Changing Views on Piracy


09, 2012


Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


A lot has happened since the last time I wrote about online comic piracy. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’ve changed my mind, but I think my views are starting to evolve. At the very least, I think I’m less worried.

Last week Neil Gaiman and I had a friendly exchange about online piracy on Twitter (Read The Beat arcle including it here). I made my points, showed him my blog about Pieces For Mom, he made his points about people discovering him because the only way readers could find him was online. I could see how it had benefited him.

The point that all those downloads I see on my work do not necessary equate with lost sales is a good one, and who knows, maybe they will read something online and then go buy more. For Neil it seems to have worked. For me, I honestly have to say I don’t know.


What I quickly realized was Neil and I have had completely different experiences with the exact same thing. That tells me the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I’m by no means shifting to a pro-piracy stance. I still think stealing is stealing and we all know in our hearts when we are stealing.

I grew up in a music scene that lived and died by the cassette tape. We made tapes, swapped them, traded but never sold. And usually, first chance I got I’d buy the vinyl because I wanted to hold that fucker in my hands and I wanted to support these bands. 

So, maybe that will happen here. Maybe the sample and buy model will work.  Right now I know I’d rather appeal to the hearts and minds of people out there who want work like mine to continue. Since the rise of SOPA/PIPA I have become very wary of legislation attempting to control what we see and do on the internet, so for now I’m not going to worry about piracy so much and put my faith in the people instead.

Always thanks for reading my rants. You guys are the best.


For those of you who want to fight, here's a baby bunny. 




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I discovered yourself and Templesmith via a cbr torrent. I was looking for Hellblazer issues I'd missed, and got 30 Days as part of a batch. I think it was issue 2.

I went and bought 30 Days and Dark Days the next morning. I ploughed through those, went back and bought Cal McDonald.

I kept randomly downloading cbr dumps, discovered Fables - an issue in the 20s. I bought the first two books the next day.

For the best part of two years I collected Fables, and everything of Ben's I could get my hands on. Including the MonkeyJuice sketchbooks. I bought your paperbacks, and some of your other graphical works.

In all, I ended up buying a minimum of 20 books after searching for 5 issues of Hellblazer.

so yeah, piracy can work

Thanks, Steven. Thanks for sharing the story. I think if there's a lot more like this, and more readers like you, it can work. -Steve

Wonderful post, Steve. I'm glad to see you expanding your viewpoint a tad, just to see the big picture a little clearer. I'm afraid piracy won't be beat anytime soon, but if you can figure out how to play the game to your advantage, you'll end up on top and have the support to continue producing great work.

My goal is to collect all your work, "the hold in your hand kind".

What I think would go a long way to combat piracy is a significant drop in the price of digital comics. I just can't bring myself to pay the same price for digital as I do for printed. The manufacturing/transport costs alone should make the digital version at least 1/4 to 1/2 cheaper.

I traded tapes back in the days of cassettes, too, but we had to make physical copies to do that. We had to take the time to record from one to another and then hand that off to a buddy or slap some postage on it. It just wasn't the same as making others' work freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

Working in the movie business, I can tell you that we've seen a substantial boost in PAID online movie viewing since megauploads was taken offline. Studios are getting paid. Creators are getting paid. The people who do the work no one ever sees or thinks about are getting paid. More people will be able to keep their jobs, keep their homes, and feed and clothe their families. That's very, very real. I am 110% against SOPA/PIPA, but I'm also 110% for enforcement of current legislation. I'm also 110% for paying for the entertainment we enjoy. That's the only way we're going to keep getting anything worth listening to, reading, or watching.

I'm talking about comic books, not movies. Different argument.

But since we're talking about it, do you have data to support these boosts since the bust?

Thanks for posting.


Here's a single example, results not typical. I watched the skate video Flip - Sorry back in 2002. I liked the songs by Gray Matter on there. Back then piracy was primitive. I found some gray matter songs through limewire at the time and my friends and I started listening to them. Since then I have probably spent more money on Gray Matter albums than any other single person has.

"I grew up in a music scene that lived and died by the cassette tape. We made tapes, swapped them, traded but never sold. And usually, first chance I got I’d buy the vinyl because I wanted to hold that fucker in my hands and I wanted to support these bands."

This is EXACTLY the new model.

I think the comparison to cassette tape swapping is an apt one. Ethically, the two are essentially identical. You make a trade with a buddy to sample something for free. Ethically dubious, but pragmatically, it lead to a more vibrant scene, with more sales not less.

The big differences are technology and scale. Crappy tape versus perfect digital copies, and a handful of cassette swappers versus millions of pirates.

The first (perfect copies) is definitely a problem for artists. There simply is not a very strong incentive to swap your stolen copy for the real deal (incidentally ham-stringed DRMed versions do not help this problem). Although, I think graphic novelists are much better off int his regard than musicians or movie makers.

The second (millions of pirates) FEELS very bad, but I think you can actually come out ahead here. How much more vibrant would the cassette tape scene have been if there had been millions of you trading music back and forth? Sure a record executive might have seen what was going on and panicked at all the "lost sales." It is an understandable reaction. But that is a VERY big potential audience.

I can understand the mixed opinion. I'm fan of manga and I know personally hundreds of people who read stuff online and never buy it. It bugs me too.

That said I think one of the biggest things hindering sales is availability. It is really freaking hard to find stuff digitally. More and more people are wanting digital copies over paper. I think manga and American comics alike would benefit from the equivalent of netflix/Hulu. A subscription site. I actually belong to emanga which I personally love, but they are kind of small, but I hope they'll grow more as they get more well known. I personally prefer to give them money than go find elsewhere.

I think it's just really a matter of the times changing so dramatically and the business model struggling to keep up.

There is definitely a balance that has to be found and I think eventually we'll find it. Hopefully those of us who love are the artists and writers will do what we can to show our support in the mean time.

Just for info's sake found you via NG's twitter.

Also do you have e-books of your stuff?

"I can tell you that we've seen a substantial boost in PAID online movie viewing since megauploads was taken offline."

Correlation is not causation. Do not for a second believe that Megaupload had anything to do with the boost in online streaming revenue. That would be simplistic and disingenuous at best.

Being a lady, I often find myself frustrated with comic books and their unrealistic portrayal of female characters. Frustrated to the point that I had stopped buying them, not wanting to support some rubbish view of ladies as simply objects of lust. (I'm talking to you, DC reboot, specifically Starfire.) I had pretty much given up on comic books all together, until a close friend started "lending" me digital copies. He's a huge collector, no lost sales going on there- but he offered me a "try before you buy" approach.

I have spent so much money on comic books/graphic novels since I gained the ability to check them out first, it's unbelievable. I want the real deal. I want to support the artists/writers, I want to proudly display their work on my shelves, I want their merchandise. Hell, I also want their paid digital copies that are conveniently downloaded to a comic viewing app on my Kindle. Buying is no problem. Buying something and discovering after the fact that I shelled out the cash to support work that I think is actively harmful to societal views is.

For the record, Neil Gaiman pointed me here. Someone lent me a tattered copy of Neverwhere when I was 16, and I've purchased all his work since, and in multiple formats. Including the Sandman graphic novels. The people who are going to shell out the cash are going to shell out. The people who download and never buy? I don't think they'd be giving you their money, anyway. They're only reading because it's easy access entertainment. They'd be looking for something else that was free and easy if comics were inaccessible.

The best way to beat piracy is by offering a better service. If you have a service that is cheap, easy to use and has no strings attached, most people will buy it, because it's a lot simpler than waiting for someone to scan it, searching through sites, looking through comments to see if it's what it says it is, and then finally getting to read it.
If you build it, they will come.

Hi. Let me add a small note on another benefit of downloading comics: global imapcat. I live in Spain and, even though we do get a fair share of the American published comics, there are many titles that never get released over here. Reasons for that are various (not being mainstream, legal problems, unknown authors...) and I guess they change from one country to another, but downloading makes tons of works available globally.

I know that does not feed the authors nor the publishers, but still...

Steve Niles is not a name I'm familiar with. Shame on me perhaps, but I always like to discover new things, so the first thing I will do is to google for Steve Niles, find some of his works by name and then search and download them to see if I like them.

If I love them I will go and buy them, preferably in a HC format, 'cause I love those. Furthermore, I will advise my friends to check on this Steve Niles and from word of mouth more people may eventually buy his books.

Before internet I would have to find someone who actually owned a physical copy of some of his works and be willing to lend them to me in order to make up my mind. The other option would be to buy something blind, something I wouldn't even dream of doing in this crisis we live in now.

To cut a long story short, I also believe that as long as someone is creating something that people love he will be able to continue doing it, and in addition to that, internet will make it accessible to more people than before.

IMHO the current state of the serialized format that is the normal in the US is declining because of the financial crisis (globally) and the format itself, not because of piracy.

"But since we're talking about it, do you have data to support these boosts since the bust?"

Sure, but it's the property of the company for which I work, not mine to share on the internet. We contract with multiple studios, and our agreements would prohibit me from publicly sharing that kind of information (I'm sure you've known specifics you couldn't tell everyone before). I can tell you more the next time I see you at a convention, but I can't publish that sort of thing on the interweb. And even if you still suspect me of spreading misinformation for the MPAA, I won't download your work for free.

"Correlation is not causation. Do not for a second believe that Megaupload had anything to do with the boost in online streaming revenue. That would be simplistic and disingenuous at best."

Except when we have, you know, years of sales trends and traffic statistics to analyze and arrive at an obvious conclusion. Simplistic is when someone with no actual knowledge on a subject just wants to argue on the internet.

"Except when we have, you know, years of sales trends and traffic statistics to analyze and arrive at an obvious conclusion."

You work for Big Champagne too?

Funny, I don't remember Megaupload being taken down years ago. Yet you are applying that data to a "huge" spike in revenue.

If it counts for anything, I've pirated your books (stealing is a poor synonym) and ended up buying them in bulk. This includes every 30 Days of Night book, Criminal Macabre (including the fiction books), Mystery Society. Piracy allowed me to string together Freaks of the Heartland, 30 Days of Night and Criminal Macabre and go ''hey, all of these were written by the same guy''.

This was before digital comics though, so I don't know if I'd have done the same (pirated I mean). We lack comic book stores in Sweden, so the internet was an easy way to discover new comics and new creators.

I hope you've followed the experiences of Nina Paley. If you haven't, I hope you WILL.

I think generosity from the artist will result in generosity from the fans. When they know exactly where their money goes, they give.

I'll spend more time reading your blog!

I don't lie when im saying that i have download comics "Illegaly", but that's the way i learn about these. And the way i learn to buy. I mean, if i like it, i buy it!. Im that kind of person who loves his collection on physical not digital.
In fact 5 months ago i read illegaly, locke and key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Hernandez, today i have the entire collection on HC. (i love HC)
Like you said before, there are two sides, or maybe one in the middle of the two.

to me, it's about the communication flooded, but I get my life simple like the top of every common idea, how will I and you will find the depth ? People needs to believe what I say, otherwise the piracy is caging a produced life. Still too common I feel.

LOVE the 1940's HS Yearbook Photo (top of page) of Kids reading Comic Books on the Steps of TEANECK (NJ) HIGH SCHOOOL.

I read 30 Days of Night the old-fashioned way--curled up in a corner of a comics store while waiting for my boyfriend to finish delving through back copies of something-or-other several years ago--and bought the omnibus yesterday. It took me nearly a decade to finally be at the point where I have disposable cash for all the stuff I wanted to buy back when, but now I'm there. Point being: what seems like a lost sale now might be a series of future sales.

cute bunny!

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Briefly About Steve

I'm a writer. I write comics, novels and films. I like reading, writing and watching Horror.



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