Mark Waid has reconstructed his controversial Harvey night speech and made what he was getting at much clearer:

“Yes, Professor Waid, you hippie freak, sharing is all well and good, but how does that pay my bills?”

I know. I know. We all still should be financially compensated for hard work so we can keep doing this and make a decent living. No argument. And that brings us back around to filesharing. If you’re genuinely morally indignant about this issue, I understand and respect that. But I worry that a lot of the moral indignation I hear over filesharing is just a way of trying to mask our panic over how our ability to make a living with our art is quickly eroding under the current business models. And I understand that fear. I really, truly do.

Look, if you are in comics just to make money, I can respect that. Honestly, no sarcasm. But if you are here to create a sustainable living for yourself while at the same time finding some way to give back to the world, then filesharing is not a problem…it’s an opportunity.

Like it or not, downloading is here. Torrents and filesharing are here. That’s not going away. I’m not here to attack it or defend it–I’m not going to change anyone’s mind either way, and everyone in America at this point has anecdotal evidence “proving” how it hurts or helps the medium–but I am here to say it isn’t going away–and fear of it, fear of filesharing, fear of illegal downloading, fear of how the internet changes publishing in the 21st century, that’s a legitimate fear, because we’re all worried about putting food on the table and leaving a legacy for our children, but we’re using our energy on something we can’t stop, because filesharing is not going away.

Much more in the link. Perhaps if Waid had said all this on Saturday, there wouldn’t have been any confrontations, just nodding.

See also David Brothers’ essay on digital comics today on Comics Alliance: Please, Just Kiss Digital Comics On The Mouth Already.:

Here’s the problem with that: Digital comics are not there to support retailers. They are a competitor. They are the new gunslinger in town to blow the head off the old gunslinger. They’re the person trying to break up your marriage. Netflix doesn’t hold back on content, let publishers set ridiculous prices, or send customers to Blockbuster, so why should digital comics do the same?

It’s a common talking point precisely because digital comics are a huge threat to retailers, and since the Direct Market depends on retailers to sell comics, they don’t want to anger their biggest business partners. That’s totally fair; you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you, and you don’t want to count your digital distribution eggs before they hatch. But at the same time, (and to continue the increasingly ill-advised New Girl In the Building comparison): if you keep holding back and selling yourself short, you’ll eventually be left with nothing. If the digital effort continues to be a half-effort, the failure of digital comics will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. At some point, you need to either make your move or give up.

In the meantime, comics creators were still feeling vaguely uneasy about the entire landscape of comics selling, as writer Chris Gage showed in a few twitters earlier today:

Man, I just looked at the July comics sales numbers and they’re depressing. The economy is a huge part of that but piracy has to be too… I don’t wanna get into a big debate about illegally downloading comics, don’t have the time or energy, but I’ll say this: if you illegally download a comic, especially a low or mid seller, you are voting for it to END. That’s all. Back to work.

With comics sales back to the same levels as the dark days of 1999, it’s fair to ask if piracy is to blame — even though comics were being scanned and downloaded 11 years ago, it probably wasn’t as widespread or socially accepted as it is now.



  1. I’m not sure if piracy is to blame for the current comic sales slump. This is a cycle that is created by businesses that put more effort into short term marketing tricks to spike sales quickly than trying to slowly build a dedicated customer base. Eventually the current marketing ploy is going to run its course and sales will drop until another plan gets put into action. Piracy may have an effect on sales, but not as much as a poorly conceived business model. On a slightly related note, the direct market replaced the newsstand, how can the direct market honestly believe that it will never be replaced?

  2. Well, for me it’s content that’s to blame. I don’t want to read most of these books anymore, and I sure as hell don’t want my son to read them. Well, he’s three, so if he could read them it’d be a miracle… but I digress…

    I don’t even know if I would ever download this crap if it wasn’t crap. Even the monthly format largely leaves me cold these days, due to the obtrusive advertisements that just yank me out of the story.

    However, I’m a total sucker for pretty pretty hardcover collections. Don’t care about the cost- just design it well, make it sexy, and I’m there. Die cut dust cover with spot varnish? More please! No ads? uh, yes. Something to take to a con to get signed- forcing me to carry 100 pounds of books on my arm? Sign me up!

    Glad most comics have crap content, cuz buying any more of these pretty hardcovers would sink my house…

  3. …”but piracy has to be too”…

    Except that’s a complete and total assumption.

    But I do agree wholeheartedly with Gage’s statement that illegally downloading a comic is a vote for it to end. If it’s not worth your money, it shouldn’t be worth your time.

    Why all this focus on piracy, though? Webcomics are digital comics, too. People read digital comics instead of print comics for two reasons: they’re free, and they’re fulfilling a demand that print comics are not.

    Nobody reads something for free just because it’s there, though. At least not for long. Still, that’s a cause for concern with retailers.

    But y’know, where are all the NON-genre books? Where are the humor books? They’re not really coming out of the print comics industry — and I don’t know how much of it’s because the publishers don’t print them, or because the retailers and distributor(s) don’t support them, but that’s something that needs to change.

  4. I concur that it’s all about content. Most of what’s out there (I’m just thinking of the big two here cuz they drive the industry, though image and dark horse and others take cues from them), is ugly and inclusive and overthought.
    Even in the grim n gritty days, I never thought I would see the day that had a cover with green arrow with an arrow through his head.
    I’m no prude to violence but it seems that there is an exhausted contemptive vibe coming from most books.

  5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: comic books aren’t going anywhere. Comic book retailers on the other hand…

    Everything that the industry is afraid of right now has already happened in other entertainment industries, and in each situation each of those industries was able to find one or two avenues to harness digital sharing and usually able to find a new business model that works:

    iTunes has cornered the market in music, TV and movie, and now e-book distribution. Amazon has done the same thing with physical media. Netflix and Hulu are close behind in digital video distribution.

    Sometime in the next 2-3 years, Comixology or someone is going to find a comic book reader that works properly, and fans & companies will begin to migrate to that platform. As more people migrate, we’re going to see more and more retailers go under, just like we have with bookstores, music stores, and Blockbuster. But the industry and the major players in it will survive, and hopefully thrive.

  6. One quibble with Dan Brothers’ statements about Netflix (“Netflix doesn’t hold back on content, let publishers set ridiculous prices, or send customers to Blockbuster, so why should digital comics do the same?”).

    Netflix *does* hold back on content.

    They’ve signed multiple agreements with studios to delay renting certain DVDs for 28 days or more. Blockbuster has signed exclusivity agreements with those same studios. All of this is a bunch of people trying to protect the sales channels that have worked for them for 20 years or more.

    As for allowing publishers (studios) to set ridiculous prices … anyone who thinks Netflix streams are going to remain so cheap in the future is, frankly, deluding themselves.

    If Netflix wants to be on par with cable company offerings, they’re going to have to offer more money for licenses. Which means higher subscription rates for customers.

    How does this relate to comics? It’s a similar licensing and retail channel problem. You can’t offer excellent prices online without alienating the hell out of your existing retail chain.

    See also: http://www.google.com/search?q=netflix+signs+deal+delay+warner+brothers

  7. Chike– “One quibble with Dan Brothers’ statements about Netflix (“Netflix doesn’t hold back on content, let publishers set ridiculous prices, or send customers to Blockbuster, so why should digital comics do the same?”).

    Netflix *does* hold back on content.”

    Perhaps Netflix and Hulu and other online media sites need to cater to the demands of businesses that still have semi-healthy sales channels, but the comic book industry doesn’t have this problem. The businessmen in the direct market need to realize that these new comic formats and methods of distribution will never be uninvented. They may still have the time to innovate and adapt, but if their only solution is to dig in their heels and “keep it real” then they will end up in the same situation as the mom and pop video rental stores and buggy whip manufacturers. Every technological innovation has upset the status quo at some time, and eventually the dust settles and the market stabilizes. Usually, the businesses left standing have been the ones that embrace change. Unfortunately the comic industry is one that has an almost pathological aversion to change.

  8. @russ lowery – I think you raise a valid point but I disagree about some of your conclusions.

    There’s no way for an independent retailer to participate in the new world order of digital distribution. They’re completely cut out of this model.

    It’s not so much a “buggy-whip manufacturer” kind of problem. In a variety of ways, these guys offer a value that can’t be replicated online (serendipity, secondary markets, etc).

    The difference with other goods — like software, music, or movies — is that the good itself is the same whether you buy a DVD/CD, rent from an independent, or stream something off Netflix.

    The same goes for books. Text, aside from some editing and design issues, is just text.

    But comics? Comics are a different beast. I’ve seen a lot of artwork and layouts recently that simply couldn’t work on a 10″ tablet screen, much less a smartphone screen.

    So we’re entering a world where it’s not artists and publishers that will define the medium, it’s technology companies like Apple, Adobe and Amazon.

    There are a lot of advantages to digital distribution, but I’m wary of worlds where DC’s “Wednesday Comics” or a one shot mini from Gabrielle Bell are less likely to exist, simply because technology dictates the market and the medium.

  9. @Chike- I can understand your point of view, but I completely disagree with it.

    Independent retailers are already competing in the market against free downloadable copies of all of the comics that they offer in their stores. In fact, they have been for years. Like you said, there are aspects of printed comics that do not translate well to a screen, and the stores that have been doing well have done so by focusing on these. Some have been catering to customer bases that are outside the realm of the traditional comic shop. Their market is changing whether they like it or not. It is their job to change with it, or find another business.

    The argument about movies being the same whether you but the dvd, rent it from a store, or stream it online doesn’t take into account that the movie industry said the exact opposite when the television was invented. They thought that nobody would replace going to a theater with watching their movies on such a tiny screen. Nobody would give up the quality of film for digital recording. Nobody would want to buy movies when they could rent them cheaper. Who would ever rent movies by putting them on a list and waiting for them to come in the mail? All of these arguments are easily translated to comics.

    Technology has always defined the comics medium. The advances in printing technology have improved every aspect of comics from how they are drawn to what colors can be used to make them. These artists and writers are reacting to the new technology and adapting their storytelling to the new tools that are available.

    I have no problem seeing an industry where the artists can push the boundaries of a medium that has at the same time grown beyond the limitations of page width and length, but also that play to the strengths of the new screen size formats.

  10. One of my beefs with the direct market is this:
    no impulse buying.

    Where I live, I need to order ANY comic or trade from Previews catalog, 2 months ahead. The store does not carry more than a copy or two of ANY comic to place on their shelf, and very seldom will it pull in a GN or Trade for instore sale.

    With digital comics, I can go online, order, and get my comic right away.

    Hey, I am the almighty customer!!!
    I pay the salaries of the entire comic industry and the retailers, and the printers, and the delivery truck drivers.

    The indutry needs to treat me with respect and retailers need to tell me how I benefit from buying my comic from them, instead of buying a digital copy online.

  11. @John: Comment of the year.

    @Al: You describe a problem most people try to brush aside yet is very real. A lot of comic stores, particularly in the MidWest, only order and stock Marvel and DC. I don’t want to read the catalog every month and create an order sheet – I just want to read the comic. Money isn’t the issue there, it’s how involved I have to be to have the opportunity to purchase an issue of RASL or Thrizzle.

    Back to Chris Gage’s comment, I think the customer base being only 300,000 people, as stated by Boom comics at SDCC, is the problem. That’s just a tiny audience.

  12. Gordon,

    I read comics for free just because they’re there.

    a) webcomics (love ’em)

    b) the library down the street from my work office (some books I’d never spend money on, but have spent time on)

    I don’t mean to undercut your argument, but I’m just saying.

    Different from the topic at hand, but cousin issues, I think.

  13. Al: Buy all the digital copies you want! I have no beef whatsoever with LEGAL downloading. And to be honest, while many people would disagree with me, I don’t get upset over someone downloading something that’s otherwise unavailable, like an obscure Golden Age book that’s in the public domain…I just can’t get too worked up about it.

    People have made lots of good points about pricing, publishers needing to embrace digital, etc. etc. I’ve got no say over any of that, and I’d imagine the people who do are smarter than me. There’s a reason I didn’t go to business school.

    All I was saying is that if, say, UNKNOWN SOLDIER is selling 10,000 copies, and you like it, but you’re downloading it for free instead of paying for it, you’re voting for it to get cancelled.



  14. Comics are the new music.

    Music stores still exist. There are a few chains and mass merchants still selling CDs and DVDs. (Compare WalMart to the DC/Marvel retailer.) There are used record stores selling older editions, many specializing in genres and styles. There are record stores in ethnic neighborhoods which serve the local clientèle. And though most people missed it, during C2E2 there was a National Record Store Day, designed to showcase stores.


    “”The quirky store has an owner who treats music as art and curates it,” he says. “He has to be the supplier and information source. It may mean mail order, writing reviews (and) only hiring certain types of people.

    “The second type is a music-focused store that knows the neighborhood and carries a lot of other product to make profit. It’s the owner saying, ‘I need to know my community and not make it about me.’ ”

    Yet, most music gets sold online. Either as a ringtone, as an MP3 or other digital file, or as an actual object, shipped via UPS.

    Retailers need to set up online sites.

    Retailers need to make their stores as mainstream as possible, to entice the average consumer. Everybody’s read comics, and your store could be a reason for someone to kill some time before a dinner reservation or movie.

    Distributors need to create “associate” programs where individuals can gain commissions for directing a consumer to a specific comic, just as Barnes & Noble and Amazon do.

    Distributors should also create electronic gift cards, which can be used either online or in a store. A central distributor can process the electronic bookkeeping while providing independent comics shops with a nationwide gift card (which can also be sold in other venues, alongside prepaid phone cards).

    Of course, the store would need a POS system, but smart stores are already implementing electronic store systems.

    Innovate or stagnate.

  15. I get pissed off by the comments saying its all about the content– i.e. all current comics are awful. If you don’t read the comics, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and leave the hobby. What’s the point of going on a comic book website to say you don’t read any comics? (Though to be fair, if you’re still buying and reading old comics, you are part of the hobby)

  16. @Christos:

    I’d argue that UNKNOWN SOLDIER probably had more and better promotion by being pirated (i.e. getting it seen by outside people) than your publisher.

    maybe when people downloaded it and read it and still don’t like the story or art… maybe it’s because they didn’t like it enough to spend money on it?
    Occam’s razor, you know.

  17. I agree that the real issue is the future of retailers — but I strongly disagree with this current meme that sales are in the toilet, comics are dying, etc., etc. This is from John Jackson Miller’s latest sales analysis:

    “July 2000’s top-seller was Image’s Spawn #100, with Diamond preorders of 143,500 copies. It’s of interest that, through July 2010,… the Direct Market has ordered almost exactly the same number of comic books that it preordered in the first seven months of 2000. Those comics are selling for 29% more now in dollars due to inflation — and, of course, the real growth in the industry is in the number of trade paperbacks sold, which is dramatically higher than it was a decade ago. Note the July 2010 trade paperback Top 25, which sold more than double the copies (for more than double the money) than the July 2000 Top 25.”

    Now I realize I’ve chosen a comparison with the “dark days,” and sales are down when compared with more recent years. But really: same unit sales as during our last slump — 29% growth in dollars sold — and twice as many trade paperbacks. If this is a dying industry, show me a healthy one.

  18. “I get pissed off by the comments saying its all about the content– i.e. all current comics are awful. If you don’t read the comics, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and leave the hobby. What’s the point of going on a comic book website to say you don’t read any comics? (Though to be fair, if you’re still buying and reading old comics, you are part of the hobby)”
    …..and it’s that’s the industry-wide open mindedness that makes this hobby thrive. (btw I want to make clear that there is some fantastic stuff still produces that I buy so as I don’t piss anyone off)

  19. Spoke too soon…had to address one of Mario’s points.

    You’re right, if someone reads a book and doesn’t like it, and enough people have that reaction, it should die. But your point is based on the premise that people who illegally download a comic are just “sampling” it and will then buy subsequent issues…I don’t think that necessarily follows. Some folks might, but others are just as likely to keep downloading it without paying for it.

    Anyway. Stuart reminded me of what Joe Simon said, which is that this industry has been dying since the fifties. So I will go back to enjoying being a part of it while it lasts, and hope its death throes last a good long time.



  20. Chris: Haha! As usual, Joe Simon said it better, and in eight short words.

    Seriously, I didn’t mean to imply that there aren’t all kinds of structural problems throughout the industry. The direct market is clogged with material; it’s very hard for new projects to get established. But overall, I look around at book publishing and music, and our little corner doesn’t look so bad.

  21. Playing off the points that have been made, are persons who wait for the trade voting for the comic to be cancelled as much as illegal downloaders?

  22. I mean, obviously the TPB buyers are giving money when the downloaders aren’t. But if 10,000 persons see the solicitation for that new on-going Boy Commandos series and think “Ah, I’ll just read in when it’s collected,” aren’t they dooming the title since it isn’t going to have a larger readership in the first place?

    I don’t doubt that TPB sales have doubled over 10 years (I would have thought a larger expansion, actually) but I imagine (at least for DC and Marvel) that expansion has gone towards established properties. Which goes back to Mario’s point of whether pirating can be an effective promotional tool.

  23. I don’t defend pirating as a good or acceptable thing, but I wonder how much harm it’s really doing. If illegal downloads were forever wiped out today, what percentage of those downloaders would start buying at their LCS every week? Since they seem to think the dollar value of a comic is 0, why would they decide to start spending $3.99?

  24. re: Phil

    Yeah, I really think I overreacted there. If I had thought for a little bit longer I wouldn’t have pressed ‘submit.’ So, I’m sorry. my fault.

  25. At least some of the people expressing the fear that comics are dying base their fears on trends, such as the $3.99 price point for superhero comics, the nature of the readership, and the survival of comics shops. If superhero comics were marketed as products of am individual writer and artist, they’d be perceived and marketed much differently; what they are now are stories about (name of corporate-owned character) written and drawn by ____ and _____. Much of the readership isn’t discriminating; to them, the products are interchangeable. No one series is important. When Ms. MARVEL was canceled not long ago — who cared? Who buys the various one-shots and tie-ins that Marvel and DC churn out? The same people who spend hours per day on message boards?

    The trends raise fears that if the $3.99 price point makes comics unaffordable for too many people, that a high percentage of readers will leave the market all at once. They’ll turn to other forms of entertainment, and the sales of TPBs and digital comics won’t be enough to sustain the publishers. Comics wouldn’t be dead as a format, of course, but in terms of public perception — poetry isn’t dead. but what sort of market is there for poetry?


  26. @Stuart Moore: Dude, I’m not trying to be Mr. Negative Nelly here, but for real though, no growth = dying industry. Most industries grow substantially in 10 years time. 2 off the top of my head are cell phones and computers. But if you want entertainment based media, music is growing. Sure, CDs have plummeted in sales, but Apple’s iTunes sells a *lot* of music.

    Comics won’t die or go away – that’s an extremist point of view. But looking at sales and saying – Well, we’re basically selling the same number of units for a few more bucks, so growth – is ignoring the reality. The market’s changing, is all. How and who will be left standing tall afterwards…who knows? I hope Boom sticks around, though, I really like that Muppets book.

    Christos Gage is right on, too. If you like a book currently being made but only pirating it, you’re dooming it. I just think the retail channel needs to have a better way for someone to buy non Marvel and DC books than making them go through a catalog and fill out their own order sheets, cuz that’s a bummer.

  27. @DanielT: Dude, that’s a strong point. How many pirates would buy the books for any price? I dunno that it’s quantifiable, but these don’t seem like people who value comics with time and money.

  28. Chris: See the trade paperbacks part of the John Jackson Miller quote. That IS real growth. It’s not my field, but I’d want to see overall stats to be convinced that the music industry has grown, dollar-wise, over the past ten years. Same with computers.

    Cell phone sales have grown, sure, but that’s because it’s a new, somewhat revolutionary technology. Comics are not a technology, they’re an entertainment medium. Yes, of course the delivery methods will change; that’s why I said the main issue here is the direct market and the retail community.

  29. Synsidar: I hear you (and thanks for the TOR link), but you keep using phrases like “raises fears that” — show me some evidence, man! I keep HEARING that comics are dying, but I just don’t SEE it. And sure, I prefer discriminating readers, but really: both kinds put their good money down for comics.

  30. I read somewhere that–at least with DC Vertigo–the trade paperback crowd is factored into things. That’s why Vertigo series are rarely cancelled until they hit their teens at least. It’s because the first (and sometimes second) trades will have been out for a little while and the numbers people will have seen how well the collections are performing.

    Some of the Vertigo monthlies have pretty low sales, but are killing it in the collection editions, so it justifies their continued existence.

    Just some stuff I read somewhere.

  31. I admittedly only buy trades and hardcovers and have stopped buying the pamphlets completely. I never liked the monthlies, especially when they all became PART ONE OF X.

    Also, I admit it, I am a bookshelf whore.

    I wuv the way they all look on my bookshelves, cozying up to the other real books. It makes comics totally respectable *nods*

    And e.g. I read – occasionally – Warren Ellis’ FREAKANGELS online, but even so, even despite the fact I could get the whole story for free, nothing beats having it in your hand as a hardcover edition. I support people like Brian Wood with DMZ or NORTHLANDERS, because they give me a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, even if the larger story continues.

    I’ll gladly pay for it. I’ll gladly pay for any kind of content.

    If I think it is worth it.

    Unfortunately for the industry, however, there are a lot of things where people no longer feel that it is worth to pay another additional 20 or 30 dollars to get all the inconsequential storylines of any given year-long multi-corporate bullshit crossover that is only designed to milk the reader’s wallet.

    And in these cases, well… sorry, but the big companies brought that on themselves.

  32. “But your point is based on the premise that people who illegally download a comic are just “sampling” it and will then buy subsequent issues”

    Not necessarily. They could just be reading it because it’s there. I read lots of comics I’d never spend money on. Maybe they just don’t care if it continues or ends. They’re not exactly voting FOR it to end because they’re not voting at all. And really, you lot shouldn’t take such an antagonistic stance toward your audience because there may be reasons outside of liking or disliking a comic book for not spending money on them. Maybe you lose your job and would rather not wait years before you find out what’s going on in the books you had to cancel but when you do get a job again you’re gonna buy the TPBs or even the overpriced back issues.

    I have to say that it feels like we pay a lot of money for internet service, and it’s not surprising that because of this most people expect everything to be available and free. Kinda like television. You don’t pay per show you pay for access. There are different levels of access using different prices, but once you have access you have free reign. Mostly.

    And what it comes down to is the millions you’ll spend on lawyers is better spent on R&D to find a way to make, as Mark Waid said, torrents work for you…or in finding ways to make money within the boundaries of the general mindset possessed by the downloading community.

    As for me, I like paper.

  33. I don’t believe that the comic industry is dying, I think that the direct market is dying. The comic industry needs to realize this and find an acceptable digital solution before the only channel for most of its book sales chokes itself off.

    It’s telling that looking at numbers from the last comic slump mirror the numbers that we have now. This is not such a bad sign for the stores that are still in operation. They are the stores that have either found ways to grow in the new environment, or at least to maintain.
    Many stores, however, have closed down since 2000. Customers that live in rural areas or small towns may no longer have an outlet to buy comics. There are many areas of the country where potential customers have no access to a local comic shop. I would guess that this cuts into the sales figures of a publisher or a creator more than illegal downloading.

    The potential market for comics is so much bigger than the direct market. If you look at the number of downloaders on an older torrent file, you can see a number that may be larger than the comic’s print distribution. The problem is that we haven’t found a way to successfully monetize this readership. It will take some trial and error, and this is what scares people. Eventually though we can find a model that works, and it will be quickly copied. The week that we wait to start, the profitable future gets a week farther away.

  34. I think part of the problem with the direct market is the Diamond monopoly. It’s a stagnant pond. It needs new life.

    I love paper comics.
    My kids love paper comics.

    The artform is alive and well.

  35. Darryl: By “just” because they’re there, I meant it as in “solely.” You might try out way more stuff, but the webcomics you CONTINUE to read are because they’re good, too?

    And reading comics from a library is free to you — but it’s not free to the library.

Comments are closed.