Is Digital Piracy Really a Problem?

In an example of some of the worst kind of journalism, this mainstream, international article says that digital piracy is hurting the comics industry. However, the findings are based on an informal, unscientific poll taken at Comic Book Resources six months ago. Then the article goes on to talk to a small publisher who has no idea if downloading is hurting his sales.

So, I think we’ve got a chance here to get national press again, having no validity or credibility. Where do you stand on this? When do you download comics? When, if ever, is it okay? Do you know anyone who scans and uploads comics?

Okay, I’ve done it, sure. But I don’t download new books. Frankly, I don’t like reading them on the computer, and furthermore, I know the industry doesn’t really have much money to spare. If you love comics and want these companies to thrive, it’s a generally horrible thing to do. To put a finer point on it, if you’re downloading comics from small press and self publishers, you have no soul.

However, what if you really want to read Miracleman? You can’t buy it in stores. Alan Moore isn’t going to make any money from it. In theory, it was already stolen from the creators? So what about then?


  1. I downloaded a few pages of Hellboy off of soulseek once:(
    It was a book I already paid for though.

    Really though, I don’t know anyone who downloads comics. I come across it on soulseek occasionally and it’s usually like one comic book.

  2. As i have said before, comic downloads are what got me hooked on comics, and so are responsible for bringing my interest in comics from a passing interest to a �40 a week habit.

    This tends to be the case with most of our customers with whom I have discussed the matter, although working in a comic book store I guess i only get to ask a cross section of the people that actually buy real comics ;p

    The website I used to download comics had every new import available for download every week, and if you were patient, you could get your hands on almost anything else, however unlike television, comic books are not at a stage where viewing them on a computer is a comfortable experience.

    Personally I believe that internet piracy for comics is helping the comic book industry, introducing new people to the market, and this is why the big two do not act or even comment on the phenomenon.

  3. I agree. Also working for a comic shop, I have polled our customers as to if and when they download comics. Most of them said that, if they did, it was what made them realize that the books were a whole lot better than the drivel being put out in the 90s.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I grew up in those glory days, but I can’t tell you how many people have told me that The Death of Superman, or Onslaught was their last comic up until recently.

    Wheen Green Lantern Rebirth was flying off the shelves, and the trade had yet to be released, yes I downloaded it. I have downloaded many a book, usually collections that there is no way I can get a hold of, or books that, if they are in trade, I haven’t found them.

    When I find the trade, I buy it, then delete the scans. Does having the books on my computer dissuade me from buying the books? No! Reading is a much more enjoyable experience if done tangibly. How many eBook readers do you see floating around out there right now?

    I come down on the side that it helps the industry, but it also should give the industry a wake up call, and realize that this might be a way to guage intrest in doing a print book or somehting like that.

    Imagine If . . .

    Dc has just realeased the complete Emporer Joker storyline for download. Read it. Tell them if you’d be willing to buy a trade. If not, then at least you got to read the story. If so, and if there are enough yes answers, then who knows, maybe an Emporer Joker might appear on store shelves soon.

  4. UPI actually published that? And they paid someone to write it?

    That’s quite possibly the worst piece of journalism I’ve ever seen.

  5. Maybe 6 or so months ago I was downloading a lot of comics but I can honestly say I haven’t read anything any of them in over 5 months. It’s not terrible on a laptop but it isn’t great either.

    Ironically one of the scanners included a “note” at the end about how reading a downloaded comic doesn’t place it within a context of the senses, smell, touch, etc., and thus is an inferior reading experience. I tend to agree with him and lately have been hitting the library system as a way of finding free comics. Then again, there are some books you’re just never going to find unless you download them.

    I do know that when Marvel puts up their webcomics I usually will read those to get a taste for the book. I started reading Astonishing X-Men solely for that reason and have been tempted by many others. Online previews are great for that as well but I’ve generally stopped looking for those just so I can avoid spoilers.

  6. if it wasn’t for some of the digital comics i wouldn’t be buying quite a few titles (Walking Dead, Invincible.. other non-Kirkman stuff) that i now subscribe to. I also find them handy for things i do own that are buried somewhere in a stack of boxes.

    with all the stuff that’s coming out it can be difficult (financially impossible) to give everything a try but with digital i can have a read and see if it grabs me. if it does grab me, i go out and buy the originals (and in the case of walking dead, that led to a very expensive hardcover as well).

  7. I know that I personally digitally pirate alot of comics. OBviously, like Blight, I use it too get titles I want to try out but don’t feel like spending alot of money on.

    I’m only limited too so much money at my current age (Approx. 16) and I can’t afford all the books I want too read.

    I think if a book sells out, or the book is really old (aka Dark Pheonix Saga, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, Superman for All Seasons), I think that makes it okay to pirate the books.

    However, I do think people should make an effort to buy books they like and support the industry (I still buy the important books, such as Daredevil, Captain America, Superman, Amazing Spider-Man, etc. etc.) but as I stated before, sometimes I need/want to read a book but don’t really feel like spending the cash on it at the moment (such as friendly neighborhood spider-man)

    And in all honesty, I consider it the same thing as if you read the book from a friend.

  8. He thinks Superman for All Seasons is “really old.” Good lord.

    It would be the same as borrowing from a friend if your friend could make thousands of copies of a book, and give them to everyone for free.

    I’m not coming down on you, but is the excuse “I can’t afford it” good enough to justify not paying for something? I mean, a few years back, there weren’t nearly as many trades available as now, and if you couldn’t actually get your hands on something, there was nowhere else to turn.

    I don’t think it’s as clear cut as all that though. There is some kind of entitlement that comes with the web age where we think we can and should get as much of everything we want for free, but that doesn’t seem right.

    And, just to be honest here, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. It’s hard to feel bad for the record companies, but comic companies are a different story.

    I think that if you’re downloading comics, and it leads to regular purchases, that’s a win for the industry in the long run, but how often does that happen? I mean, you need scruples and the forethought to think, “if I like this, I should buy it, because if not enough people do, it’s going to go away.” But I don’t tend to give people enough credit to see that as the standard response.

    So I think it’s clear that we need something like the itunes model, where you can get material easily and cheaper, without the hard production costs, and still make the physical books available.

    Marvel’s already started that with their CD-ROM collections, so at least they’re starting to think in the right direction.

    Also, preview issues on the web are a great idea as well.

  9. Josh,

    i agree with you but if anything, i’ve found that it’s made me expect more from what i do buy. if i read something and think it’s good i’ll go get it but in trying to limit what i buy i look to what i am getting and if a book isn’t up to scratch i’ll drop it.

    i should stress i feel i do support the industry and in this way i’m able to try some of the smaller stuff that might otherwise slip passed and die. if the smaller stuff is good and it makes me look at a title i’ve been collecting for many years (*cough* x-men *cough*) and was bitterly disappointed in, then i’ll make the switch.

    ..and with brubaker coming back to the x-men i’ll now be getting both..

    oh, and none of this is an excuse.. i know what i’m doing and i try not to abuse it (i’ll save you the “you are abusing it” option we all recognise).

  10. “I think that if you’re downloading comics, and it leads to regular purchases, that’s a win for the industry in the long run, but how often does that happen?”

    From my experience, and from talking to others about it, if they enjoy the comics then it does lead to more regular purchases more than not.

    I don’t think an iTunes model is a viable solution, simply because i think people that would buy digital comics is an incredibly small market. Marvel’s CDrom and DVD collections don’t sell in great numbers, which is why so few of them are made.

  11. I only download scans of manga that are surrently running in Japan. Personally, I feel that if it is within my means to physically read a comic, then I’ll usually wait until I have enough money to buy it. There’s something really satisfying to me about reading a comic that’s in your hands and being able to put up on my shlef afterwards.

    I rationalize my manga downloads basically by saying that U.S. companies that translate the books are usually several YEARS behind the manga that runs weekly (or sometimes monthly) in Japan. I find it inconvenient and unfair to be that far behind fellow manga readers. Also, since I don’t read or speak Japanese, I’m limited to what people call “scanalations” where the original text is removed and english translations are substituted.

    Doing this does make me less likely to actually buy the manga once it comes out in english, but I occassionally make an effort to, expecially when the art is really good (i.e. Mugen no Jyuunin, or in English, Blade of the Immortal. It’s put out by Dark Horse, you guys should try it out. The art is UNBELIEVABLE.)

  12. I’ve heard great things about Blade of the Immortal, but I always thought it was too much to get into at this point. I did read every moment of Lone Wolf and Cub, and it was so good I can’t explain it.

    I mean, if you were gonna download something….

    BTW, last night I got the whole run of Miracleman, which I’ve never read. I’m totally excited. And I’m justified, because you can’t f’ing buy it anywhere.

  13. I actually spent most of the weekend downloading comics.

    i understand both points of view. i know it’s “stealing” and yet I know I’m downloading stuff that technically, I could buy, but will I really? (a chronological set of every x-men comic, for example.)

    my general rule is that if I have no intent to ever buy something, I have no problem downloading it. others probably think that’s a shitty stance. but it’s my benchmark. i’m not taking money from anyone if I download something that I’d never think to pay money for, but that I may be interested in consuming. and if I like it, i will probably buy it.

    i have defintely read current comics that have led to purchases (planet hulk, amazing spider-man, maybe green lantern).

    plus, with back issues, you’re not technically taking money from the publisher. you are hurting the retail industry, but they’ve been known to hurt me too, by overcharging for back issues. that’s neither here nor there, i guess.

    i think comics are a unique beast in that they have a VERY strong potential of leading to purchases after download, simply because this is at the end of the day a collectors’ industry. i realize not every comic reader is a collector, but many are, if not most.

    i download the first couple issues of Planet Hulk. i like it, i buy the next one. I guarantee you I’ll have a hard time sleeping at night till I get the first three issues as well, even if I’ve already read them. maybe that’s just me.

    or I’ll contemplate crazy shit like owning Transmetropolitan in floppy AND tpb, just cause I think it’s so damned brilliant.

    again, I won’t go so far as to say it’s everyone, but I’d say it’s still most readers. and it definitely drives the industry. so I’d bet the majority of comics downloaders DO purchase based on those downloads. as opposed to music or movies, where once you have it, you have it.

    marvel and DC should set up a back issue “library” with stuff that isn’t in trades and likely won’t be. i’d pay a set fee every month to get my hands on a complete run of superman, or something. but then, they’re still worried about selling them in $50 hardcovers, so that’s not gonna happen.

  14. I have no clue how to download comics and don’t really plan on it, but isn’t almost the same concept as getting trade from the library? I can request any trade on the city network and then I read it, I don’t keep it but its almost the same deal as downloading. Plus, what kind of true comic fan would actually choose digital over paper, real fans need the real stuff. And if you’re poor save up the cash if it really means that much to read something. Their is always a way around having to steal.

  15. well the thing is, it all boils down to copyright law and what the content providers (like the RIAA, MPAA or in this case, DC or Marvel) want to define how you can use the media you buy.

    Taking a trade out from the library is probably deemed as an acceptable use because you’re borrowing it and will be returning it. You’re not keeping it. But in the case of downloading a comic, you haven’t purchased it, you haven’t borrowed it, it can be seen as you’re “stealing it”

    But again, it boils down to how its defined how we’re “allowed” to use the media we get. “Fair Use” is a term you hear from groups like the EFF, which basically asks, if I buy a CD, isn’t it a fair use to rip it to MP3 to put on my ipod? Is it fair use for me to buy a comic, and then scan it and then share it with my friends?

    Now I’m speaking from the ultra liberal side of the fence, who says that thinks once you purchase the media, you’re open to do whatever you want. But I can understand and see why the comics companies would get upset (and even the record labels) at the mass amount of pirating of their products, because at the end of the day, that’s money that they will never get for their products.

    BUT, music company revenues are UP. They won’t admit it, but they are.

    While I bet the comic companies hate this practice, they’re awful quiet about it, aren’t they? Marvel has been putting out those DVDs of back issues, which is cool – but don’t think it would be rad if you could go to or and pay a monthly fee and read WHATEVER book you want? Or be able to buy digital versions of backissues, so if you miss an issue or what not, you can get it?

    It’s just another case of a big bloated company slow to change with the times.

    I’m with you Rafael, I prefer a printed comic on paper, but we have to realize that paper is going to be extinct someday, probably within the next 10 years. We will be reading comics on hand held devices and LOVING it because then I won’t have to pay a storage unit to store my long boxes.

    After all, what makes a good comic, the story and the art or the paper its printed on?

  16. Personally, I count myself as one of the lucky few that can still afford to buy a heaping truck-load of comics every week dispite the increases in prices. That said, I have never downloaded a comic, and with the way things are going with MPA & RIAA’s “download hysteria” I have no intentions of doing so. I’m the type of person who believes that you’re missing something when you don’t have the comic in your hands and turning the pages. I guess you could draw parralles between people such as myself and those who still buy CDs.

    Granted, I haven’t read all the messages on this thread, but I think this whole downloading comics problem (if there even is one) stems from problems such as price and the individuals who feel this need to buy five copies of one book.

  17. The price thing is a concern. Sometimes, you know, you’re just limited on funds. For example, I wanted to read Exiles, but there’s only so many trades and new issues coming out, so a) I can’t catch up on the story and b) I can’t afford too add another book to my list.

    Also, you see, I have read digital comics that led to me ACTUALLY BUYING THE SERIES. I can remember a few off the top of my head: Daredevil’s current run, Amazing Spider-Man….ya know, pretty much every book I currently buy I’ve downloaded before, you know why? To see if I liked the book, and having the means to read such a book for allowed for me to get hooked and continuing to buy the comics in reality.

    So don’t get me wrong, I just think that if I can shave a buck or two off of my limited income, I think I’ll take the route; By no means am I going to stop buying paper copies of my favorite books, but for older titles or titles i’m not sure of, I think i’ll hit the digital archives.

    (P.S.: I wasn’t sure on how old Superman for All Seasons was…it keeps coming up as a classic, and thus I put it into the post!)

  18. I’m just picking on you because you’re young, and I’m old. Ish.

    It’s envy my boy!

  19. Haha, that it may be! But rest easy, for you know there is at least one other generation of comic book readers out there!

  20. ron’s full of shit about vertigo, but on this, he’s painfully right.

    honestly, downloading a book is the equivalent of reading it in the store. especially for newer stuff. and i say that with full realization that the rights established by copyright, etc. gives us NO authority to believe that’s legally true.

    but in principle, in action, i think it IS true.

    so, yeah. if DC or Marvel had a full slate of select monthly titles available for free, maybe even three-four weeks after the on-sale date, OR an equivalent pay service (monthly fee of like $9.99, you get your pick of 20-30 issues per month, they come out a week or two after on-sale date just to keep the wednesday devotees like me a little ahead of the game) i think it would DEFINITELY increase sales.

    try mp3, why buy the CD? but try comic book file, buy the comic.

  21. … but we have to realize that paper is going to be extinct someday, probably within the next 10 years.


  22. Well guys, I may have told somebody recently that I spend between $50 and $80 a month on comics. I’ve become pretty obsessed with comics in the last year. I just found out about downloading comics a week ago. Well, I’ve downloaded probably 15 gigabytes with of comics in that week. I love it and am very grateful that I discovered it. I got all of the x-men volume one through #150, all of the Davedevil start to finish, a lot of spider-man, and am trying to get more hulk. I’m very happy. And I have no shame. I’m gonna continue to buy comics at the same rate if not more. I’ve discovered that there are more good stories out there that I would not have given a chance before (like Cable & Deadpool). I’ll be picking up more titles because of this. I’ll be able to pick up more because I can get the background of the stories much easier now. Many of the comics I have downloaded I previously owned and haven’t seen in 20 or so years. I purchased a viewer specifically designed to read comics on a computer and it greatly improves the experience. I use my laptop and it is just as enjoyable with this as it is to read a hard copy.

    Here’s something else to think about. I’m active duty in the military. In July I will be leaving the country for some time. I will only be able to carry two bags with me. Now with my laptop, I will be able to take two to three long boxes worth of comics with me.

    I think nobody will stop buying the hard copies because there’s an intrinsic value in having the actual comic. (sorry Josh but speculation will keep comics alive).

  23. Good stories will keep comics alive. Speculation will keep a small group of obsessive compulsive men bidding on non-historic issues for their own edification. Silver and Golden age books have value for a reason. No comic produced in the last 20 years is worth very much at all. Oddly enough, digital reproductions, both legal and illegal, will probably negatively affect speculator value.

    I think the idea is that it is very convenient to take all that content along on your laptop, just like you can put hundreds of CDs in an ipod. It’s just too bad that Marvel and DC, specifically can’t figure out a way to make some money from that.

    And Ron is full of shit about Vertigo.

  24. obviously, the idea of confronting digital distribution has been terrifying and confusing for the content industry. so far, I think the TV folks have handled it best–provide easy and convenient (and even free! thanks abc!) ways for people to get their shows. i COULD find Lost or BSG or The Office for free, but I find it much easier and more convenient to pony up $2 to download an episode and watch it on the TV with my ipod. it’s easy, it works.

    i just don’t know if the potential audience for, say, current comics in electronic form exists in a large enough size to make it worth the time and energy and bandwith to offer the service. in other words, do enough people even buy comics regularly to justify it? the several million people who watch The Office every week is a large enough audience, and NBC/iTunes can advertise it each week on the show.

    would it be worth Marvel’s time to, say, offer a download of every new issue on Thursday morning, and run ads in all their books, just so that maybe several thousand people could download it instead of buying it? would there be bigger numbers for the download? would they rival the sales of the actual books? who knows?

    i do think there’s several experiments that could be tried, playing with the ideas of cost, payment types (per issue? per month? per week? yearly fee? all of the above?), types of content offered (original content only for subscribers? old comics? new comics? a mix?), and WHEN the content is offered (day and date with diamond? a week later? a few weeks later?).

    one other angle, and then I’ll shut up: i think online comics is a GREAT way for DC and Marvel to try out newer talent. i would love to see them start handing out low-paying assignments for short online-only stories, especially using supporting characters or obscure characters. make them out of continuity and just put a new one up every wednesday, or hell, every day.

    i think many struggling comics writers and artists would probably do something like this for free–getting a chance to, say, do an 8-page thor story basically for marvel and work with a marvel editor and all that. gets them seen, gets them actual assignments with a major publisher, gives us fun stuff to read.