it become illegal to own digital copies of material I've already paid for in hard copy in one format or another?

Not saying I've done this, just a hypothetical.

Pete Marco

Tue Sørensen said...

At www.elfquest.com all the Elfquest comics that ever came out are freely available to read. This is great; I think it would be a good thing for Marvel and DC to make a lot of older stuff freely available, and also give people substantial previews of new stuff. The only reason not to do this would be if they don't trust in people wanting to buy it after having had a taste of it, and then the problem is with the quality.

I think comics piracy is a very complex issue. There's no guarantee whatsoever that people who download pirated comics would otherwise have bought them, which means it may not affect the industry appreciably. Add to this that it is probably the case that the biggest consumers and producers of pirated comics are also the biggest collectors, who are already supporting the industry. Proliferating scanned comics on the internet may even amount to massive free publicity for the publishers. So it doesn't seem clear to me at all whether the net effect of comic pirating is positive or negative. Maybe it's negligible for the publishers.

Also, economics 101 says that as soon as a commodity can be copied ad infinitum, the law of supply and demand does not apply. If supply is infinite, why should it cost anything? That's not even just a snarky question. In the long run (and preferably in the short, too), business models simply have to undergo some serious restructuring to adapt to this new situation.

Online advertising might be the answer. In fact, might it not be the case that if the big companies could simply draw enough people to their website to read free digital comics, then the advertising revenues alone would be profit enough to keep the business prosperous? It seems to work for some people. But maybe the comics industry is not big enough, I don't know.

Kev from Atl said...

Anonymous-
Please understand that, even though anyone can go to the library and check out those items, the libraries bought those items originally. In fact, when you consider that many libraries purchase multiple copies, and multiply that by the thousands of libraries across the US, they can provide a substantial sales percentage. That is different from a single copy of a comic or movie being purchased, uploaded, and then downloaded by thousands of people.

Defiant1 said...

My understanding is that Disney bought Crossgen to fill in a gap in their audience demographics. They had adults watching and buying the childrens programming with small kids. They were losing the small kids when they became teenagers. Marvel properties are still cool to older kids and obviously grown adults and males. Buying Marvel and adding it to their creative properties helps Disney appeal in some fashion to males and females from childhood into old age. it's the full spectrum of consumers.

BTW, I met INXS in 1983. Pretty cool guys. I think Michael Hutchence was murdered. He was dating Bob Geldolph's (sp?) ex-wife and Bob was blocking Michael's girlfriend from traveling to Australia with her kids. Michael was depressed, but I think the circumstances of his death were a tad bit too bizarre and humiliating.

Defiant1 said...

One thing to understand about music and video is that the producers of such had full control over the production and distribution prior to CD burners and MP3 compression. Technology changed and took away their control. The music industry wants to artificially maintain the stranglehold and control over prices when in fact the playing field has changed. It's just a simple fact that you can walk into churches and basements across America and find more talented singers and musicians than you hear on the radio. The high cost to put those singers on the radio and vinyl records was the only way the record company could control the distribution and prices. The music industry needs to accept that they can't artificially maintain price structures anumore. No other industry has ever been granted such protections. If someone made a better way to do something in the past, businesses had to adjust or go out of business. My favorite pizza restaurant went out of business when Dominoes started delivering pizzas. Piracy was always around. People made mix tapes on cassette and shared them. Now it just happens that you can make copies and easily share them with a thousand people. If a thousand people walk into a record store and each donate a fraction of a cent to collectively buy a CD for the group, shouldn't they all equally have a right to do with it as they please? I don't think a record label should have a right to tell a thousand people they can't buy something as a group. Two people can buy a house. I can buy a house and let 5 people live in it for free. I can buy a magazine and leave it in a doctors waiting room for a hundred other people to read. I'd have a serious problem with someone telling me that if I buy a screwdriver, that I can only use it myself and I can't let it leave my house or let another family member use it. I have the same problem with someone telling me what I can and can't do with a song. If their song is so incredibly special, then raise the price. The truth is that no song is as special as the record companies try to pretend they are. The music industry is hurting because they refused to change and consumers have said "we don't need you anymore." Is it any wonder that people you've never heard of before are becoming youtube sensations? Of course not. There is always someone out their willing to sing and share music for free.

Shawn James said...

The Comic book industry is overpricing its digital content. 99 cents is THE price for digital content. That's all the customer will pay for a new, untested product. Until the comic book industry can rebuild its reputation,they can't go demanding full print price for product right off the bat. The audience isn't there yet.

Publishers have to realize they are asking the customer to give them a chance to see if they like comics again. Over the past twenty years casual readers have been turned off, and kids just don't care. The industry has to rebuild its reputation with the audience and they need an incentive for them to give comics a try. 99 cent comics and free comics will go a long way in fostering goodwill with the general public.

Long-term offering free content will go a long way in stopping piracy. Why go to Kazaaa or Bittorrent for content and risk a virus or malware when you can get a legit copy?

Also, content on both has to be DRM (digital Rights Management) Free so it can be copied, traded and swapped. People love to trade and swap MP3s, and they should be able to do the same with digital comics.

I know offering free samples and 99 cent eBooks because it was a huge success for me this Summer. I've been offering free eBooks since May of this year on smashwords and I still offer some right now to entice readers to try my work.
Over the summer I offered free YA content as part of a promotional campaign to get teens and tweens reading for the Summer. I got a lot of new readers with that campaign.

And to my surprise people liked the eBooks I offered for free so much they bought them for their Nooks, Kindles and ipads on Amazon and Barnes and Noble where I had to offer them there for 99 cents. And people were paying for the FREE content!

I sold a lot of eBooks this summer A lot.

If this kind of promotion could work for a small self-publisher like myself, it could do huge business for the comic book industry, moving titles at a larger volume.

Long-term, pricing is a major problem with digital comics. It's just not competitive. A comic at $3 or $4 still costs more than an MP3, a TV show or even full-length novels. The only way to move digital product is 99 cents. That's the sweet spot. Anyting higher and digital customers hesitate. 99 cents is the sweet spot.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that digital comics should be less than 99 cents as a buck is still too much to ask for something that only takes a couple of minutes to read and is then discarded - oops, I mean deleted or stored away on a hard drive :)

Shawn, I was interested in your comment about selling eBooks. I have a couple of my own publications I'd like to do this with. Are yours PDFs or a more interactive format?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the above comment was mine - forgot to type my name in... which is:

Pete Marco

Shawn James said...

One thing I learned as a publisher is you can't really worry about piracy too much. Once I put something out there it's out there. If the audience likes it enough they'll find a way to compensate the artist for it. People are going to share what they like and long-term that's what's going to get the new customers buying product.

Firestone said...

What we have a need for, is a disruptive entity. Someone to do to the existing Big Two, what Stan Lee did to DC back in the 60s.
Half of what Stan did was to make the characters different, and so on. But that's only half.
The other half is that he made every issue count.

Do you remember Action in the 50s and 60s? Yet another issue of Lois versus Superman, or maybe a Jimmy Olsen story where he has a strange transformation. They'd even tell the same story, maybe one year later, same plot, different art.

Before Marvel, was there really a point to getting every issue of a comic? Or was it just 'eh, miss this issue, there'll be another in a month'?

At least, that's one way to look at it.

We all know the current status quo is not survivable. We all know that comics have importance, we want super heroes to survive.

A new paradigm needs to be established somehow.

We know that DC acts as basically a plot engine to a publishing company. I'm wondering if that can be done again. Is there someone out there that wants something to exploit?

Can comics be created as concept feeders to video games, perhaps? Do you think EA could have their own farm team? It has been done, sort of: City of Heroes shipped an issue of their own comic monthly to every subscriber... and they had over 200,000 subscribers at launch.

I should talk to my friend at Bioware. This is an idea.

Shawn James said...

Anonymous,

my eBooks were just word files, plain text. Amazon's KDP and Barnes& Noble's pubit! will convert them to ePub for you. Smashwords will also do this too.

99 cents is a price that moves product for the music industry and the eBook market. I moved more books at 99 cents than at $2.99. Moreover, I sold eBooks in the international marketplace such as Canada, Austrailia and the UK at that price.

And when I was a kid comics were cheap disposable entertainment. If comics went back to being cheap, disposable entertainment it'd go a long way in introducing new readers, especially tweens and teens who will stay with the industry for at least a decade or so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Shawn, it's a fascinating new delivery system.

'And when I was a kid comics were cheap disposable entertainment.'

They've kind of come back to being that again - -except for the 'cheap' part. And maybe not the 'entertainment' bit either...

Mike F said...

I have not bought any floppy comics in at least the last 5 years. And the ones I've bought since 200 make a very small pile indeed.

I've downloaded almost everything out there and have full digital collections of FF, X-Men, Spidey etc. But I just can't really get into the digital world. As well, I'd prefer to pay than pirate but feel there isn't a reasonable platform/price out there at the moment.

I've really enjoyed some of the omnibuses lately though it frustrates me when they are out of print and going for astronomical values.

The best solution, for me, would be able to try digital comics for free and be able to select all the ones I want and buy in omnibus format. So personalised hardcover/omnibus. The current situation where I either have to wait years for something I want, and then it's not quite what I want, or has issues I'm not interested in is very frustrating.

Digital and print on demand is the way to go I think. I think this may have implications for the collector market, but who cares. This is the modern era and there is no need for paying a premium for scarcity any more.

Anonymous said...

'I've downloaded almost everything out there and have full digital collections of FF, X-Men, Spidey etc.'

Some of the scans are almost like the real thing (sans paper); the colours and reproduction are so true to the originals - much better than the Masterworks and Omnibuses, which are always recoloured, resized, and shot from degraded copies, etc.

Pete Marco

Mike F said...

I like the recolouring's (sacrilege, I know). I wish the X-Men omnibuses had been recoloured. I like the paper and the hardcover format and the price (when not OOP).

Anonymous said...

I wish the Marvel Omnibuses were printed on a matt stock, more like that used on the DC equivalents.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me again -- Pete Marco. I need to get an account...

Tue Sørensen said...

Defiant1, great post - I agree completely.

Mike F: Personalized print-on-demand comics is a fabulous idea! Technically it is no problem. All it requires is the publishers' decision to do it. Imagine that! Getting exactly what you wanted, in a personalized book of as many pages as you wanted. Brilliant! Somebody tell the companies that this is the option we want. Then all sorts of concerns about formats and media could become moot.

I think, the reason they would balk at this idea is that it would require an active and nuanced choice from the consumer, instead of our just saying yes or no to an pre-packaged product. The companies probably aren't prepared to assume that there are enough customers who will go ahead an make a nuanced choice, even if asked to do so. And sad to say, they may be right about that. But it's a great idea for a time when people are more pro-active and know what they want.

Craig Hansen said...

For some perspective...

While no one I know defends piracy (of comics or anything else)...

...What about corporate piracy the sort of which Marvel perpetrates regularly these days.

Example:

Apparently, our long national nightmare is over and the behemoth event known as FEAR ITSELF is finally over.

Final tally: 123 comics!

Cost to own all the comics in the FEAR ITSELF series?

Between $369 - $492, at "newsstand" prices. (Some were $2.99, some $3.99, so it's somewhere in the middle of that range.)

Holy expletive deleted, Batman!

And that's not even the whole Marvel canon... that's just the FEAR ITSELF titles.

Let's split the difference at around $425, near the middle of the range.

When I was starting out in the mid-1970s, comics were "Still only $0.25!" and soon went to $0.35. But let's be generous and say I did a lot of my comic book buying as a youngster in the $0.50 era... (and stuck it out until about 6-8 years ago when they went regularly above $1.99 and I had to start being REALLY selective about what I buy.)

I had, in my youth, a comic book habit that ran about 30 titles a month, about 25 of them Marvel titles. (I loved Batman, though, and Teen Titans. And Firestorm.)

So...

My 30-comic a month habit back then cost me... $15/month.

The 75-cent era bumped that to $22.50, and by the 99-cent era, it was close to $30/month.

Today, I couldn't even sustain a 10-book-a-month habit on $30! And $15 a month would buy me... 4-5 books a month.

A 30-book a month habit today would run me $90 to $120.

Back in the $0.50 era, $425 would have bought me 850 comics... or, supported my comic book habit for more than 28 months... almost two-and-a-half years. That would have been the majority of my comic book reading before comes when from 50 cents to 60 or 65 ... I forget which.

$425 would maybe support 3-4 months of a comic book habit at 30 titles a month now. The same money would buy them about SEVEN videogames, well over a year's supply for most kids, who buy about six titles a year, on average.

Craig Hansen said...

What's the point of all this?

To defend comic book piracy? NOT AT ALL.

But it is to say this: Comic book companies today SAY they're all about serving younger fans, not those in their 30s and 40s.

But they're not priced as a youngster/teenage hobby anymore. They've priced themselves out of the market.

Solution?

Go digital (DC just signed a deal with Amazon Prime, if I recall, and I think Marvel's considering a similar move.)

You eliminate the printing costs and the distribution costs.

Them you price each comic at $0.99 (just like a lot of Kindle books) and pay creators off the proceeds.

At $0.99 on eReaders, I do think over time, the best comic books would see their circulations bounce back to where they were in the Shooter era of Marvel. Solid in the 100s of 1,000s.

But if they go digital and stay greedy? Charging $3-$4 for each 18-to-22-story pages per book, and putting out 123-issue mega-events?

That is unsustainable.

THAT is why comics are dying, especially in print.

And inflated cost of ownership like that are why some people turn to piracy, I suspect. Who has ~$425 to waste on a 123-issue megaevent in this economy? Most would rather have seven videogames

Especially if they are pre-teen and teens.

And let's be honest... how solid was FEAR ITSELF on an issue-to-issue basis?

Too many writers and too many artists of widely differing skill.

At a lower cost per issue, maybe that's forgivable. At $3-$4 per issue? A whole lot less so.

The whole Fear Itself thing is corporate piracy... a bloated money-grab event that fails to deliver a high standard of excellence and coherence in all 123 issues.

At least Spider Island was more manageable.

What was it, 20-some issues? About one-fifth the scale?

Sorry, but FEAR ITSELF is an example of modern Marvel at its absolute worst.

So, yes, condemn content pirates.

But don't forget acts of corporate piracy like this, that makes a high volume comic book habit impossible for kids these days.

Anonymous said...

Defiant1:-

I met INXS too, Michael Hutchence was a wonderful guy, I still have a cigarette that he signed and gave to me with just a bit at the end smoked off. I don't think that blighter geldof had him killed, the coroner's verdict of auto-erotic asphyxiation seems pretty fair dinkum. A No-prize if you can name the legendary cartoonist who went the same way.

frolix5

rob fleming said...

vaughn bode. now wheres my no-prize?

Defiant1 said...

OFF TOPIC

I had Michael Hutchence sign a "Don't Change" t-shirt. I had attended a festival the day before and promised a girl I'd get her a t-shirt for the band Madness. Madness didn't show. To make good on my promise, I took her the autographed INXS t-shirt instead. I guess that'd be worth something on eBay now! My friend had the drummer sign a drumstick he caught during the show. He gave it to me years later. I was so close when I saw them that the neck of the guitar was about 3 inches from my fingertips when the guitarist leaned over the crowd. I remember beads of the guitarist's sweat dripping on me. Disturbing, but true.

Firestone said...

Just going digital isn't the solution. It's going to take more than that, a new way of organizing the comic syndicate and company. Simpler, maybe cheaper. With a known eye for the advantage and crossproduct.

rob fleming said...

regarding Craig Hansens comment about making the comic book habit impossible for kids these days, keep in mind it's pretty much impossible for adults making average to below average salaries as well. I used to buy between 5-10 floppies every week as well as 1 or 2 TPB's that all went out the window as I moved out from my parents home and had to worry about rent, electricity, car payments and so on.

Nowadays I get to my LCS maybe twice or three times a year. When I do the last thing I want to do is buy 1 chapter of a much larger story arc for up to $7 dollars Australian. Not when it's so much more convenient to download the last years worth of marvel/dc content and buy only what I know is good in TPB/graphic novel format.

The fact is I feel dirty stealing from the writers and artists that put their souls into creating this entertainment for us, but also feel somewhat justified due to the corporate greed of the big two.

I should point out that marvel/dc are the only comics I download. I have no problem taking a chance buying independent/alternative TPB/graphic novels that don't demand me to buy 20 other products I have no interest in, just to get a complete story. Which is the majority of my buying habits.

Ian Miller said...

Here's something I've wondered - Would modern comic readers be turned off by using cheaper materials in the printing of comic books?

I definitely agree that the most important aspect of comic books is the story. For the past 2 years, I've read pretty much nothing but comics from the 50's through the mid-80's, which I feel were the peak for the medium. The comics were printed on cheap paper, the printing was pretty bad, and the coloring was standard 4-color. So why do I read them? Because the stories and/or art happened to appeal to me.

In the past 15 years or so, comics have had better coloring and have been printed on better paper, but as a result the price of the comics has increased dramatically. But I've never bought a comic because it was printed on good paper or had a cardstock cover. I buy the issues because I enjoy the creators or know that the story will be good.

I think more people would read comics if they were much cheaper. I remember only about 7 years ago, most comics were $2.25 an issue. I had no problem with this price, and I could easily buy about 12 issues for $30. Now you'll find most are about $4 - The same $30 will get you only 7. How did the price of these comics almost double? With current inflation rates, a $2.25 item in 2004 should only cost $2.57 now. The only conclusion I can come to is that the companies are using better paper and printing, leading to a more expensive product.

Would the average comic reader be opposed to having comics printed on newsprint again, or using printing that isn't as advanced as it is, to have a lower-priced item? Sure, this new printing technology makes the books look better, but what's the point of a well-printed comic if the story and art are crap? Adding some more substance and taking away the flash of these comics would help the industry out in a big way, methinks.

Defiant1 said...

Using cheaper paper really doesn't solve the problem. The paper cost is not what drives the price up to $4. The problem is the low numbers that they print.

The overhead (setup/prep) cost to produce a comic costs pretty much the same whether you print 100 of something or 500,000 of something. The cost of paying for the writing, lettering, art, coloring, and printer setup all has to be recovered. If you divide the production costs by a small number printed, the cost they have to pass along to the consumer per issue is big. If a large number is printed, the cost they have to pass along in the price of the comic is relatively low. Comics are selling so poorly that any savings you'd get on reducing paper quality is negligible.

If you factor operational costs like fixed salaries, rent, power, & utilities, I would seriously bet that more than half of the titles produced by DC and Marvel are losing money.

Ferran Delgado said...

What I find very annoying is the lack of promotion and information of the products the publishers intend to sell, and I think that it affect seriously to sales, at least, mine.

I order my USA comics from Spain via Previews, so I have to buy them blindly. In fact I have to order THREE comics before I receive the first one.

And all the info I get in the Previews/Marvel catalog is the credit of an unknown artist, and the cover done by another author different from the interior art.

Do they really expect me to spend TWELVE bucks (three comics) on someone's work that I don't know?!

If I want to know how good is the artist, I must to spend my scarce spare time to google some previews in the case that they released one before I reach my deadline to order it.

I thought that if you want to sell a product, you must to show at least a small part of it. I have no time to google for previews for any existing comics. In fact, I almost have no time to read them.

Of course, there are exceptions, like Image's previews inside of the catalog. Sometimes I ordered a comic because I liked what I saw in the previews from an unknown artist.

Too many times I took risk buying comics blindly and I felt awfully disappointed when I received them.

Another item are compilations. I received so many awful editions (i.e. comics poorly scanned and awful packaging) that I stopped ordering them, when I'd buy many of them if they were well edited.

I have the feeling that they work only in very short term goals, no matter if this fact damage potential sales in the future.

Eklectic1 said...

As someone who accumulated large comics collections various times over 40-plus comics-buying years and then had to deal with the annoyance of storing them and lugging them around when I moved, I find digital comics a great idea.

I work on a computer all day, doing fully digital editing, so reading material online is second-nature to me at this point. I prefer it to paper.

And I don't need more paper sitting around on a shelf. I've got plenty of books, and have enough trouble keeping THEM in order. I'm always acquiring more vintage paperbacks and hardbacks...so if I can go digital on some of the stuff I want, whether books or comics, it gives me more control over my personal environment. It makes things less crazy.

Out of loyalty to my local shop, I do go in and buy a few paper things (after viewing them digitally), such as the Batwoman series that is coming out now. The other stuff I read online exclusively. Another advantage: Reading comics online panel by panel helps me avoid the feeling that they're all too damned short (print versions always remind me of this).

The downside is that I buy too much digital crap, because I usually can't see what it's about until I've purchased it! I already have too many books on Comixology that I bought online that I would love to delete and am very glad I did not buy in the paper form (and frankly, once I had thumbed through them, probably wouldn't have; DC and others are making a lot more money from me than they would if I had only bought paper).

Series reprint books are readily available in the comics stores, but I can nearly always find them at a much better price (and at low or no shipping) if I look around carefully online. It's great to have an ongoing relationship with the comics shop, but at my current low income level, I'd rather have more books and less chat, frankly, so I'm doubtless going to continue to buy online.

Yes, I'll happily buy something twice (digital and paper) if I really like it. But I think we're not far away from "full digital reality" for comics and people had better prepare for it and tool up for it. It's just too convenient and don't forget, you don't have to use more gasoline just to get your comics. I love that part, too.

OM said...

"Should I therefore spend several months scanning all of my books to create digital files for my personal use? Is that illegal?

Or can I simply download the ones that other people have scanned already, again solely for my personal use? "


...Here's the view that I've taken on the matter, followed by an opinion from a pair of attorney friends to whom IANAL clearly does not apply:

1) Once you've paid for those comics, whether you bought them new off the rack, overpriced from Mile High Chuck's back issue bins, or found them at a rummage sale for a nickel a piece, once you've bought them they're yours to do with as you see fit. There are still some restrictions regarding Fair Use that come into play regarding the intellectual property being reused/quoted/traced-by-Greg-Land, but otherwise once money has changed hands, you can read'em, collect'em, trade'em with your friends - provided you have any - sell'em for whatever you can get for'em, and even have mOM decide you're too old for funny books and launch into a traumatic homicidal rampage that only about half the younger judges will fail to let you off easy on, because they grew up reading Jim's Legion and Avengers runs as well.

2) That being said, there's this bit of bullshit "law" that was shoehorned into being called the DMCA - the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act - and that's what has a lot of people conbefuddled about scanning books. From what my two lawyer friends have to say on the matter, 1) above covers pretty much all your rights about your comic purchase.

...Unlike the case of software purchasing - where the warez houses claim you're just "renting" the right to use the warez in question, and don't actually own any of it including the shrink wrap upon which the breaking of is considered to be an acceptance thereof in most states where their respective attorney general's offices haven't been paying attention to certain aspects of legal domain, but that's another story for another thread altogether - printed material has rather clear-cut precedents established in the courts. So long as you don't do something as retarded as draw a new cover, change the indicia and/or rewrite all the words balloons and credit boxes so it looks like you wrote and/or drew the whole thing - and if you do this to one of Ron Marz, Greg Land and/or Mark Millar's piles of wasted tree pulp, you're not only retarded you're -tasteless- to boot - then you're free and clear to use that comic for whatever needs you have.

OM said...

[part 2]

...Just wanna read it to help those three minutes/hours on the crapper pass - no pun intended - easier? Fine. Roll it up to swat the dog for shitting on the box containing your Valiant runs? Sure, and Jim'll even help hold him still. Line that birdcage? No problem, especially if it's got Dan Didio's name mentioned anywhere on the pages. Sell it on eBay as a collector's item? Hey, a copy of Amazing Adult Fantasy #15 with the cover used as a brush wipe for what's believed to be Testor's military light blue model paint that was circulating around Texas in the 80's was reportedly still trading for as high as $50K, which just goes to show you -anything- has its price and can be sold.

...But scan that copy and swap the copies with friends? Fair Use might come into play here as a mitigator, kids, but the DMCA - AKA "that Damned Mafia Corruption Agreement" - is the one you'll get hit on the head with if you get caught. And if you read the law "correctly" - read: 'whatever makes Jack Valenti's hired thugs richer works best' - then a comic book is like software, and you can't make your own backup copies to protect yourself in case of theft/flood/loss.

...After two floods in OMWorld Central, I said -frack- to that idea, and started scanning every comic I owned. After the first box, I said -frack- to that idea as well, and started downloading scans. Every single comic I own - with the exception of some really rare locally produced stuff, a couple of Fred Hembeck's Fantaco compilations, and some back issues of Amazing Heroes - scanner's not big enough, which excludes my tabloids as well - all have a backup scanned copy. This allows me to keep the books bagged, tagged and slabbed, and if I need to refer to a specific run, issue or even panel, I can pull it up my computer and even C&P the info to a post in a forum with ease and under Fair Use. With one exception - a specific comic by Warren Ellis, over specific reasons best left for a different thread and forum - every single comic scan I have has a matching authentic paper copy. AFAIC, this is a totally legit way of backing up one's collection, and applies fully to the State of Texas' interpretation of a certain intent of the DMCA, which can be best read as "Screw them damn Yankee lawyers! This hyar's TEXAS. We can backs up any damn thing we please any time we want because we's already paid for the damn thing once and we ain't a-gonna be's scammed into a-payin fer it agin!"

And so it goes...

OM said...

...Bottom line after all that, you ask? Yeah, OM got a bit long in the wind with that, but here's the gist of it:

1) if you actually physically have full possession - read: own - a copy of a comic book, then you can scan as little or as much of the book as you wish, and store the scans in any format and/or archive as you wish. In fact, you can even make multiple backups to provide data security within your own home.

2) what you canNOT do is give those scans away to another person without giving the original books. By that same accord, if you sell your collection, you either need to hand over the scans and/or destroy them. This will uphold the legally acceptable part of the DMCA should some ambulance chaser try to have you busted over scanning your own books.

3) now here's the only really nebulous part of all this. Say you own a run of Jim's first LSH run, and a friend owns the same exact run. However, one of you doesn't own a scanner. The sharks hiding behind Valentie's Jock Strap - AKA the DMCA - will claim that not only can you not scan your own books, if two people own the exact same book one can't make an extra copy of their scan and give it to the other person. At this point, it's your call as to whether or not you'll abide by the "law" and pray it won't flood, or some drug thugs won't break in and steal your collection and/or set fire to the place once they learn you haven't been buying any of the X-books since Chuckles Austen ruined the book, or say =frack it= and do what's right to protect and at least preserve in spirit your investment as best as possible. Note that to this date, there has been not one single DMCA case filed against someone who was 'caught' backing up his own collection who didn't have that case tossed out with prejudice against the plaintiff on the simple grounds that a person's right to protect their property against an Act of Nature/God and/or Outright Theft cannot be legislated away. Especially as part of any shrink-wrap agreement.

...So again, if you own the books, have a decent fast scanner, and a lot of time on your hands, then scan your collection as much and as complete as you want, kids. In the next decade or so, comics will be more than 60% digital anyway, so why not beat the rush?

Anonymous said...

OM said '...So again, if you own the books, have a decent fast scanner, and a lot of time on your hands, then scan your collection as much and as complete as you want, kids. '

Yeah, but I'm not gonna do that. I want to download the scans that OTHER people have already made of comics I own because I have a life and they clearly don't, but are happy to share.

Now... why is it that I'm 'allowed' to load songs from a CD into iTunes and make as many (personal use) copies of each track as I want, and even burn CD-Rs for use in the car... but I'm NOT allowed to back up my fave movies from DVD or Bluray?

Pete Marco

Daniel Best said...

Best way to combat it is to report it when you see it. I've turned a few of the pirates into both Marvel and DC when I've seen them selling CDs and DVDs of supposedly 'public domain' titles on web-sites and eBay - public domain titles are not those that were released in the past few months.

Each time they're reported the respective legal teams do actually act upon it and send out the cease and desist notices.

gn6196 said...

Snitch

gn6196 said...

Just kidding. Maybe...

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out Option A actually IS mutually exclusive from Option B.

Option A leads to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), the PROTECT IP Act (whose acronym is a worse stretch than ULTIMATUM from Captain America), and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Here's an infographic showing why you're a criminal under these policies:
http://imgur.com/rqxPb

Option B recognizes that people will pay when the product has value to them. In the case of comics, when they're good and cheap, or when they're good and come with extras if they're not going to be cheap.

For example: http://wormworldsaga.com/

Daniel Lieske puts his comic out there for free on the web and for iPad and Android tablets. The tablet apps allow you to upgrade the viewing experience to include rough sketches, author commentary and a layered progression from rough layout to finished piece. In other words, look at awesome artwork for free, and pay to see how it became awesome.

In other words, Option A benefits the vendor and punishes the legitimate customer (illegitimate customers already downloaded the torrents from somewhere). Option B benefits both customer (with a quality product) and vendor (with a satisfied customer who may refer others, and/or provide repeat business). The policies of Option A naturally preclude the policies of Option B, and thus they cannot co-exist.

r. j. paré said...

I have no problem with the idea of downloading older comics for free, so you can read them, since old comics are not sold as consumable media but rather collectible art. So, say you never read some of the 1940s comics but always wanted to, you might just be able to hunt some down for auction or behind glass at a few select comic shops - however, even if you do you will have to pay for the "collectible" value of this aged book which may be quite steep. For such old, out of print books, I see no problem with downloading them for free in order to read them.

Now, perhaps a library approach might work. Don't let books be copied or kept.. but allow them to be viewed at some sort of classic comic online library... {man, now there's an idea!}

Anonymous said...

a site tried a library type thing for comics. It was shut down. Once the site started spreading all over the place, it caught attention and suddenly, you couldn't use it anymore.

I dont know, i never had this mentality that anything i wanted i was entitled to have without paying for it. I'm funny that way.

Rob

Anonymous said...

Fear Itself isn't corporate piracy. Noboy is hijacking, stealing or doing any kind of piracy there.

It's a product offered to you which you can choose to consume or not. In fact, unlike many products, the fact that it is spread out over months allows you to decide part way through to abandon it and spend no money on it. you can eve read reviews about it.

further, any one reading comics for any length of time knows you never have to collect those crossovers into other titles. They may add to the enjoyment but they are rarely necessary to the main story and when they are, it's pretty well advertised that it is.

Who has the money to buy them all? Some people. Especially when DCBS offers 35-50% discounts.

Does everyone? no. Do you need to buy them all? no.

You do what people always did-simply, not buy it if you can't afford it.

You don't use it to justify theft.

Rob

r. j. paré said...

For new comics, Rob, I agree with you. Buying them at cover value. When dealing with "out of print" comics, the publishers and authors made their money long ago - but collectors have turned this consumable media into a commodity. Why should should anyone interested in reading comics from decades ago - have to pay auction or inflated "speculator" prices at a store? Either a library system should exist or folks will continue to use torrents. No creator or publisher is being denied their profits on such books.

r. j. paré said...

@Daniel Best - were you a hall monitor in school? LOL

Anonymous said...

Shooter said: "I think I've been pretty clear in all my rants that "not good enough" is the main problem with comics today. Price and other concerns exacerbate the problem."

Torrent piracy supports this.

Anyone familiar with the weekly offerings knows that most of the Indy titles found in Previews aren't included. All those small publishers must feel terrible that their books aren't being "scanned for digital preservation." But they will scan the Comic Shop News giveaway...

Anonymous said...

ChrisFusco said: "On 'piracy' in general - it's funny how much people don't equate it with 'stealing'. If your kid goes into a store and steals a CD (or heck, a pack of gum), you'd ground him. If he downloads the same CD off the internet via torrent, meh. Most parents I know wouldn't worry much about it. But the end result isn't that different. People just don't view it the same way."

It's not viewed as stealing because it isn't stealing. The courts already ruled on this. Downloaders have violated a company's copyright, but not committed theft. It's only theft if the alleged victim has had something removed. The "loss of sale" argument does not prove theft, no matter how similar their effect may seem. This is why big companies had to go to Washington for a law specifically criminalizing making copies (and even then, it's not theft.)

People don't care as much because downloading is a whole lot closer to making VHS copies (from friends' tapes or from TV) than stealing. Many of us made copies in our youth (pre-CD technology) and to many downloading isn't really any different. "Sharing files, heck we've all done that..." It's not like bootlegging, which involved making copies to sell for a profit. Now that is what most folks see as crossing a line.

I'm not defending it, just saying I am not surprised at all about the "meh" attitude of older folks.

As for kids, my teenage students are aware of downloading being wrong, but that doesn't stop them. If you ask, probably 75% will say it's wrong. But about 60% admit to having done it.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for protecting current-era stuff. Stuff where the creators can make a buck from the sales.

But old stuff, out of print and no way to pay the creators? Where at best we can only give money to corporate suits? I say it's all fair game.

The copyright laws have been hijacked and rigged to protect corporate ownership NOT to reward the creators (I mean the REAL creators, not the "legal" ones who never put pen to paper).

Torrenting wasn't intended for social justice, but the consequence is that even if the old timers can't be rewarded, their work will be seen and discussed once again.

ja said...

Anonymous,

That's all well and good. However, the bottom line is this: are you willing to risk being arrested, torrenting things for 'social justice'?

Teddy said...

I think that the digital pricing wont come down, for one it'd be literally cutting the throats of the retailers when you offer the same for cheaper and as a result you would then be crippling yourself when dealing with diamond. Day and date digital is a fine thing to happen, but I think the main thing should be something like a digital subscription service, like spotify.

Another issue is general indifference, when talking about theft people think in terms of the lost sale. The real issue with piracy is that people are taking what they wont pay for. So while a lot of A List titles are protected, it hurts a lot of B and C list titles when there is a pirate copy that most people wont buy.

That then leads to over publishing of family titles to increase sales. Think of the deadpool boom of early last year. I don't there has ever been as many Avengers titles as there are now outside of the 90's.

The problem lies in the fact that instead of finding bold new ways to grab new and lapsed readers, they simple rely on cherry picking the loyalists and purists.

jimshooter said...

Dear Antonio,

You say: "First, as best as I or any observer can tell, the entertainment industry has ALWAYS been about finding or developing stars.... The scenario you described is ALWAYS how it has played out."

I think you're wrong, especially with regard to the comic book business. Most comic book publishers in elder days considered themselves in the business of supplying a commodity, junk entertainment for kids. Competency, reliability and productivity mattered. Cleverness and slickness mattered. Tractability mattered -- not star-quality talent and brilliant works.

DC editors in the sixties would have scoffed at the notion of a "brilliant" comic book. It was an oxymoron. They actively talked down to the audience. They thought the way to succeed was by pushing certain buttons -- repetitively providing things that kids liked to see. DC and most other companies did not run credits. They wanted no stars. Mort used to tell me, "Superman is the star, not you, not anyone else." Julie Schwartz famously and disparagingly said comics were for reading on the toilet. In lettercolumns, Julie spoke about the "yarns" in his books with detachment.

Stan did a lot to change that by allowing his passion to show, which empowered others among us to openly show passion. But, even Stan privately and not so privately wished someday to do something "better," like publishing a "real" magazine, or writing a syndicated strip or a novel. Even Stan thought of comics as second class. The prevailing opinion was that if a writer was a "real" star, why wouldn't he or she be doing something better than comics? If an artist was a "real" star, wouldn't he or she be a famous illustrator instead?

Of course, there were those among the creators who people in the business felt were better than others, "stars" relative to the rest, but that was like being one of the better players on a little league team. No one had "star" clout or got star treatment or special deals (unless you count the occasional writer-editor deal, which wasn't all that special). Being a star meant being assured of getting the next job, or being welcomed at another house if you wanted to go there. Stars, by management's reckoning, were, as previously stated, reliable button-pushers.

There are still management people and editors in the business who have the "commodity" attitude. Most know better than to say so aloud. To some extent, the business has now become more star-driven, and may continue to evolve in that direction if it survives at all. But, the truth is, what largely replaced the commodity system that favored reliable, productive, journeymen has been cronyism, laziness, apathy and cowardice.

A flood of fans-turned-pro began in the sixties -- inspired by passion, one would think. They entered a field in which showing passion had become acceptable. It has always amazed me that so many of them, upon attaining editorial or creative positions, turned into commodity-makers -- pushing the same buttons again and again that were pushed for them, but less reliably. And the real shocker is that their level of disdain for the work equals the elders'. But they're far less professional about doing the work.

So, instead of a pursuit of excellence, which is what I would have thought passionate fans would undertake, I saw and still see a lot of hiring of cronies, button-pushers, "safe" choices, ass-kissers and easily controlled creators.

Take a look. Do you think that the major companies' editors are going for the best of the best? Ever read a comic book and wonder how the hell the writer or artist got the work, or why they got the job instead of someone better? I do, and I'm not talking about me being the "someone better." Whatever you think of my work, my situation is, let's say, unusual. Does not apply.

jimshooter said...

In some places, the star system has become entrenched. Frank Miller certainly gets special deals and star treatment wherever he works. I suspect it's the same for some other big names. Dark Horse gave me a special deal -- thank you, Mike. Whoever is behind the Mark Waid Daredevil I raved about on the blog a while back, I have to believe was going for star-quality.

So it appears that we're headed that way. But it wasn't and still isn't ALWAYS so.

paul howley said...

I'm curious why no one has commented on the impact all of these digital comics has on established comic shops. I've owned my comic shop for over 31 years and we've been the real marketing for Marvel and DC comics...The publishers sell the comics to me, non-returnable, and then leave the selling to us. Now, the companies have decided that, in order to survive, they need to cut us out of the picture. Sure, they're pretending that they want to "include" us in the selling of digital comics...but once our customers type in their email addresses and pertinent information, Marvel and DC will no longer "need" us...they'll have direct access to the customers we've cultivated for the past thirty years.

Anonymous said...

If I were a conspiracy theorist I would say it was a sinister plot underway to raise a generation on garbage but told it was cuisine so no one would ever demand better.

But sadly I think it is simply a lot of so-called editors who don't know how to do their jobs hiring writers who have some name recognition (but no real talent) in the forums and artists who are cheap and (hopefully) fast.

End result: Poorly written plots and scratchy, bulky, ill-designed art with lots and lots of pretty colors.

These days the only comic I look forward to is LIFE WITH ARCHIE. And friends who snickered at my choice have finally realized I'm the only one who doesn't feel like he's wasted his money that month.

In politics there is a lot of talk on American exceptionalism and whether its day has passed. I certainly think exceptionalism in comic books is no more. A few spot titles now and then by people who still have passion (but published by people who have only dollar signs for brains) but never again a wide range of versatility aligned with actual talent and insightful execution.

-- Denny

PS: I still miss the Gold Key revivals, Jim. All four books were diverse, well written, and at least competently drawn. I had high hopes for SPEKTOR and was even hoping you'd get to TRAGG and DAGAR as well.

Anonymous said...

Jim,

You mentioned Stan Lee aspired to publish a "real" magazine or write a daily strip. He writes the Spider-man daily strip now. I noticed a while back that Terry Austin was inking that strip and I think Joe Sinnott inks it now. Out of curiosity, is that a pretty good gig compared to inking a regular series? I have been a big fan of Terry Austin's work since the X-Men run. You don't mention him much and I know he was highly in demand in those days.

Neil

Anonymous said...

I read a rumor about some super star writers having a clause in their contract that states that their work will not be edited. Anyone heard of that one?

Cheers.
--Rick Dee

Anonymous said...

As a side note to digital comics: A few years ago Marvel put out a bunch of dvds of scanned comics. These were legal and official put out by Marvel Comics. There was Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a Hulk one (I think). Each DVD cost about $50. Bascially, it was Fantastic Four # 1 (or Hulk or X-men) up to whenever the dvd came out. So we're talking about 300 scanned comics for about $50. $50 now a days would probably buy you about 12 issues of a modern comic book. Wrap your mind around that true believers.

jimshooter said...

Dear paul,

I can assure you that the big two do not like the Direct Market and do not have a lot of concern for the comics shops. Their representatives will vehemently deny this publicly, because the companies still need the Direct Market. However, speak to their financial people off the record, or to the outside financial people with whom they do business. Talk to anyone who has any financial savvy. Even if they don't know comics, if you explain the Direct Market to them, they will tell you it's a losing proposition that's got to change greatly or go.

The Direct Market, "direct" because there is one fewer wholesale layer between the publishers and the customers (the retailers) than there is between publishers and retailers in the newsstand trade, was a reasonable business when it started, when it was an adjunct to the mass market -- primarily the newsstand. Explaining all that could take a while, but you pretty much know why, especially if you've read my previous comments on the subject, but, for instance, the newsstand print runs provided economies of scale, even for books that were relatively low-volume Direct, the newsstand cast a wide net and sent new aficionados to the comics shops.... Many, many more reasons that a cost-plus side business made sense.

Now, however, the Direct Market is overwhelmingly the main business. A deep discount business with many built-in limiting factors that strangle publishers and stifle business development at the retail end cannot remain the foundation of the industry. The Direct Market as it stands does not figure in the future plans of Marvel and DC. It will change radically, or be entirely replaced. Again, DC and Marvel do not give a damn about the retailers who helped them build their empires. Trust me. Or don't. But watch your back.

jimshooter said...

Dear Denny,

"I still miss the Gold Key revivals, Jim. All four books were diverse, well written, and at least competently drawn. I had high hopes for SPEKTOR and was even hoping you'd get to TRAGG and DAGAR as well."

Thanks!

jimshooter said...

Dear Neil,

In ancient days, a successful syndicated strip was a gold mine for the creators -- Caniff, Capp, Gray, McManus, Kelly, etc.

However, late during my tenure as Editor in Chief of Marvel, maybe 1986, I attended a National Cartoonists Society meeting where Joe Kubert made a speech in which he cited statistics that demonstrated that the average comic book artist at that point made substantially more money than the average syndicated strip artist. Part of that was due to the decline in the popularity syndicated strips. Partially it was due to the fact that the syndicates had begun playing hardball with creators, demanding ownership of the strips they repped and paying creators relatively low flat rates on a work-for-hire basis, rather than allowing them to own their creations and collect the bulk of revenues generated. (That's why Gary Larsen self-syndicated Far Side at first -- until it was taking off and the big syndicates came crawling to him). Partially it was due to the fact that many of the creators of successful, classic strips had retired or died and had been replaced by low-paid work-for-hire artists.

Partially it was due to the fact that comics creators were making some serious money from high rates, royalties and incentives.

Nowadays, only creators who somehow own their strips, and whose strips are widely distributed make big money. Strips that have come under the control of syndicates and/or are for other reasons work-for-hire generally pay pretty poorly. Stan got a pretty good deal on the Spider-Man strip from the syndicate and Marvel (I have a copy of his original contract), though he obviously doesn't own it. It isn't as popular as it once was, so even if Stan still has a deal that cuts him in on revenues, I doubt that it's huge money. Usually, on strips, the writer gets half and the artist(s) get half. The artist is responsible for having the lettering, coloring (Sundays) and production done.

Meanwhile, comics sales have fallen so low that royalties are not a factor for many. All in all, I'd say that, because comics page rates at the big two are pretty high, an artist is probably better off doing comic books than work-for-hire strips, even Spider-Man. Big two rates are all over the place, but I know of capable but not big-name artists who get $400-500 per page, pencil and ink.

arnie said...

Piracy.
i'm lat on this but let me drop my two cents on the matter. in the 1920's there was this movement to ban alcohol, it was called the prohibition. i won't go into all the details and morals around it but, i did pull some lessons from it that applies to the current situation. while prohibition may have had good intentions behind it, by attempting to stop the moral decay of society and families, people did not stop consuming alcohol. this resulted in a few things, the resources to stop alcohol increased, vastly, the demand created alternate sources of supply and the bootleggers got rich. the result they repealed prohibition, issued licenses and taxed the sale of alcohol.

to the current situation, the interweb and all the possibilities it posses, has put comics that we would otherwise have to buy available for free, and may very well be taking money out of pocket from the creators .also the pirates are not getting rich, that we know of. my point? the slow wiliness to adapt to a new medium, lack of availability on the interweb, and the the falling quality of comics in general, that cannot justify the prices, is simply making it easier to turn to piracy.

the moral to this story? do what the music industry did, if you can't beat em', join em'. the lessons of our history are right here to learn from, if we are willing. So i voted for Mr. Shooters' plan B.

Jason said...

arnie:

Prohibition began in 1919 with a constitutional amendment. The movement that got it passed, often called the temperance movement, began to pick up steam in the 1890s.

Sorry, I get pedantic about facts.

As to piracy and intellectual property (IP), anyone interested in the subject ought to read Lawrence Lessig's "Free Culture", which is incredibly eye-opening on the history of IP. It is free (and legal) to download here: http://www.feedbooks.com/book/2750/free-culture.

Antonio Malcolm said...

Hey Jim, thanks for your response and thoughts. I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment you put forward in your final paragraph ;o)

Just want to mention however, I was responding to your application of star-driven or making the making of stars to the entertainment industry on the whole. I think it's always been a fabrication which runs on a formula, or at least seeks or creates formulas based on response and dollars and reuses those formulas, often times to death, looking for those who either fit neatly into it or can be made to fit neatly into it. I understand the comics industry hasn't always been driven this way, and I think I can see that it is driven much this way now, and, of course, "star" does not always equal "quality", which I think is where you were starting to go with it (please correct me if I'm wrong)- it equals the fitting into of that aforementioned formula, which often includes nepotism on that hiring side, and a lot of cheap tricks and gimmicks to push product, but maybe that's leading us into another lengthy conversation, and I don't want to derail the conversation here.

This is just my personal opinion, so it may seem pretentious, presumptuous, what have you, but I don't think most comics folk have much of a clue as far as anything digital goes. At afterparties during this past July's SDCC, I chatted with some folk from Marvel and DC, and even the entrepreneur who's relaunching Valiant. Of course, I'm nobody to these people, so it may just be that, but the reaction when I so much as BEGIN a conversation about digital, online distribution with comics industry folk is one of offense, as if I've just invaded their country and run off with their women or some such, and I can tell in all the defensive and sometimes condescending banter, while I'm simply being civil and taking a genuine interest in someone's opinion or thoughts on a very modern matter, that it's because no one has a clue what they're doing, or they're all in the process of experimenting and are very insecure about the outcomes of that experimenting. 'Cept for that Valiant exec- he was polite and conversational enough, but talked in circles (I'll understand if you choose not to comment on THAT). I now no longer chat with comics folks about digital distribution or online strategies ('cept here on your blog, guilty as charged, and thanks for the opportunity). I just can't stomach it, and would prefer not to look like an instigator.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, if capable but not big-name artists get $400-500 per page, pencil and ink, what does a capable but not big-name writer get these days?

Antonio Malcolm said...

ACK! Just noticed my last comment disappeared. Hope I did not cross any boundaries here. Mea culpa, if that was indeed the case, and I will prevent myself from doing so in future responses.

Antonio Malcolm said...

ACK AGAIN! It's back. Or maybe I've just had too much coffee...

JayJayJackson said...

Sorry Antonio! It's just the blog's crazy spam filter acting up again and eating random comments. I saw your comment and checked on it. It's been horrible lately. I don't know why. I can't even turn it off.

Antonio Malcolm said...

S'okay. Wish I knew more about the Blogger service; I'd try to help!

Anonymous said...

Mr.Shooter,
I wonder what your take is, and any stories of events you may have encountered during your time running the shops, with the growing trend of 'photo-realistic' tracing lifted straight from magazines and books ala Greg Land and company.
Thanks,
Lamar

ja said...

Ah, Greg Land.

The other (Liefeld) white meat.

Defiant1 said...

A lot of artists trace and a lot use photo references. It still takes talent to pull it off. A little consistency would help. You can't have a character looking like three different fashion models in the same issue.

ja said...

If you're going to make Greg Land's work more vibrant, more attractive... in other words, looking less like everything was traced blandly from photographs, then you need to get Greg Land a dominant inker who would imbue his own unique look over the pencils.

But, this will never happen, as apparently Greg Land is considered to be some sort of comic book star, and no one would 'dare' make such a quality command decision to improve the look and vitality of Land's books.

'Tis ever thus.

ja said...

Jim,

Aside from Frank Miller's non-logical, tediously ill-informed rant about Occupy Wall Street, I believe the readers of your blog would be very interested in your review of his latest tome, HOLY TERROR.

Do you think it rises to the standards of good storytelling? What do you think about the artwork? The lack of backgrounds? All the (what I think is) sloppy Bounty Paper Towel scrunchie effects all over the place?

We'd be interested in your review. I hope you write one sometime soon.

Thanks.

arnie said...

Jason thanks
but your missing the point. it's not whether downloading is free or legal. the history lesson on prohibition was about "availability". piracy/free downloading is successful because it's more widely available, just like the bootleggers were during prohibition. people wanted alcohol, the bootleggers had it. people want comics and they think the prices are to high. so piracy/free downloading provides.

better comics, that are more available and affordable, will win out over "free downloading/piracy" in the end. why? because i'm lazy. i'd rather have the connivence of paying a buck for a comic i can take anywhere, and enjoy anytime, than scouring the interweb.

Mr. Shooters plan B. it will work.

JC said...

Denny, I was glad to see an Archie comic at the checkout line of a discount store and it had one of my favorite Batman artists doing the art, Norm Breyfogle. These Archie books are selling better than the typical Marvel and DC stuff from what I've read. I also liked the fact that Norm didn't have to adapt his art to look like the standard Archie models, he was allowed to use his own sense of design and basically it looks like Norm's interpretation is now the new house style for Archie.

Cerebus said...

@anonymous said:

"As a side note to digital comics: A few years ago Marvel put out a bunch of dvds of scanned comics. These were legal and official put out by Marvel Comics. There was Fantastic Four, X-Men, and a Hulk one (I think). Each DVD cost about $50. Bascially, it was Fantastic Four # 1 (or Hulk or X-men) up to whenever the dvd came out. So we're talking about 300 scanned comics for about $50. $50 now a days would probably buy you about 12 issues of a modern comic book. Wrap your mind around that true believers."

I really loved this initiative and bought every one I could get. They managed to put out pretty much every major Marvel series that originated in the early 60s, including ads, letter columns, and Bullpen Bulletins. Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil... These DVD sets filled a childhood wish that I'd had to have every Marvel comic published in readable condition at an affordable price. It's fascinating starting at FF#1 and watching the universe (and fandom) be created.

Unfortunately, Marvel pulled the plug before they could get to Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and Journey into Mystery. The Complete Marvel Chronology has filled the gaps and made the remaining material available for those that knew where to look for it. I have zero interest in Marvel's own digital archive offerings - recolored, edited, and missing the crucial sense of history.

gn6196 said...

I got the FF and Avengers collections in that format. The Avengers I bought when it came out for 30 and the FF one I got last year on Amazon for 30. Nice collections.

Anonymous said...

Defiant,
I know all about using photo-reference. What these artists are doing goes leaps and bounds beyond that.
L

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I agree that "'not good enough' is the main problem with comics today." Do you think any policies could improve quality, or would any improvement in quality come from individual creators, particularly those outside the not-so-big-anymore Big Two? Unfortunately, individual creators can't "attain the economies of scale that come with bigger print runs."

I've been frustrated by the fan "paradox" for years: how could fans become "commodity-makers -- pushing the same buttons again and again that were pushed for them"? Shouldn't fans want the best? But then maybe there is no paradox. Totally guessing here without inside info. Maybe fans-turned-pros really think "the same buttons" are the best.

Back in the commodity days, Stan Lee would change genres at a drop of a hat. By his own public admission, he didn't seem to have much invested in his work. He was flexible because he had to be. He developed range. Same with Kirby and Ditko ... and you -- you've done steel, jeans, and Nintendo. (I still want to hear more about your advertising days.)

That kind of diversity demands a degree of detachment. One can't be passionate about everything. Passion can sometimes blind, and it helps to stand back sometimes and think about technique. When one is writing or drawing characters one has loved since childhood, the coolness can take precedence over craft. As long as I include the stimuli that work for me and for the guys who drive forty miles to the comic book shop for their $4 pamphlets, it's gonna sell. Complacency sets in.

And cronies move in. How many fans dream of working on "name" characters with their buddies? Those who get their foot in the door open that door for their clique.

Positive things in the fan world -- passion and friendship -- could have unexpected consequences in the professional world.

I had no idea things were so dire for comic strip artists back in 1986. Their lot must be even worse now, given the decline of newspapers.

Is mass market print even on the radar of publishers anymore, aside from TPBs?

A few years ago, Marvel published special comics for Target that were compilations of their best Silver Age stuff and some more recent storylines. I bought the classics even though I already owned reprints because I wanted to support the line. I went to Target -- which wasn't near my home -- mostly to buy those reprints. Alas, I haven't seen any of those in years.

This weekend at the supermarket, I saw a DC Green Lantern magazine reprinting the first O'Neil/Adams GL story with two more recent stories for $8. (Oclair from DEFIANT is one of the creators!) And some months back I saw a similar Iron Man magazine at Wal-Mart -- maybe this one?. I assume that if these occasional attempts at civilian outreach were taking off, I'd be seeing more of them, but I'm not. I hardly see any comics on sale anymore. Disney Adventures ceased publication and the local stores stopped carrying the Archie digests. I don't even see Life with Archie magazine anymore -- the only comic I collect after your "Dark Key" line ended.

I've long thought that nonsuperhero comics were the key to getting the civilian audience back, but cape-free print comics aren't flying off the shelves either. So genre isn't the easy answer I thought it was.

As for quality, even Lee, Kirby, and Ditko -- the best of the best -- apparently couldn't sustain that Target line.

I am now pessimistic about the comics industry ever reclaiming its former economies of scale in print. But I am not pessimistic about the medium. I await the next revolution. It'll be a black swan that flies in from outside.

Defiant1 said...

gn6196,

I've seen examples of Greg Land's swiping. Some is a bit much. Regardless, I don't have the ability to take a magazine photo and trace it onto a piece comic art board and make it look as good as he does. I still give the guy credit. I don't know what percentage of artists can draw from top notch from scratch or which have the skill to look at something and draw it perfectly. If a panel is swiped, to me it's no different than one band covering another's tune. I don't care how they made a product that accomplishes the goal of making a nice looking comic. I really only care about the final product as a whole. I don't expect every artist to draw a 100% unique panel every time they draw. I just want a readable comic with art that facilitates (or enhances) the objectives of the plot and script. As I mention above, I have a bigger problem with consistency. If he's going to swipe magazine pictures for a comic, don't draw three different looking models and try to pass them off as the same character.

Kev From Atl said...

So any idea when Jim might post again?

Doug said...

It has been a little quiet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8E_zMLCRNg

Harry said...

http://marvel1980s.blogspot.com/2011/11/circa-1982-bill-sienkiewiczs-sketch-to.html

Jason said...

It's quiet round here. TOO quiet.

Matt Hawes said...

Well, in addition to whatever other business Jim has to attend to, it is also Thanksgiving week, so he may be a bit too busy to blog.

Meanwhile, here is a cool Jim Shooter-related X-Men picture by Bill Sienkiewicz courtesy of the "Marvel Comics of the 1980s" blog that should tide you guys over:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-4QjcOI9H3SM/TqXrjuEOK0I/AAAAAAAACW8/ajtZIfI6C_U/s1600/Sienkiewicz+Xmen+promo.JPG

:-)

Jason said...

I was just making a funny. :)

Antonio Malcolm said...

It's pretty common for illustrators of all types to work directly from photographs. Normally, they work either from their own, or from those supplied by the company (I have two friends who did movie posters at Hallmark who worked like this). In the case of comic books, I think there's too much working from magazines, and I'm surprised there are no lawsuits from Sports Illustrated or Victoria's Secret. And, let's face facts here, when it's done so it's obvious, it's trite, no matter how unskilled the observer would be in doing the same thing.

JayJayJackson said...

A new blog post will be up soon, and it's a looong one!

Dan said...

Photo referencing is also a matter of skill. Some folks are too obvious about it. That would be most all the "bad girl" stuff of the 1990s. Either the chicks looked horribly deformed or they were obviously lightboxed from a photo.

But look at the works of Al Williamson. A great example is the Bladerunner adaptation. Clearly photo referenced, even traced. But it's done in a way that looks natural--that the body and the backgrounds match.

Neal Adams is another master. It all blends together perfectly.

DJ said...

After seeing that X-Men drawing by Sienkiewicz, it brought to mind those Power Man & Iron Fist adverts that Bill did. They were terrific. Really captured the chemistry. Seems like the same sort of humour, did Bill also write the Ad copy?

Cheers.
David J.

Anonymous said...

One crazy aspect of piracy is that people download FAR more than they'll ever read. They gotta download everything, but maybe read just a few. There's a thrill to having everything, even though 99% of the files won't ever be opened more than once, or just to flip through it.

jimshooter said...

Dear Anonymous,

My most recent rate is $200 per page. I assume that "stars" like Bendis and Johns get more. I know many writers who are paid somewhat less by the big two.

jimshooter said...

Dear Lamar,

I'll try to get to that soon. Thanks.

jimshooter said...

Dear Dan,

All-time great, Hall-of-Famer Wally Wood famously said, words to the effect: "Don't draw it if you can swipe it, don't swipe it if you can trace it, don't trace it if you can Xerox it and paste it up." Larry Hama would know the exact quote. But Woody was a superb artist. The truth is he used the ref, as any commercial artist would, but he didn't let it use him and he made it his own. He did brilliant work.

P.S. Little known fact, the Mustang seen on the cover of Harbinger #1 was traced from a picture in a book belonging to one JayJay Jackson. I traced it. In fact, I drew the whole cover, though the characters were doctored up some by David Lapham.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

If either or both Big Two companies commited to "good enough" they could make it happen. The creative chiefs would have to convince the brass, and would have to enforce it below. That's assuming that the creative chiefs have a bloody clue, and I don't think they do.

The attitudes of many editors and allegedly creative people in the business never ceases to amaze me. Len and Marv way back when insisted that the readers in "Fudge, Nebraska" were the bulk of the market and all they wanted was the same old crap every month: a Sal Buscema stock shot of the Hulk slamming his fist on the ground, making a shockwave that knocks all the soldiers down, etc. Those guys, deadpan, told me: "Good doesn't sell." Many a writer and artist just turned the crank and cashed the check. Most of the first crop of editors I hired were the best: Stern, Hall, Hama, Louise Jones-later-Simonson, Potts...Goodwin! Later...? Not so good. I don't think it was that they preferred the "buttons." I think they often had an I-made-it-now-I-can-coast attitude. They wanted to be that person on stage at the cons, but didn't want to work hard at making good comics. Or, didn't really have the chops, so they faked it and tried to slide by. Carlin was the worst.

Stan may have seemed un-invested in the work, but I worked closely with him. He cared desperately. So did Jack and Steve. Look at all the things they did which were utterly revolutionary, judged in the context of the times. Invested? You betcha.

One can be passionate about everything one works on. I am. I give my best to every damn thing I do -- comics, steel, jeans, Nintendo. It's all about the work, whatever the work is. Passion doesn't blind me, it makes me focus.

One time, between comics gigs, I took a job as a janitor. I told my father. He said, "Be a good one." You betcha, pops.

Complacency is death.

Cronyism sucks. If JayJay didn't happen to be wonderfully talented, I wouldn't hire her, though I love her better than spicy pasta. And I looove spicy pasta.

I wonder about Marvel and DC's mass market ambitions. You'd think Disney and Warner would make that a priority....

RE: Target: Lee, Kirby and Ditko, the best of the best, may not work as well in the context of today's times. How well would Al Jolson do?

I'm with you regarding the medium. Words and pictures combined, the visual/verbal, one-sense-only medium will endure and thrive. Waiting for that black swan....

Anonymous said...

The music industry's efforts have nothing to slow down downloading and never will. If anything it publicized how easy it was to do and in effect caused more downloading.

For better or worse business models have to adapt or they industry will die out. That is where the money and focus needs to be steered. Anything else will result in defeat.

BTW: Downloading music, comics, movies without paying is NOT a crime in the USA. Only distribution [sharing] of the files is "illegal". BUT it is not a crime as in criminal, it is a trademark infringement which is a civil violation which requires a lawsuit. If you the music industry the lawsuit is usually against destitute single welfare Mom's

Craig Hansen said...

Dear Rob/anonymous,

Re-read my post. I specifically stated that I was and am against torrent piracy, so you've set up a straw-man argument suggesting that's what I meant.

I meant what I actually did say, though: these huge mega-crossover-events are corporate piracy that completely exclude the "target market" companies like Marvel and DC claim are their number one concern.

Overpricing comics and binding them together as 123-issue mega-events create a ripe environment for torrent content pirates...

...but I never said that such piracy was justified, and never would.

My suggested solution is a combination of price-cutting and cost-cutting.

Going digital. In the sense that people SHOULD pay for digital comics... on Kindle Fire via Amazon Prime, or on Nook Color via Barnes and Noble or on iPad via Apple iTunes Store or wherever.

But the price has to come back down to earth. $3-$4/issue is not sustainable for a 15-minute read... often less than that.

And Jim's right that price isn't the only factor... storytelling has to get a lot better than it is.

Artists like Curt Swan and Sal Buscema and the like were not the most highly-skilled artists of their day. They were actually pretty vanilla, as artists go.

But they were decent storytellers. Their panel-to-panel flow beats the pants off most of today's highly skilled poster-art comic book artists, whose panel-to-panel storytelling just doesn't measure up. Or flow.

So there are many ways comics must change to improve. And there will be pain during the transition.

After all, no one wanted to see Borders go under, necessarily... but eReaders made the need for so many national bookstore chains less pressing. Barnes and Nobles survives only because they were more johnny-on-the-spot with Nook and planning for the switch.

A lot of great comic book retailers may disappear. And it'll be sad. But also inevitable. Just as when direct-market stores meant the death of newsstand distribution.

So, no, Rob/anonymous, I wasn't using FEAR ITSELF to justify torrent piracy. You clearly didn't read my post... at all.

Anonymous said...

I do not condone "illegal" downloading. My points are:

-it is a civil 'crime' and not criminal [in the USA]

-it is impossible to stop and any attempt to do so via lawsuit generate more bad publicity then any company should ever want.

- take a lesson the MPAA has learned to a minor degree and the RIAA will never learn is that many of the old paradigms of their business no longer exist adapt or die out. If the RIAA embraced that 10 years ago they could be reaping the money from an iTunes like service. But their own greed and hubris opened the door for Jobs and Apple. Apple is now the biggest player in the music industry due to RIAA's and Record Company's douchery.

Bottom line for Comic industry to stick around - Adapt or die out aka Business Darwinism rule #1. Trying to stop what some term "illegal downloading" will only succeed in hastening their own demise.

Anonymous said...

[MikeAnon:] I want to hazard that the shift from cultivating stories to cultivating "names" happened in 1985 when DC pulled off "Crisis on Infinite Earths." Prior to that event, in which characters' histories were "rebooted" for the first time, readers didn't feel like they were reading stories so much as they were watching characters' lives unfold. You read Hulk and Spider-Man and Superman and Batman because these characters were *real* to you, you cared about them, and because you cared about them you had to know what was going to happen to them next. But when "Crisis" hit it became apparent that these heroes' lives were really at the whims of writers who were revealed to be in no way bound to continue the stories of old as if they should have any impact upon new stories. So reading comics was no longer about following characters' "lives", because those "lives" were only as concrete as the writers decided they were that day, and that concreteness could evaporate at any moment. So instead, people gravitated to following the work of whatever writers and artists were deemed to produce quality product. Today, it's ridiculous to talk about what's happening to the Hulk as if there were one Hulk, or Superman as if there were one Superman, but instead we talk about Byrne's Superman or Pak's Hulk because it seems like every time the writer changes on a book, they're writing a whole new character, and heaven help the stories of old. On the flip side, while I'm not a reader of Erik Larsen's SAVAGE DRAGON anymore, I have to give kudos to the guy for (1) staying on the title so long and (2) maintaining a consistent story for almost 200 issues. That's the kind of consistency we should expect from creative teams and comic book storylines, but instead it's the exception rather than the rule. And I think it's because of this that people now follow names instead of characters -- because following the names gives you more consistency of quality product than following the characters.

Best modern example of inconstant quality due to creator influence that comes to mind: I just finished reading Mark Millar's ULTIMATES Vols. 1 & 2. Insanely good stuff. And his later ULTIMATE AVENGERS is good stuff, too. But right in the middle of those two runs, like a giant dark inkblot stain of pure suck, is Jeph Loeb's ULTIMATES Vol. 3. Because I want you to have a good grasp on just how bad ULTIMATES Vol 3. was, allow me to reprint some dialogue from a pivotal fight between Ultron, the Wasp, and Yellowjacket.

ULTRON: (reaches out hand to crush unconscious Wasp): "I'm sorry I have to kill you, Janet. I've come to think as you as my mother."

YELLOWJACKET: "Oh, yeah? Well I guess that makes me -- " (grows tall and smashes Ultron) " -- the MOTHER$&#&%#!!!"

[--MikeAnon]

Anonymous said...

"I wasn't using FEAR ITSELF to justify torrent piracy."

[MikeAnon:] Bleah. Downloading FEAR ITSELF for free would be a waste of free. Just go to the comic book store, flip through it, put it back, then go home and take a shower until the stain of suck finally rinses off. [--MikeAnon]

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Thanks for your long reply.

I apologize for using the wrong word. I meant "obsession" rather than "passion." Not actually personally knowing any fans turned pros, I was extrapolating the attitudes and behavior I've seen among fans into a different environment. The people whose life's dream is to write and draw their favorite character may be more interested in that character than in craft, and the resulting product will suffer for that.

Anonymous wrote today at 12:35 PM,

Also, it strikes me that there are (as with certain other sci-fi and fantasy fandoms) a significant number that prize continuity and "callbacks" above good storytelling.

I'm not sure what "callbacks" are.

I don't think continuity and good storytelling are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I don't think good storytellling is possible without continuity. If the past is perpetually fluid and has no connection with the present, the illusion of realism is lost, and I don't care. However, when fans blame "continuity," I think what some might really mean are comics that are more like trivia contests than stories. Chris Tolworthy has explained that critics really mean (excess) "complexity," "trivia," and "constancy" when they complain about "continuity." All these things are fannish and mean nothing to civilians. Excess complexity and trivia reward the fan who's tried to memorize everything about a universe and constancy gives the fan the same thing he's loved ever since he was four forever. "Mainstream" US superhero comics strike me as being by fans for fans. More complexity! More trivia! More titles! In two words, more stimuli. Not more craft.

But that was my outsider's guess. You gave an insider's view:

"Many a writer and artist just turned the crank and cashed the check."

The problem seems to be that some people lose their passion once they get their dream job.

Marc Miyake said...

(Con't from above.)

"Stan may have seemed un-invested in the work"

I apologize for not making it clear that I was referring to Stan before 1961. I was thinking of his Atlas days when I wrote, "Back in the commodity days, Stan Lee would change genres at a drop of a hat." By the Marvel Age, he was committed to superheroes. But right before that, he didn't strike me as being into whatever genre-of-the-moment Martin Goodman wanted him to do, judging from passages like this from his autobiography. Stan may not have been happy until the birth of the Marvel Age, but the craft in his superhero comics didn't come out of nowhere. Tom Lammers, author of the Atlas Implosion book I've endorsed elsewhere on this blog, pointed out that Stan's superhero writing employs techniques and elements from his teen humor comics.

A fan obsessed with his one favorite character or team isn't going to branch out the way Stan and you did, learning flexibility and universals that make your stories stronger regardless of genre. Advertising is all about speaking to civilians who aren't presold on a product, and you haven't ever forgotten how to speak to them. I think your autobiography would speak to people who never read a comic book.

He cared desperately. So did Jack and Steve. Look at all the things they did which were utterly revolutionary, judged in the context of the times. Invested? You betcha.

Yes. Again, I used the wrong word. Mea culpa. They were passionate, as the old how-Marvel-comics-are-made backup stories demonstrated. But never obsessed in a fannish way. They were too busy creating to be memorizing minutiae about the DC Universe over at National.

A creator is passionate about his own work; a fan may be obsessed with others' works. Making the leap from the latter to the former is difficult. When I look at modern comics, I fear the writers haven't fully crossed over. They're still members of a club and their products prevent outsiders from spoiling the fun, no matter what the press releases say about outreach.

One can be passionate about everything one works on.

I know what you mean from personal experience. I've been lucky to have one job after another that I've loved.

Correcting myself, I would say that obsession blinds, not passion. If someone loveloveloves Batman to the point where they can't see what's wrong with their Bruce Wayne's Basement megacrossover revolving around some obscure plot point in one panel of a mid-70s Bat-comic, then that person has a problem, and their comic is going to turn off all but the reflexive Bat-buyers who pride themselves on being able to pick up on the author's references.

I find myself reluctant to speak to fans (and not just of comics) because many fans are obsessed with details, not passionate about craft, and it's craft that interests me most. I come to your blog to learn about craft. A well-crafted story has to have continuity. Functional details. Many fans seem to enjoy details, functional or otherwise, for their own sake. Gotta know it all! Even if it doesn't make any sense.

You have focus, whereas that type of fan (and creator)'s attention is scattered across a forest of trivia and unable to zero in on the root of the problem that comics face.

In short, there's nothing wrong with caring. Apathy is not the solution. But one has to care about the right things like craft.

Marc Miyake said...

(Last part of three.)

I wonder about Marvel and DC's mass market ambitions. You'd think Disney and Warner would make that a priority....

I think they just want to milk the existing properties for licensing. I've heard the theory that comic books are cheaper to produce than pilots for TV shows, but if they were serious about turning the comics into idea factories, they'd shake up the status quo, amping up the quality, the distribution, and the diversity of genres. The track record of new big characters from the Big Two hasn't been very good. Moreover, the very limited direct market audience that loves the megacrossover du jour isn't a good test audience for the next big movie or TV show concept. Flashpoint and Fear Itself were #2 and #3 in August, but should they be in theaters?

RE: Target: Lee, Kirby and Ditko, the best of the best, may not work as well in the context of today's times.

What do you think modern audiences might find lacking in old comics? As a kid 30 years ago, I didn't even think about how outdated my Lee/Kirby/Ditko reprints looked. I guess I thought of them as being set in some timeless "comic book world," where men still wore hats, etc. I found those old comics to be much more appealing than contemporary comics, even though the latter looked more like the world around me. And I'm not automatically drawn to anything just because it's old. I've never been able to get into the Golden Age because the stories aren't up to the standard set at Marvel in the 60s. But I may be atypical. Nobody I knew in school was into 60s comics and maybe a child today really would react to Lee/Kirby/Ditko the way a Katy Perry fan would react to Al Jolson, once "The World's Greatest Entertainer." What do kids, adults, anyone outside the direct market want in comics? Does anyone know?

Manga have been able to get new audiences outside the "traditional" one. Romance comics are selling again in the US! But how much of manga's appeal here lies in its perceived "exotic" quality? What can the US comics industry learn from the manga industry?

bmcmolo said...

Mike Anon said "Bleah. Downloading FEAR ITSELF for free would be a waste of free." ha! Haven't read it, but no interest. That cracked me up, tho.

Good God that Ultimates dialogue you quoted is awful, and sadly emblematic of the Ultimates-verse. I can't stand that stuff. A friend gave me the first couple of volumes and the Red Skull storyline thinking I'd love it, but it was a Trojan Horse of everything I can't stand about comics. I even took it off the shelves and put it in a box out of sight so I wouldn't see it out of the corner of my eye when I walked by my shelf.