Pirated Comic Brings Greater Sales, New Life for Older Work

Most creators, when they find their work prominently displayed online, pull guilt trips or threaten or even take legal action.

Not Steve Lieber, a good guy who gets the internet. When the entire graphic novel of Underground (a recommended read of this site) was posted at 4chan (archive link), one page at a time, he didn’t freak out. Instead, he figured there was an upside to the event, and he began participating in the conversation, letting fans interested in the work know where they could buy it and correcting misunderstandings about comic publishing. The result?

I know, there are no specific numbers on that traffic graph, but the magnitude of visitors is compelling, especially since Lieber reports that sales went up correspondingly. Of course, he was able to do this because he and co-creator Jeff Parker own the work and control the rights. Lieber has since set up, at his own website, a download page. You can get the book as PDF or CBZ chapters, and there’s a Paypal button in case you’d like to pay the creators for their work (suggested donation: $5).

As I’ve said before, obscurity — being lost in the huge number of publications released, and not being able to gain the attention of buyers interested in your work — may be a bigger threat to some than piracy. Many times, readers respond to the idea that the creator is “cool” or the interaction they get with them, and that’s enough to open their wallet. Especially if they got a free taste so they’re getting a known quantity, not gambling on an unknown (as the comic shop preorder system requires). Plenty of readers want to own attractive copies, even if they read something for free first. Plus, since the book isn’t an ongoing series, there aren’t serialized issues to compete with, so no worries there.

In short, increased exposure = free advertising = more sales, if the creator responds quickly and intelligently, engages the audience, and provides easy purchasing. Techdirt has written up the whole thing as a case study, including an interview with Steve Lieber. Go there to find out more about the economics (including the disappointing news that Underground “barely made a dime” but the hopeful mention that many of those donating want to see more volumes).

3 Responses to “Pirated Comic Brings Greater Sales, New Life for Older Work”

  1. Opposing Viewpoints on Comic “Piracy”, Starting With Colleen Doran » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] who’s being affected. Strangely, that’s exactly what Steve Lieber found out when his work appeared online. But Colleen isn’t convinced. Online pundits enthusiastically cheer isolated incidents of […]

  2. Pirates and Their Reasons Part of the Future of Comics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] to me that he is, at least, looking at the big picture. He’s probably already aware of the Underground example, but I thought readers here might be interested in seeing another collection of viewpoints, given […]

  3. Let’s Retire the Underground Example — Followup Sales Figures » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] readers may remember a year or so ago, when Steve Lieber and Jeff Parker’s Underground got a sales boost after being scanned and distributed online without their knowledge or permission. They later took […]




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