East of Gotham: The Question of Illegal Downloading or Pirating Comics

Pirating comic books is an extremely touchy subject for a lot of fans and creators and for good reason. Many consider it illegal and thus utterly wrong, while others find it more a shade of gray. Naturally, there are two sides to every dilemma, so let’s take a quick look at what each side has to say, beyond Dan Slott and our own Greg Manuel’s argument on the issue.

First off, pirating comics has been going on for a decade at this point, if not more. When Napster started affecting the music industry, programs like iTunes were quick, within 2-3 years at most, to offer a legal manner in which to receive the same content. Marvel and DC, however, were extremely late to the party, only recently offering anything online to download and purchase… and since they’re the first places a comics fan would go to look for content, that’s they only recently began offering comics online. This formerly left fans with space issues (a tiny apartment is hardly going to house any respectable comics collection) or even just those more inclined to digitally sample.

Digital sampling is, of course, the main tenet of those who argue that downloading is a shade of gray. This group will argue that pirating if one only intends to sample is no major issue. While this is technically illegal, it is hardly any worse than reading a comic at the shop, which every shop I’ve ever been in allows, or going to Barnes and Noble and sitting down with a title with a cup of coffee. With comics so expensive, this contingent claims, it is simply no longer feasible to just buy everything and sort out what one likes later. Sampling a comic, then buying it and future issues if enjoyed is a tenet that makes sense, but certainly a fuzzy area.

How many issues does one sample before deciding to buy or not? Do you buy the issues you sampled or just pick up future issues in the series? These questionable areas make comics pirating not exactly the same as Barnes and Noble or the comic shop in that the stores at least get you there where you will likely be supporting the business with one comic or another once you’re there. Pre-orders mean much of these books are already paid for in the shop, while online sampling takes that matter away.

Marvel and DC could solve this issue by offering free samples for a greater variety of books. There is no excuse to pirate what is offered free. By making these files temporary before locking, fans could try books, but not simply download collections. Locking the files and making it so you can’t simply sample the same full book every month would remove the excuse of trying a book out since no other means are viable.

Another way to solve the issue is a subscription service online for people looking to try, or even subscribe to new books. With the lower $1.99 price point of most comics offered online, the “comics are too expensive” complaint goes out the window and the publishers would be making a profit by cutting out the middle man, in this case Diamond and the Comic Shops.

There are and always will be those who just pirate comics because they don’t want to spend their money or can’t afford comics, but don’t think that should stop them from being able to read comics. These people are, without qualms, breaking the law and stealing. They will always exist and many will hide behind the sampling excuse which is, under the current market, to some extent viable. The solution is to take away the excuse. Make the fact that this is illegal, make the stealing, as blatant as possible by offering other options. More, make comics easier to sample and tryout without breaking the law. Let fans who want to read their comics and support the company. Make it clear that those who aren’t are doing something illegal and immoral – then use the law and moral outrage to go after those who are in the wrong.

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