In Part One of this transcript of the "Techland Presents: Comics and Digital Piracy" Panel from San Diego Comic-Con, panelists Douglas Wolk (Techland), Jake Forbes (manga editor and author of Return to Labyrinth), David Steinberger (comiXology) and Deb Aoki (About.com) discussed comparisons between online piracy in the comics and music industries, the recent crackdown of unauthorized comics content aggregator sites, and the challenges of publishing online for a global readership.
The conversation continues as discussion turns toward determining the real dollar impact, if any, that piracy has on the comics publishing business.
IS IT A 'LOST SALE' IF THE READER WOULD HAVE NEVER BOUGHT IT ANYWAY?
Jake Forbes: You were just talking about the people who are never going to be represented as legitimate sales. Tying it into scanlation and a lot of the piracy in general is the more people who are involved with a comic, or involved with the property, the more discussion there is on the Internet, the more important it seems to be, and it becomes something major... Hetalia is a great example.
This is a series, it’s not even available in English yet, but the discussion, the momentum is really great. Not to excuse the pirated versions, but especially for titles that are appealing to teens, it's important to remember that a lot of teens don’t have access to credit cards, a lot of them are abroad. They read manga online in Net cafes. If you go into Internet cafes around the world, you'll see a lot of kids who are reading scanlations, and playing pirated games. They don’t have a legitimate channel for entertainment that they can pay for, because they’re just kids who get a dollar a week to go and sit in Internet cafes.
But them being engaged with it, there’s more people talking about it and you can take something that is relatively small and turn it into something big and that’s a really powerful tool.
David Steinberger: Yeah, I get that. You mean there’s a lot of argument for people who are for building a brand through making it as widely available as possible even if that’s illegitimate channels, it’s people getting to know it. It can spawn movie deals, it can do all this stuff, but the question has to be how many of those creators and publishers get a hit like that they can really license out, and that the word of mouth actually matters in a critical way.
Deb Aoki: Well, when people say 'Readers need to sample this stuff before they'll put down money to buy it.' I'd say, 'Fine, put up two chapters then.' You don’t have to put a 700-something chapters of One Piece to spread the word to other people that they should pick up One Piece (one of the most popular, bestselling shonen manga titles in the world). There’s no need. There’s no need for you or for anyone out there who is scanlating it to put it out there for English readers because One Piece is published in English in the U.S., and Amazon and other online booksellers can deliver these books all over the world.
VIZ is really trying their best to catch up – they just spent the last 6 months pumping out 30 volumes of One Piece, 5 volumes per month to catch up with the latest Japanese releases. They are listening to you. So why are you really doing it? Just so you can say you were the first to put it up there? You're doing it for other reasons than just offering fellow fans a "free sample."
David Steinberger: It gets to be a little self-righteous, right?
CBRs , CBZs AND THE UPSIDES/DOWNSIDES OF BUYING DIGITAL COMICS
Douglas Wolk: It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a weird thing about comics, which is that it’s always been based on collecting physical objects and collecting physical objects, collecting things with the possibility of a resale, and the investment, God help us, aspect of collecting comics.
Deb Aoki: I could build a house with my white boxes full of comics. (laughs)
Jake Forbes: Yeah, me too.
Douglas Wolk: Digital comics are a completely different thing: you’re paying for a different thing. When you’re paying for a comic download, what you’re paying for is access to it. You don’t have a physical thing, you have something that’s in a format that might not even be readable two years from now and you can’t give it away, you can’t sell it, you can’t dispose of it as you want. But you’re paying for immediate and easy access, which is something that has value. That’s a distinction that’s useful to keep in mind.
Deb Aoki: I do find that worrisome though because there was an online manga site in Japan that was basically set up where you paid for access to a digital file. When that company went out of business, fans who paid for these digital titles were left with nothing. Nothing.
Once that site was gone, readers who paid money to read manga online had nothing to show for it. Well, unless you had actually printed it out – and I don’t think it was very easy to do that.
Douglas Wolk: Which is actually a question I’ve got for you, David, about the proprietary comiXology format and why you decided to go with that, particularly at a time when the way that people generally tend to read comics is .cbr and .cbz files.
David Steinberger: Yeah. So, I’m an idealist, but I’m also a business person, right? So we had the good fortune of doing deals with both Marvel and DC, which many people thought was going to be impossible in the first place. Part of the reason that they can start getting in here is because we do hide behind Apple’s proprietary DRM (Digital Rights Management). I think, again, the question is (asks the audience) How many people here have downloaded torrents? (Roughly half the attendees in the audience raise their hands)
David Steinberger: How many people – how many people know what CBR’s and CBZ’s are? Okay. So, there’s like a third of the audience that doesn’t. So this is a very specific type of audience.
My brother is a great example; a little bit older than me, knows his computers. He’s got a Mac, he’s been online forever, iTunes and all that kind of stuff. There’s just no way he’s going to get CBRs or CBZs and load them up. But he does, you know. He has a MacBook, and he gets on our website and it’s very simple to use.