Yo ho ho and a bottle of sugar-free Coke. Over on Journalista Dirk has a interesting post on comics piracy online from Jim Shelley of Flashback Universe. Jim has a look at some statistics and finds that illegal scanned downloads of Sin City topped 91, 000 – probably nowhere near as much as a lot of illegal music, film or TV episode downloads, but still a lot, especially compared to average sales in the comics industry. Statistics only tell a part of the picture of course – 42% of all people can tell you that. While it must be incredibly aggravating for comic book creators and publishers to see people ripping off – basically stealing – their work, what the numbers don’t show is how those downloads affect actual real-world sales. And that’s a very hard area to tackle because how do you work out any decent and relevant figures for that?
Speculating on it I think myself that it must eat into sales somewhat, but I’m also wondering, of those 91, 000 folks who downloaded Sin City comics, how many ever had any intention of actually buying the real book? If someone illegally downloads and reads a comic but had no intention of ever buying the book then is there actually a sale (or potential sale) lost? Well, no, because they were never going to buy it anyway, for whatever reason. So there isn’t an actual lost sale, but there is, perhaps, just a chance that some of those people pinching those comics digitally will develop a taste for the material and want to buy actual print work in the future. A lot will be content to rip off creators, but perhaps a few will get the bug, which means there is a chance to turn at least some of the people who were never going to buy a print book into potential customers.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning people ripping off comics creators and publishers and assuming that anything is up for grabs free of charge online and I quite understand why creators and publishers are infuriated by it (rightly). But it seems unlikely we’re ever going to stop digital piracy so perhaps publishers should try to turn this negative into a positive and use it as another (low cost) marketing tool. We’ve seen comics creators, both independent and large scale making some preview pages from new works available for quite a while now and publishers like DC have been making entire first issues available for older, established series in a decent quality PDF form to entice new readers into a series, so there is some precedent. It doesn’t mean abandoning the fight against large-scale piracy, but while that is a problem, we have to ask, how much does it directly affect sales of books and can’t the comics industry use it to promote interest in and awareness of titles and creators?