Steven Grant writes in “Speaking of bit-torrenting comics” about how downloads of scanned comic books through bit torrent hurts the business and jeopardizes the existence of many comic series that sell just enough to justify their continued publication. What Grant suggests is that artists beg file-sharers to go out to a store and buy a copy of titles they enjoyed, in order to ensure that the economics keep working.
I think he’s terribly wrong. When the economics turn against you, begging free-riders to shell out cash when they don’t really have to just doesn’t work. The first reason is that online consumption is free fast and easy, and you get instant gratification (or nearly instant, in the case of bit torrent). Going out to buy stuff adds the non-instant gratification (by actually requiring you to go out, or simply by keeping you waiting for delivery in the case of orders from amazon) insult to the cost injury. The second reason is that there’s so much content out there these days, that most consumers don’t really feel threatened by the idea that some title might go away – unless they’re true enthusiasts for the specific title (and as a rule these are the minority of customers) they can always find something else to replace it.
Instead, why not try to adapt to the changing marketplace and adopt a new business plan?
It’s clear that the market is still there – if people download and share the stuff then they’re obviously reading it. Moreover, the new medium opens up any comics title to a potentially far greater market reach. Finally, it seems that these people don’t mind reading the stuff off their computer screens (printing it in good quality would cost far more than simply buying).
See where I’m getting at? Why don’t comics artists put up a website and publish their own work there?
Here’s how the economics for you, the artist, might work:
You don’t need Marvel to publish your work, so you can cut the entire printing and distribution costs and the retailer’s margins. That has to translate to a serious reduction in price.
Put advertising on your site to generate revenue. If that doesn’t work, i.e. you don’t have enough visitors to generate significant revenues, try charging a very low price, i.e. an iTunes-like $.99 per title. As Apple had proved, it works. You could provide free access to the first few pages, to whet potential customers’ appetite, then charge for full access.
For your best fans who simply have to have a copy on paper, you could use a service like lulu.com to print and ship the stuff. If you look at the little they skim off the list price you have to realize that Marvel is screwing you.
You could even use bit torrent to promote yourself. Pick some of your works, add a first page that links back to your website and tells people there’s much more there, and start sharing it.
Maybe there’s even a business here for some aggregator – a website that manages the whole thing and lets comics publishers publish their work thus. If there’s interest, I could build one :)