Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arrr Matey – Piracy on the High Internets

I am afraid to Google that phrase, because I strongly suspect I am the millionth person to pun to that. My hackdom aside, this post is going to be about comic piracy.

I don’t do it. I am not bothered by it.

I don’t do it because I want the comics I liked to continue, and I don’t want to steal them. I have illegally downloaded comics twice, when I couldn’t get to store to get them. I did eventually buy them, which isn’t much of an excuse, if it is one at all.

Now, you’re probably thinking that this is going to be an antipiracy screed. It’s not. Like I said, I am not bothered by it. I don’t do it, but I don’t care if you do. I would prefer that you bought my comics, because I need to fill my money vault so I can swim in it Scrooge McDuck style, but no skin off my back if you don’t.

There are a couple of reasons that I don’t care. The biggest, probably, is the futility if arguing against it. I am a deeply lazy person, so I’m not going to make and argument that won’t do me any good in the long term.

I also tend to think that the vast majority of the people that are pirating my book wouldn’t have bought it anyway, so them reading it doesn’t hurt me, and if they like it, it might even help. Cory Doctorow has said that the problem is piracy, the problem is obscurity. He wasn’t specifically talking about comics, but I think that’s probably doubly true for the industry.

Related to the above, I know for a fact that some number of the people who pirated the book will go and buy the thing later. I know this because a couple of people have flat out told me they did it. I don’t know if this group outnumbers the people who have bought the comic if they didn’t pirate it, but I suspect they do. So that’s a win for me.

So, I don’t mind. But…

Yes, there’s a but. Isn’t there always? The but here is that I do want people to understand how small the money is in comics, especially for books that aren’t produced by Marvel or DC. You know, like The Strange Talent of Luther Strode.

Luther is, by comic standards, a pretty big success. It’s an enormous success for an unknown creative team. But that fact is, none of us is making quit your job money from it, and many, maybe most, Image books don’t even make beer money.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode costs $2.99 an issue. We sold, in the first printing, about 10,000 copies. Let’s call that thirty grand, for the sake of the math. (Actually, these numbers are close – ish to being right but I’m rounding up and down to make the math easy) Of that thirty grand, about forty percent goes to the retailer. Another twenty goes to Diamond, the distributor. So forty percent comes back to Image.
Out of that $12,000 comes the printing cost, the Image fee, promotional fees, and things like lettering. What’s left after that gets split between me, Tradd and Felipe and we have to pay taxes on that. That’s not, in fact, a whole lot of money each month.

At the same time, getting a book out takes thousands of hours of work, mostly by the art team. Tradd, for sure, will have at least a thousand hours invested in Luther by the end, and both he and Felipe (and me, but my time commitment is much smaller – it is good to be the writer) will have worked on this for more than a year before they see a penny from it.

And we’re lucky. A lot of books don’t make anything. Thousands of hours of work for nothing but the love. Which brings me back to my point: comics desperately need your financial support. If you download a book you like instead of buying it, you reducing the chances of getting more of it.

So if you’re downloading and want to see more of a book, buy it. Or just send the creator money. We like that. But be aware that many, many comics are just barely hanging on, and they need your love and support.


  1. Well put! I appreciate your honesty! To help your statistics I have to say that I did torrent The Strange Talent of Luther Strode 1 & 2 after I finally gave an ear to the ongoing hype, just to see if it was true. It indeed was, and as of yesterday I've hunted down the two issues and put the series on my pull-list. The only comics on my list as of now are Superior, Kick Ass 2, The Walking Dead, Witch Doctor, and now SToLS. I only appreciate and purchase the best creator-owned comics. I have no interest in the ancient big two characters or creator-owned series with poor writing or art. I am, however, sold on yours, Tradd's, and Felipe's work after only two issues, putting them side by side with Millar and Kirkman's work. That says a lot about the quality of SToLS so far and where in the industry I'm putting my money. Though I'm a relatively new comer to comics, I hope that comes as an encouragement. Best wishes Justin. Can't wait for #3

  2. I only read things I buy. As simple as that. And, of course, I only buy what really, REALLY interests me, like Luther Strode.