Sympathy For Dan Slott

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.


29 responses to “Sympathy For Dan Slott

  1. There’s also the dreaded Back Issue Bin and the nefarious Used Bookstore market, neither of which provides royalties to creators … at least in the US.

  2. Not to mention the dire “reading someone else’s comics” thing, or the frankly horrid “flipping through it on the stands because you don’t want to buy it” thing…

    One thing that frustrates me about the music industry is that they now seem to think they’re entitled to money every time a song is heard…wow, what arrogance! Good luck with that! Likewise, I think we could all get confused a little too easily here about the difference between acquiring a copy of a story, which is a kind of a legally-significant thing capable of some sort of regulation, and reading a story, which activity is utterly unstoppable and unlegislatable. Once that Elton John’s Greatest Hits album leaves the store, it doesn’t matter who hears it, or how often they hear it, or how many of them there are.

    (By the way, I chose Elton John as the example in this post because my friend used to be a busker…and when I asked him why he didn’t play better songs, he told me he was trying to make money, and Daniel and Your Song make the most money, so that’s what he played.)

  3. What I find interesting is that most people who seem most involved in the debate haven’t actually talked to anyone who DOES download stuff for free. Maybe it’s the circles that I happen to run in, but everyone I know personally who downloads/shares files via a torrent only do that with stuff that they didn’t actually like well enough to purchase in the first place. Alternatively, they didn’t know if they would like it, but once they downloaded it and discovered that the did really like, they’d go out and purchase the product anyway. The intangibility of a digital comic is too emphemeral for most people — they need something they can physcially touch to prove to themselves that they own it.

    The trouble with comics in particular, and this has probably been the most help to publishers, is that the delivery method for free comics stinks. The software is clumsy, the screen is physcially too hard to read, not to mention that the comic formats tend to run 90 degrees to screen formats. So looking at comics on your screen is simply a lot more difficult regardless of how easy it is to download them, and that, I’m sure, prevents a lot of people from doing that more often.

    I disagree with your comparisons to radio, though. Those people listening to the radio “for free” aren’t. They’re paying by listening to advertising as well as the music. The radio stations have to pay the musicians for playing the music, but the advertisers pay the stations to play their ads. Listeners pay with their time listening to the ads. Same with TV. Wowio emulates this methodology pretty well for publishers, so there is an analogy to be made, but I don’t think it’s the one you’re making. :)

    For what it’s worth, too, I tend to disagree with DeBlieck on a LOT of stuff. I generally make a point of not reading him because I’ve learned that his opinions come from a fairly precise (and, in my mind, narrow) world-view that is relatively removed from my own. Nothing against him, but I just don’t put much stock in his opinions.

  4. Well, yes…radio listeners do pay with their time, of course…

    About the interface, like I said, I don’t exactly feel drawn to re-read any of these things…maybe some other people have really giant computer memories, but for me it isn’t a one-click deal to open these, so I won’t do it on a whim, as I might easily pick up a favourite comic on a whim…plus, I’m still looking at something I really like, which is book-format art and words, but I’m not getting it in book format, and realistically that’s a drawback as far as my reading experience goes. So, for me, it’s just like hearing a song on the radio, in that the (admittedly slight) awkwardness of the interface makes it so the download might as well have some fancy read-once-then-trash software trick designed into it.

    See what I did there, I tried to find another analogy to make…

    But I’d be interested to know if there’s anyone out there who isn’t bothered by the interface as I am, and who therefore doesn’t feel that they’d like to go on and purchase things they’ve read in downloaded form. I mean, that they liked: obviously no one’s going to be running out to buy a hard-copy of Civil War #4 after reading it online, right?


  5. A name that needs to be tossed in here is Jeff Parker — of course Agents of Atlas has been mentioned already, but he did something that’s even more remarkable given the present climate. What he did here and here was ask people for opinions on this subject, not issue reprimands or directives. That simple courtesy right there would have guaranteed the big lug a place in my affections.

    I’ll toss in one other data point: I’ve downloaded comics that I already own paper copies of — indeed, some comics that I already own in more than one printed edition, and in the case of Kirby’s Fourth World, stuff that I expect to be buying in yet another edition when the Omnibus comes out. Am I insane? Possibly…but the original issues are far too precious for me to pull out haphazardly, and the B&W reprints I bought specifically to loan to other people, and that hardcover is going to be a massive object. So the hard drive on my laptop is a convenient way for me to tote around a collection that would be unfeasible to carry around anywhere in any other form, and if I just happen to feel like rereading a favorite Mister Miracle issue or need to look something up in an Adventure Comics story, it’s right there.

    (Those Legion stories, I might add, never produced royalty payments for Edmond Hamilton or Jim Shooter or any creator involved no matter how many times DC has reprinted them…)

  6. Kleefeld nails it in his first paragraph. There really does need to be some dialogue with actual downloaders, it can only help. Every time the subject comes up, some variation on the same story – “if I didn’t download comics, I wouldn’t buy so many comics” – is brought out over and over again. If publishers listened, they’d realize that they’re just sitting on their hands while opportunity is staring at them from the corner.

    I download comics. I buy a crapload of them, too. I’m just another example of that same story – if I didn’t download comics, I wouldn’t buy so many. I’d have missed out on so, so many wonderful things that are now sitting on my shelves. I personally like the digital comics interface just fine. Could be better, sure, but it doesn’t feel all that terrible to me. But I still feel the need to go out and buy physical copies of things I’ve downloaded. Physical copies are just more convenient, more portable, easier to lend to a friend to get them hooked, look damn good on a bookshelf, feel “right” to me.. and they don’t fill up my hard drive and disappear via drive failure or whatever.

    I’d start paying to download the second the option is there (even for the crappy titles I download just to keep up with continuity), because, God, the potential for it! The effectiveness of voting with your wallet would grow so much. Is that old out of print series selling well online? Time for some trades! And look, the money brought in from the downloads takes the edge off the printing costs! And we’ve got a trade that’s sure to sell, and can be conveniently bought via the same online shop as the downloads! And hey, what about this current critical darling series that doesn’t sell enough to cover printing costs? Put it online where that doesn’t matter, make some money, and later watch the trade sales take off! Everyone could be winning. But instead, right now, there are a lot of people out there saying “Let me give you even more money! Please!?” and it’s just going totally unanswered.

  7. Interesting points, RAB! But wow, I wish the iTunes model wasn’t so widely accepted. A lot more of every buck you spend goes into record company profits than goes into artists’ pockets, but people don’t seem to realize this…in part because the publishing associations have been content to let the RIAA and its sister organizations dominate the public debate, and thus foster the inaccurate view that they represent artists’ interests. Which they don’t.

    And as for me personally: I chose not to sign any of the recent Addenda To Agreement that have come my way, because I DON’T want a share of computer-media levies that indiscriminately hit people for their digital photos (e.g.) as well as their digital music, and I DON’T want the iTunes money…because in the first case it’s unfair to the public, and in the second case it’s a raw deal for the artists, and therefore in both cases I’m ethically opposed to it.

    But, y’know, I guess they spun it right. People think they’re doing right by the musicians by paying for their downloaded songs, and that’s why they go along with it. Like throwing a quarter in the guitar case. Except it’s the record company’s guitar case…!

    Makes me mad, but I suppose the battle’s mostly lost. Doesn’t stop me from trying to unconvince every person I meet, though!

  8. Oops, you just slipped in ahead of me, there, Penguin. And I agree, except I say, why not adopt the radio model? A couple of the comics I read had ad pages scanned in along with them, and when I hit them I had to laugh: because, shit, you just can’t avoid them! Oooh, how I hated them, but I’ve gotta admit, I looked at them. Of course being scans, most of them were ads for other comics, which was kind of thoroughly wasted space, because hello!

    But now just imagine…I mean, it’s not the kind of advertising I’d like to see, but just imagine…a page of advertising you just can’t avoid giving the once-over, even if all you intend is to skip past it. Maybe it’s a movie ad. You know? Wow.

  9. You know, I was just reading those links to Jeff Parker’s blog (thanks, RAB) and saw someone bring up Phil Foglio. He’s a fascinating example…

    He started his Girl Genius comic in a traditional pamphlet form. It sold moderately well and he did that for a few years. But what he found was that, after every issue was published, he’d get a spike in activity on his web site AND a bunch of sales in ancillary material like t-shirts and coffee mugs and such. To the point where he was actually making more money in the ancillary sales than he was on the comic! So he moved the comic exclusively online. The whole thing (including all the back issues) is available online for free, and he puts out one new page every other day. In that sense, it’s a web comic now BUT he’s still writing and formatting it as if it were a pamphlet book.

    So now, he’s got a steady stream of folks coming to his site buying all this ancillary stuff that he actually makes money on, while the source material, where he puts all his hard work into, is just given away. And then — and I love this bit — when he gets enough new source material online, he publishes that in TPB form and sells it!

    It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved: Phil earns money through sales of ancillary material, fans gets freely available material, and “traditional” fans still get a tangible copy of the material as well! I really think this is a SUPERB model that, if more companies would adopt, would work out very well for them. Perhaps better than your traditional monthly comic model! That would make the whole issue about pirating the comics wholly moot since it’s all about sales of the ancillary material anyway!

  10. Yes yes yes, I know and understand and even share your views on the shortcomings of the iTunes business plan…but remember that when people cite it as a model, they’re talking about it in the most abstract sense as a distribution mechanism. The finacial inequities recording artists face aren’t somehow inherent to iTunes, they’re built into the whole recording industry.

    (You won’t often catch me with anything good to say about Steve Jobs these days…but he didn’t tell the record labels to go shaft their artists.)

    If I may wax philosophic for a moment: there is no system so innately well conceived that it’s invulnerable to subversion by the evil and greedy…and no system so innately bad that it could not be made good by people who are sufficiently benign and conscientious. An absolute monarchy could be receptive to the needs of its subjects and respect their rights and dignity, given a sufficently benevolent ruler. By the same token, any “democracy” can be absolutely brutal and oppressive to its own citizens. Or for another example, government-sponsored television: some countries may end up with the BBC or the CBC…but if the U.S. government funded television, I swear it would be the Fox News Channel. The concept alone is not the thing; the devil is in the execution.

    So yeah, iTunes stinks as much as every other aspect of the music business, but that’s entirely because of them and not because iTunes needed to be that way. In that sense, iTunes is just another record store, and you don’t blame a record store if a label rips off a musician. What people like me call “the iTunes model” is a free cross-platform piece of software that lets you play music and also gives you easy access to an online store where you can search for titles from a variety of labels. Not Universal having its own music player that only plays Universal songs, and a separate EMI player that only plays EMI music, and controls how many times you’re allowed to listen to those songs. Not something that by its very existence closes out smaller labels or indies or artists putting out their own music on non-DRM mp3s.

    So when I say we need an “iTunes of comics” what I’m saying is we need a free (or near enough) and easy to use reader that ideally would also give us ready access to an online store which offers everything — Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, First Second, et cetera, and even (for a huge improvement over iTunes) creators putting up their own stuff without any publisher. A program that would let people subscribe to their favorite titles, and store and organize and access and read their collections. But if this is left to Marvel and DC alone, they will try to come up with a proprietary solution that closes out everyone else.

  11. Well, you put it beautifully, RAB…I envy your succinctness on this subject, I can never quite manage that. And, of course, you’re absolutely right.

  12. I’m always surprised that when these “downloading digital comics” conversations happen no one makes, what is to me, the most obvious argument, which is: Why should anyone feel bad about stealing a 3 dollar comic book from a billion dollar multinational conglomerate? We’re talking about freaking Time Warner here people! Are there no rebels reading comics? Don’t you ever feel like downloading a comic just to stick it to The Man?

  13. By the same logic, if there really was such a person as Madrox or Triplicate Girl, it’d be okay to kill one of their bodies. Why not? They’ve got plenty! They can just write it off!

  14. Pingback: Blog@Newsarama » Dowloading digital comics: The sequel·

  15. “the screen is physcially too hard to read, not to mention that the comic formats tend to run 90 degrees to screen formats”

    On my 37″ widescreen monitor at 1920×1080 — a monitor that, at under $1000, is well within the budget of the average wage slave — I am able to read two pages side-by-side, and the image is physically larger than holding the book in my hand. I *prefer* to read comics on my monitor.

    I’m a guy in my mid-30s. I’d been buying comics for more than a quarter-century. I used to manage a comic shop. Since the advent of the scanned, downloadable “pirated” comic, I have all but stopped buying weekly pamphlets. There, I said it: I’m not buying comics anymore. I’m not one of those folks who claim to be spending more on comics now that they can download them for free. I might have spent $100 in total in the last three years on monthlies, down from $100 a month, on average.

    I’m not spending that money on collections, either. I don’t need a copy of the Agents of Atlas hardcover on my shelf. I don’t really want my girlfriend’s friends and family to see it on the shelf anyway. I’m not buying stuff I would otherwise have never bought. I’ve got it on my hard drive. I can read it anytime I like. Why would I buy it? To support the artist or publisher? I’d prefer to support myself, thanks. I saved $1200 last year — that’s enough for a week in Mexico.

    “Oh, well you’re a thief, then.” Nope. I am infringing copyright, not stealing. Two different animals, and labelling such infringement as theft does not serve the anti-downloading argument in any way.

    And, actually, I’m not even infringing. Where I live, the laws aren’t as black-and-white as they are in the USA. It’s perfectly legal for me to download these files.

    For me, downloading is cheap, legal and provides a more readable product. I don’t have to fill a closet full of longboxes; I have nearly 2 TB of hard drive space that takes up no room at all in my house, and that storage space is increasing. In five years, I will have enough hard drive space to store every comic book ever published and keep them available for sharing. There’s no downside.

    Except maybe for the next arguments: that downloading is immoral and that creators and publishers who can’t sell their work will stop producing work. And neither of those arguments wash, either. There are any number of ways to read comics for free that are perfectly legal in any jurisdiction — borrowing from a friend, flipping through at the newsstand, and so forth. John Byrne will call you the moral equivalent of a rapist for shelf-skimming, but, y’know. Byrne.

    People create art regardless of whether or not they are paid. If Marvel goes under and nobody is able to buy any new Spider-Man comics, the world isn’t going to end. The marketplace does not owe anyone a living. Mark Bagley will move onto commercial illustration and a thousand fans will sneer at Marvel’s trademark and produce their own Spider-Man webcomix. One of them might even be better than what’s on the shelf right now.

    I think my next planned purchase is Volume 2 of Absolute Sandman, whenever that is published. I’m never buying another pamphlet-style comic again. I don’t feel badly about this at all. I have no moral dilemma and I have extra cash in my pocket.

    The publishers have to adapt to the marketplace rather than expecting me to re-adapt to their business model. My prediction is that in ten years, comics publishers will be selling collections in bookstores and providing content online for free, sponsored by advertising. Sure, this’ll also mean the death of 90% of the comic shops in the Western world, but, again, it’s not my job to help them adapt to the marketplace, anymore than it was my grandmother’s duty to keep buying ice from the iceman instead of buying a refrigerator.

    Augie deBlieck, Nat Gertler and their ilk have always been uncritically pro-creator and I’m often surprised that they aren’t considered to be part of a radical fringe. Their opinions should be marginalized as irrelevant. I’ve devoted quite enough effort to addressing their arguments, and the debate would be better served by stamping their foreheads with “TROLL” in big black letters and shuffling them to the bottom of the deck.

    And because I’m calling out the fanboi apologists, it’s only fair that I sign my name to this.

  16. I think there are a few facts that I have never seen the Anti-downloading crowd have a reasonable solution to :

    1) long term storage of comics. I have 10,000 DC books. I haven’t even got around to counting the Marvel books. Digital versions of comics are much easier to store long term, and access. Want to guess how long it would take me to find all the Crisis crossovers in my collection and read them all. Hours at minimum. then read them, then hours putting them back. Digital is generally a one step process, or at worst a 30 second or less search through the Hard drive. So the general solution posited by the anti download crowd is “it’s part of the hobby.. sell your old comics to make room, etc.”

    2) Shipping Delays and outages would be a non issue. How many people would have took a look at Captain America #25, if there would have been a link at the bottom of the story to a digital comic store where the issue could have been purchased. You would have probably had a sale from almost anyone that was ever interested in Cap – I would be willing to bet that a much smaller crowd was actually willing to go find a shop, spend the gas to drive to it. How about the time that Diamond shafted the West Coast three weeks in a row due to labor issues at their distribution center. We got to read JLA after the rest of the internet had already forgotten it. I personally get my comics from a mail order service, and I need to wait 6 days to receive my comics. you can bet I would prefer to be able to read the digitals day 0, and store my physical copies away for future reading.

    3) The big Two don’t appear to be working on a digital solution – in interviews Dan Didio says he doesn’t think it affects them, and Joe Quesada demonized the downloaders like he was the lost member of Metallica. Why should everyone be concerned about a problem that the big two don’t seem to care enough to solve. At least Marvel has made a bit of progress on that issue – offering digital DVDs of various properties. Instead of a Showcase or and Essentials – why not offer a digital download of the issues in color? A previous poster mentioned why be loyal to the iceman when the fridge has an ice maker – I think that applies here, businesses and even market segments sometimes are faced with an “evolve or die” scenario. Newspapers are a great example – can you think of a major newspaper without a website in this day and age? The day is coming when digital content delivery will put a serious hurt on Blockbuster and their competitors. DC and Marvel need to lead their industry – and they won’t do it by stomping their feet and holding their breath until the downloads stop, they’ll do it by making a cost effective solution that will convince people that it’s better to buy it than steal it (like Itunes).

    and just so I am not one of those people that are making alot of noise without a solution –

    Why not have digital comics be administrated by the comic stores? That way the Brick and mortar shops could still carry paper comics and trades, yet not lose the profit for the monthlies. You go into the store – and tell them you want to subscribe to Flash, Green Lantern, and Captain America, every wednesday they recieve a “finger printed” PDF for every book you are subscribed to. You bring in your thumb drive (or cd for a fee) and they load up all the books you are entitled to. In DC or Marvel’s database – they have your address and every comic’s unique fingerprint on file. it turns up on a peer to peer site.. they’ve got all the info for the lawsuit. The technology exists to do all of this right now. For a modest investment in technology on both ends, the stores can remain profitable, and the comic companies can dramatically cut their costs and increase their bottom line. It’s a just in time system that would cut the risk of over ordering to comic shops, and the risk of over printing to the publisher.

  17. DRM, even if applied as watermarking or steganography, can always be bypassed, and in your example, Jason, it would be. In the case of a PDF, the image content can always be extracted. And if watermarked, all that would be necessary to clean up the image would be multiple copies. There are all sorts of software solutions to circumvent this kind of protection.

    In any case, digital distribution potentially gives the publishers a way to cut out both the distribution and retail tiers of their sales model. There’d really be no reason for a publisher to deliver digital content through a physical storefront which would keep half (or more) of the selling price.

  18. oh I agree that anything can be circumvented – there is always someone building a better mouse to avoid the better mousetrap. I think the idea is to go for the old 80/20 – make a solution for the 80% of the people that will be unable, unwilling or technologically not advanced enough to duplicate them. The 20% you can never stop. I think of it like Direct TV back in the day, at first – everyone could buy a hacked card that could get bombed maybe once a year..then once a month..eventually daily. Then people started buying readers and programing them on the fly. then they took away the hackable started to take real time to hack the cards – and the 80% started to drop off til the 20% that were willing to make the time and knowledge investment are left.

    on the second point – as a consumer, I would prefer to see the middle tiers to disappear as opposed to the whole industry. Best case scenario all of them would survive, but it’s starting to look like they will be the “icemen” of your excellent analogy. If I were Diamond, or any brick and mortar comic store, I would start looking for new ways to be relevant in the digital age – and not tie myself to a dying technology (albeit very slowly). As time goes on – those of us that are attached to the feel of a comic book in our hands will be replaced as the prime demographic by a generation that expects to see their entertainment on an electronic device.

  19. Jason: You know, that’s right, isn’t it? If there are superhero-comic readers around in twenty years, they’ll have a lot fewer qualms about reading stuff off a screen. I still believe that the book-format is pretty unbeatable for convenience, as well as for aesthetics, but I don’t think there’s any question that computer-based reading interfaces are bound to only get better and better and better over time. I know people who read eBooks on vacation, and I personally think they’re nuts…however, even though I’m a commited type-and-paper man, I could definitely see reading eComics off a suitably-shaped pad. No problem whatsoever. All the books I want, I can pack in the carry-on; to have a couple hundred comics in a little electronic gizmo I can put in my pocket, though…wow, what a benefit that would be.

    And Jim: What a convincing manifesto! Thanks! And I suppose also an elegant answer to Augie DeBlieck’s comments, since he himself is the one making a absolute equation of “legal” with “right”. In his book, then, you’re not doing anything wrong at all!



    Knee-jerk accusations of theft always bug me, especially when the basic concept at work would probably be better defined as “trespassing”…I want to read more books by Steve Gerber and William Messner-Loebs as much as anyone, so much so that I’d be more than happy to shell out cash for them: literally, I’d prefer to pay these guys for their work. And of course there’s nothing complicated about that. But back behind me in the longboxes there’s also a pretty appalling amount of crap, too, and I’m not interested in amassing too much more of it. I might be persuaded to read it; but if it’s a choice between paying for it and not reading it, well…I mean, as I said, I like Dan Slott’s writing, but opportunity cost rears its head at some point, too. But, now, if someone implies, or even says, that I’m a thief for reading without buying…well, isn’t it just about the worst-case scenario for Marvel and DC, if I believe that implication? “Thief” is a strong word, and it says a lot more than “gee, I really wish you wouldn’t”…it’s really got more in common with “get out of here before I call a cop”.

    I call that flirting with catastrophe.

  20. Well, hey. I didn’t notice that we both lived in Vancouver. Small world.

    I suspect that Augie “Javert” deBlieck considers the filesharing of comics to be morally wrong regardless of where it’s done.

    If I am casually dismissive of his arguments in specific, it’s partly because of phrases like “whether you like it or not” and “don’t act like an immature know-it-all” and “generally smug attitude” and “I’ve heard all the counter-arguments” and on and on and on. And partly because he doesn’t actually support his arguments. And partly because he doesn’t have a mature, developed ethical foundation and is thus arguing from a rectal rather than a rational viewpoint.

  21. Pretty small!

    “Rectal rather than rational” is a phrase I like a lot, mind if I steal it? Reminds me of the syndrome I have no better description for than the “does that guy think he can park there?” thing…pettiness, I suppose you’d call it. The ultimate example of this is this lawyer from Toronto who parks downtown all the time in spaces that have a big sign saying “No Parking” on them, gets ticketed constantly, and always wins the case. Because he knows the actual parking Code or whatever it is, and all the signs happen to be wrong! The law says you can park on the south side of King St. or whatever on a Sunday between three and five, but the sign says “No Parking Any Time.”

    But, the sign is not the law. The City Planning Dept. is not the law. Even the cop is not the law. Only the actual law is the law. So when this guy goes to court, he says “Your Honour, if I can refer you to the actual law…”, and then walks off scot free as soon as the judge reads it.

    Toronto City Council’s response to this ongoing situation?

    They’re trying to change the law so that the guy can’t do this anymore. Specifically: so he can’t get away with it. After all, no one else is even doing it!

    Rectal, not rational. Who does this guy think he is? How dare he? Oh no, people are doing things they’re free to do, it’s anarchy!

    I guess you can take the kids out of the playground, but you can’t take the playground out of the kids…

  22. I think you’re ignoring one major problem here. Comics as a medium is not the same as music. There are plenty of opportunities for musicians to make money off their songs that are in no way related to buying CDs, such as touring, merchandizing, and radio play. And let’s not kid ourselves here. Music as a medium isn’t dying, and our beloved comics industry is. The comic book creator, especially on a book by the big two, has absolutely no options to be seen as successful except to sell books. It’s very simple: if you like a book, or its creators, shell out the money. I’m not saying comics aren’t overpriced. The system is broken and probably won’t be fixed for some time. However, you claim to be a fan of the comics medium, which means you must, on some level, see it as art. And isn’t art that matters to us worthy of a little sacrifice? To me it is.

    Dan Slott is one of those writers who is loved by the critics and the bloggers but doesn’t get the sales of the hotshot rockstars. As such, he’s relegated to writing lesser books (at least as far as name recognition), and tends to dance on the edge of cancellation with everything he does. So to him, maybe an extra sale or two here and there would be of some help. It seems a little absurd to get indignant about a man asking his fans for help, don’t you think? I like the guy, and think he deserves some acclaim, so I shell out the cash and tell Marvel that I think he deserves to work. If you don’t like him, that’s one thing. But to like him, and get mad when he’s trying to keep his career afloat by asking fans to pay for his books, well I find that hypocritical. You can talk about hypotheticals and the future all you want, but in the here and now, the only way to help artists you care about is to shell out the money.

    Okay, I know I’m going to be attacked and whatever, but you, Mr. Plok, seem like a very smart guy, and I think you’re coming at this the wrong way. Bottom line is, comics aren’t music. We are fans of a dying industry, and maybe instead of being cheap and selfish, we can do something to help. That is all.

  23. “And let’s not kid ourselves here. Music as a medium isn’t dying, and our beloved comics industry is.”

    Music sales have been steadily dropping over the last five years and comics sales have been steadily increasing over the last five years. Other than that, I agree completely with the above statement.

  24. Well, Jesse…as it happens, I don’t want to attack you, and I do agree that the music comparison isn’t perfect. Musicians make most of their money through touring, after all. As to the radio…yes, there’s money there, but as I said it’s mainly a promotional tool.

    And thank you for commenting. Your love of comics definitely comes through.

    But I will not simply shell out the money as easy as all that, I’m afraid. If Dan Slott’s asking me to start buying She-Hulk in order to save the book, that’s just a non-starter, and I’m sorry, but it is. As I’ve mentioned, I do like Dan’s work. However, I have other comics-creator mouths to feed, too, and some of them are my favouritest favourites of all time. I’m not mad at Dan, if he’s asking for my She-Hulk dollar. Fair enough. He can ask away, he’s a good writer. But I’m gonna have to regretfully say “no” to him if he does, and I don’t see any hypocrisy in that. There are more comics creators I like than there are pennies in my pocket, you see, and She-Hulk is good, but it isn’t a book I feel an enormous amount of passion for. Hell, I haven’t even bought all of Hard Time yet!

    Fortunately for both of us, I don’t think that’s what Dan’s asking me to do. I think, rather, he’s asking me not to read She-Hulk, if I’m not paying for She-Hulk. And in this, I can oblige him. Not because I feel any moral compulsion in that direction. Just because I like Dan well enough that, as long as it isn’t inconvenient for me to do so, I don’t mind honouring his request. I’m not mad at him, even in the slightest. If I were, I’d seek out and download She-Hulk just to spite him. But I’m not, so I won’t.

    I mean, I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to ask me to do that, but…

    Here we go, though, on the other stuff I hear you saying: Jesse, have you ever given any thought to who those Marvel and DC fans were, that used to buy 400,000 copies of Marvel Two-In-One in a slow month, back in the Seventies and Eighties? You know, the ones that, since they’ve gone, Marvel and DC aren’t doing so well without them?

    They’re us, Jesse.

    They’re superhero comic fans just like us, who got fed up with rising prices and changing editorial directions, who got fed up with whatever, and left. Prices cracked two dollars, there were Clone Sagas, our favourite books got cancelled even though we loved them and bought them, maybe some of our favourite creators got shamefully jerked around, and it just got to a point where a lot of people who could fly comics-trivia rings around you and I opted out of the whole habit of buying. And we’re no different from those people. They weren’t “soft” fans who didn’t care that much, and we’re not “hard” ones whose loyalties are more iron-clad; we could go, too. Just like that. It could happen. In Canada a Big Two comic book runs about four dollars off the shelf. It’s a goddamn expensive hobby, as Ed can tell you. So, all respect to Dan and his career, but how good is She-Hulk, really? Better than Eightball? Why should I buy a TPB of JMS Spider-Man, instead of a TPB of Journey, or Mouse Guard, or Promethea (not that you can find Promethea…well, not that you can find Journey, either), or some of that sweet Popeye action from Fantagraphics that even Harlan Ellison advises his fans to pick up (which you can find), or no TPB at all? Why shouldn’t I stick to Palookaville and filling out my run of Man-Monster, or Freak Brothers, or why shouldn’t I start getting into any of the excellent foreign-language recommendations to be found in TCJ or on Madinkbeard? Why shouldn’t I start buying records again, for that matter? I’ve spent thirty-five years or so avidly reading DC and Marvel Comics, but this isn’t a cult, it’s a business; and, this isn’t a medium, it’s not even a genre, it’s two companies with a great assload of very expensive product to sell, and historically fewer takers decade in and decade out. Who are us.

    Moreover, there’s a reason for that.

    She-Hulk’s good enough to be worth buying. It’s well-written, and it’s well-drawn. Quality craftsmanship all around, and a creative staff that fully deserve their good reputation. But if it makes it to issue #200, even under the most favourable conditions imaginable, I’ll eat my hat. It’s already gone. Just like Shade, Howard, Coyote, X-Statix, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and The Thing. And that’s a shame. But, it’s still just one book, in a genre that’ll probably go on forever no matter what happens to Marvel or DC (although nothing permanent’s gonna happen to either of them, in my opinion), in a worldwide publishing industry that gets more exciting and adventurous and diverse all the time, in a medium that appears to be all but immortal.

    And Dan Slott is an extraordinarily talented writer. So don’t you worry about him. They know his name. And I think we probably haven’t even seen his best work yet. One day soon, if Marvel has any sense at all, he’ll be writing MTU. And I tell you what: I’d buy that book.

    Sorry, Jesse, I hope you didn’t feel attacked. I confess I got a little in love with my own verbiage, there, may even have gotten a bit strident when I didn’t mean to. All I’m saying is: I’ve got nothing whatsoever against Dan Slott, but right now I can’t “vote” for him, because I can’t afford to. I’m ready to jump at a way to vote for him that I can afford, but if that way doesn’t exist yet, it’s not my fault. And I don’t think that makes me selfish. A bargain has to suit both parties, or it’s no bargain.

    Hope this was coherent. Sean K. always warns me that beer and keyboards don’t mix.

  25. Hmmm, and I guess I should point out that music as a medium is immortal…in fact it may be the only really immortal thing…

  26. My, my, my… I didn’t stop by for a few days, and there’s tons of replies I need to catch up on! Clearly, a topic that a lot of people have definite opinions on!

    On the physicality of computer screens — screens/monitors of all sorts work on the same basic principle of a flickering a series of tiny lights repeatedly in the same spot. Sometimes it’s a red beam, sometimes yellow… whatever. But it’s this flickering that provides them with the ability to update their visual at a rate faster than the human eye can actually follow (thus providing the illusion of movement) at a conscious level. And because of the relatively poor resolution of monitors (roughly 1/4 of what the human eye can readily decipher) it literally requires more effort for us to read a computer screen than it does a printed piece of paper.

    Consequently, until we get computer monitors that have at least a resolution equivalent of 300 dpi, I think most people will prefer reading comics in a more tangible form (TPB, pamphlet, whatever).

    And if they can make that portable, you’ll get that many more people on board.

    On comic retailers — I’m surprised I haven’t yet heard of someone setting up a computer in their shop with some multimedia reader to allow people to download LEGAL comics. A lot of GA stuff has fallen into the public domain, and can be pulled from wholly legal web sites. Couldn’t a store owner download those locally, and provide them — for free — to their customers via an in-store PC? The idea being that, sure, you could download them for yourself, but it’ll take YOU more time to find and download them than it would to hit your LCS on the way home from work. Especially if you’re looking for a whole run of books or something.

    The PC could also be used as an in-house research tool to see what the retailer has in stock and where it’s located. So it would also server as something of a loss-leader to bring customers into the store in the first place.

    Furthermore, if/when a standardized electronic format is decided upon, the brick and mortar retailer would already have a method of delivery at the ready.

    This wouldn’t require a large investment at the retailer level (even a lot of older PCs could handle this type usage pretty easily) and would be mostly an investment of their time to set things up.

    On DRM — I just want to reiterate that any DRM that’s implemented WILL be broken. Even the most sophisticated piece of software with every bug worked out of it can’t stand up against the fact that I can take my PRINTED copy of the latest books, scan them, and throw them online for free.

    Even for books that are delivered solely in an electronic format! I can still print them out, scan them back in, and put them online.

    As much as I love technology, I still appreciate going “old school” when it works! :)

    On Marvel and DC — The “solution” to illegal digital comics will almost assuredly not come from these two publishers. The issue is effectively wholly new to the industry, and history has shown that problems that come up suddenly like this require a level of innovation that mainstays of the industry cannot rise to. Marvel and DC (as well as Diamond, while I’m on the subject) are essentially too big to react quickly to the emerging digital market; they’re too vested in how they’ve been publishing for the past several decades. So the “solution” is going to come from folks who can think outside the corporate box. Maybe that’s Abacus, maybe it’s Slave Labor. Maybe it’s someone who isn’t a publsiher, like Wowio or Pullbox. Maybe it’s someone who no one’s even heard of yet. But it’s going to come from someone who doesn’t have to sort through a boatload of red tape, and has been mired in the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality that’s inherent in any large organization.

    On Dan Slott — Dan quickly ranked himself as one of my favorite creators and I, for one, am willing to put my cash towards his work over a lot of other stuff. But that’s essentially the dilema every comic fan faces — how much of one’s income can be used to support creator X or character Y or whatever? We all have to make choices when standing against a literal wall of comics, and I personally tend to support Dan Slott over, say, Grant Morrison. (And I think you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about there, pillock!)

    Which all goes back to one of my original points: that the stuff I download is stuff I’m NOT willing to pay for. I don’t download Dan’s work because I like it well enough to think he deserves to get paid for it. I might be willing to download, by contrast, Robert Kirkman’s Invincible because I’ve paid for too much Kirkman stuff as it is and do not think a comic by him is even worth 25 cents. (For that matter, I don’t think Kirkman’s stuff was worth the time it took me to read it, so the only reason I would even consider downloading Invincible is because I’ve had a couple people suggest that it’s much better than anything else he’s written.)

    On beer — I’m just saying that it doesn’t work well as a keyboard lubricant; that’s all! :)

  27. Hey, I’m just going to add one thing to this, pursuant to something I was just reading on the Absorbascon: decompressed storytelling milks the reader in time and money so much that I’m not even slightly interested in chancing my energy on a book which may pay off interestingly a year down the road, but will usually not pay off enough in a single issue to justify actually wasting cash on it.

    Cliffhangers are one thing, but on the days when I feel actively ripped off by a comic, it makes me want to go out and steal, steal, steal. But is it really stealing when the story-content is so infernally low as to almost be nonexistent?


  28. Excellent opinions! I agree wholeheartedly with you. These are arguments I have been making for years, and explain why I don’t feel the least bit sorry for any artist who gets all worked up about people “illegally” downloading their work. Isn’t any exposure good? If your work is good, people will talk about it, whether they got it “legally” or not. Isn’t people talking about your work a good thing?
    I just so happened to write my own blog about how to read comics for free, if you want to check it out: #1 way? The library!

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