#218 The ups and downs of downloading

Is having your work illegally downloaded the worst thing that can happen to a comics artist? If you work for a major, perhaps not, but every download can have a noticeable effect when you’re trying to make a living drawing comics that are less widely purchased. One such freelancer, Jake Ekiss of Dallas, Texas, joins Tim and Mulele to talk about the prevalence of comics downloading and the feeling among many struggling comics artists that their time and effort are undervalued. What about those downloaders who later buy? What about those who download because they can’t afford the product?

7 thoughts on “#218 The ups and downs of downloading”

  1. The “money out of my pocket” comment keeps lingering with me.

    I would really like to know the ratio of how many copies of a book are downloaded vs re-sold on eBay vs lent to friends vs borrowed from a library. While — of course — stealing is unethical and immoral, it seems to me that if an artist is against money out of pocket from theft, he should be equally as against money out of pocket due to libraries or lending. My work-addled imagination would like to think that the numbers are comparable. Or at least comparable enough that you would refuse to sell your books to libraries and you would put up a banner on your website proclaiming “Mega Comics is against loaning books to friends!”

    And what about used book shops or eBay? I mean eBay is “money out of pocket” for the creator of ANYTHING. If you make lace doilies and sell them for $5, and then the purchaser goes out and resells it at eBay or a garage sale, that’s $5 of lost sales. Why aren’t more creators vocally against re-sales as well?

    I kind of see what Mulele is saying here. Someone who shoplifts a DVD or a bottle of shampoo isn’t going to come back and pay for it later. But — assuming common decency — someone who downloads a movie might love it and decide to buy that DVD later. Similarly someone who downloads a comic might love it and decide to buy the hard copy later. How many people out there are actually that decent? Well, that who knows. Very few I suspect. Also, what if I download a movie and hate it and decide NOT to buy it. Now I’ve stolen your shitty product not out of malice but because I feel you don’t deserve to be paid for it… Well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish I’m not going to begin to touch here.

    Personally, I am an old fashioned codger, and I like to read my comics in bed and be able to freely flip back and forth through pages. There is no software yet that allows me to do this comfortably, although I will admit it may come into being some day. I can’t see the appeal of downloading comics, so perhaps my opinion on this topic is moot anyway.


  2. Actually, a little factoid came out after this that I think is very relevant to the harms part of the argument, and directly relates to the money out of pocket thing.

    Eric Larsen recently checked one of the download sites where they track number of downloads of each file. Turns out the January issue of Savage Dragon was downloaded FOUR TIMES as often as it was ordered and bought through legitimate means. I would call this both startling and significant, and really shows the impact this sort of thing can have on creators. Eric in particular, being an indy guy, is making an amount of returns directly proportional to his sales (as opposed to a Marvel or DC artist who works on contract).

    As for libraries and lending, that copy had to be bought at some point. If the original owner wants to maintain a copy, or if the lendee wants to continue reading, more copies would be purchased. If not, the copy is still a static item, and though it is passed on to a new user, the net loss to an artist is zero considering that any given person can only retain memories of the item without it’s physical presence in some format. This is the equivalent, in rough terms, to someone flipping through the book in a store. Sure, they can get the gist of the plot, maybe even the finer points, but after that they are limited to their own recall of an event. They cannot reference a piece of work they do not possess in some way.

    As for Ebay, many creators ARE against resales. Look at some of the controversy surrounding Adam Hughes convention sketches and you’ll see what I mean. The reason his sketches are so very rare and there are so many barriers in place to getting one at a show (subtle and otherwise, including the price point) is due in no small part to the mass reselling of his work that has occurred. In addition, there are some artists who refuse to even do things like convention sketches for this very reason.

  3. Also, as per the whole “they steal it and deem it not good enough to buy”. That’s great, but tell me if that argument would ever get you out of paying for a shoplifted DVD. Trailers exist for a reason, as do advance page previews, radio singles, preview mp3s and skimming in store. That’s your test run. That’s the thing we all use to determine purchase of a piece of work. After that, caveat emptor, as with any other media. It’s not “a whole different kettle of fish” at all. It’s exactly the same as film and music.

    Also, note I’m for creating formats that allow the people who want cheap digital copies to have them. I want it as a means to incentivize a hard copy purchase. I do not believe (and after hearing from Larsen I strongly feel this way) that anyone deserves to use a full version of the work as that test point for nothing. If I as a creator allow them to that’s my business, but that should not be the fans’ choice to make.

  4. The “downloaded 4 times as often” is an important piece of data — that very thing we were looking for.

    1) But, I was never denying that such is thing is stealing or immoral. An artist should raise their voices against that. Definitely. Of course. My main point — and it is probably way off tangent of the whole point of the podcast and completely irrelevant to the discussion — was that if downloads are 4 times actual sales, then if (suppose) library loans are 10 times actual sales, and resales through eBay/used bookshops are 10 times actual sales, then artists should raise their voices against that as well. Many creators are against eBay, sure, okay. But why don’t I hear about creators’ groups lobbying congress to shut down eBay, used book shops, and garage sales?

    2) There is nothing stopping me from borrowing something out of the library 10 times, or borrowing it from a friend 10 times. And then finally after the 10th time, I decide that I don’t *need* to reference it anymore even if I only have half-baked memories of it, and yet I never paid for it. And neither did 50 other library card holders who borrowed it enough times each (maybe only once) that they didn’t care if they couldn’t reference it anymore either. My point is: I can’t imagine that I would borrow a book from the library, return it, say to myself, “Gee, what happened in that scene again?”, and then go out and buy it. This equates to money out of pocket for the artist.

    Here’s another “borrowing from a friend” scenario. What if I buy the book and my wife reads it and my son reads it. We have a physical copy in the house which anyone can reference at any time, and yet you are out of pocket for sales on two copies (one to my wife and one to my son). Isn’t this something artists should be in uproar about? Shouldn’t there be protests? (Or, another solution: should the artist figure there are an average of 4 people for household and quadruple the price of the product? Charge 50 to 100 times for libraries.)

    3) As for “stealing it and deeming it not good enough to buy”: well, I did say “steal.” It’s immoral, and I never argued that it wasn’t but — off on a broad tangent — I think the “kettle” I failed to describe was about paying for a shitty product. There is a difference between a trailer or radio singles and preview pages. A trailer is a commercial. Trailers exist to manufature desire for the product (movie). Like a commercial for Mr. Clean. Can you honestly tell me you’ve never seen a good trailer for a movie that turned out bad? A trailer is not a test run. If I buy (I’m talking about buying now, not downloading / stealing) a bottle of Mr. Clean, the test run is when I use it at home, NOT when I saw him wink at me on TV. Radio singles too — I have plenty of CDs with one good track on them. Maybe “trailer” was a poor choice of words, because a 20-minute preview I can agree is a test-run. Also in some industries, if you don’t like a “product” you can return it and get your money back. (Of course, the most resposible thing to do is weigh the reviews before paying for anything.) Strangely in (“mainstream”) comics, once the distributor sells it, the artist gets his money whether the retailer manages to sell it to the consumer or not. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish — haha!

    Anyway, let me reiterate: none of what I’m talking about is about stealing. It’s about lending and borrowing, and trying to get your money back from the theater after seeing a shitty movie. (But you should wait for the reviews and avoid seeing shitty movies in the first place. The trailer does not count as fair warning. That’s my summary.)


  5. My point as to the borrowing and lending, is that being lent a thing is not the same as owning it, it is not constantly available to you. It is not a physical possession of yours. More importantly, with libraries, typically the books are bought long after they are new on the shelves, they aren’t new on the rack. They are at that point part of that product loss I was talking about. Comics, by and large are a monthly business. The reason we don’t care about an issue’s relative selling power the longer it’s been out (disregarding collected editions) is because there is a clear and measurable diminishing return in a market that has weekly and monthly product updates. Few comic artists live for a year off of one issue. Many live for a month off an issue, and most issue to issue publishing is based on your monthly sales. After a few months most single issues reach saturation in the market. The vast majority of people who are ever going to buy that issue already have. Unless the book is a perennial seller (collected editions, graphic novels) you’ve gotten 80-90% of the money you’ll see form a book sixto twelve months after it’s out.

    If Savage Dragon didn’t sell as it does monthly, if it sold much less, let’s say low enough that the 4 times as many downloads was enough to cut it under Diamond order minimums, you just wouldn’t see Savage Dragon next month. If it’s sales are as they are (meaning, more than enough to keep going) and in six months time an issue passes to a library, well, the book either kept going or it didn’t, Eric Larsen either still can make rent off his monthly or he can’t. The same becomes true of lending between friends. Frankly, I don’t know any of my friends who would ask, or who I would consider lending, the same book to ten times. So I think that example is a bit far fetched at best. The typical position among friends is you lend it once, which to an artist counts as free promotion. They have it long enough to either be turned on to a series or not.

    As for families, well, there is a limit to which business transcends into being a dick. Asking every member of a family who likes something to buy it is being a dick. Asking fans in general to buy product instead of downloading it is simply asking them to actually be fans. As I said in the podcast, this isn’t a game of absolutes, there are some gray areas. Ebay is also a gray area. None of us like it when a piece goes on eBay for several times what we asked for it, but then some artists actively use eBay for their own sales (in part to contract the problem).

    I’m not going to begrudge libraries, friends sharing, or families because on the whole, those are actually venues for new paying fans to find the material. How many folks do you know who borrow books, share them, and actively go to libraries who don’t also buy them? I’m willing to bet every person you know who goes to a library on any kind of consistent basis has a home library, and likely one they frequently update. Those people are part of the customer base. When they lend books, they want their friends to buy those books too, they want to support an artist and his work. Those are the people who, even if they do download occasionally, are part of the audience who just wants a new level of convenience that the industry needs to provide. They are usually not the thieves and you can work with them from a business standpoint.

    As for paying for a bad product, I’m not sure I follow. Are you suggesting that any time you consume an artistic product that you don’t like you deserve to get your money back? If so, I’d like to see that in practice, because I’ve honestly never met anyone who worked like that. Everyone I know would say “That was crap! I’ll never be fooled by x’s trailer/preview/single ever again! I shall not give them any more money”. The risk an artist takes is that they may not always produce work they can live off of, the fan takes the risk that they may occasionally purchase work they don’t like. The Mr. Clean example is bunk. Mr. Clean is not subjective media. Mr. Clean makes a factual and testable claim: “we can clean x” and it either does or does not. Entertainment is subjective and could never make such an assertion.

    In addition, while sometimes an artist is paid up front (almost never if it’s a creator owned project, so y’know, us indy guys are totally screwed there) whether they are paid the month after is dependent on continued sales of a book. If a book is crappy, people don’t buy it, the book dies. While yes, you may have contributed to a bad book for one month, I doubt you’d do it again. If enough people agree that artist will be looking for more work elsewhere.

  6. Sorry for opening such an old thread, but I’m quite a bit behind on my listening to the podcast! (long time listener just very bad at keeping up to date)

    Anyway just a couple of things which bugged me about what was said in the episode and here in the comments.

    The product-loss for digital media isn’t the same as in a shop.
    There is a difference between stealing a dvd from a shop and from downloading a copy of the movie from the web. Taking the physical object prevents someone else from buying that particular one, and depletes, by one, the finite amount of discs that were made from the market. The electronic copy however is from an infinite source and so doesn’t prevent anyone else from buying their own copy, as well not costing the creator anything to produce like the physical copy did. The loss is so very different it’s like comparing apples and the LHC.

    Another problem is there is a market problem with individual issues anyway. I know loads of people who read comics, both indie and mainstream, and can only think of one person who ~might~ buy single issues. Most people are probably waiting for the book to pay to the creators for their work. I personally can’t even read issues because it I find it infuriating how little you usually get given. It’s the same with most long-form webcomics, it just doesn’t read well. However I do read single page & other less heavily dramatic* webcomics and then buy the collections for my home-library. A large chunk of the issue downloaders are probably subconsciously or consciously thinking in those terms.

    In the episode Jake Ekiss kept on mentioning the people who download and then don’t buy as huge losses but sidestepping talking about them too much and seguewaying back in to incentivising download-buy-laters. They’re not really losses as they are probably never going to buy anyway no matter what you do. Either they don’t mind stealing (which to be honest loads of people don’t), don’t have the money, or didn’t care enough about the work. The last group is balanced out by the fact that they are part of a group of people who only gave the work a chance because it was free and there will have been others in the same group who bought the book. That’s a gain in custom and money without paying for the amount of advertising and such that would get you the equivalent exposure.

    The download is to the book, is what the slightly iffy leaked video is to the cinema. People will always pay for better experience.

    Also remember that while downloading hurt the music industry it didn’t hurt musicians. album sales might be at a low but concert sales are at a high. Follow the money it doesn’t stay still.


    *probably not the right word, but oh well…

  7. In the end, I gave up on this discussion, but it has always been at the back of my mind, so thanks for your comments. (Though I only noticed them here today!)

    You’ve brought up some excellent points that I never thought of myself — especially about the qualitative difference in loss between a physical vs digital copy.

    And, while people might always pay for a better experience, I don’t know if it’s *enough* people, if drops in ticket sales are to be believed. It seems like lots of people don’t care about quality loss and simply consume media pathologically, goat-like.

    OK, now I’m going to forget about all this again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.