I'm Just Sayin'…#84
by Greg Manuel on July 7, 2010

It sure seems like we picked a good time to start talking about digital comics/downloading here on the Nexus, as evidenced by the comments section of my man Glaze’s recentmost column. And sure enough, in the time since I wrote my previous edition of…

(No new logo yet. Still thinkin' about it...)

…and started mentally drafting this one, some big news on the subject has broken between the Big Two.

A lot of that news came in on the topic over these last few weeks, a lot of which I was able to find courtesy of Bleedingcool.com. First, DC made what we can only characterize as a “big-ass announcement,” launching their new iPad/iPhone app.

This announcement was then followed by another article entailing a memo from Jim Lee and Dan Didio to DC’s creative staff (Bleedingcool.com) about the company’s royalty plan for their digital comics. The wording of that memo led to a response of sorts from Marvel (Robot 6), saying that they too have a digital royalty plan; they just never said anything about it. This was then confirmed (Bleedingcool.com), and just recently DC had just a teeny-tiny bit more to add as far as their digital royalty plan (again – Bleedingcool.com), the wording of which I wouldn’t doubt was designed to put the rhetorical ball back in Marvel’s court.

I strongly recommend that you read each of those articles that I’ve linked for yourselves, because it’s really quite fascinating watching these two butt heads over what seems to me like rather sensitive information that in times past probably remained between publisher and writer/artist/whomever. I half-wonder if releasing all this info was supposed to fuel the fanboy fire, whether you’re Team Marvel or Team DC – but you know what this game of ego air hockey between the Big Two reveals to me, is a big honkin’ piece of this puzzle that’s been missing from the torrenting/downloading/filesharing/piracy/pick-what-you-like-to-call-it debate. While wrapping this argument amongst comic book consumers in merely ethical and legal terms, the economic element had gone completely unmentioned. Leaving this out denies comic book consumers a more complete view of the matter at hand, which I think is essential if you’re going to take a stand one way or the other.

It’s not a cosmically irradiated stretch of the imagination to think that this is why some writers/artists have been so vocal about torrenting; they’re not as interested in how many print comics you wind up buying because you downloaded a digital copy of their work, as they are in getting a cut of the digital market on top of those print sales. And you know what? They’re perfectly entitled to it. If comics are being sold digitally, by all means the people who worked on them deserve to be compensated. I just wish them luck in this, in light of the fact that the publishers have been going about this completely WRONG.

However it happened, Comic book filesharing was able to take a foothold and grow before the publishers could capitalize on that potential market. Now they want to control the action. So how do they go about doing it? They…call in the Feds (Comicsworthreading.com).

With all due respect to my preferred Enterprise Captain Picard, I’m going to try.

The law may be on the comic book industry’s side, but siccing the FBI on people like Gregory Hart, the man behind HTMLcomics.com is not the thing to do. It does nothing to address the industry’s perceived dillemma – the dissemination of their material without proper compensation. Whatever the publishers involved in this maneuver thought they were accomplishing, I can guarantee that it didn’t work. Just because they got rid of HTMLcomics.com doesn’t mean there aren’t still torrenters out there. You just drove them further underground. May as well have been playing Whack-a-Mole with a stale breadstick.

This approach also ignores the viable services that filesharing represents. Firstly, consider the newfound availability of older material. I direct you to some comments plucked from the HTMLcomics.com article linked earlier:

I’ll miss the site for its older back issues.”

“Its kind of a shame that the publishers can’t do a site like it legally though. After all if some shmoe can do it…certainly huge media conglomerates can too. There certainly seems a lot of demand for it.”

“If DC (the publisher I read the most of on htmlcomics) wants to gain the business they potentially lost by me using htmlcomics they need to make older comics (pre-90s) available online.”

And when it comes to current material, therein lies the second service that filesharing represents: sampling before buying:

“It irritates me when content owners assume that downloader’s money is rightfully theirs when it’s obvious that they never had that sale to begin with.”

“Html Comics was what got me buying comics. I mainly read the older stuff for nostalgia’s sake, but I read some of the newer batman and green lantern stuff and decided it was worth starting to buy stuff again…But without this site around to guide me to what’s good and what’s not I’m pretty much stopping buying.”

“Its really too bad. I know that some…may disagree but this site is the SOLE reason I walked back into a comic book shop in 5 years or more.”

As long as there isn’t a digital equivalent to flipping through the pages that one can get while at the newsstand or bookstore or your local comics shop, then who knows how successful digital comic sales are going to be? I certainly doubt they’re going to do as well as they could.

Make no mistake – digital comics can do a great deal to revitalize the medium as a whole, and I think torrenters are the key. Of course you could render this all moot by taking away the very best reason one could have for downloading current comics by enacting a refund/exchange policy from customer to store to distributor to publisher – BUT WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR RATIONAL SOLUTIONS. So here’s another way we can go about this:

1. STOP TRYING TO DESTROY TORRENTING SITES/SHAME TORRENT DOWNLOADERS. As I said a few paragraphs earlier, this will not work. Anybody who takes this route is wasting their time. Those who do it are not likely to stop, and it’s the height of arrogance to suggest that somehow those who download deserve to be shunned from this community or this debate. Especially when there’s considerable evidence to suggest that these very people are doing a great deal of business for the industry.

2. FIND THOSE PEOPLE WHO DISTRIBUTE THE TORRENT FILES…AND HIRE THEM. Why? Because without them, you wouldn’t even know that this were a viable market to begin with. Moreover, they already have access to those scans. DECADES of comics – some of which can no longer be found in print, some of which come from companies that no longer exist, and these are the people who resurrected them. These are people you want working for you, not against you. Get’em on the payroll!

3. GIVE DOWNLOADERS OPTIONS: A borrow-to-buy system only makes sense, not just because it’s fair but because this is how other entertainment mediums move their product as well. People buy a CD or purchase any number of songs from iTunes after, what? That’s right, after they heard it on the radio! There are any number of ways a person may have seen a movie or a television program before going to the store to purchase a DVD of it. Near as I can tell, legally obtainable digital comics don’t offer this option, and a few preview pages isn’t always enough to discern whether or not the whole comic is going to be good.

Ahem.

So give downloaders the option to read that comic online by giving them access to that file for, let’s say ten or fifteen minutes. Or longer, depending on length (and depth) of the material in question. Encrypt the data so that while the file is available, the reader can’t copy the pictures to their computer. When those ten minutes are up, the file is locked again. The downloader simply doesn’t have that material anymore, unless the downloader buys it.

And if the downloader wants to buy the comic, give them the choice: digital, print or both – one to have in your hands, and another to download into your computer/cell phone/tablet/PSP/what-have-you.

And just think of what you can do with the older material – perhaps you want to offer a subscription package so that people can go online and read old comics. You can sell reprints of comics for which original prints may be scarce or otherwise unavailable. CUSTOM MADE TRADE PAPERBACKS! And that’s just off the top of my head!

Now, if you’re a publisher or a retailer, you have at least one way to track what is and isn’t connecting with readers. You can be keyed into what people want. You’ll have a way of tracking percentages of what is being bought vs. what is being merely borrowed. You’re no longer villainizing those disaffected consumers who want to buy your product. You’ve even brought back people who left mainstream comic books behind years ago, and perhaps gained even more potential exposure for the littler operations. And look at that – at the end of the day, not only have you reinvigorated the comic book industry, you’ve stimulated the economy as a whole and you’ve averted the comic book apocalypse that the industry has been wailing about at least since I was in high school!

I wouldn’t be surprised if publishers haven’t already thought of these things and are working on implementing these very points. If not? Then good luck to you. Just don’t tell me it can’t be done. Especially if you’re the Big Two, and you’ve got Time Warner/Disney money at your disposal now – the kind of money that can move mountains. But I’m not keyed into the Powers That Be, so let’s see what route they do take…

AND NOW, JUST CUZ I FEEL LIKE IT…

Cartoon | Comic Strip : Oscar for Mel

"Buddy Movie, indeed" - Keith Knight

And that’s my word count for this installation. I’ll be back next time with more reviews, commentary and snark. But until then, I’m Greg Manuel and I’m just sayin’, is all…



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