Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

September 5, 2010

Thoughts on Digital Comics and File Sharing

Filed under: Thoughts — M Kitchen @ 8:00 pm

PvP by Scott Kurtz

During the 2010 Harvey Awards, Mark Waid gave an impassioned keynote speech about copyright and what its intent truly is, and that apparently opened a whole can of worms debate. Below is a collection of thoughts I posted at CBR.

In the back-matter of SPY GUY #1 was a 16 page essay I wrote about all this stuff. The whole comic is online to read for free at www.ultraist.net

If you’re not interested in reading 16 pages, the main idea was this: As artists, we are creating art for people to experience. Anything that helps to spread an artists work so that people can experience the work should be embraced.

And what of experiencing an artists work for free? To call this stealing is lunacy. If that were true, all libraries should be closed down immediately. A single copy of a book gets shared to THOUSANDS of people. I haven’t rented a movie for years because our library stocks DVDs on their shelf. They have a music section with all the latest CDs. They also have a comic section. You CAN go back to the library and get the work whenever you want it (as long as it’s not checked out). So in that sense, it’s like a papernet hard drive. There are DVDs my children have borrowed so many times, it’s like we own the thing…

And yet all my favourite movies, albums and comic books I purchase a copy of because I want to support the artists and own my own physical copy.

That said, by contributing something of value to the world, the rewards reaped from that work WILL come back to you. That is the way the universe works. If one million people experience your work and enjoy it, you now have one million people who are likely to support your future work. Once a person experiences a work (and enjoys it) they will likely become a supporter of your work in one form or another. In Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Chapter 2 is Reciprocation. The gist of the chapter is that humans are programmed with a rule that says “we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us”. I’ve also heard the term used called the “Thank You Economy”. This book itself is in fact a perfect example, as I listened to an audio interview with Robert B. Cialdini (for free) and learned something from him, so in turn I purchased his book.

Perhaps they will tell their friends about it.
Perhaps they will attend a show to see you in person.
Perhaps they will purchase your next work (or previous works).
Perhaps they will purchase original art.

If you create something of value – people will want to support your efforts, and hence you are rewarded.

Perhaps publishers should be scared of this new paradigm.
But artists should not.

In today’s world, monolithic corporate conglomerates tend to be the arbiter of commercial success. But that model is changing. The internet is the new television. Only this time we ALL get to play. Artists shouldn’t be fearful. They should be excited!

With comics being displayed on a website, I think you’d be using the banner ad model to generate revenue. Any successful webcomic I’ve seen uses a similar model.

The Penny Arcade guys are a perfect example.

I spoke with Robert Khoo about this briefly at San Diego Comic Con.
His short answer to the success of Penny Arcade was “advertising”.

This interview gets into some good details.
The whole story is fascinating!


And if you watch their PATV shows, you’ll see they’re doing quite well for themselves…

And look at this, here I am giving them free advertising!
See how this sharing thing works!

Interestingly enough (and bringing the topic full circle) when I spoke with Sergio Aragonés at the San Francisco WonderCon, he advocated creating free daily/weekly webcomics and then selling collected paper books to your fanbase. So really, in the BIG PICTURE, I think Mark Waid and Sergio Aragonés views coincide with each other.

Here’s an example of how I see this model working: Imagine creating a 20 page story that gets read by 1 million people online. Imagine you don’t see a profit from them reading that work because it was offered for free. Now imagine placing a page of original art from that story for sale on ebay… perhaps one a day… I wonder what kind of profit you could make off that from even a hundred readers, who enjoy your work, bidding on it. That original art is a one-of-a-kind artifact. The law of supply (one) and demand (one million) means that piece of art will be valuable. Case in point: Dave Sim has been doing original art auctions via CerebusTV.  An even better case in point:  Todd McFarlane just mentioned on twitter that a Spidey cover he did years ago sold on EBAY for $71,200!

Another example of how I see this model working: Imagine the same scenario as above, where your 20 page story gets read by 1 million people online. You have one million eyeballs looking at your work. What kind of advertising money could you get for one million eyeballs? According to Gary Vaynerchuk, you can get a lot. If a comic was being downloaded via torrent, having advertising pages like they do in Marvel / DC comics would be the way to go.

This is the kind of thinking that artists need to look at moving forward into the future. The information is free. The packaging (print, amazon, itunes, dvdrom) of the information is what we are paying for.

And it’s a fact that this “industry” is essentially fracturing into two distinct markets. Paper artifacts, and digital information. There are two distinct audiences. I think both should be fully embraced.

Of course, building an audience on your own, without being propped up by a monolithic corporate conglomerate is never going to be easy. But if you got the blood sweat and tears to spare – why not go for it? It’s all about consistency, persistence and building a fan base.

Here are the steps:

1) Create comic
2) Repeat step 1 until you’re good enough that people want to read it.
3) Have comic read by 1 million online viewers
4) Profit!

jmringuet made the comment: If people go to a comic shop every week, steal books off the shelves and run away with them, do you expect the comic shop owner to try to sell them hotdogs the next time they come so, you know, he can make a profit?

This analogy doesn’t work because one is making a copy, and the other is actual theft. The analogy would be more accurate if someone took the copy off the shelf, photocopied it, and then put the original back on the shelf.

Kevin Kelly wrote a good article on this (which I referenced in my Ultraist Manifesto) and you can read it here: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archiv…r_than_fre.php

I mean, I SELL COMICS. It’s in my best interest if people pay me the three dollars to support my efforts. It’s in my best interest that comic book stores buy them, and put them on their shelves, and sell them. But realistically speaking, if someone reads my comic for free, and likes it, and decide that they want to read more, then at that moment I’ve gained a “true fan”. Kevin Kelly wrote a good article about that too: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archiv…_true_fans.php

Another point worth mentioning: The people who don’t want to compensate you for your efforts ARE NOT YOUR ACTUAL AUDIENCE. Part of smart marketing is knowing who your customer IS and the other part of smart marketing is knowing who your customer ISN’T.

The thing is anyone experiencing a work for free SHOULD be understood as an attention-getting promotion. It should be integrated into a new model for business. Just like Free Comic Book Day.

Vantine made the comment: would you allow 1000 people for every ONE comic you have in your store to come in to your store, take the comic out of the bag, go to Kinkos with your credit card and make copies so that the thousand people would each have their own copy of that one comic?

To which boor replied: If i had 1000 people for every comic in my shop walking through my door every wednesday, and i couldn’t make a sale, then by god I have no business running a shop. If the system you were describing was even remotely possible to do, then god yes, i would do it.

I thought that was a really good answer.

For all the fear mongering over digital file “sharing” or “stealing” (depending on the camp one is in) the way I see it is, if someone wants to read a comic I’ve created, even if it is for free from an electronically duplicated file, then that satisfies the creative urge even more because the work of art connected with someone.

And for all the talk about one thousand people “stealing” or “sharing” my comic… well… if one thousand people don’t care about it enough to give something back in some form or another, then that means I’ve got to up my game and make the next one even better.

I am biased when it comes to print, because I don’t like reading more than a paragraph at a time on a screen. I’d rather pay 3 dollars for a good story on a dead tree any day.
But maybe that’s just me.

Musicians like Trent Reznor (NIN) and Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) have been doing this with music (successfully) for a while now. They’d be good artists to model.

Also KMFDM has been releasing digital downloads from their site, as well as art artifacts (their 24/7 vinyl collection – which was a smashing success).

Also, Warren Ellis has been experimenting with Freak Angels and Shivering Sands.

Wil Wheaton did an experiment with his book Sunken Treasure with smashing success as well!

Both Spy Guy and The Possum offer free electronic reading versions. You can even grab a pdf for free.  It’s like being in a virtual comic book store, where you can flip through the comics on the shelf. I always disliked the comic books stores that had the comics pre-bagged and boarded and would not let you look inside of them. Those stores never got my business.

Survivalist Jack Spirko spoke about “negative greed” on one of his latest business podcasts, and I think that sums up what those in the “stealing” camp are feeling. They’re scared to lose something they don’t even have. They think they are losing a sale to someone who is not even their customer.

If you want to build your personal brand, then you should want as many people to know your work as humanly possible. If that means reading digital comics for free, so be it.

Forget “stealing”.
Digital downloads should be a part of our business model.

Here is a great comment by snarkbunny:

So let me add a bit more context to the mix.

I’m not a content provider, I’m a consumer. In fact I’m likely likely part of the target audience that successful digital comics wants.

I’m currently part of the Foglio’s 2% that buys trades and clicks the donation button. In fact I donate regularly to all the webcomics that I regularly read and/or buy trades, original art, etc.

I currently have an $800(Canadian dollars) per month reading entertainment budget that gets split between printed books, ebooks, printed magazines, printed comics and digital comics. I happily spend 3.99 on a comic that goes into the recycling bin after I read it.

I WANT more digital comics. I like reading them, and honestly for a read-once and get rid of, digital is my preferred medium because then I don’t have to haul boxes off to the local library.

I want the people providing me stuff to read, to make enough money at it in order to keep providing me with stuff to read.

I don’t do filesharing because I find it unethical and detrimental to the outcome that I want, which is more digital stuff that I want to read.

And when I read posts that are nominally on my side that make me cringe, it annoys me because I believe those sorts of posts are actively putting up barriers to the end situation that I want.

This to me is why I don’t think we as creators need to get our britches in a bunch over file sharing. My hunch is that comics ACTUAL AUDIENCE are people just like snarkbunny. What we as creators need to do is make sure we give people like snarkbunny their value’s worth every time! AND MORE!

I’m guessing that you could have downloaded your reads for free and be done with it, but you WANT to support the stuff you like to give back to the creators and ensure you get MORE!

This is the kind of comics reader we should be catering to.
These are the relations that needs to be nurtured.

Well I’m putting my money (and time) where my mouth is with my own comic.
You can all keep tabs if I fall on my face or manage to gain any success.

Enough fear mongering.
Let’s just make great comics.


  1. Mike,

    I’ve read about this topic online, but I have to say I really like what you wrote here. Not only is it from the point of a fellow self-publisher, but the examples you picked were very informative. I read the interview with Robert Khoo and was quite amazed on his story. I know of PENNY ARCADE, but I don’t follow it. But it’s revealing to find out that someone approached the actual creators and was able to help them harness their true potential.

    I’m going to have to start considering providing my current catalog of comics available online or via a downloadable PDF. I think it will be an interesting experiment for me in the upcoming new year. My comics (floppies) usually contain lots of extras such as guest pin-ups and ‘behind the scenes’ materials. Do you think it would be wise to make my actual comics available online, but perhaps keep the pin-up and other extras only available in the floppies? Eventually I’ll have to collect my various titles in trade paperback collections, but I foresee making more floppies in the immediate future.

    Again, I appreciate all these great ideas you got me thinking about!


    Comment by Javier Hernandez — September 7, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  2. Penny Arcade fascinates me.
    Their success is such a great story.

    As for downloadable comics: The way I make my business decisions is by ignoring all the traditional entrepreneurial aspects and try to tackle the issue from a story telling point of view, because that’s what I’m good at. In the case of SPY GUY #1 I wanted it to have the effect of someone walking into a comic book store, picking the comic up off the shelf, and flipping through it, so in that case I decided to include everything in an issuu format. The thing I liked about the Cerebus phone books is they didn’t include all the extras, just the story – for the extras you had to go to the monthly comic book. There’s something to that – the collection is the story, the individual issues contain the bonus for following monthly, and if there’s anything there you’re interested in, it’s only the price of the individual comic. I always HATED when other graphic novels would include a 6 page story and expect readers to shell out a double digit cover price for material they already owned, so I tend to lean towards generosity and not try to be clever out of greed. In the end, when I make a comic book, it’s the kind of comic that I would want to buy. So I just think about what I would want to read, and how much I would want to pay, and execute on that. In the case of the online preview – I like the interactive pages. I hate clicking jpegs, and normally don’t like reading pdfs, and don’t mind reading cbz files with a proper cbz viewer. I’ve also had readers ask about reading comics on iPhones and iPads (which I don’t own and know nothing about) so I’m just taking their advice when it comes to that stuff. Since they’ve asked, I assume it’s something I should look into.

    And hey – since the internet is free, there’s nothing stopping us from trying all strategies!

    That’s what’s so great about it.

    Comment by M Kitchen — September 7, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

  3. Here is a follow up comment I made at CRB:

    Comment by M Kitchen — September 7, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjEdWTk1l9o

    I posted this link over on the CBR forum just now. It pretty much sums up the way the thinking has always been. It’s just now with the internet, the creator can make the merchandising money, rather than the studio.

    Comment by Blair Kitchen — September 7, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  5. Okay Mike, you get extra points for tossing in that Twinkie ad in the CRB forums! Good point about ‘secondary money’ too. It’s interesting that I, as a self-publishing cartoonist, will make damn sure I have second/third/fourth etc level income streams (as the comics themselves aren’t huge money makers). But then you have huge companies like Marvel and Nascar bringing in money from every possible source as well! Geez, as I write this I just got a revelation: Everybody, from George Lucas on down to us DIY publishers should make sure we have numerous sources of income-generating avenues. Where does that turn into greed? Well, I do what I want to do, and it will be determined by people either buying what I’m selling or not.

    And Blair…….your contribution to this very scholarly topic was…..PERFECT! May the Shwartz be with you, my friend! 🙂

    Comment by Javier Hernandez — September 8, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  6. According to Gary Kurtz, it turns into greed right around Return Of The Jedi.

    Comment by M Kitchen — September 8, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  7. More thoughts from Dylan Horrocks:

    Comment by M Kitchen — January 4, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

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