The State of Comics Piracy, 2012 Edition

The year was 2011. Controversial president Barack Obama was in the White House, and Justin Bieber was the king of young girls’ hearts. In comics, DC’s “New 52” were climbing up the charts, and superhero lovers across the nation were arguing like their lives depended on it about who Catwoman should and should not straddle and that redheaded sex alien who was so upsetting that her name has not come up since.

It was during those heady days when a young Jim Mroczkowski thought, for roughly the hundredth time, “I get why people download comics… but why on earth do they upload them? Sitting there with a scanner and Photoshop, spending hours every Wednesday giving away stuff they paid for to complete strangers for free. Why? What’s in it for them?”

Unlike those other hundred times, the last time I had that thought I actually tracked down some scanners and asked them. They were very forthcoming with their answers, and the resulting interviews were illuminating and hotly discussed. The first of those interviews went up a year ago this week, and that is unbelievable to me. Comment threads grow so fast these days.

So, it’s been a year. Where are we with all this now, the torrenting and the file sharing and whatnot?

It would be hard to overstate just how much has changed in one year. For practical purposes, everything is different now. It was just a year ago that DC announced it would usher in its new era by releasing all its books digitally the same day they hit the racks. It was just a year ago that Marvel heard that and said, “We’re going to do that, too. Probably around, oh, let’s say Marchish. Probably Marchish.” Most of the other guys had beaten them to the punch, and with that, digital comics were legit. The argument that the consumer wanted the product in a way that the manufacturer didn’t offer it, leaving the poor consumer no choice but to steal it like the guy from Les Miserables, was no longer on the table.

A year later, even the paper comics are digital. Many of them come with download codes allowing the buyer to keep the comic and throw it away (or bag it, I guess; do people still bag it?) at the same time. Marvel comics are full of little doodads; you hold your phone over the book and it talks to you while you’re trying to read. I bet it’s amazing.

By the way: the last time you went to the comic shop, did you have to dodge pieces of falling sky? Have any of the stores in your area gone under in the year since digital happened? There’s many a comic shop in my neck of the woods, and all the ones that were open a year ago are open now. My guy says he’s having his best year ever. So if that’s the side you took in that argument, you may now take ten seconds to gloat. Quietly.

Of course, none of that means the .cbr business isn’t still booming. From here, it does seem to have gone underground, though, or maybe “back-burnered” is the better metaphor. I can remember when piracy would come up every six weeks or so, and the threads would devolve into the end of Lord of the Flies within about an hour and a half. Is that matter settled, or did everyone who torrents just get tired of the argument and start keeping their misdeeds to themselves?

I wish I could tell you. I know that the number of people Googling “comics torrent” is up slightly from this time last year, though down significantly from its peak during Christmas week of 2010. (I guess a lot of bums got iPads that year…?) The number of people Googling “download comics” is down and, interestingly, most of the people doing that search are apparently in India. Similarly, the U.S. does not search for “comics torrent” as much as Canada and Australia. Taking all this information into account, I think we can all agree that it conclusively proves oh, God, who the hell knows?

To get a real sense of this sort of thing, I suppose one would have to sit down and figure out how many searches there were for, say, “Uncanny X-Force 31 torrent” versus “Uncanny X-Force 19 torrent” a year ago. I am not going to do that. You can do that while I go and play with my children while they’re still young. Show your work below. Crowdsourcing!

One thing is exactly the same as it was a year ago: I would love to talk to a scanner about all this. Do you find there are noticeably fewer of you now? Are commercially available digital comics affecting the number or quality of files being shared? Are as many people downloading as they used to, or have online sales caused more readers to “go straight”? Is scanning still all the rage, or have there been inroads in the fast-growing field of exploiting code vulnerabilities on digital retailers’ sites? I have more questions than a skeptic at a Bible study class.

What about the rest of you? Do your observations of the piracy scene differ from mine? Have people actually stopped arguing about all this finally, or am I just hanging out in the wrong places? If you were a downloader a year ago, has that changed? Just about everything else has.

Jim Mroczkowski believes that if you knew how ill he was while writing this for you, you would parade him through the center of town on your shoulders. He gives and gives.


  1. I didn’t even know this was going on. I’m not really a fan of digital comics so I never considered looking into it.

    “A year later, even the paper comics are digital. Many of them come with download codes allowing the buyer to keep the comic and throw it away (or bag it, I guess; do people still bag it?) at the same time”

    Yes I still bag and board my comics and put them in my long boxes. That’s the way I have always done it and I don’t plan on changing anytime in the near future. Can’t imagine buying a comic and throwing it away, or not bagging and boarding it. To me that is just blasphemy. 😉

    • daningotham, Its a sad fact that there are so few of us left. I feel like a dinosaur looking up in the sky and wondering whats up with that big comet. But it is true. I used to have several friends that collected like I still do. but now they have all gone to either trades, piracy, or legitimate digital. We are the last of our kind. to paraphrase Charleston Heston, They can have my comics when they pull them from my cold dead hands.

    • Personally, I’m a hybrid reader. I like digital and I like the free code. I can take my collection with me on many different devices or, if I’m at home, I can relax with a nice paper copy. I like both reading experiences for different reasons and I do think that my opinion of a given book can be different depending on how I “consume” it.

      That being said, I don’t think I’ll stop being a hybrid reader unless digital “day of” get’s MUCH cheaper. I understand that bandwidth does have a cost associated to it but making cover price equivalent to what my LCS would charge me for a book NOT in my hold is nuts. That doesn’t even take into account that I get a good discount on my books that are in my hold (and free digital on the Marvel ones).

    • I’m in my 20’s, and only over the past year or two did I really start purchasing comics on a regular basis. I’ve always gotten graphic novels and other books like the full size issues of Tintin, but collecting the individual issues was something I never did, mostly because of not having a comic book store within walking distance.

      Once I started working a normal job, and could drive, the option to collect comics on a more regular basis increased for me. I don’t mind the digital versions, but I’ve always been a physical medium individual. Most of the money I spend goes towards physical cd’s, vinyls, books, comics, etc. I am not a fan of solely digital formats, and the cloud is not something I have much attachment or affinity for. That makes comics very significant for me, especially considering I’m something of a completionist as many of the people here are, and if I start a series, I NEED to finish it.

      That being said, there are some occasions where I do download comics from a torrent. Usually it’s the first issue to get an idea if I’ll like it. I did this with the recent Hawkeye series. Downloaded the first issue, loved it, and went back for the print version and continued the series.

      A little of the accessibility and ease of access is lost with physical mediums, but I always feel like I truly own the item, and it’s a warmer feeling having something to physically hold that isn’t backlit.

  2. It’s of note that Demonoid got shut down a couple months ago. I wonder how much that’s impacted things.

  3. ” Are commercially available digital comics affecting the number or quality of files being shared? ”

    It increases quality certainly as digital rips are often quite good quality, although the physical scans still remain. From personal experience this hasn’t increased the number of piraters, it just increases the redundancy for a comic still being available if one of the pirated copies gets reported or taken down off a file-sharing site.

    “Are as many people downloading as they used to, or have online sales caused more readers to “go straight”?”

    Again, just from personal experience, yes. Digital availability has helped, but generally only for attractively priced comics. Many people would refuse to pay the same amount for a digital copy as a physical copy. $1.99 per issue seems to be most peoples breaking point.

    Personally I’m downloading far less because I’m happy to buy all he creator owned comics on my pull list to support the creators and I’m disenchanted with the majority of Big Two comics so I’m not even bothered to read them even if they were free. Can’t speak for everyone but in the circles I run in I think there’s both an increase in purchases of independent, creator owned or very good Big Two stuff (Hawkeye, Journey into Mystery, Wonder Woman etc.) that people want to support, but an increase in piracy of mediocre stuff or things that people want to read but can’t or don’t want to support (Before Watchmen, AvX) and an increase in very, ummm, “casual” comics like Justice League or whatever.

    Just some thoughts.

  4. It’s mostly rips of legal digital comics now, which sucks. Legal digital comics still aren’t as good as some of the higher-quality scans.

    • Lol!!?? seriously? That even lowers my already non existent motivation to ever start reading legal digital. I only ever pirate to check an existing series out, so that i can judge if i want to buy it.

  5. If I want to see an image of the latest killing in The Walking Dead, I’ll download it.
    Beyond that I can’t read comics or books on the screen, even with a 27″ iMac.

    I like the way pages turn. Always have, always will.

    • Nothing compares to the feel of a fresh unread comic book. Yeah, I get the convenience of having all my books on one computer, or Ipad. but Its still not as good as picking up the actual book and reading it.

  6. on a slight tangent, i’ve kinda wondered about creators and other pros giving away their download codes on twitter and even announcing a “get in line” for their codes I know why they’re doing it…free samples and all, but i’ve always thought it was kinda sending a weird mixed message. Anyone else feel that way? I wonder if it works as intended….to get someone hooked on a new book.

    Also wondering if any creators especially indies have tried using or had any success with the piracy channels…or shipping lanes or whatever they call it as a means to promote their work and build audience?

    Are you technically allowed to give your digital codes from your print books away on twitter or wherever? seems like it would be some sort of rights violation.

    • I remember looking into the terms and conditions of the digital codes a while back. I thought those codes would be a great way to let some of my non-comics friends on Tumblr (actual IRL friends, mind you) try out some fun comics.

      I’m no lawyer, but my interpretation of the terms and conditions led me to believe doing so could be considered a violation, so I didn’t do it.

    • yeah i’ve never looked into that….i don’t read legal-eze for fun haha but i do see pros do it on a regular basis so its kind of a head scratcher.

    • James Stokoe has come on to 4chan and posted his own comics (before they were released) and talked with people. Brian Clevinger joined in for some chat when someone else was posting some Atomic Robo. Google “4chan The Underground” for how Steve Lieber got increased sales on his and Parker’s book through the help of pirates. And Gaiman said it’s boosted his sales.

    • yeah i’ve heard those anecdotes, as well as the whole Cyberforce thing and the reasoning behind it. Its an interesting thing from an alternative marketing perspective. The other side of social media, and targeted viral marketing is kind of interesting but also hush hush.

  7. I think there were more people talking openly about pirating stuff before the digital initiatives from the big 2. It seemed pretty common for people to admit to pirating and blame it on lack of access. Now, there’s still people that rationalize it for lots of dumb reasons but the numbers seem way down.

    I think its more about other readers calling people on their bullshit and pirates feeling they lack the necessary ambivalence that they thrived on before. With niche comics getting cut for lack of (paid) readership, I know it pisses me off to no end when someone tries to justify theft that will endanger a hobby I enjoy.

    • As a fan of say Savage Dragon which sells 4000ish copies a month, I see where you’re coming from. But, saying “dumb reasons”, “bullshit”, and all that, to me you don’t really get it, and are dismissing everyone who disagrees with you.

    • To further elaborate, comics being less popular isn’t directly related to piracy, not by far, at least that’s what most sources indicate. It’s not like the climate was any nicer to these niche comics in say 1999 before scanning was big.

      And just because you disagree with people thinking downloading comics is okay doesn’t mean you should be hurling insults their way. Plus blaming them for the cancellation of our favorite niche comics is just misguided, in my opinion.

    • I have to disagree with you completely on “not hurling insults.” I don’t have an obligation to make people feel okay for their theft. Stealing something just because you don’t want to wait for it or but it honestly doesn’t deserve my toleration.

    • I’m not expecting to change your mind, just letting you know your style is not exactly fruitful, productive, or really leading to much discussion or understanding on the issue.

  8. When Ryan wrote this article ,
    I commented that at that very moment the recent issue of Wolverine and the x-men had 700+ seeders on the pirate bay. It’s recent issue only has about 200 seeders. This is hard to truly compare seeing how May 30th was a wednesday and W&TXM 17 came out over a week ago. I also compared it to Animal man 13 (similar Ifanboy pulls and a week newer than W&TXM17) and that had only 98 seeders.

    I’ll come back and compare it this wednesday to a similarly selling/pulled book.

  9. Well I bought my first digital comic – Hickman Fantastic Four vol 1. Here’s the thing – its in the Marvel app on the iPad. Where is the source file? How do I look at it outside of the app? On my desktop? This is the big failing of digital comics – I want device/app independent formats.

    • This is my problem with digital. I don’t believe in paying a premium rate for a rental product that can be pulled at any time by the company.

    • It needs to work more like Kindle. You get to keep the book and can access it on your computer, phone or tablet.

    • Absolutely. If I pay top dollar for it I want a cbr file from them that I can use anywhere.

    • it would be cool if the publishers did sell their digital products in a way that wasn’t app dependent…PDF zips, cbr.s etc. That would go along way for adding value for the current customer. I understand the publisher concerns, but at some point you have to unclinch and make a product that’s more desirable. Seems that there are so many potential readers who are really hung up on the “what if comixology goes away?” problem and i think its a valid concern.

    • Comixology works very similar to Kindle, in that I can access a purchased comic on my iPad, iPhone or in their Web App. (And if I had an android device.) AFAIK, Kindle books are DRM’d and aren’t in an open format… so it’s pretty similar.

    • In my experience, when you buy something from Comixology (meaning the Marvel and DC apps too) you can download it to any of your devices and/or read it online in a web browser.

      When you download it to a device, the file is actually on the device but can only be read within the app.

      So in that sense, I guess you can think of it as a rental model, and yeah, that’s not ideal. However, I think the only way you could lose your content (barring loss/theft/user error) is if the app owner wipes your account or pulls the product for some reason AND you update the app. As far as I know, they cannot reach into your device and take the data back.

      At this point, I think it would signal a seriously dark day for the comics industry if a company like Comixology folded and the publishers did nothing to protect the purchases made by their readers. Even if the impact of losing that revenue stream wasn’t bad enough, the PR backlash would be out of control. I just can’t see that happening.

    • @ken–i kinda feel like Marvel and DC (parent companies) would sweep in and buy the company for assumption of debt at that point. just to keep it alive I agree there is too much to lose for the publishers if that venue went away as long as they are DRM-ing everything.

    • @wally: yeah, that’s my thinking too, especially with the power of Warner Brothers or Disney behind them. I wonder if Comixology has version of the app in their back pocket that removes the DRM, just in case things get really bad and they have to bow out without turning over all the furniture.

    • @ken–you’d hope they’d have some sort of plan in place. Could really screw up the entire industry if that thing failed.

    • End result of all of this is I will likely not continue to buy digital comics and that I will likely not go and buy the same comic in “hardcopy” format. Its a bit like the music DRM. I didn’t buy music that was not in a format I could truly own and I didn’t buy it of CD either. Eventually they wised up and removed DRM.

    • DRM remains an issue for me as well. I have some old floppies I am fond of that were put out by companies that no longer exist. Knowing that my digital purchases could evaporate when a company folds definitely concerns me. In that respect, the pirates are still putting out a superior (and cheaper) product.
      I also waited to buy music until it was free of DRM, and I always prefer DRM-free e-books when available (and if there are none available, DRMed ebooks can often be converted. Unnecessary, but it’s nice to know that option exist should the company that sold the ebooks go under).

    • Get a Comixology account and then “link” your Marvel account to it. Then you can get your comics through Comixology from anywhere. If you buy comics, use Graphicly and you can get those on the web via a PC or tablet/phone.

      You can also read Marvel “free digital” from the web but it’s a hard link to find. Just bookmark the page after you’ve added the books from marvel/redeem where it says “read now”. It’s really easy to get access to the books from anywhere as long as you’ve got internet access.

    • @markavo Kindle and Comixology are kind of similar in that they seem to try to be accessible anywhere. It’s a good strategy, and it takes some of the sting out of the lockdown they have on the product you are “buying” from them. But just because they have multiple avenues for access, that doesn’t mean that there’s no threat to your continued ownership, because technically you have no ownership. You have access that can be revoked at any time. Having 500 ways to access Comixology won’t help you if they go out business. Having hundreds of titles “backed up” on your iPad won’t help in 10 years when that iPad is obsolete or irreparably broken. I have a number of old series or single issues that I bought 20+ years ago that every now and then come out of their bags and boxes for a reread. That’s something I think about when I buy a digital comic. I prefer digital to physical for a lot of reasons, but under the current digital rental system, continued access is far from assured. In twenty years, I have much more confidence that I’ll still be able to reread my old Saga of the Swamp Thing issues than anything I buy from Comixology today.

  10. At my LCS Marvel books get their Free Digital Copy stolen all the time. It’s really annoying to when I don’t notice it until after I purchase the book. The way people steal is evolving with the products.

  11. By most peoples standards I am a morally bankrupt individual and as you would expect I have pirated many comic books, I’m the type of person that steals sweetener packets from MacDonald’s, who takes stuff from hotel rooms and will take anything I can get my hands on if there are little to repercussions I am poor and any way I can avoid paying for something I will.

    Do I ever pay for comics? yes. I have gone through periods in my life where i have had money to buy comics weekly at a comic book shop, not to assuage any guilt(I assure you I feel none) but because i prefer to read a physical copy if I can. Now I buy trades only, but only of comics I really like, specifically with art work I really like. For example I’m picking up the prophet trade despite the fact I have pirated every issue.

    Has digital comics affected things? I wouldn’t think so, I think all the digital comics preservation crap is none sense people just don’t want to pay for things most people are like me and they just don’t want to admit it.

  12. Yeah.. 2 of the three Comic Shops in my area closed down within the last three months, and I live in Tacoma WA, which is a pretty populated area. They were both pretty good shops to.

    • I know this was asked in the article, but I don’t think it relates to the piracy issue. Comics stores were always closing in the 90s, and still are, and the trend doesn’t seem to be directly or at least not notably influenced by piracy, from what we know.

  13. I don’t know, for me piracy of comics is about the same. Do I still download comics? Absolutely. But I’m still in the exact same place I was with it a year ago: I tend to only download comics I can’t seem to find at my LCS or instocktrades, or if I’m not sure if I’d like it and want to sample an issue or two first before diving in. Again, things haven’t changed for me. I still don’t like reading my comics digitally, I feel there is something different about holding the comics in my hand that I appreciate more.

  14. The arguments here seem to be:

    1. I only steal if I’m not sure I want to spend the money on it.
    2. I only steal content in very specific, rare circumstances but they might happen all the time.
    3. Everybody pirates so it’s no big deal.

    There’s obviously no way to talk to someone who does this. They know all the reasons why this is harmful to the industry and/or morally wrong. It’s just kind of sad to see it admitted to like its no big deal.

    • I know from your other post that your mind is well made up on the issue, but I do think you paint pirates in an oddly serious and inappropriate way. From my point of view. Plus you seem to blame them for the decline of comic sales and niche titles being cancelled, which is odd.

      In the grand scheme of things in life, somebody who doesn’t too much money reading something they didn’t buy is not a morale outrage. For me at least. Yes, I’d like the artists involved to be financially supported by their work. But piracy is not the biggest obstacle for that goal, and as mentioned piracy does not equal lost sales.

    • I disagree that it’s harmful to the industry. Some users ONLY pirate but they’d never buy anything anyway so I don’t see how that hurts anyone. Most everyone else that “samples” ends up buying books they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. I have a friend that’s into torrents BIG time but he’s always buying trades and is going to buy a ton of “marvel now” books. I think that he’s more of the norm than the exception. He does though, think I’m crazy for having as large of a Comixology/Graphicly library as I do 🙂

    • “Most everyone else that ‘samples’ ends up buying books they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. ”
      This assumption is based on the idea that what everyone wants is a physical book, and that pirating digital copies is a compromise you’re willing to make to try something out for free before buying it. I think this is less and less the case. More media is bought and consumed in as entirely digital format. There are plenty of people who want a book in their hands, but there are an increasing number of people who are focused on the content, not whether they read that content off of a piece of paper rather than a screen. For my part, you hand me a bunch of quality scans of a fantastic series, I have zero incentive to go buy that material. I could by the “legit” digital version, but that wouldn’t be any better than the scans. I could by the paper version, but my bookshelves are full enough.

      I think the effect of piracy on the industry is unclear, but I think we’re coming to the end of the digital-piracy-leads-to-physical-purchase idea. For years this idea was supported by the comics industry itself. Not that they in any way endorsed piracy, but that their digital sales strategy was seemingly focused on leading people to print, rather than serving an audience that might prefer digital. Now with most publishers offering day-and-date availability, people with a preference for digital now have a legal option, but it is still an option that is more expensive and less versatile than piracy, but at least it’s there, it’s easier, and it’s legal. Now that an option finally exists for people who prefer the digital experience, it’s harder to argue that piracy is going to lead to more sales, and is not going to cut into the profits of the legitimate versions.

    • @psycho You’re making a clear statement about piracy not affecting sales. I don’t buy this argument. But in another sense, that’s a separate issue. What I find distasteful is that people choose to steal something and then try to rationalize that theft. I’m not worked up about it; I just find it disappointing. To my way of thinking, so much new media and content is moving to the web and it creators of all stripes aren’t being compensated then they may not create at all. That’s bad for all industries. I guess I’m just trying to wrap my mind around the idea that people have no moral reservations about stealing something. I don’t see how a lot of digital media can thrive if attitudes like that expand in a big way.

    • “You’re making a clear statement about piracy not affecting sales. I don’t buy this argument.”

      Not what I said, I said piracy does not equal lost sales. That’s talked about more in the interviews linked to in this article. Also just pointing out blaming piracy directing for comics selling poorly is a scapegoat situation.

      And oddly enough, I do think all media will survive just fine even with piracy existing, and I don’t find digital pirates to be particularly immoral by my values anyway, but hey.

    • When people say that they want an option and then the Market doesn’t provide the option they want they’ll go toward a black market to meet that need. Unless Day and Date books aren’t the same price as the physical copies I don’t see digital growing to the point where everyone abandons physical. The same thing can be seen happening in the Music industry with growing “collectible” purchases like Vinyl. The movie industry is trying their best but they’re still floundering around trying to find a price point that’s attractive but doesn’t lower their YOY growth percentage by sacrificing the golden goose of $25-$30 physical copies. Even the subscription model that’s out there doesn’t give access to new content or in a perfect “tablet” format. The subscription model that the movie industry tried hurt them because they released new stuff too early and Netflix grew too quickly. The reason it did is because that’s what the consumer expects and when it was supplied it was eaten up like hot cakes.

      With that being said, I think the reason the Comic industries digital model is the best is because the price point is good for those that are willing to spend money on “digital” content that’s the same price as physical but for those that aren’t it pushes the idea of print – which by most numbers being released isn’t losing anymore ground than it usually has. At some point the print media will reach a happy equilibrium and until that happens everyone will still think the sky is falling. If anything, right now, the sky is the limit. Digital has brought people back “into the fold” as either full digital or hybrid readers and if that’s the outcome started by some scanners then the end result is that Piracy is a good thing. Because, in the end, piracy isn’t JUST about “theft”. If it’s not rampant it’s also about a fundamental failure of the free market system. Price your product where people are willing to pay for it and you’ll sell the hell out of it.

  15. and let me tell you something else Disney/Warner Brothers, i think its giant pile of bull malarky that when i buy one of your superhero blu rays, you have this big sticker saying “digital download” or its an added feature that i pay extra for, and then i find that the code is already expired when i get home, or a few weeks later when i want to put it on my iPad. BULL-S i say to you!

    • Totally. I got the super-huge Watchmen set that included the Watchmen motion comic, and it ended up not including whatever insert that the motion comic normally would have come with, so I couldn’t download the digital version. You can probably guess the response I got from Warner’s customer service dept.

  16. You should still redeem those digital codes. It’s pretty easy, and according to my retailer, the shop you bought the hard copies at gets a little bonus from Marvel for the redeemed codes (sorry, I don’t know what that bonus is).

  17. Well if “the number of people Googling ‘comics torrent’ is up slightly from this time last year,” but ” the number of people Googling ‘download comics’ is down,” then that can’t really be good news for LEGAL digital comics. Since, y’know, people who want to download legally would search the word “download” but not “torrent”. And if “torrent” is rising in the search engines but “download” is falling, then it seems that the illegal side is winning.

    Personally it doesn’t seem as bit of an issue to me. When I was in college I would download things illegally because it was easy to do and I was broke. But even back then I’d ALWAYS go on to buy a trade or hardcover of something that I liked. Because the psychological experience of reading something on paper is just… better, nicer. So basically I just used illegal downloading to sample things.

    I do know a guy outside of the U.S. who has no comic shop near him, and he was upset a few weeks ago when “Demonoid” (whatever that is) went down. But, really, it’s not hard for anyone who wants to to just find illegal scans online.

    I don’t download comics legally or illegally anymore because, frankly, there’s not a lot out there that I’m interested in anyway, and anything I am interested in I either know for sure that I want a paper/trade copy of. Amazon has made trades and hardcovers so cheap that it’s ridiculous not to buy something there if you’re even slightly interested.

    I see the advantage of digital comics (easy archiving, convenience on the go, no storage), but it isn’t like I’m reading 30 titles a week. So storage and price isn’t much of a factor for me. I would feel like a total sucker to spend $4 or even $3 on a digital comic, though. It’s a catch-22 situation, because to lower the price of digital comics you’d have to pay the creators so much less. I read something Brubaker wrote on The Beat about how the entry-level page-rate at the Big Two is now equivalent to what the MAXIMUM page-rate was when he first got into the industry about 10 years ago.

    But, bottomline about digital comics, illegal or legal: I just don’t care that much anymore. Digital is what it is and it’s nice sometimes, but once the novelty wore off I found that unplugging from the screen to read a comic is a nice, nice experience. Having a reason to unplug in general is nice.

  18. Things have definitely changed in the last year for me, but I hope more changes are coming. I stepped away from the comic book world for a while, and digital brought me back in, sort of. When I got my tablet, I thought I could rekindle my comic-reading habit fairly easily without weekly trips to the store, pull lists, keeping on top of release schedules so I knew when I had to stop in to grab the next issue of whatever series I was currently reading.
    It seemed like digital would solve all of my problems, but the reality was disappointing. At the time, few titles came out day-and-date, and many titles had no digital release schedule. Some fantastic stuff had come out while I was on comics-hiatus, and picking up those runs digitally was usually not an option. When something did come, it came with DRM, onerous Terms of Service, and generally the same price as the physical item (or, when picking up back issues, more than the cover price of the physical item) which had neither device lock in nor the threat of it disappearing at a later date.
    Piracy was a strong temptation. Going back to floppies, or even trades, was not appealing at all, as I’ve enjoyed going digital in most of my other media consumption. Hard drives take up so much less space than CDs or trade paperbacks.
    Now it’s different, but not different enough. Instead of waiting for the industry to change, I’ve changed my buying habits. At .99 an issue, I find I’m mostly willing to tolerate DRM and the lack of permanence that comes with it. I like to think that, should the holders of my books go under, I’ll be able to find a way to free the files from the DRM. Instead of picking up digital floppies every Wednesday, I’ve abandoned the whole idea of day-and-date. I read iFanboy, decide what I’d like to read, and I wait. When something shows up in a .99 sale, I pick it up. I consider it digital trade-waiting. I’m having fun reading a lot of titles that might not have otherwise read, and so far my buying has kept pace with my reading and then some. My virtual “to read” pile never gets finished.
    This creates it’s own set of problems in light of the DRM issue. It’s one thing to know and accept that I may have to re-purchase a digital comic if I ever want to re-read it. It’s something else to realize that if Comixology were to close up shop today, I might lose access to several years of Fables, for example, that I bought and haven’t even read yet. I know how that unread pile weighs on some people’s minds. It does that for me because it seems like there’s always the threat that the next time I reach for that pile, it may not be there, and that .99/issue “deal” will end up being hundreds of .99 purchases that I never actually get to enjoy.
    So, spending more, reading more, enjoying digital more and less tempted by piracy options, but I definitely see the appeal of pirating. Digital pricing and terms of service still leave a lot to be desired, but I’ve seen progress, and I hope to see more.

  19. I was experimenting with digital before the new 52, playing with CBZ/CBR downloads and some comixology stuff.I went digital with the new 52, pretty exclusively. The Flashpoint titles were my final concerted effort at physical comics from DC. There are some physical comics I still purchase because they were not day and date and I wasn’t sure when they would come out, but these were Dark Horse comics.
    My philosophy is Digital for new if it is day and date, physical if not day and date (although this list is getting smaller and smaller). Physical back issues for older comics not yet available digitally (I collect old JLI runs), and CBZ/CBR reader for older public domain golden age stuff (Black terror etc). I will buy trades that are not available digitally. I have a lot of trades, especially stuff I started collecting before digital became so prevalent.
    I also like the fact that after a month, the digital cost gets reduced, and i have taken advantage of cheaply priced story arcs on special offer.

    I didn’t do digital before the iPad.

    Storing an iPad is easier than filling my house with book cases.

  20. To me there is no middle ground on this topic. Piracy is a major problem for this industry. As someone who runs a business, comics piracy is the equivalent to someone returning to my store being very vocal about stealing my product (under the pretense it might not be what they’re looking for). But hey, THIS time they enjoyed what they stole and felt obliged to come back and pay for it. What about the issues that didn’t entertain you enough to warrant a second look? That broken logic is embarrassing and offensive. Take a $4 gamble. Don’t like it, don’t buy another issue.

    • I certainly am not saying it isn’t stealing, but you have to see the difference here, right? Like the related benefit? Without piracy, the guy probably doesn’t buy anything. But with piracy, he feels guilty and pays for something. Would you rather have the something? Or what do you do if piracy makes some excited about comics and they get into them, and become customers? I’m not saying it is morally defensible, just that there are occasions where it can yield dividends. You have to keep in mind that there are a good sized group of downloaders and pirates who would never have paid for anything before; they only read them because they are free.

      Me, I need the feel, the smell, of the comics. I like to see them all organized and bagged in my long boxes.

    • “I’m not saying it is morally defensible”

      I’d just like to say, it is morally defensible. The world is a complicated place, and it would seem odd if reading comics without paying was the only issue everyone on Earth agreed was evil.

  21. I’ll ¢0.99 impulse buy my way through comixology like a ravenous badger at a picnic but put a $3.99 price tag on something and i think way too long hard about it.

    If new comics were ¢99 or even 1.99 digitally they would probably increase their sales by 10 overall.

  22. There are several things that have changed when it comes to comics piracy in the last year. One is the Megaupload scare. Many comics were uploaded to Megaupload, and once that was taken down, many uploaders upped sticks and stopped altogether, even if they used other services such as Mediafire.

    Another is the more recent demise of Demonoid. Demonoid was perhaps the second biggest torrent tracker behind the Pirate Bay, and has had a large impact. Despite some reports, this was not a ‘technical fault’. The servers were in Ukraine, where having the servers is not against the law. However, the site was taken down by a DDoS attack, coinciding with a visit by the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister to the United States to meet US Trade representatives, where one of the issues discussed was piracy.

    And of course, the move to digital has changed things immensely. Some scanners stopped scanning, because they claimed to only be scanning in the first place to have a digital archive. The move to digital also makes piracy easier than ever. Whereas before, you could wait several weeks for some comics to be scanned, any comic that is released digitally is uploaded almost instantly, though at a lower quality than the scanned copies.

  23. I think priacy could be cut down even more if the comic book companies would be more proactive in how they sell digital comics. I don’t see why there can’t be a netflix for comics where you could pay like 7 or 8 bucks a month and then be able to read pretty much all the older back issues you want. You wouldn’t own them but while you had a subscription you could read them. I know marvel has something kinda like this but I hate the reader they use and they don’t have a app so that you can read it easily on a tablet.

  24. I’m not jumping into the ComiXology bandwagon because of DRM, it’s ridiculous. Would you buy a MP3 album today that had DRM on it that would restrict listening on just X device and also be constantly online to do so without the ability to d/l to your hard drive for offline? Of course not.

    David Brothers over at the 4th letter has a great article talking about this issue:

    Also to quote video game overlord, Valve Corporation CEO Gabe Newell’s take on it:
    “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24/7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country three months after the U.S. release and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customer’s use or by creating uncertainty.”

    • Gabe is only half right though he’s close. It’s a FAILURE of the market to meet the needs/wants of the consumer PERIOD. If the price is too high, very few to no one will buy it. Deliver your product in an inconvenient method or a method the consumer isn’t happy with and you’re not going to sell anything. Digital piracy is an alternative market that just so happens to cost “nothing”. The people that happily support the “nothing” price make their money for digital distribution costs (servers, bandwidth, support) by using ads. It’s just a black market response to a companies that refuse to meet their consumers demand.

      As a company, if you’re doing it right, your consumer will never look for alternative methods of getting what they want and piracy will be so small most people would consider it non-existent.

  25. DRM is completely crazy. You punish your paying customers while the pirates get the quality stuff, and of course it doesn’t stop piracy in any way, since there are always people who can break the protection and distribute the stuff.

    Think about it: you pay and you can only enjoy the content you’ve paid for in the platforms they choose, using the programs they choose, you can’t lend it to a friend, the company that sold it to you goes bankrupt and you lose everything you bought, you die and you can’t even leave your books to your family or to a friend who will appreciate them…

    It’s the same thing with Kindle books, of course. At least Amazon seems like a more solid company than ComiXology, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to go bankrupt anytime soon. But who knows? Things may change a lot in 5 or 10 years. The point is that you are still at their mercy. They can even get into your devices and take away the books you have bought, like they did several times with stuff they discovered they did not have rights to sell.

    Of course, the protection of Kindle books is so easy to break that anyone can do it easily, so you can at least keep your own copy of the stuff you bought. I don’t know if you can do the same with ComiXology comics.

  26. Regarding piracy, I agree that there are many people who are hypocrites, and defend piracy using any argument they can think of, not because they truly believe in those arguments, but because they don’t want to spend any money and piracy is just too convenient. Eventually, they convince themselves that they believe in it because that way they can take the stuff without paying and still feel good about themselves. That’s hypocrisy.

    However, saying piracy=stealing is not very helpful to understand the issue, because there’s a difference there. If I steal from you, I take something from you and afterwards I have that something and you don’t have it any more. With piracy, I copy something from you and afterwards I have it and you also have it. You just haven’t got paid for my copy. I’m not saying piracy is not wrong, but it’s not the same as our traditional idea of stealing.

    Whatever you think about it, piracy is here to stay, and companies and creators should think about how to live in the new digital environment, instead of pretending that they can go on like they did when there was no internet. Business models will have to change, or at least new ones will come up and coexist with the older ones. Look for example at Kickstarter: its surprising success proves that there are many people willing to pay for something they think it’s worth it, particularly when they are made to feel like they are part of the project. Maybe that’s one way to go that should be explored more often, or maybe some new ideas will come up.

    The fact is that piracy has changed the way many people experience entertainment:
    1) Some people will go on the old fashioned way, only accessing content they have paid for.
    2) Other people just will never pay if they can get it for free: that certainly hurts creators, but like it or not, we have to understand that piracy can’t be stopped. As long as the internet exists, there will be piracy. The more draconian the measures used to fight it the more you will alienate your potential customers, and people will still find the way. As long as digital information can be exchanged (as long as the internet exists) there will be piracy.
    3) Other people won’t pay now, but they may do so in the future. Maybe poor teenagers or students, that don’t have the money (because this is not a cheap hobby): perhaps they pirate now, and become fans of stuff that they would never be exposed to without piracy. Some of them will spend money in the future, when they have more income. This actually helps creators, because they will get some customers that would have never been exposed to this stuff otherwise.
    4) Other people (perhaps most people) will access more entertainment content than they pay for. Why do they pay for some of it? Many still believe that they should support their favorite creators, even if they are getting some of their stuff for free. Others just prefer a physical format. The thing is that they are accessing much more entertainment media that they can afford, but they are still spending their money on some of it. Maybe they are spending about the same amount they used to. They are just accessing more content, some of it pirated.

    In the end, from a practical point of view, what counts for the creator is the total amount people spend. If you are spending less because of piracy than you would otherwise, then you are hurting the creators of the stuff you love. However, it’s better for the creator if you pay 1 and read 10 than if you pay 0 and read 0.

    • I think that’s a great point about people’s conception of stealing. Many feel its victimless because no one has “lost” a song or comic.

    • It remains victim less if the alternative is that the reader doesn’t READ anything. Basic math:

      Person 1 pays for 1 transaction for a physical item so for the Distributor it’s:
      -1 from inventory and +sale price of the item.
      Person 2 pays for 1 digital transaction so so for the Distributor it’s:
      -bandwidth cost for digital distribution and +sale price of the item.
      Person 3 doesn’t pay for 1 digital transaction but bandwidth isn’t the cost of the Peer to Peer “transaction” so:
      -0 to distributors bandwidth -0 to distributors inventory and +0 to sales because it was shared and the distributor wasn’t any part of the transaction.
      Person 4 doesn’t pay for anything because they choose not to so:
      -0 from distributors inventory and +0 from the sale.

      4 and 3 are the SAME THING for the distributor! The best hope for a distributor is that someone get’s a taste of their product and wants to reward them for it by making a monetary transaction. As far as I’m concerned – and the math – piracy is a loss leader method of advertising that costs the people sharing the file their monthly bandwidth price and nothing more. The creator of said product pays NOTHING for that marketing. What’s amazing too is that most of the piracy studies out there PROVE the same thing I just typed. Piracy, as long as it isn’t rampant, is an amazing advertising tool.