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Fighting the Pirates

Comic-book industry vs. illegal digital downloading

By Bryan Young
Posted // January 10,2012 -

If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s people pirating art they love. I love comic books, and I know how few comic books are sold across the country. The paid readership isn’t very high. That’s why I’m so disconcerted when I hear (anecdotally) that, sometimes, illegal downloads of comics can add up to more copies than are being sold.

I can’t think of a single compelling reason that people should download something illegally. Piracy is wrong. If you like something, particularly something in the arts, then you should support it financially to see it continue.

The blame obviously lies with those who pirate the content and those who download it. Stealing is wrong, no matter how much you might disagree with the price or method of content delivery. Theft is theft. Period.

But, I think, in some ways the blame lies equally with the publishers. Comic publishers need to understand why people are doing it and address the issues. People are pirating these comics, right or wrong, because they don’t believe they should be paying the same price as for a print copy of a comic. It’s as simple as that.

The average comic book, in print or digital, costs about $2.99 per issue. With print, you have printing costs, shipping costs, wholesale costs and everything else to contend with to turn a profit. It makes sense that they’re priced the way they are. But a digital comic? Digital comics have far less overhead.

Comic-book pirates don’t care that the same price for more cheaply distributed digital copies means more money in the pockets of their favorite creators; they want a better value for the lack of overhead, for the savings to be passed on to them. It’s no excuse to steal, but it’s their reasoning, and it should be addressed by publishers.

The music industry faced the same issue in the late 1990s. In the days of Napster and free music, did anyone ever think that the vast majority of people would find it easier and more efficient to pay for the song or album they wanted than to download it illegally? Comic publishers need to look at individual issues as though they’re tracks on an album, and full story arcs as though they’re the full album, and start looking at that pricing point.

Printed comics are never going to go away. Sure, some of the weaker comic-book stores might not survive, but as the audience is switching to digital, that’s just a fact of life.

But there’s too much of a collectors’ element to make printed comics go away. I’ve got every single issue of Batman from about issue 380 to current (which is a lot), and I’m not going to just stop buying hard copies. I love the character, and I love the feeling of having the comics too much.

So why, for example, don’t comic publishers offer a free digital download with every book purchased in a brick-and-mortar store? Again, it’s the same model the music industry uses. I can buy a CD at the store and instantly put it into my computer so I can listen to it on my iPod. That would sure as hell be an incentive for me to buy more comics from my local retailer. Are there other comics I’d like to read but can’t afford to because I’m already spending too much? Absolutely. Would I read more if I didn’t have to keep and store them anywhere but digitally, and could buy them at half the cost? Absolutely. I’d probably buy twice as many comics.

So how about it, comic publishers? Let’s see you really embrace the technology, and a pricing structure that will force the pirates to buckle down and pay the piper.

Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of

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Posted // January 12,2012 at 13:24

>>"With print, you have printing costs, shipping costs, wholesale costs and everything else to contend with to turn a profit. It makes sense that they’re priced the way they are. But a digital comic? Digital comics have far less overhead."

It's easy to say that, but when you look at the numbers, just as much goes into digital comics as print. Apple alone takes 30% of every sale, and Android takes a percent as well. Amazon's Kindle and the Nook do the same. Comixology, iVerse, and all of the other apps take their own additional percentage of each sale, for their distribution and work putting every page into "guided view". It adds up.


Posted // January 12,2012 at 14:03 - But those are one time setup fees. And I'll be honest, I don't need guided view. Give it to me as a PDF. Or make guided view an extra cost. I don't disagree that Apple and Amazon take a cut, but it's FAR less of a cut then Diamond and a Retailer.


Posted // January 12,2012 at 12:03

I agree with having a digital copy included with a print copy like they do with the new Spider Man series, but the problem is how to keep anyone form copying the code before its even bought. Right now they polubag it which is NOT the solution. Polybagging every book will cause even more problems especially because of all the inconsistencies in art from book to book. Like the new Incredible hulk for example written by Jason Aaron, but the art is ridiculous. 4 issues and at least 6 artists have worked on it already. Its a distraction and made me stop buying the book already despite good writing. So I want to be able to flip through the book first before I buy it to make sure its not a mess like that and if you can't see what you are getting then that's a problem. 


Posted // January 11,2012 at 11:30

What if the book I'm pirating is a book I don't like?


Posted // January 16,2012 at 04:39 - D'oh. Misread the name on that last comment. Sorry jake. Disregard comment


Posted // January 16,2012 at 04:38 - Jay i thought you said pirating comics wasnt stealing? Now you admit it is?


Posted // January 11,2012 at 11:34 - You're so stupid that you'd risk getting caught stealing something you don't even like? Not liking it isn't an excuse.


Posted // January 11,2012 at 11:21

Price isn't the only issue. There isn't a popular webcomic that isn't pirated all over the net, and webcomics are free. Pirates are so selfish they can't even go to an official website and read it so the artist can make a few pennies on ads.


Posted // January 11,2012 at 10:46

It's not about fighting the pirates, it's about making digital comics more enticing to buy. I spend over 30$ weekly on comics and don't want to spend as much to get DRM ridden digital copies. I like to read my digital comics with the software of my choice, not with those clunky interface that we're coerced into using.

So yes I do download pirated comics, but they're comics I've already paid for to get a physical copy. Would I mind paying 1$ per comics? if it's DRM protected, yes. If not, I'd spend most of my paychecks on comics... :P

Publishers need to wake up and get with the times.