The “Promo” Bay, Sullivan’s Sluggers, and Piracy

promo_bayI heard that a website known for providing the ability to download files was doing something interesting. So I opened up a browser and moseyed on over. Much to my surprise, their normal logo was replaced by a particularly well drawn baseball player talking right at me about the book he was starring in. Turns out Mark Andrew Smith and James Stokoe are trying to get folks to pick up their graphic novel, Sullivan’s Sluggers, by advertising on a site where people could just steal it if they wanted. A pretty gutsy move if you ask me.

Even more than that, they were offering the first two issues for free so people could see if they wanted to buy the collection. Many folks who promote pirating argue that one of the functions it serves is to let people know if they like a book before buying it and here was a guy attempting to actually put that theory to the test.

I decided to take up Messrs Smith and Stokoe on their offer and snag the first two issues. Ironically, this took me to YouSendIt instead of keeping me at the site I was already on. And FYI, the links are good for another week if you’d like to scope out the issues as well. What I ended with was a whopping 64 pages of story (not including the cover and credits page). From the Big 2 you’d be hard pressed to get that much content out of three issues. I’d say it was well worth the money but I’ve yet to spend a dime.

The story, so far, is a fun little tale of a baseball team comprised of over the hill former greats. They travel from town to town playing exhibition games to keep them all in drink and women, save for the one young kid who’s just wanted to play ball with his heroes and maybe make it up to the majors himself. However, things take a dark turn when the team ignores a roadside warning and winds up in a town that seems to be harboring something pretty sinister. What began as a game of baseball is now a fight for survival.

sold_outAnd I don’t even know how it ends! But I’m digging the story and the art is Stokoe which ought to speak for itself, so I figure I’ll reward their audacity by heading over to ye olde Amazon bookshoppe to pick myself up a copy and see how the story ends. Much to my chagrin, the hardcover is out of print, you can pick it up for a cheap $75 if you’re desperate, and the paperback was supposed to come out in January and hasn’t. The optimist in me wants to believe that this promotion worked so well that the book was bought up in droves leading to it being out of a print by the time I wanted it. The person in me who’s familiar with comic’s publishing worries this just wasn’t a great plan to begin with. I don’t know Mark Andrew Smith, but I’d be very curious to hear from him how he thought this cockamamie plan of his actually worked out. Did he go to the publisher with the idea and try to coordinate? Would we do this again or suggest it to other indie creators? If you’re reading this Mark, drop me a line.

I tend to appreciate these innovative efforts to get books noticed. I know a lot of comic’s creators complain, rightly in my opinion, about the scanning and distribution of their work. The idea of having a digital archive was barely defensible even before every book was offered digitally by the actual publishers. And I even know that certain creators have gone to torrent sites to ask directly that people not download their work without paying for it.  But I don’t know of any creators before now who’ve tried going to a site where their work could be stolen and giving it away for free with their blessing. I think that’s quite clever and hope the risk was rewarded.

We’ve seen other industries evolve past brick and mortar in different ways and I think there are lots of different tricks comics could incorporate to help move product. Some time ago there seemed to be a spate of digital comics being offered for 2 bucks directly on the creator’s website. Why not bring that back? Or take a cue from the music industry and offer up graphic novels for download for whatever price the user wishes to pay? I think there’s potential here and I’d love to hear if any one tries it (or already has and I just missed it).

Here’s where you come in. Writing this has brought up quite a few questions and I think if any indie creators stumble across it they might want to know where you, the audience and potential readers, stand on a few issues. So I’m going to give you a short list of questions, you answer them in the comments and we’ll create some data to move forward with (because without data, what’s the point?).

1. Does reading the first part of a story for free affect how likely you are to purchase the finished product?

2. Do you buy music albums using the “pay what you want” method and would you be willing to use a similar model for a digital comic?

3. What alternative method might you suggest indie creators try to get their book noticed and purchased?

You may also use the comments for your own opinions about this topic… I guess.


Ryan Haupt won a home run derby once as a kid with nary a demon in sight. Here him try to relive the glory days of his youth on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. I’ve listened to a few podcasts with prominent indie creators over the past few weeks that all had a similarly haunting theme. Even though the books are well known and loved on all the sites, getting critical praise and has *very good* sales for a creator owned book, they don’t really make enough money to live on and these creators need to keep day jobs to live. The sales numbers plateau and it is what it is.

    i’m very supportive of indie creators doing whatever it takes to experiment with new marketing and sales tactics. I think in this day and age, there is an expectation of seeing a lot of free preview work. Simply giving out a preorder code and showing a cover w/ 3 or 4 pages isn’t enough. There is just TOO MUCH out there competing for your dollar. Kickstarter projects that start off as webcomics that *gave away* their entire story for free to build an audience often do very very well when they want to make the jump to a printed collection. I think for indies the marketplace is that much tougher and you have to fight a little dirtier to get a foothold.

    Seems like simply depending on the direct market to sell your creator owned book, even if you’re *successful* there is a disappointing financial plateau unless you’re one of a small handful of A-list creators (Kirkman, BKV etc) who have legions waiting for their next project.

    Pay what you want would be a pretty cool model for an indie to try. Although for music i’ve read that only really works if you have a fanbase like NIN or Radiohead. Some smaller acts tried it to disappointing results…but i’m not as close to that scene so i dunno.

  2. 1. Sullivan’s Sluggers is still available at a couple of NY comic shops and I’ve been interested in picking up a copy, until I actually read the two issues available for free. I would have bought it if I liked it, but I didn’t enjoy it much.

    2. I would use a pay-what-you-want comic service, but I likely wouldn’t pay more than $1 for 22 pages, regardless of the quality. If I enjoyed it, though, and a Kickstarter was initiated to see the comic in a nice hardcover, I’d back it.

    3. I think Kickstarter has been working well for indie creators. I’ve backed projects I wouldn’t likely have bought digitally or in a comic shop. Part of that has to do with all the extras thrown in.

    • This project in question was in fact a Kickstarter project, and i think there was a bit of drama with the delivery of the final books from what i’ve read.

    • Yeah, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this project and people should know Stokoe has distanced himself from this book. The book is on Kickstarter again and maybe not rightly so. It seems that Smith is selling overstock, against Kickstarter terms.

    • I just bought the 2nd kickstarter run for 35 bucks. They were selling it at my LCS for 50 bucks so it seemed worth the couple months wait. From what I gathered they were selling more copies to fund the high cost of shipping internationally. I have not heard or read anywhere that James Stokoe has distanced himself at all from the project. Could you support that claim with a link or some form of evidence? My google searches yielded nothing.


      Stokoe left a comment at the end of the article. Admittedly, it is up for interpretation, but from following the links available in that article, and those in the linked articles, I think it’s safe to say Stokoe is not really backing this project.

    • Ha, you beat me to Mr. Magnus. I wish this site would notify us of comment updates before posting.


      Check the comments for Stokoe’s response. The whole thing is worth a read too.

    • The plot thickens. Stokoe’s comments are incredibly vague, assuming I read the correct one,


      Mark really really really needs to stop using the words ‘we’ and ‘ours’.”

      That could mean he’s just not part of the business end. It could be him jokingly stoking the fire. It could be him walking away. Who knows. All reviews for the book have been great. I hope to get it. The controversy seems to be about everyone figuring out this new Kickstarter thing and, according to Mark Andrew Smith, that he didn’t fully understand how expensive international shipping would be, not that people are being robbed or cheated out of money. That’s what is stated on the Kickstarter page. I openly admit to basing this solely on my thoughts and having no “real” information so I could very well be wrong and be covered in egg shortly.

  3. I have bought multiple games from Humble Indie Bundle and Indie Royale Bundle, which are pay-as-you-wish stores that give you multiple DRM-free games per purchase that work on Windows, Mac and Linux, and you can also register them on sevices like Steam and Desura. I also bought the Humble Ebook Bundle, which included a bunch of sci-fi/fantasy books by prominent authors, plus digital versions of print editions of web-comics(yo dawg, et cetera, et cetera) Penny-Arcade, xkcd, SMBC and a digital DRM-free version of Neil Gaiman and Dave Mckean’s Signal to Noise.

    My point is, I have already bought pay-what-you-want comics.


    Mark Andre Smith opened a second kickstarter as a “store” to sell the book to people who missed it the first time. It’s going for $35.

  5. Also, Steve Lieber engage 4chan pirates and got a huge bump in sales for the book.

  6. Mark Waid and Thrillbent openly talk about making “official” torrents for their stuff and releasing it that way as well as part of their marketing.

  7. As for if other indie creators have done so, yes the guys over at 215Ink regularly used to post up their work on a variety of torrent places (piratebay, demonoid, etc)

    as for your other questions:

    1) absolutely….I dont think i would have bought the current Avengers run if i hadnt borrowed a friends and read issues 1-2, now i have them all. I know i never would have bought all the trades of Preacher and the hardcovers of Y the Last Man without reading most of them beforehand via the library and friends.

    2) I never have simply because i dont buy music (people still buy music that isnt on vinyl?)

    3) Good luck. Entertainment is the most crowded market possible and you’re competing with people who ARE willing to just give away content for free, with almost 0 difference in quality (in fact i’ll take another Faith Erin Hicks webcomic over most of what any publisher is charging $2.99+ for these days). Getting noticed isnt the problem…theres more available outlets for getting noticed than ever before…its providing something that can only be obtained via the purchase thats the key to getting people to move away from all the free content they can find and wanting to lay out some $$ for it.

  8. I don’t understand the controversy. The people who kick-started this book initially got the book they pledged for (or in this case more than most initially pledged for).

    So what he is selling more copies?!

    I DO understand we were lead to believe that the book was exclusive to us “the kickers”. But to be completely honest I think it is a little silly of us to 100% bind him to those terms. If a book is good and that book was successful outside of the direct market sales method, who are we to deprive more people of reading that book? More eyes on any comic is ALWAYS a good thing. Do we really need to feel like we are in some exclusive club as the original owners of this book?

    • Part of the controversy is when the backers received their order. The title was available on Comixology before backers were given their digital copies. And many people still haven’t received their copy yet, especially those over seas, yet it was made available on Amazon and at other retailers. And Kickstarter is to fund projects, not sell merchandise. Sullivan’s Sluggers was already funded, so by the sites own standards, the new Kickstarter doesn’t seem to be a legitimate use of the service.

    • I dont know when i got my comixology promo code compared to when it hit comixology, perhaps the fact that it was a promo code and not just a direct free download that made it that way. either way, it is a silly thing to be butt hurt over. Just my opinion.

      I do agree using kickstarter as a storefront is kind of against how kickstarter works, but it was probably just easier than setting up a storefront at his own personal website. Again, I think this is just people needing something to complain about.

      As far as people not getting their books yet, I don’t know if I even got mine because i had it shipped to my parents house 3000 miles away and I wont be home for another week. But again, you get it when you get it, people ARE getting their books, you will get yours if you paid for it.

      People just need to stop being so “MINE MINE MINE” about everything, You can only enjoy life if you try.

    • So basically all your arguments are people should stop complaining about not getting stuff they paid for. And your points are all based on things you don’t know. Cool.

      It’s shockingly easy to set up an amazon, ebay or etsy storefront also. And not against the terms of service of the thing you are selling it on.

    • @ed209AF If you’d read the above link you’d also see there is some claims that Smith was soliciting design work from artists and being wishy-washy on paying them for it. Likewise, I really don’t care about offering the book for sale again (I have my copy), but be upfront about it. His spiel about how it’s “not the same book” (it is) was disingenuous.

    • As a matter of fact I did read that article and I also did some research and found this one with a perfectly logical explanation as to why some people on the other side of the world might have to wait more than one week for their copy.

      Puts things in perspective.

      As a matter of the soliciting, I agree, he needs to learn to work within the rules, especially after this successful campaign.

      BUT as a matter of customer satisfaction, I think way to many people are getting way too upset way to oearly. If 2 or 3 months from now people still don’t have their books, then I will hear their complaints, for now, a little patience goes a long way.

  9. Brandon Graham confirmed on twitter today that Stokoe got paid a flat page rate for the project and is urging people who just want to support Stokoe (like myself…) to buy Orc Stain or Godzilla instead.

    Personally, that’s pretty disappointing to hear at this stage. I backed it last year, paid $60 (partially to offset the cost of having it shipped to me in Japan) and still haven’t got the book long after it has appeared in stores and on amazon. I really want to know why Joe Public is getting it long before a backer of the project.

    I also had no inkling that Stokoe wouldn’t see any of the potential profits. Although I guess the page rate still supported him directly, it’s hard to imagine him being as invested in the project as much as if he had co-created it and would be seeing royalties.

  10. Stokoe breaks his silence on Sullivan’s Sluggers:

  11. I think I speak for many of us who supported this project in that the MAIN reason so many people backed ‘Sluggers was for Stokoe’s contribution.
    Did we get what we paid for…? Yes, we got Stokoe’s art, BUT, perhaps naively, many all assumed James Stokoe would benefit from the Kickstarter’s success as much as Mark Andrew Smith. This KS has left a bad taste in my mouth which requires more research on my part before backing a project.

    As far as the marketing shenanigan’s, that’s another story, but it just cements the fact that the lessons of the past (in regards to creator’s getting exploited) still has examples in modern day.

    • Will, I understand your concerns, but if Stokoe got a flat fee, what issues exactly do you have problems with? And – not – saying Stokoe doesn’t have legitimate gripes, but I feel I’ve read both sides of their battle at this point, and I can honestly say we got something wonderful out of it, if a little delayed. They’ll both continue working in comics, and it’s not as if bad blood between two creators is unheard of. Maybe i’m being too nice to all sides?

  12. This book is great! I backed the original Kickstarter and although my shop had copies before I had mine, I got a digital copy months ahead of that. I realize there have been…issues between writer and artist and I won’t get into that. I WILL say, if you get a chance to buy it in your LCS, do so! It’s a fun book, and i have love for both creators, so i’ll pimp this book and try to steer away from the politics.

  13. Is there a more up to date article on Sullivan’s Sluggers and the Mark Andrew Smith situation? I ask only because this site is where I first heard about it and decided to give money to the Kickstarter a while back. Thanks in advance.