Downloading comics: threat or menace?

A comics fan who thinks downloading comics is immoral posted a long rant to a message board, urging readers to shun comics-trading sites. The debate that follows has several excellent posts — but the most interesting ones come from fanatical comics-buyers who download books they already own in hardcopy because it's a "good way to be able to go back and reread a book without running the risk of damaging it" and so forth.

The comics industry has been creaking and threatening collapse for as long as I've been reading funnybooks. One thing that's always frustrated me is the incomprehensible lag between the monthly books and the bound collections: if you wander into a bookstore and discover issues 1-5 of Y: The Last Man or Issues 1-5 of Fables (both stone brilliant; run, don't walk) and fall in love, why you can go on to pick up the subsequent collections, three or four books each in all. Now, say you've read up to issue 20 of Fables and you don't want to wait for the next collection to come out: you want to take the plunge and become a regular, monthly comics reader. You go down to your local comics store and say, "Please sell me issues 21 through the current issue of Fables, and put the current ish aside for me every month: I'm hooked!"

What usually happens is the comics person will say, "Sorry, we've got issue 25, which is the current one, and number 24, but that's it — the older ones are out of print." In other words, you got on the Fables boat too late and you're not going to be able to catch up with the book in comics form without buying issues from collectors or off of eBay.

So here's a gedankenexperiment for ya: what if the DC and Marvel put all their funnybooks on the Web two months after they were shipped to the stores? My guess is that the kind of comics reader who downloads issues so that he won't be "running the risk of damaging" the hard-copy will continue to buy as many comics as ever.

But if you believe the comics industry, it's going broke selling to just the people who put their comics in mylar bags and stack them in hermetic vaults. Funnybooks need to attract a civilian audience who will dip their toes in from time to time, buy the occassional collection, read one or two books a month: it needs a LOT of those people.

The bound collections are a great way to hook new readers. They're retailed in regular book-stores, so they're visible to the kind of person who never goes into a Graphic Novelle Emporium. All that's missing is a way to turn collection readers into monthly-plus-collection readers. The Web could be that way. Scott McCloud has written some brilliant stuff about what a comic that's designed for the Web should look like, but here's the whole other way to use the Web to advance the comics biz: give old issues away to bridge the gap between customer acquisition and customer retention.

Here's at least one comics dealer who sees free downloads of comics driving his business:

This is a message from Derithian who for some reason newsarama wont let him post it……maybe I just need to restart but I'm to busy right now RUNNING A COMIC SHOP!

I am going to come out and say it; I am a member of the z-cult. Not only that I'm a forum mod. To say anything different would put what I say in a different light. I found the Cult about a month after it started. I hadn't read a comic in more than 5 years and hated it all. Comic books were for kids and stupid. Then I downloaded because someone told me I had to read something. So I read it. A month later I opened my own shop.

Not only did I open my own shop, I sell comics to foreign members of z-cult from my shop who are interested in buying books but aren't in areas where you can buy them. Interesting isn't it. You can say all you want that downloading hurts the industry when I have personally because of the cult put tens of thousands of dollars back into the industry. Not to mention I started my own comic development studio to publish local writers online.


(Thanks, Max!)