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  • The BitTorrent Debate

    Thanks to all of you who weighed in thoughtfully the other day when I asked how you use BitTorrent feeds for comics. You’ve created a nice body of arguments and feedback on the matter that can probably be referred to plenty in future discussions on this.

    The consensus here is that, as with the music industry, the piracy tends to help low selling, less accessible books, while hurting or at least doing nothing for the big sellers. Several people brought up the wish for an iTunes store model for comics. At the end of the comments (so far), Axio mentions Pull Box as a site that already works as a model, offering indy books. And 99 cents seems a fair price for a downloaded book since it’s roughly the same file size as a pop song. Like lpmiller, I downloaded music from early Napster and others, but iTunes came along and I buy constantly from it. Marvel and DC would have a huge edge in quality over sites like Demonoid if they started selling this way, because they wouldn’t have to use third generation images. If I weren’t trying to make a deadline I’d show you the difference between an RGB page image of Agents of Atlas fresh from Michelle Madsen’s computer after being colored and the same one scanned from a comic book by someone who doesn’t spend any time adjusting levels in Photoshop. Obviously selling extra copies without the extra printing costs would be attractive for the big two. So what’s keeping them from jumping into this?

    No, I’m not going to let that be rhetorical. We can already anticipate one group who didn’t weigh in on this here, but sure as hell would: the brick-and-mortar comics retailers. They tend to feel besieged by things that might cut them out of the food chain. And there’s good reason for it; they held the line and provided a place for comics to sell for years when you couldn’t get them in wide distribution (and still do). But I don’t think the conveyances have to be in opposition to each other. DC and Marvel could offer their BitTorrents six months to a year after a book’s release to let stores keep the edge on being current, for example. And they could begin with only their under-20,000 print run books. It just seems, and maybe I’m overly optimistic, that this can be married to the growing practice of tradewaiting so that we could move to a model where the bookstores can devote more shelfspace to more profitable trades and graphic novels. The comics shops could even keep a hard drive devoted to the digital versions and sell them to customers who bring in card readers or iPods. Stores that don’t like customers bending up reading copies could at least offer samples this way when they recommend new books. They could run specials for buying several books at once. Again, I’m thinking as something that would only compete with back issues, not current ones.

    The piracy is just going to grow unchecked if the publishers don’t step in and compete with them, so it behooves them to do so, and for all I know, they are. Likely it will be a while before they’d see any real profit from it all, but it really wouldn’t add to expenses much either. Full colored and lettered pdfs are already made for proofing purposes. Maybe if I get some time this year to tinker with and polish up the page files, I’ll offer The Interman this way and see how it goes. Thanks again to all of you who gave me a peek at your downloading practices!

    Comments

    Comment from axio
    Time: February 23, 2007, 7:13 am

    Can’t really argue with you, but until more creators start a push for this the black market is just going to keep providing for the demand.

    Marvel DOES offer comics online: http://www.marvel.com/digitalcomics/. But their dotComics format is terrible, they don’t offer it consistently, and once again… the format is horrible. Flipping animated pages don’t really make me want to view it unless it is a preview that wasn’t already offered up in a torrent. And to be honest, most previews are better presented at sites like CBR, etc.

    I think PullBoxOnline has the correct idea: simple format, high quality scans, cheap, and direct to the fans.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 23, 2007, 8:12 am

    I should have mentioned the preview books they have up on the Marvel.com site, because that feels like a step.

    Comment from Laura
    Time: February 23, 2007, 8:48 am

    Look at Girl Genius, and at how much money Phil Foglio has saved by going to trades only. In addition, retail stores are selling more of his books (in trade form) with less hassle. I would be delighted if every comic book went to a Girl Genius format, where we got a few pages a week and a collection every few months/every year. The online pages build the audience, but most people want paper copies in the end.

    I’d love to see The Interman offered in the Girl Genius model. I bet it would take off.

    Comment from DrObviousSo
    Time: February 23, 2007, 9:43 am

    If you get the time, I’d love to see a side by side comparison of the two images. No hurry, you’re on my RSS reader.

    Trackback from The Ziggurat of Doom
    Time: February 23, 2007, 12:12 pm

    Jeff Parker on digital scans of his own book…

    Jeff Parker, author of the super fun internet hit Agents of Atlas recently stumbled upon a mininova torrent of the series.
    » Blog Archive » Okay, I’m Not Showing You This Link, Right?
    Do any of you download BitTorrents to help you decide whethe…

    Comment from Chris Ferguson
    Time: February 23, 2007, 12:35 pm

    This just in on Newsarama:
    http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=102642

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 23, 2007, 1:21 pm

    Well, that was timely, wasn’t it!

    Comment from DrObviousSo
    Time: February 23, 2007, 1:24 pm

    Eh. Marvel and DC have been saying for over a year that they are going to get their digital acts together. I’ll get excited when
    1)They set a date
    2)They figure out proprietary flash formats suck for reading
    3)DRMs don’t work

    They don’t do 1), imply they haven’t figured out 2), and don’t mention either way on 3).

    Comment from lpmiller
    Time: February 25, 2007, 5:40 am

    I think even just a 1 month delay between hardcopy sales and digital sales would be good enough to preserve the stores. For one thing, comic collectors want comics. I don’t know that it will ever change to be otherwise. Digital sales, or bit torrenting, helps those of us who are still nerds, but don’t want those twenty bins in our basement anymore. But you are right in that same day and date sales would be a problem.

    The other thing is currently, those groups scanning comics DO in fact listen to Marvel/DC and the creators. If you were to go to say, Z-CultFM and ask that Agents of Atlas not be available for download, they’d ban it from download. They do it all the time. They will also put delays on it as well. They’ve discussed new release delays as well – currently it’s usually a day after store releases. Unlike with music or films, where you seem to have this core group of “I want it because I want it and don’t care” comic downloaders have a real sense of….preservation of the media, and there IS a respect for the creators. Not to justify it, but, it’s not the same ball of wax of piracy. Less rape and pillaging, more rum drinking. Something.

    Anyway, I go back to the 80′s, when everyone had dual tape decks, and we copied tapes and traded them with friends. or when we swapped comics, or books, or whatever. Humans like to share things they think are cool, and downloading is really an extension of that odd need to go, “hey, this is cool, check it out!” That can only help the lower tier books, in my mind. Frankly, comic companies are way behind in capitalizing on this.

    Comment from lpmiller
    Time: February 25, 2007, 5:41 am

    actually, I think what would REALLY work is a subscription download model. For X a month, give me 10 new comics a week. For XX, give me 15 new and access to back issues. Etc, Etc. I’d be all over that like white on rice.

    Comment from Dorian McCreary
    Time: February 28, 2007, 11:21 am

    #

    Anyone who claims that downloading is OK (for any reason) is simply rationalizing. I don’t buy the argument that downloaders are merely previewing a comic and, if it’s up their standards, go out and buy it. A comic book can only be new and valuable the first time you read it… this is why book stores often have a “no returns” policy. If they allowed people to preview what they were buying, there would then be no need to pay any money at all. The book store would become a public library.

    Until you pay for it, the product isn’t yours, and it isn’t your place to decide if it’s worthy or not. Once you’ve purchased it, you can love it, hate it, boycott the company, subscribe to it, recommend it to everyone, swear you’ll never read it again… whatever you like. But the priviledge to make consumer decisions is only granted to consumers: ie, those paying money. You can rationalize it however you like, but stealing is still stealing. The idea that anyone who stole something can have a valid opinion on its quality is ridiculous. Imagine swiping a CD player from a dept. store and then writing Sony to tell them they weren’t up to your lofty standards. It’s ridiculous.

    There’s no such thing as an ethical theif, because it’s a contradiction of terms. It’s as oxymoronic as saying someone is a friendly bully or an intelligent idiot.

    As if the ethical implications aren’t enough, you’re depriving comic book creators of their lifeblood and livelihood. For shame.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 28, 2007, 11:37 am

    Thanks for that opposing view, Dorian.

    Comment from Dorian McCreary
    Time: February 28, 2007, 2:29 pm

    I wonder why more creators aren’t vocal about this issue. Maybe they don’t want to get stuck with the label of “corporate shill” or maybe it’s not a huge deal and isn’t really cutting into their bottom line as much as I think it could.

    Whatever the case, I think this issue is less about numbers and more about personal responsibility. I liken the practice of downloading comics and then buying the ones you enjoy to stealing everyone’s wallet and then returning the ones that belong to people you feel deserve it.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 28, 2007, 2:52 pm

    Well some are, and they get pretty angry about it. I’m curious to see how Marvel will approach offerering their books through bittorrents, because I think the only way to counteract it is to offer a cheap legal alternative. And I don’t disagree with you that it’s stealing. But I wasn’t starting the conversation here to pass judgment, I just wanted to hear people’s actual practices with the download sites.

    Comment from Dorian McCreary
    Time: March 1, 2007, 6:59 am

    “the only way to counteract it is to offer a cheap legal alternative.”

    A cheap legal alternative is something I would be interested in. I’m keeping an eye out on pullboxonline.com and any other company that tries to implement some sort of iTunes-style pay-per-download system.