But, “sympathy” is as far as it goes.
Let me just make it clear at the outset: I like Dan Slott, I would like to support his work, but I don’t buy She-Hulk, and I don’t download it either.
This will become important later on.
Today I’ve been reading this column (scroll down to get to the bit on “Digital Comics”), and feel strongly moved to point out that this is just Mr. DeBlieck’s opinion, and no matter how authoritative he makes it sound he can only speak for himself. Certainly he can’t speak for me: as I’ve pointed out many times before (some might use the expression “ad nauseum“), I’m a music publisher myself, and I’m totally cool with people downloading songs I’ve written. I’m nowhere near alone in this, either: a lot of music publishers feel that supposedly-larcenous downloads translate into record/concert ticket/T-shirt sales down the road, that otherwise wouldn’t exist. To be blunt: it isn’t stealing if it puts money in your pocket. So please, until there’s a large and vocal group of comics artists advocating for the free and unrestricted downloading of printed material as a legitimate PR measure, kindly include my industry OUT of this little tempest, thank you very much. These things aren’t the same; they’re not supporting evidence for each other; the RIAA is out for themselves, and not for me. They don’t represent me. In fact my old record company owes me quite a lot of money, that they don’t seem in an awful hurry to pay, and if I want it I’ll have to sue them for it. They’re having quite a lovely little ride on my interest, and the interest of many like me, so it’s by no means a settled situation who’s getting hurt by what. Furthermore, as for “it’s illegal, that means it’s wrong”… that it’s illegal as of this moment I grant, but that doesn’t at all mean it’s wrong. We’re talking facts here, now. Illegal does not equal wrong. “The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate”, etc. etc. As of this moment that song-downloading stuff is illegal, but if you ask me it’s not wrong, but right.
And anyway, good luck stopping it.
So: I don’t buy She-Hulk, neither do I download it. I don’t read it at all. Which I guess means my “vote” for Mr. Slott’s career has already been cast, which is a shame, because as I said, I like his writing, and I’d like to support it. I’ve read She-Hulk in the past. But, my past reading, plus a buck-fifty, will just about buy Dan and his family a cup of coffee to split between them, and that’s an awful hard fact, but somehow I’m just going to have to learn to live with it.
But on the other hand…
Now that I’m a disinterested observer, now that I can answer an exit poll, let me ask this question: if I were to buy an issue of She-Hulk and give it to the library, what kind of “vote” would that constitute?
For? Or against?
I think I can pretty much guarantee Mr. Slott that he’d be read a few hundred, or even (possibly) a couple thousand times if I did so…even after She-Hulk concludes with (oh, doubtless!) its 500th issue, he’ll still be read. Maybe even, by some, loved. But it won’t do a damn thing for his career.
Or, will it?
I don’t know; these are some pretty deep waters, eh? I mean, think of poor Elton John: hundreds of thousands of dollars are earned a year by people playing “Rocket Man”, to say nothing of the gratuitous dope and sex sometimes tossed into the guitar case on a Friday night…literally thousands of people make a living each year by playing music that he owns, and I think it’s pretty plain that it all does exactly jack for his career. Or, does it? I mean if I spin that old Greatest Hits record of his I’ve got, that certainly does jack for him…the money he earned on that record, whenever it was sold (and I really don’t remember, I think it was a birthday present actually), is in all likelihood spent, now, and it isn’t coming back. But when the guy down at the restaurant plays “Rocket Man” on his guitar, maybe it screws EJ over by persuading the older couple at the bar to get a Singapore Sling whose cost he sees nothing of, in remembrance of that trip to Barbados they took years ago…but at least he’s remembered too, along with the trip. And, being remembered, maybe he’ll make some more money down the line. Hard to say. Maybe Barbados will make some money down the line too. I really don’t know.
Happily, nor do I care.
As you might have guessed from the title of my last post, I recently read some downloaded comics, in amongst the purchased kind. Yes, it’s true! I did! But Mr. Slott’s comics were not among them, and even if they had been, I’d probably have skipped them. Because it costs me nothing not to read She-Hulk. I don’t even feel bad about it. There are tonnes upon tonnes of comics out there, to read and to buy, and I couldn’t look at all of them, even if I were a millionaire. A vote? Yes, but more than just a vote, because there are so many possible elections that I have to choose which ones to get involved in: nomination is an important metaphor here, too, because not everybody gets the nod. Dr. Strange: The Oath does. Agents Of Atlas does. The Eternals does. And that means all of these will be run-off against each other until they’ve each been elected to sit on my bookshelf. Eventually.
But, why would I buy them, when I can already read them for nothing?
Obviously, because I’m gonna want to re-read them. There’s no mystery to that, I hope: after all, just like you, I’m a comic-book collector. I built a special shelf to hold all my longboxes, for God’s sake. I don’t read once, and then forget, for heaven’s sake we all know that…just as we all should know that I have no intention of firing up various drives and programs each time I want another look at Marcos Martin’s incredible artwork. No. I’m gonna buy the thing. It’s a lock. Because, you know why they say most online businesses fail? Because people feel as though they’re already paying, even if the thing they’re getting is free, because they’re having to sit at the computer, download shit, whatever, when they’d rather be doing something else instead. In the end, as long as we’re talking about comic books (and particularly as long as we’re talking about the habits of the existing market of comic-book purchasers), it’s far more convenient to buy something you like and hold it in your hand, than it is to endlessly muck around with a keyboard and a mouse. So that’s a sale you’ve made, Marvel! And not just one: because frankly, even though I already liked Brian K. Vaughan’s work, I had my doubts about how good his Dr. Strange would be. Not that I thought it would suck, but I just worried that he might not do Doc as much justice as he does for his own creations. This does happen, you know. Robert Kirkman disappointed me on his FF and his MTU, and that took me by surprise. I follow writers (and now more than ever, when mainline flagship properties I once would’ve wanted to buy automatically sometimes suck), but at the same time, writers are more mercurial than they’ve ever been before, too, and sometimes a favourite will let you down! This never used to happen in the old days: a Bill Mantlo story was a Bill Mantlo story, a Len Wein story was a Len Wein story, and it was all very consistent. You absolutely knew what you were getting, every time. Now, even when you’re talking about a talented writer, there are fewer guarantees. Take Peter Milligan, for example: a great writer, nevertheless I’ve learned not to follow him everywhere…I’ve learned to distinguish the places where he’ll be absolutely astounding from the places where he won’t…
Anyway, as I was saying: Brian K. Vaughan (gee, something tells me I’m misspelling that) has won me over completely with his Dr. Strange, and therefore he’s jumped up to “must buy guy” in my book generally…as for Marcos Martin, I’ve been a fan of his since his star turn on Batgirl: Year One, but here he exceeds all expectations.
And, I love Dr. Strange!
So there you have it. Another satisfied customer.
Now, is it too much to ask that there be a satisfied vendor, as well?
I have a lot of sympathy for Dan Slott, as a writer who thinks he’s seeing potential sales walk out the door. But on the other hand, I’m not sure he should be blaming his fans for that. In music, there’s a wide listener-base that never buys a record: they turn on the radio, instead. And lots of people wait for a movie to come on TV, instead of paying to see it at the theatre. But the people who made the art in question still get some money, in this model, and then later on, when some smallish percentage of free listeners or viewers decide what they’ve been exposed to is worth their hard-earned dollars and cents, they get some money again. In the case of illegal music downloading, this works out even better: because studies show that the people who download are the same people who buy, and that the people who don’t download, don’t buy. Plain and simple. So it’s actually better than the radio, because as far as promotional play goes, it’s much more targeted to free-spending consumers. Well, that’s the trade-off for not being able to charge for it at the point of use, I guess…that when it comes back to you later on, it comes back bigger…
But would it work for comics?
That’s hard to say. Popular wisdom says that comics, at least Big Two comics, are at a choke point: more expensive product, less content, diluted brands, unreliable delivery, a shrinking market, and most importantly no casual base of free readers, means that they’re understandably jealous of what sales they do make…and yet, on the other hand, the new system of free distribution exists despite their jealousy, in practical terms beyond their power to shut down, and whether they like it or not, it does function as a promotional network, and not just as a black market. It’s already happening.
But, they’re not using it.
I’d like it a lot if writers and artists and companies could get paid for each copy of their books that gets read (or at least, abstracted), but I doubt if I would ever be willing to pay a fee to view comics online that have been scanned in from those books. It’s just not for me: I find the interface slightly cumbersome, and to be frank, it’s really easy to do without a constant stream of new comics whose quality varies drastically from title to title. As for paying money to view a couple pages of a printed comic book…no, definitely not. I don’t pay for teasers at the movies…hell, I don’t even really like teasers, and usually I’d rather do without them. Also, and let me be blunt once again: I have a lot of other options. The library is just down the road. So is a restaurant, and a newspaper. Just looking around me, I’ve got about fifty books here I’ve meaning to read, but haven’t got to yet. I have unwatched DVDs on my coffee table. I have several thousand comic books already sitting right here in this room with me. And so I could do a lot of different things, besides paying to read somebody’s advertising.
Well, I won’t pay to listen to the radio, either.
One could imagine a Marvel or DC free download site, that tracks visitors and hosts advertising, and from which a great deal of information about the effectiveness of free downloads as a marketing tool could be extracted. Maybe, even, from which a great deal of marketing information about the popularity of specific writers and artists could be drawn. To me, that sounds like pretty good stuff, and a handy way to prevent unauthorized scanning-and-copying. But then, I would say that: because I don’t have to put anything at risk for this wonderful idea, do I? And the fact is, it might not work. It might even backfire, by encouraging people to get into the free-downloading habit. It might actually erode newsstand sales! Who knows what it might do!
But on the other hand, as I said…that network’s not going away anytime soon, anyway. So it’s either that, or this. Meaning that if you don’t opt for that (and I would, but that’s just me), you will certainly get this. And meanwhile Dan needs to get paid, you know? So: sympathy. I definitely sympathize with Dan Slott. It’s a tough situation, when there is some sort of money to be made there, but your employers won’t take the necessary steps to make it, and so you can’t earn it. And meanwhile, how many of those downloads are translating to sales of Single Green Female, anyway? Some of them? Most of them? None of them? Are they actually translating to fewer sales of SGF? Oh, God…so like the comics company you work for, you too must be jealous of your existing sales. Naturally. Obviously. I understand entirely. Hence my sympathy.
But, fair warning, Dan: if you don’t want me to read your comics, I won’t read them.