Piracy cutting into the comics industry, too

Paul Raven @ 18-10-2010

It’s not just regular book publishers who’re suffering from an increased demand for downloadable content; the comics industry is suffering too. I noticed some justifiably embittered tweets from UK comics writer Paul Cornell this Friday just gone:

Just saw download site with 2356 illegal downloads of Knight and Squire. You have no idea how angry that makes me. Bloody thieves. #

Just heard: average number of illegal [comics] downloads = *four times* legal sales. That’s why your favourite title got cancelled. No margin left. #

I’d be interested to know if the piracy of novels is happening on a similar scale to that – if anyone has a source of reliable stats and numbers, please pipe up! But I rather suspect comics is getting it far worse when considered as a percentage of total sales, and a number of possible reasons present themselves: the comics demographic is younger and more tech-savvy (and hence more used to the idea of there being a free version lurking somewhere in the pipework); scanning a comic is an easier and shorter process than OCRing a novel (and less susceptible to transcription issues); and comics (the print versions, at least) are ridiculously expensive, with limited availability of legit digital versions.

The latter issue is probably the big driver here; I don’t know much about comics industry pricing (and, again, would welcome input from anyone who does), but I sure know what stopped me from buying a few issues every month*. Whether the pricing is justified or not is an open question, but regardless of the reasons, it’s a lot of money for such a small (though beautifully-formed) nugget of art; however, I’m not sure that comics prices could be lowered radically enough to enable the big houses to carry on as they are. It’s a more plausible solution for the music industry (and is finally starting to be seen as such by people on the inside of the machine [via]), but comics aren’t so easily reproduced as infinite goods.

Or are they? Via MetaFilter, here’s an interview with Neil Gaiman where he discusses the experience of reading comics on ereaders, and the phase-change occurring in the comics landscape:

Perhaps I don’t have the allegiance to paper that I ought to because anybody who invests in The Absolute Sandman, all four volumes, is now carrying 40 pounds of paper and cardboard around with them. And they hurt and they complain, “Oh, I feel guilty.” And I look at it and go, you’re not getting anything that is quantitatively or qualitatively better than the experience you’d be getting on an iPad, where you can enlarge the pages, you can move it around, it’s following the eye, and you can flip the pages.

[…]

Everything about the web has been about leveling the playing field. Yeah, it’s why Scott [McCloud] was right in Reinventing Comics, and why it’s a terrible book. Because it’s a manifesto. It’s not a book. It’s a manifesto to something that doesn’t exist yet, and, furthermore, his solution is wrong, which is you can micro-monetize this stuff. But the basic gist of the manifesto is simply: The moment you’re on the web, you don’t have to publish the book, you don’t have to get the book into Barnes & Noble, you don’t have to pay for ink and paper and the office costs of somebody to promote it. And all of that is true. You are absolutely playing on a flat field with somebody who has millions of dollars of marketing behind them.

In other words, comics (and books, to a similar extent) are just hitting their iPods-and-Napster moment, where available technology is not only good enough to significantly enhance the reading experience over dead-tree, but also sufficiently ubiquitous to make controlling distribution very difficult. That level playing field isn’t here yet, but it’s coming… and the first phase is the erosion of the comparatively easy profits the publishing outfits were able to make beforehand, where a lack of knowledge (or perhaps just a resistance to trying new ideas?) means that those huge marketing budgets just don’t provide the leverage they used to.

Music is a little further ahead on this particular developmental curve, in that we can see new business models emerging at both the individual artist level and the record label level… though it’s interesting to note that organisational size seems to be inversely proportional to innovative agility and the willingness to embrace (or even just grudgingly accept) the fundamental change in the rules of engagement.

All of which isn’t to say that I’m sat here with a wry smirk and a hint of I-told-you-so in you eyes; I have many writer and artist friends (Cornell very much among them), and have no wish to see them unable to make a living from their art due to technological shifts. But all the best wishes in the world won’t change the observable fact that the economics of abundance are ripping their way into almost all of the arts… and economics isn’t noted as a phenomenon that cares about individuals. Perhaps even more so than prose fiction publishers, the comics industry needs to get to grips with digital content channels real fast if it wants to survive; you only need look at the current travails of Guy Hands and EMI to see what happens if you stand stoically on a slanting deck, stuffing wads of money and lawsuit paperwork into the hull breach while the band keeps playing “Nearer My God To Thee”.

[ * That said, I haven’t moved to downloading comics as an alternative to buying them, though I certainly have done with music; I rather suspect that if I’d been a comics freak from as early an age as I was a music freak, however, I’d be telling a different story. The underlying point: the people downloading your work don’t see it as stealing; they just see it as a way of getting more of the media they love for less financial outlay. And while there’s a logical case to be made that they are stealing, time and money spent chasing and enforcing that judgement is time and money that would be more effectively spent on looking for new ways to meet that demand. All King Canute got for his troubles were wet feet. ]


Comics Self-publishing 101… from a man who’s been there and done that

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2009

If you’ve ever considered setting yourself up as an independent comics publisher to push your own work, novelist and indie-creator Jim Munroe has got your back with a self-publishing primer.

One of the coolest thing about the comics world is that it doesn’t dismiss self-publishers the way the lit world does. Maybe because it’s a less pretentious field, or a newer one, or that drawing talent is more quickly discerned at a glance.

Pretentious? Us? Au contraire! Well, that’s a debate for another day… for now, let’s see what Munroe suggests as a start:

Someone wrote in another Xeric testimonial that you should not attempt self-publishing and all of this business unless you have no choice. This is really true. It’s a tonne of work, there’s no money in it, and trying to put comic books out there for public consumption is another full-time job on top of doing the actual (creative) work.

[…]

But the more of your own work you do the more focused you become, and the easier it gets, at least to be confident enough to start a project, to see it through, and to learn a thing or two about it and yourself in the process.

In other words, self-publishing shouldn’t be considered a short-cut to success for shoddy work… which is the one thing that the majority of self-published novelists seem to have utterly failed to realise. There’s lots of solid practical advice in Munroe’s post, so if you’re a comics writer or artist (or just interested in the business side of small-scale publishing) go take a look.

Will increasing ease of access to self-publishing tools make it more acceptable to self-publish novels, or less?


Online Time Travel Pharmacy

Tom Marcinko @ 19-09-2008

time-travel

Use only as directed. It seems to be a side project of Get Your War On.  Or maybe a sponsor.

We pick up our mail in the 1800s.
NOW THAT SPELLS “PROOF” IN ANY ERA OF TIME!


A new book about Steve Ditko

Tom Marcinko @ 22-08-2008

steveditkoThe New York Times has a review of Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, a biography and critical study by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics). Stan Lee always knew how to promote himself, and the late Jack Kirby is getting the props he deserves. Ditko is less well known to the public, but of course every comics fan knows he was the original Spider-Man artist. (Tobey Maguire was such a great casting choice, capturing the antiheroic geekiness of the early Peter Parker.)

Ditko now seems now to be leading a strange, sad life, recounts Times reviewer Douglas Wolk:

He split with Lee and Marvel in 1966. By then, he’d fallen under the spell of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, and started producing an endless string of ham-fisted comics about how A is A and there is no gray area between good and evil and so on. “The Hawk and the Dove,” for instance, concerns two superhero brothers who … oh, you’ve already figured it out. Ditko could still devise brilliantly disturbing visuals — the Question, one of his many Objectivist mouthpieces, is a man in a jacket, tie and hat, with a blank expanse of flesh for a face — and his drawing style kept evolving, even as his stories tediously parroted “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” at the expense of character, plot and ultimately bearability.

He drew Transformer coloring books and Big Boy comic books, almost as if he followed John Galt on strike.

(Self-indulgent note: Rand is always good for starting an argument, in my experience…)

[Image: book cover from Fantagraphics]


Becoming Batman: Kinesiology weighs in

Tom Marcinko @ 14-07-2008

Brazilian BatmanIt’s, well, possible, but not sustainable, says University of Victoria, British Columbia movement researcher, neuroscientist, and martial arts practitioner E. Paul Zehr, author of the forthcoming Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero (Johns Hopkins University Press [!]). The most plausible thing about Bruce Wayne, the comics-savvy Zehr told Scientific American:

You could train somebody to be a tremendous athlete and to have a significant martial arts background, and also to use some of the gear that he has, which requires a lot of physical prowess. Most of what you see there is feasible to the extent that somebody could be trained to that extreme. We’re seeing that kind of thing in less than a month in the Olympics.

Least plausible:

Most of the time, in the comics and in the movies, even when he wins, he usually winds up taking a pretty good beating. There’s a real failure to show the cumulative effect of that.

If you’re thinking of superheroing, stay off the steroids.

There is one comic where he did go on steroids. He went a little crazy and he went off them again.

[Image: S


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