Comics Folk On… Comic Book Piracy – Again

Last week, as part of the Comics Writers Vs Artists social media breakout recorded by Bleeding Cool, Comic Book Yeti tweeted "OK, if the discourse is writer v. artist now, that means next week should be…comics piracy?" They had to wait but two days. Because four days ago, 16-year old kid tweeted the following "yall gotta stop shaming people for watching movies and reading comics on illegal sites" and found themselves with 16,000 likes, 1600 retweets and 400 quote tweets. And the attention of the comic book industry.

Comics Folk On... Comic Book Piracy - Again

  • David Pepose: 16K likes. Comic creators deserve to be able to make a living, and instead we get radioactive takes like this. If you can't afford to buy books or go to ComiXology, PLEASE ask your library to stock them. Thank you.
  • Matt Miner: people making comics are barely making rent.
  • Chris Shehan: Weird that you want people to understand being a "broke college student" but you don't want to understand that you're stealing from broke artists who are barely paying their bills. Why do you ask people to empathize with you when you can't empathize with who you're stealing from?
  • Dave Scheidt: If you want to read comics for free you can read them on Hoopla via your local library. Comics is a VERY small industry and every little sale counts. Books get cancelled because of sales numbers all the time. Every tiny bit of support matters. Our careers are on the line…  FYI today's comic piracy discourse was started by a 16 year old kid so try not to go nuts as always.
  • Christoph Bogacs: A few thousand sales can be difference between a comic failing or suceeding in the direct market. What you BUY really does matter.
  • Erik Larsen: The piracy debate seems to have resurfaced again. Here's my take–there is no debate. It's criminal behavior. People are struggling to make a living and you're taking what they're creating without giving them compensation. There is no justification for that. My biggest issue, honestly, is the excuses and the moral high ground that thieves concoct for themselves. That moral high ground doesn't exist. There's no moral justification for stealing. If you're pirating comics or books or movies or music–you're a parasite. Don't try and justify it–I couldn't care less what your excuse is. Own it.
  • Ned Hartley: Piracy in comics is only acceptable in the Watchmen and actually not even then.
  • Adam Messinger: So this isn't a popular thought but I'm all for comics piracy under certain conditions. 1.) The person's country doesn't have access to them. Those places are out there. 2.) If self published folks are into their book being out there.
  • PJ Holden: Been a while since comics Twitter has had a piracy debate. Nature is healing.
  • Kenny Keil: When you pirate a comic you are robbing creators. And that's the comics industry's job. So technically you're stealing 2 things
  • Michael DeForge: if you are a comics creator more worried about "comics piracy" than you are the harm companies like Amazon (and it's subsidiary Comixology) have done to our industry, or the predatory contracts that have historically been the norm for comics publishers, you are a sucker… it's hard making a living in comics but I assure you that someone pirating your book doesn't even crack the top 500 in terms of shit you should actually be focusing your ire on
  • Frank Gogol: Just for some perspective on this whole comics piracy thing… The contract on my last creator-owned book (at a small/medium publisher) saw me make $0.48 per unit ordered, which is actually really good compared to some publishers. That's one of the best deals I've seen. I don't have an exact figure handy, but that 4-issue miniseries, conservatively, cost $10,000 to make (it was definitely more) — all of which came out of my pocket. $10k is a nice round (but definitely low) number, though, so let's run with that. Doing a little math with the royalties-per-unit, it would take 20,833 units sold across the whole series for me to just break even. I can tell you that issues #1-4 did not sell a combined 20,833 units even tho the book WAS considered a financial success for an indie title. So at the end of the day, I lost money on an indie book that was considered a success financially (& critically). Or in other words, I did not get any income whatsoever from that book. A quick search of some of the top torrent sites shows that the book in question was downloaded illegally at least 42,000 times. And I say "at least" because I only looked at two sites — and there are many, many more. Doing a little math with the royalties-per-unit, illegal piracy for this series amounted to (at least) $20,160 in lost income. Combined with what I received in royalties, that would have been a fairly good net, even after taxes, on an indie book but in reality, I made A LOT less than that and lost money (for the third project in a row) because 42,000+ believed they were entitled to enjoy my hard work/investment with flagrant disregard for the people who created the content and their financial health. Let me be perfectly clear about something: No one is entitled to my art. When you pirate my (or my friend's) comics you are stealing from us, from our families…and from yourself. If creators/publishers keep losing money, how many more comics do you think will get made?
  • Augie De Blieck Jr: I should have known Twitter would get back to the topic of Comics Piracy. After all, we had a recent flareup of Writers vs. Artists. Checking the Circle of Comics Discussion checklist to see which topics are next: Floppies are dead Digital Will Kill Print What is "Mainstream"?
  • Fraser Campbell: If you're going to pirate comics, do it properly. Wear an eyepatch. Brandish a cutlass. Shout "Arrrr!" and call me "me hearty". Hell, turn up at my house like that, I'll give you a longbox away with you.
  • Rachael Stott: I think the thing is when people steal comics they see it as stealing 'content' from a company. But literally a handful of people made that. One person wrote it, one person coloured it, drew it. Throw them a couple of coins of support, please. It really means more than you think. Yeah yeah, we're working for big companies. But it's the slightest difference in numbers between a book being cancelled or not. Maybe we won't see a pay increase but maybe we get to work on something we love a little longer. Imagine spending a MONTH drawing something, and then someone just slaps it up online. That would maybe break your heart a little, wouldn't it? You could even do one better and if you throw a few coins, you could give them to a comics shop? So many of these are small independent, LGBTQ+ positive retailers. Maybe give THEM the money when you buy these books. It would REALLY help them. AND the creators. Sometimes I think it'd be good to set up a live feed to my desk for a month, like they do in bird's nests, so people get an idea of the amount of sitting and drawing that goes into these things.
  • Zoe Thorogood: The lack of basic empathy is this community is shocking. Artists struggling to make ends meet are allowed to be upset by their stuff getting pirated 100's of thousands of times, ALONGSIDE having conversations about how people without the means to access comics should be able to. I truly do not believe the majority of piracy is committed by people who can't access libraries or can't afford comics. I don't think anyone saying piracy hurts the industry is saying fuck the poor either. Almost like this is a complex topic not suited for Twitter :))))
  • Gleb Melnikov: I feel like the hustle discourse and the comics piracy discourse should crossover at some point, it'd be fun
  • Kevin Panetta: I don't know what the piracy conversation is right now but if you're rich: don't steal my comics if you're poor: steal my comics
  • Sarah Horrocks: My contribution to the comics piracy discourse is that whenever I post an image from a pirated comic onto my feed I can feel Zack Davisson's judgement on me like the eye of sauron
  • David Gallaher: Don't pirate comics
  • Matthew Dow Smith: Whenever the people pirating comics thing makes the rounds, I come back to the same thing — There's no argument that will convince someone who pirates comics that they shouldn't, and there's no justification for it that the people who survive making comics will accept. The end.
  • Quinn Croft: When I first got into comics I was a kid with literally pennies to spend. Piracy helped me discover the wonders of the medium. Shaming people who pirate, often due to the fact that they can't afford it, is not a good look… Maybe put this anger into actually campaigning for ways to improve people's lives so that they will have the disposable income to spend on comics. Because everyone I had spoken to that pirate stuff have said if they could afford to buy it through legal means they would.
  • Roman Villalobos: not sure if you were really about that comic life if you didn't have a .cbr reader at some point.

If I was to throw something into the mix, when it comes to day and date piracy, comic book publishers have in their arsenal the ability to mark and track digitally pirated comic books and take action against a handful of perpetrators responsible for the majority of comic book piracy these days. It would be surprisingly easy, barely an inconvenience. So why don't they? Answers on a digital postcard, please.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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