Does 4thletter Promote the Illegal Downloading of Comics?

May 20th, 2010 by | Tags:

During the last DC panel of Wondercon, the talk turned to illegal downloads, their ethics, popularity, and effect on the comic book industry.

My take is that they’re not ethical, they’re very popular, and their overall effect is bad.  That being said, I can’t really lord morality over anyone.  I don’t get permission for the panels I use to illustrated stuff on this site, so to the extent I can steal, I suppose I do.

To the extent that I can.  To be honest, a part of what’s keeping me back from at least sneaking a few downloads to get the flavor of a particular book, is that I honestly can’t do it.  At all.  I’m a half-wit when it comes to know-how.  I don’t really know where to look for anything that I can’t look up in a book.  I’m also a half-wit when it comes to technology.  I tend toward the user-friendly programs and everything else is ‘magic’.  Half times half leaves me with a quarter wit to navigate my way through torrent sites, and I’m not up to the challenge.  I’ll pay the three dollars, thank you.

Another part of what keeps me shelling out money for books I know are going to frustrate me, is the overall atmosphere.  To me, going to a comic book store is like going to a bar.  Specifically, my well-loved, local bar.  I see people every week.  I catch up with them.  I talk comics with them.  I drift away and read when they talk sports.  I come back and we talk about what’s on TV, and eventually they close up and I head home.

Downloading comics has its appeal, especially to the broke and cheap, both of which kind of describe me, but at the same time – come on.  That’s like saying, “Why go down and meet my friends for a beer when I can make gin in my bathtub and get drunk alone?”  Sure, you can.  But why would you?

Except that, thanks to 4thletter, and Comics Alliance and Io9 and Comic Book Resources and LJ and Dreamwidth and Twitter and hundreds of message boards, that’s not true.  Hell, half of why I got into comics was the vast amount of resources, and company, online.

So I wonder, is this part of why people download comics?  I know, I know, less human connection, less local communities pulling together, standards.  I’m not frowning on it.  Like I said, I wouldn’t be into comics if I couldn’t talk about them whenever I have the time, and if I couldn’t get the number of angles on them that the internet provides.  Supplanting local with global might not be picturesque, but it gives a lot of opportunities for connection, and for variety.  At the same time, when you can get comics online for the same price that you can get conversation about comics online, maybe that’s competition too tough for vendors and creators.  And given that they’re who we need for our fix, maybe that’s going to be a problem pretty soon.

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18 comments to “Does 4thletter Promote the Illegal Downloading of Comics?”

  1. http://download.cnet.com/CDisplay-Image-Display/3000-18488_4-10162238.html, and torrent sites are really all that is needed.

    I dunno, before this the only way I kept up with comics was Wizard Magazine and whatever TPB’s the library managed to collect and buy. Comics are pricey as hell at this point though.

    I will say that even for free, some comics aren’t worth reading. I started out reading everything, and after 6 years of doing this, I’ve stopped reading alot of stuff due to lack of interest or a severe drop in quality, usually a mixture of both.

  2. Isn’t there something called “fair use” that would make the pics posted on this (and other) blogs legal? That’s my (vague, uncertain) understanding of copyright laws anyway.

    I think to say that blogs and online communities promote illegal downloading is a big stretch. They promote comics. However one goes about acquiring these comics is left up to the individual readers.

  3. I think a broken system has a lot to do with the interest in online comics, right now – legal or otherwise.

    Besides the quality or lack of quality in comics, right now, there is a tiant hole in the system that delivers/distributes the comics. The pull list system, the reorder system, the unclear levels of age-appropriateness that make folks lie me afraid to grab large swaths of comics to give away to kids, PREVIEWS, Diamond, brick and mortar shops, the spoilerific online community/the creators who bend to it, and so many other things make digital comics more and more appealing.

    And since the legal market has not matured or even started in soand cases even started (I’m looking at you, DC) and there are free options out there, guess where a lot of people are going to go.

    Luckily and unluckily, there is a huge Collector’s market keeping print alive, but I am not sure how healthy it is.

  4. I started downloading comics bout ten years ago in college using IRC. I was away from home and could get to a shop. When i came back I kept doing it, mostly because while I was still buying I could read stuff I would never had thought on buying like Invincible and Powers. Now I still buy buy I download everything. I try not to buy because I’m a broke ass but every Wednesday I still do. Problem is I was willing to shell out ten bucks for a had full of books now that ten bucks will only get me three or four. I love reading them though so I’m not gonna stop downloading. Not trying to make any excuses just telling it like it is. Honestly though if books where cheaper I’d still download, I don’t have room in my home for anymore books, I like the digital form. Home when they go digital they don’t keep the prices of new books up round $3-4.

  5. I download comics in singles and then the books I like I buy the trades. I much prefer reading something in my hands and I like owning the volumes so I can hand them to friend or whoever to read and when Marvel is going to release huge Omnibuses for all the books I want to own eventually I’m going to wait on those rather than owning the books in multiple formats.

  6. I download comics mainly for the convenience. I also have been poor for the large chunk of my life, and just couldn’t justify paying for comics at all. I’m not so hard up these days, but the main thing that keeps me from heading to the comic shop or ordering physical copies online is that I can’t do that a 2 in the morning.

    I can hear about a comic online, immediately download it, and have it ready to read before I finish the review I’m reading. How awesome is that?

  7. Glad to see 4thletter joining the rest of the comics blogosphere in agreeing that things might be better for the comics industry if things were more like olden days.

  8. @Jake: Who says things should be more like the olden days?

  9. I was getting vibes about the isolating nature of modern society and the alienation of people from each other. Basically riffing on lines like this : “less human connection, less local communities pulling together, standards”.

  10. I couldn’t care less about piracy, and not just because the companies aren’t ‘entitled’ to imaginary money any more than illegal downloaders are ‘entitled’ to free comic books.
    Literature piracy was a problem as far back as the invention of the printing press and I find it hard to have any sympathy for a business (and it’s a business and not an art from we’re talking about here) that just plain dug itself into a hole by not keeping up.

    You could not run a real business the way you run comic book companies.

  11. I for one know I have picked up single issues of things that you’ve recommended that I otherwise would not have. I pretty much stick to graphic novel format for things I like, but have started buying the occasional issue if it sounds worth it.

  12. That’s an interesting angle, and one I hadn’t thought of previously. I can see it being true for some.

    For me, it was kind of the opposite. When I was just a lurker on comics blogs and communities, and not engaging with people to discuss comics, I wasn’t really buying. I was just reading what I could find online (surprisingly, the first time I’d heard there was such a thing as comic torrents, it was someone telling me so in person). After I started commenting and talking to people about comics online, I wanted to become more engaged. I got up the courage to go to my local store and start buying on Wednesdays. I’d read what I picked up and rush online to join the discussion.

    After a while, I also got a sense of the comics community as it includes creators. Going to conventions or just seeing a creator jump into an online discussion–it puts a face on things. It makes me want to support and buy the comics I like, made by creators whose work I enjoy.

    Thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, I tend to hear who DC has killed off this week spoilers pretty quickly. If anything, the availability of spoilers is what will advise me not to buy a certain comic, and you don’t need piracy for that. If I know there’s something in it I personally object to or know I won’t like, I can steer clear. If anything, the online community has encouraged me to buy, but to be carefully selective of what I buy, voting with my dollars and vocalizing outrage when appropriate.

    That said, if I didn’t live in a big city with lots of comics shops, big libraries and comics conventions/festivals, I’d probably be singing a different tune entirely. After all, I’m privileged in that I have access to comics (stores and libraries), an abundance of choice, and (usually) have the funds to buy at least some of the many comics I want. It also irritates me when people automatically dismiss people who download pirated comics as awful evil people without stopping to consider why they may do so. Or when the only effort made to stop/prevent piracy is to chastise. Guilt might change a few minds, but it’s not going to make much difference in the long run.

  13. @Maddy: The creators online angle is true, and something I didn’t think of when I was writing this. The net can also work against creators, though, since one bad tweet lives forever and some e-fights are better left alone.

    I often wish that comics would go entirely digital, but *god* I would miss my shop if they did. I love it there.

  14. @Jake: I think Esther is speaking more to the changing standards of interaction, rather than saying that online conversation is isolating or emptier. Having online “friends” used to be something ridiculous, but now everyone has them. Being able to get online and talk about comics has at least partially replaced the Wednesday pow-wows at comic shops, and that’s pretty interesting to me, too.

    @Basque: Fair use is a tricky thing, one that’s largely misunderstood. It’s like the old “delete this within 24 hours!” thing warez sites used to do. People have made up various standards and other people have accepted those as for real. Most blogs use images and excerpts such for purposes of review/commentary/teaching, which more or less fits the legal letter of “fair use,” but good luck if a company decides that you’re in violation. That’s when you get DMCA takedown requests (which generally go to your ISP, not you), cease & desists, and etc tend to put a stop to that rather quickly.

    So the answer to your point is “Yes, except when someone decides that it doesn’t.”

    On Esther’s post–I think comic scans are pretty valuable. I never would’ve read the best superhero comic ever without them (Flex Mentallo) and they’ve let me build a genuine sense of the history behind comics. I can and have used them.

    But, almost all of the arguments to justify illegally downloading comics are silly. You’re not owed comics, and if you’re too poor to read comics… sucks to be you. I’m too poor to own a Porsche. Being the “I download because I want to read and comics are too expensive!” guy is lame. Just be honest and say that you like them free and don’t want to pay for them.

    I’d kill for comics companies (all of them) to push a hard digital strategy, with day and date releases of platform-agnostic and DRM-free comics. I think that is a tremendous hole in their gameplans right now, held back in part by retailers who don’t want to see their businesses gutted by another channel splitting up their profits. Like with the music industry and MP3s, piracy has shown consumers what they can have, and the companies are lagging behind and dealing with crappy interfaces (Zuda) and proprietary formats/late releases (Marvel). They need to aggressively court downloaders and bring about real convenience and ease of access. Go big or go home. Pussyfooting around is just leaving money in wallets.

  15. I studied abroad in the Czech Republic last year and had absolutely no way to get comics than to download them, but I also had a fat shipment from Midtown Comics awaiting me at home with everything I had read on my computer (and then some). Like others have said, downloads and scans are a great way to maintain and spark interest (I buy Batgirl every month now and definitely wouldn’t if I hadn’t first read it online), but it’s obviously a bad situation when people stop caring about paying for the physical medium.

  16. I’m glad you guys don’t support illegally downloaded comics, but I think you may be incorrect in regards to using panels for illustration in your articles. There is a sort of fair use policy involved. Typically most publishers do offer free previews online and have no problem sending out their solicitations to entice readers to pick their books up. You posting a couple panels is essentially helping them sell it. It may only be illegal when you’re providing most (or all) of the individual comic online for free without permission. Clearly you don’t. You’re safe 🙂

    But you’re entirely right that comic companies should be pushing a better digital strategy. There’s simply not enough comics available digitally, and that could be do to their fear of losing even more comic retailers in the US. The day they released the Marvel app for the iPad, they sent out a mass email explaining that retailers shouldn’t worry about the digital comics cutting into their business. It’s very clear they’ve taken those concerns into consideration. Perhaps you could say they may be too scared to push harder.

  17. If my local comic shop was pleasurable to be in for more than 5 minutes, I might consider downloading less comics. But your comparison of your LCS to a bar falls mighty flat when your only options are a poorly stocked, understaffed store and a cramped, corporate-run store.

  18. In all seriousness, comics was only ever a solitary pursuit for me, something that was kept quiet around most of my good friends and fiercely hid around the general public. About as much shame at most points of my childhood and adolescence as a serious pornography habit. The occasional yak fest at a shop notwithstanding, there was never really *any* social component to my comics reading until I went online. these days I still tend to shy away from overly-friendly comic shops and chatty salespeople. I don’t like it when retailers talk to me in just about any capacity, because chats at comic book stores INEVITABLY become just another game of one-upmanship to see who has the most obscure minutiae of thirty-year-old continuity on hand at a moment’s notice.

    Comic book stores would be great if they weren’t filled with people who read comic books.