Pirates and Their Reasons Part of the Future of Comics

The next (and final) issue of Comic Book Comics, #6, due in June, is planned to have a section on the future of comics. As part of the forces affecting the direct market, writer Fred Van Lente will be covering

the challenge posed to [comic shops] by digital distribution, both the legal kind and the less-than-legal kind: What’s commonly called “piracy,” though I know that’s a controversial term for some.

In order to avoid demonizing people who read scanned free comics, Van Lente opened up a blog post where he invited those who do so to talk about why, what they want from the comic business, and most importantly, whether they think piracy is responsible for declining sales. (Or people can email him directly at an address provided in that post, if they don’t want to comment publicly.) This input will inform the history he’s writing.

I’m curious to see how this all turns out. He’s against the act, as many (but not all) comic professionals who make their income from the direct market are, but a later Twitter comment — where he says, “It seems self-evident to me a huge part of comics’ piracy problem is US eco[nomic] inequality & 20-40% youth unemployment rate” — suggests 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 the wide-ranging discussion that’s taken place here in the past.

A recurring theme in the comments at Van Lente’s post covers the category of “I download back issues that are too expensive to buy that I really want to read.” One person mentions Miracleman, another Black Panther. That’s an interesting sub-case of sharing that throws the whole collectible back issue comic market on its head. Supply and demand might raise prices of a rare issue to $100 or more, but now, no issue is truly rare for those who just want to read the story. I’m also reminded that “it costs too much” has traditionally been a reason to deny yourself, not to make a copy.

6 Responses to “Pirates and Their Reasons Part of the Future of Comics”

  1. Thad Says:

    Indeed; my digital comics collection is mostly made up of public-domain stuff, but I’ve got some things in there like Jack Kirby’s 2001 series — a book which will likely never be reprinted. The only people whose pockets I’m impacting by grabbing an illicit copy are resellers on eBay. Marvel’s not missing out on any money, and Kirby certainly isn’t.

  2. David Oakes Says:

    How many prints of a Picasso or Rembrandt exist? Heck, entire industries exist just to make cheap knockoffs of things that are “too expensive”, from Ready-to-wear to Guttenberg’s Bibles. “Too Expensive” is just a Market waiting for Capitalism to exploit it.

  3. Lyle Says:

    There is a comic industry version of a print, the collected edition. However, with comics there are a good number of stories that people want to read but publishers are either fighting over the rights or have deemed not likely to be profitable enough to worth publishing.

    I’ve been saying for at least a decade now, “I’d buy it if only they’d sell it.” is the one of the most comforting justifications of piracy, second only to feeling angry at intrusive anti-piracy measures.

  4. Jim Perreault Says:

    The examples cited here indicate to me that the amount of time it takes for a work to fall into the public domain is simply too long.

    It’s a real shame the Supreme Court did not strike down that last copyright extension which is way out of balance.

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

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  6. Why Isn’t It a Bigger Deal That Miracleman Is Finally Back in Print? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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