I’m tired of seeing creators who seem to completely miss the mark about Digital Comics and Piracy. This article was written in hopes to make some creators better understand and give suggestions on how to combat piracy.
Creators seem to talk about digital pirates as if they’re picturing this when they do:
The fact of the matter is, it’s not true. People who pirate digital content (comics or otherwise) range from people’s grandmas to the neighbor kid next door that asked you to buy Girl Scout cookies. They are everyday people who have Internet access. More importantly they are CUSTOMERS and POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS. When you keep treating them like BatBeard the Pirate up there you keep telling them, “I don’t want your business.” Which leads them to more pirating.
Oh and before you start getting into the “They shouldn’t be doing it because it’s wrong” argument, stop. Stop right now. No matter how often you make that argument people who pirate your work WON’T STOP. Are they people? Are there ways to guilt trip them into buying your stuff? Yes, in fact almost all of them know that it’s wrong to pirate. Is constantly telling them what they’re doing is a sin the way to guilting them into purchasing your work? No. So, please, stop beating that dead and buried horse. The music industry has tried, the movie industry has tired, hell the porn industry has even tried. It sure as hell hasn’t done anything for them. Why should it all of a sudden work for you?
There are pretty much three ways that should help you fight digital piracy. I write this article for Creators, because I know publishers won’t listen. If they did, they wouldn’t be making every single mistake that every industry that has entered the realm before them have (and continue to make for some).
1. Do Something New
This is both simple and hard to do at the same time. But at the end of the day, what makes YOUR digital comic different than another digital comic? If the answer is story or art, you need to rethink your strategy. We live in a shitty economy. I dropped almost all of my Marvel books because I could effectively use that money to buy more DC books and get more story for my dollar. I value more story. Which is something you need to pay attention to: Value. You need to add some to justify the price that you set for your comic. Price does not equal Value.
Doing something new or different can be simple. A great example of this was when a bunch of creators took their collections and started offering them for 2 bucks. Two examples were Misery Loves Sherman and The Adventures of Bernard the World Destroyer. It was brilliant because they set a price that was way below print and people were at least talking about it. Did it work? Apparently Skottie Young said it didn’t too bad for him a few weeks later. So much so he said he wanted to look into doing Digital Comics alongside print releases.
Another fine example is the announcement that Darwyn Cooke made at Boston Comic Con on how he wanted to do a Digital Comic with different interactions. He mentioned ideas that would push the digital medium forward. I don’t know all of the details, but I heard Character Bios and Map integration to show you were events happened. Both cool ideas.
2. Meet Demand
Time for Economics 101 (although it was technically 201 when I went to college where they talked about this topic at length).
Supply and Demand. A simple graph can answer one of the biggest reasons why your content may be pirated.
The graph on the left is a simple Supply and Demand chart. I guarantee that someone somewhere at a publisher you work with has used one of these at a point in time to decide that comics should be X price. Obviously a lot of factors come into play, but at the end of the day, Supply and Demand really explains the piracy situation better than anything else. For quick reference the line that slopes up is Supply, the line that slopes down is Demand.
For a lot of creators (and publishers, but like I said I’m focusing on creator owned content) when it comes to Digital, your graph is the graph on the right. There’s a demand for your product, but no supply to meet said demand. The graph on the left is Bit Torrent. It has the supply that you’re not offering legitimately, so people who were on the right hand side have gone to your competitor, who by the way is currently FREE.
If you can make the Supply happen, you’ll find out what price works after a while, but you’ll never know if you don’t have the product that people want. And before you say, “I can’t compete with Free!” Read number one on this list. You can compete with Free, you just need to make it happen.
Lastly, you need to engage your customers. Some of you might think, “I’m hip and on the Twitters with thousands of followers”. That certainly helps, but you need to expand. Your customers and potential customers include people who don’t follow your blog, are friends with you on Facebook, or follow you on twitter. They also reside on forums, other blogs, and even seedier sides of the Internet.
There are two great examples that exist in the comics industry of how engagement works and how the failure to engage leads you no where.
Example 1: No Engagement
Not too long ago Colleen Doran wrote a post on piracy that was posted on The Hill’s Congress Blog. It sparked a lot of conversation about piracy and comic books. A lot of people felt sorry for her and in a sense I did. Her work was being pirated by people, then I realized she made no mention of actually engaging her audience. I checked out her site for the comic, A Distant Soil and immediately noticed a GIANT PROBLEM with her webcomic that probably was one of the number one reasons she wasn’t seeing any traffic back from piracy. She doesn’t even have the freaking web address on any of her pages? This is webcomics 101 people, put a border around your strips or pages with the address and page number. It doesn’t take long to do and doesn’t completely distract from your work. Also almost any pirate isn’t going to go through the trouble to remove it. When someone posted her pages to a torrent site, no one would have any clue on how to get back to her stuff. In fact the only place they would know to get A Distant Soil at the point would be the torrent site they got it from in the first place.
In a sense there’s really nothing on her site that engages the reader other than a tiny blurb on the bottom from what I saw. There are no permanent links to Facebook, other than in her blurbs, or twitter. She could easily put something on her site that shows her tweets that she does; hell my site has that.
That all being said, she waited and waited to engage her audience. When she finally did it wasn’t “hey here’s where you can find my stuff” it was her finger wagging at everyone. If Doran had spent more time and effort in reaching out to people on piracy sites and her audience in general, she probably wouldn’t be having so many problems.
Example 2: Engagement
Techdirt, a site you should know and love, did a case study on this very example. Steve Lieber had his book, Underground, pirated. The case study shows what happened when he engaged the pirates. It’s an amazing read and you should really check it out. To sum it up this is what happened.
Lieber’s comic was pirated to 4Chan.
Lieber jumps into the conversation on his book. He mentions it sucks that his book was pirated, but what could he do to stop it. He also mentions he was actually flattered someone took that much time to post each page on 4Chan. Not only did he make those comments, he legitimately joined the conversation by giving insight into what happened to the book with Image and how he was proud of his work. He also gave everyone an opportunity to ask him more questions via twitter OR IN THE SAME THREAD AS HIS PIRATED WORK.
Guess what happened?
The above picture is from Lieber’s site. Lieber showed that simply by going and jumping into the conversation makes a difference. He also made himself readily available, which makes things even better for potential fans. It showed he was a real person and not some robot tied to a desk making comics. (Which some fans think you are. I could write a whole post on that thought as well.)
I hope that this reaches some creators out there. I know that you have no control over how your work is distributed with some publishers, but hopefully you can make a change when it comes to your creator owned work. If you continue to not get into the game you’re saying you don’t care. I’m not a creator of any brain nuggets that I would need to protect at this time, but if I was told that my stuff was free on the Internet. I would be doing everything in my power to offer a legitimate alternative for a reasonable price. Because anything else isn’t going to get things done.
Angry with Jon about this post? You can post your thoughts below in the comments OR you could email me: jmstump [at] paperkeg.com. I also wouldn’t be opposed to hearing if you have any suggestions for Man Crush of the Week.