Online Piracy Takes Center Stage Again

I struggled with writing this article on online piracy. I’ve written an article before my time here at Needless Essentials Online on the topic. However, in the past week, it’s jumped to the forefront on Twitter.


Source: Fantastic Four #5, art by Jack Kirby

How It’s Affecting Creators

It’s especially taken the stage with independent and creator-owned titles. Ted Brandt, inker on Crowded, a creator-owned series from Image Comics, went to Twitter to lament finding that the series he worked on was read on one pirated site over 95,000 times. If even half of those 95,000 reads were translated into sales of actual copies, even digital ones, it could make the difference in whether a series lives or dies. 

Recently, Spell on Wheels was cancelled by Dark Horse because of low orders. A search I did found the first issue had been pirated. When a series gets translated into Graphic Novel format because of low orders, it hurts the title even more. A casual reader can be convinced to try out a new title for four or five dollars, but convincing someone to fork over fifteen to twenty dollars for a graphic novel that they haven’t heard about is a bit harder.

It’s more likely that a smaller fraction of piracy reads could be sales. Most are readers that are financially challenged or not inclined to buy anything. Let’s face it, there are people that just want to get things for free. 

How It’s Affecting Consumers

Now those reader numbers may be a little inflated by bots indexing the site for web searches, but we’re putting the blame on readers for this piracy instead of where it needs to be put, on the pirates. Readers can complain about Marvel and DC flooding the market, but when independent titles get cancelled due to low orders, there’s less competition for Marvel and DC. 

If piracy is indeed affecting sales, then it most directly affects local comic shops. Shops are where sales are most important. The distribution system puts the burden of sales on the retailers. Many areas of the country now do not have a comic shop close. Shifting purveyors of pirated comics to online services like Comixology don’t help a marketplace that judges the success of a comic on its advance orders. Sales through digital platforms don’t come until the printed comics hit stores.

I’ve detailed how the industry could collapse, and its cornerstone is the local comic shops. In short, the local comic shops fold, forcing Diamond Distributors to default on its obligations. In the chaos, small publishers go under and creators have to leave the industry. It’s not likely that online piracy will be the final straw to collapse the industry, but its not helping. 

How It’s Affecting Creators

Let’s look at the problems that really hurt creators. The majority of them work as freelancers  generally get compensated at the same level as twenty years ago. Health insurance usually comes from a source outside of the comic book industry. There are bigger problems for creators than online piracy. 

The worst thing for creators would be a collapse of the comic book industry. Performance of comics is not based on sales, but on advance orders. The entire industry is dependent to one company for its distribution. This holds a sword over the heads of publishers. There is little incentive to make things better for talent. Many artists have more trouble keeping their work from being stolen by companies printing t-shirts than from people reading comics online without paying for them.

What Do We Do?

In short, try buying smaller publishers more than you do. If you can afford to directly patronize creators, then do so. Take a look at the movement to unionize the industry. Promote the value of “unlimited” comic services like Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe and Comixology Unlimited. Patronize your local comic shop and if the savings for buying something online versus the local shop is very minimal, then go to the shop. When your local comic shop goes out of business, you’ll really notice it. If enough of them go under, we will all notice it.