Brian Wood, Steve Niles, Fred Van Lente, And Steve Lieber On Comic Business Models In A Digital World

Much of the industry talk today has been about digital comics, triggered in large part by retailers boycotting Dark Horse due to their digital policy, and Dark Horse has issued a statement today clarifying that policy.

That of course didn’t end the conversation by any means. Along with that announcement, there was Brian Wood’s post on his blog about Dark Horse’s digital downloads.

The MassiveI’ve had series cancelled recently. I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons. I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have). My income from royalties have dropped. Most comic shops don’t carry my books. I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may not survive as it is now. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too. I don’t mind bleeding a little, and one ray of hope has been digital, the potential it has to maybe, just maybe, keep some of us going through these lean times. But like I said, we can never explore that potential to even just see if its there, as long as current pricing stay locked in.

No sane creator, or publisher, wants to see comic shops hurt. We all have emotional connections to them, to the idea of them, and we count owners and employees as personal friends. We aren’t looking for digital to steal customers away from shops, but rather to be an additive thing, to be an additional source of income. To simply switch a current print consumer to a digital consumer does not solve any problems! It benefits no one at all. It will not save us.

When I thought my Dark Horse comics were to be sold digitally at 1.99, I devised a plan to make the print singles a luxury object specifically for the benefit of the retailer community, to make it a unique book with truly added-value content so that the two formats would not be in competition for the same product. So that the “higher priced” print single would be justified in the eyes of retailers and readers. Not sure if this plan is scrapped or not, but I am not the boogeyman here, and when I see these boycott threats, still being issued even after Dark Horse clarified their plans… well, its hard not to feel like an innocent bystander, a bit of collateral damage. My new books at risk even before they launch. Christ, I’m just trying to make it all work out for everyone.

While Wood sees the two audiences being different and is looking for ways to grow both, Steve Niles feels quite differently, tweeting,

I see why it works for Dark Horse and digital, but this will hurt retailers and print. That’s just what I think.

In response to Wood’s blog post, Larry’s Comics, one of the retailers that had announced a boycott, tweeted the following,

How would you have felt / reacted if the digital pricing was not changed. Any feelings for retailers?

Larry would continue to hammer home similar points throughout the day, reminding me how slow the day before new books is for retailers considering the amount of time he spent on Twitter today.

On a somewhat similar note, an online chat with Fred Van Lente at Comics Should Be Good, Van Lente, along with Steve Lieber and Greg Pak, spent a significant portion of the chat discussing business models for distribution online, as well as the issue of piracy.

UndergroundLieber discussed Underground, a graphic novel he produced with Jeff Parker.

Someone on 4chan’s comics board… posted every page in the thread and nagged people to read and discus. I found out, came in, told them no problem, hung out, {and} talked comics. They started donating money because I didn’t go all Gene Simmons on them.

Lieber goes on to note,

Hard copy sales were about 300 copies that week, compared to about 900 through the entire direct market in the six months since the book had shipped.

While it worked for Lieber, this opens the door to the biggest excuse used for pirating comics online – sampling. After Lieber comments that, “I think of piracy as just one bolus in a bed we have thoroughly shat,” Van Lente explains,

The problem is that people took Steve’s story (or the Boing Boing/articles that inspired it) and said, basically, “Look, giving stuff away for free on the Internet is a viable business plan!” when a) I don’t think that’s what Steve was saying and b) nothing about his story, or his chart, proves that at all. Yet, a very, very common response when I talk about piracy is “Did you hear about the guy who did it on 4chan and now lives in a rocket-powered Jacuzzi” & I want to scream…

A lot of this — and we didn’t get into this in Comic Book Comics #6 because, well, it’s insulting–but a lot of this is just basic Fan Entitlement. Ryan [Dunlavey] & I surveyed people about their piracy habits and one guy actually wrote (I so wish I was making this up), “I bought hundreds of dollars of books in the 80s and 90s and now comics owes me.” (I.e. that’s why I pirate).

And I thought that was fascinating. Well, no, the way capitalism works is that you give money for goods and services. If the store TOOK your money then GAVE you comics in return they don’t actually owe you unless they took your money, but kept the comics. Then yes, you should be pissed.

The full transcript should be on their blog soon, and it is definitely worth reading.

Update: While it was not the intent of the article, Steve Niles on Twitter has stated that he feels that his quote was used to pit him against Brian Wood, when that was not the intent; instead it was to air multiple viewpoints. As noted above, the only direct response to Wood in this article is from Larry’s Comics. Niles tweeted, “{I} don’t like being portrayed as anti-digital. I am not. I saw retailers being undercut. Now, it’s fixed. End of story.”