Marvel Looking To Follow In The Footsteps Of The Recording Industry

from the ignoring-good-advice dept

Last month I urged the comic book industry to accelerate its move into the digital world by releasing a lot more out-of-print comics online. I pointed out that this could generate some advertising revenue in the short run, but even more importantly it could increase public interest in old comics which would increase the demand for a wide variety of Marvel and DC products. Unfortunately, TorrentFreak is reporting that Marvel and DC are following in the footsteps of the recording industry, threatening people who are sharing their comics online without making any real effort to provide a viable alternative. TorrentFreak quotes an exchange between a Marvel employee and the people who run ComicSearch. ComicSearch makes some of the same points I did: there are a lot of fans who will buy a paper copy of a comic and download an electronic version so they can keep the paper copy in mint condition. They also point out that peer-to-peer sites have more and higher-quality scans than the official websites, and only peer-to-peer sites give you the option of downloading and organizing files on your hard drive. At a minimum, Marvel and DC should ensure that those fans who want to download high-quality scans of their comics have the option of paying to do so legally. ComicSearch also points out that comic sharing can have huge promotional value, creating increased fan interest and allowing Marvel and DC to sell more comic books, movie spin-offs, and merchandise. While Marvel and DC are certainly within their legal rights to try to stamp out unauthorized sharing of their comics, that doesn't mean that doing so is a good business strategy.

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Companies: marvel

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Comments on “Marvel Looking To Follow In The Footsteps Of The Recording Industry”

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Eric says:


“threatening people who are sharing their comics online without making any real effort to provide a viable alternative.”

Marvel has actually been doing quite a bit with digital distribution. They’re doing it online:

as well as selling DVDs of popular comic series:

Let’s try to be fair.

Tim Lee (user link) says:

Re: Seriously?

As I’ve argued before, the content they’re making available on their website is a small fraction of the material available on P2P sites, and it’s encumbered by DRM. It’s also apparently of lower quality. It’s great that Marvel has taken some tentative steps toward digital distribution, but they should be working on making their pay site at least comparable to what’s available from P2P networks.

BPearce (user link) says:

I think you *greatly* overestimate the degree to which comics that are otherwise bought and paid for have files downloaded as a back-up, as “reading” copies. (And don’t get me started on how detrimental the mindset of buying comics for their perceived “collectible” value has been for the industry over the past twenty years.) I think that’s as flimsy an excuse as the idea that unauthorized distribution offers some sort of value or benefit to publishers that they’re too short-sighted to take advantage of on their own.

Most of us who either work in or have followed this industry know that periodical sales are little more than a shadow of what they once were, and that lost sales due to unauthorised downloading have a disproportionately greater impact. (In some cases, those lost sales also represent lost royalties that would have been paid to freelance talent.)

It’s entirely possible that the larger publishers are looking into or moving toward a model for digital distribution that works for them — but does this mean they should be obliged to turn a blind eye while their rights are exploited?

Jack Sombra says:

Re: Re:

“Most of us who either work in or have followed this industry know that periodical sales are little more than a shadow of what they once were, and that lost sales due to unauthorised downloading have a disproportionately greater impact. (In some cases, those lost sales also represent lost royalties that would have been paid to freelance talent.)”
All true, except you ignore all the other reasons that comic sales have gone down

a)Increased prices (for less content)
b)Too many titles (aka to much competition, much of it with titles by the same company, hell in many cases it is mutiple titles covering the same groups, at one stage there were nearly a dozen core X-Men/Mutant titles alone)

b)To many “epic universe scale cross overs”, in the late 80’s/early 90’s these would happen maybe once every 2 years or so, now they are non stop, for fans to follow everything to do with their favorite characters they endup having to buy dozens of different titles each week. Combined with points a) and b) it becomes hard for even adult with a job to justify that kind of expenditure, for kid on an allowance or part time job it becomes impossible

“It’s entirely possible that the larger publishers are looking into or moving toward a model for digital distribution that works for them — but does this mean they should be obliged to turn a blind eye while their rights are exploited?”
Should they turn a blind eye? No
But should work harder at dealing with the bigger problems with their industry first? Most definatly

Hell if they deal with them they might just find that the majority of “pirates” become a thing of the past.

BPearce says:

Re: Why would it hurt them?

Reprints of older material (more often in book collections than periodical form) have become a significant source of profit for publishers over the past several years.

Granted, not everything can be reprinted — the market for it just isn’t there — but this is an area where steps toward digital distribution have been taken (in the form of licensed DVD collections).

Joe says:

Re: Why would it hurt them?

It wouldn’t hurt them directly but it would be seen as cutting into the business of the comic book stores who sell the back issues. Pissing off the people that retail your goods is not wise business practice. As BPearce said in comment 2 – the market of people who buy print copies for their collector value has all but vanished. The bottom fell out of that market in the early 90’s.

There is a strong pent up demand for digital download versions of comics that marvel and dc are not meeting. Marvel is making some moves in that market with their online offerings but their moves are quite timid. Full of ads, popups and not downloadable.

GK says:

Ummm, does anybody who have a life give a (beep)?

As far as I can tell, comics are pretty much collected by people who don’t have real lives or relationships and who hide out in fantasy worlds so they don’t have to face that. If Marvel (whose online offerings are DRMed out the yazoo) and DC, (who also jointly trademarked the term superhero[tm] with them) want to poison their own well and then drink from it, who cares?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There are many ways of presenting fantasy worlds.

Some examples include…

…fantasy world presented by motion pictures.
…fantasy world presented by a (musical) recording industry.
…fantasy world presented by sequential art.
…fantasy world presented by descriptive prose.
…fantasy world presented by computer software.

There are others of course. Some of these have issues with
internet distribution.

I’m guessing that you probably care about some of these fantasy worlds.
If you try to claim that that you don’t care about any of these, people
are likely going to look at you as weird.

BIll Avoider says:

Cheap and lazy

Seems most of the people here want everything for free (music, movies, books, etc.etc.etc.) and use the excuse of “if I like it then I’ll buy it” or ” This creates more sales”
I’m sure the job you have does not pay you for what they think you worked for the week, say maybe 10 hours out of 40. You get paid the full amount for the time you are “there” or collecting a salary for the “work” you do.
Once you give it away, it’s hard to make the general public want to buy it. Hell, Techdirt does not give their services away for free, maybe they should and we can come back and buy the ones we like- NOT!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cheap and lazy

@ Bill Avoider:

Most people who don’t think it through all the way, or even READ more than a few sentences, think that when people argue against the banning of downloading content.

For truth, it hasn’t been argued that Marvel/DC should just “give” it away. The problem is they don’t allow you to download (and PAY for) content of the same quality and volume as you can get elsewhere.

The majority of people want what they want, and will PAY for it if its of good quality. Wrapping something up in DRM so you can’t look at it without THEIR tools is the same as buying a comic book and not being able to read it unless an official from Marvel/DC turns the pages for you. It’s stupid, and people are irritated enough with it to think of ‘stealing’ (since its online, people who wouldn’t shoplift will consider downloading something ‘illegally’) so they can turn the page themselves.

The writers at TechDirt have always, at least from what I’ve gathered from following the blog here, urged the content providers to raise the quality of their works. It can’t be hard to do if people who aren’t the content creators will GIVE the content away, so why do they take all these unnecessary steps (and COSTS) to make the content worthless to the majority of people?

How much money do these companies spend on DRM and other ‘anti-piracy’ schemes, and STILL have the content ‘pirated’ with the biggest excuse being given that its of better quality and functionality?

I can’t see how they justify it from a business sense. No matter what you do to try to protect it, there IS away around it. Considering the volume of people saying they’d pay for it rather than ‘steal’ it if they’d give it to them right, and the other business examples (such as that one publisher, starts with a B. Crap can’t remember, but they give their books out for free in .txt format and you can buy them at their online store and get a real copy sent to you in the mail. They do good to put it mildly) why not give it a try? They’d have nothing to lose compared to what they are already, except the spending spent on ‘protection’.

Monarch says:

Re: Cheap and lazy

Way off the point. I don’t purchase things first anymore. Why? because I’ve been burned way too many times. Buying a DVD that sucked, a game that sucked, or a music CD that sucked. If I like it, I go to the store and I BUY it to watch, play or listen to time and again. Why, because I prefer to have the hard copy. But I don’t buy stuff up front blindly any longer. Nope, not going to spend my hard earned money for overpriced garbage again.
I just look at how many DVD’s I’ve purchase at close to full price to see them on he $7.50 rack a couple months later, because the movie sucked in the first place.

Able-X says:

RE: Cheap and lazy

it was actually p2p sharing of comics that got me back into them, and made it worthwhile to me to get subscriptions to 5 different titles this last year. There’s no way I could’ve come back into Marvel without the sharing, cause I couldn’t have afforded all the issues to get caught up on the back story.
Now that I’m caught up, i keep my subscriptions up and they make more money they wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Gunnar says:

Tim’s point is that they have to compete with free. What they offer now is not as easy to use or as high a quality as what you can find pretty easily online. And, for now, the risk for downloading is even lower than with music or movies.

For any business, the goal should be profit, not control. Right now, the profit does not seem to be in comic sales. There is a general lack of interest in comics as something to read.

I don’t think what GK said about comic collectors being anti-social nerds is true (I only know 3 people who collect comics. My boss [which is awesome] and two of my dad’s friends. One is a 55-year-old, happily married, father of 2 Methodist preacher and the other is, well, I’m not sure what he does, but he has 4 awesome kids) but the perception doesn’t help the industry. Even though Marvel and DC movies are mainstream draws, general comic sales don’t see much of the pie.

It isn’t that the average reader wouldn’t like comic books. It’s that there are all sorts of barriers between the man and the sale. Even comic shops with friendly owners are intimidating, and they aren’t exactly the majority of shops. For some people, going into a comic shop is only a few steps away from walking behind the curtain in a video shop.

The internet is a perfect way to bring in new readers. The market is obviously there. People clearly download comics and read them (though just like music, they always download more than they could possibly read). It’s money the comic creators are missing out of.

At the simplest, it’s a million eyes that could be looking at Marvel and D.C.’s ads while they download what they’re getting off of their websites. Only instead they don’t skip scanning the ads.

I actually have no problem with Marvel’s current system. At least, when I’m reading at work. It’s selection sucks, but the sample comic I read was perfectly readable, as it was coming at me on a T1 line. At home, I open all my webcomics in the morning and go take a shower (here’s your $35 for awesome Internet, Verizon).

There is no way I’d read comics online at a page every 2 minutes.

The key thing online comic sellers would have to do is beat the torrent folks. People are going to go wherever they can get their media the fastest. Offer the first issue for one-offs and the first story arc or more for established series. After that, they have a few options, but in the US’s broadband-starved market, downloadable-to-read-at-my-leisure-and-not-wait-for-the-page-to-load comics are essential.

Then they can do all sorts of things to beat the torrenters. E-mailed to your inbox or alerted via rss feed. Some kind of subscription service where you get x drm-free downloads per month and unlimited back-issue web viewing. Variable pricing (from $.10 for “Super No-Name and the Isle of Fun” to at the most $.99 for just-released issues [they are saving a ton by not printing in full color]). Free downloads with the normal printed ads.

It’s not that file sharers are greedy and think everything should be free. They just understand that bandwidth is dirt cheap and even $.10 cents for a 15 meg file in still $.095 cents profit. And comic companies, who are in no danger of going under thanks to other media’s help, can afford to try things that the other media companies won’t do.

BPearce says:


“The key thing online comic sellers would have to do is beat the torrent folks.”

Well, that and determine if an electronic method of distribution would even be a viable one in the long term.

Sure, you can cut the costs significantly without the need for printing and distribution — but the costs of content creation remain identical, and I’m not sure you could come up with a digital product at a price that would provide margins relative to a printed comic book and still be seen as an attractive alternative.

profnewell says:

Re: Re: cutting publishing costs through digital distribution

I think that a digital model would work.

Let’s look at the costs:

Book Retail cost = $2.99
Diamond Distribution cost: 50%, so cost to make/print book is $1.50

Cost to ‘Print’ book, 50%, so cost of creators/illustrators/editors/etc. = approx $0.75.

I would gladly pay 75 cents an issue for new comic books. I currently buy only 3 per month because I really can’t justify the cost. If they cost 75 cents, I would be able to buy 12 per month, and be able to store them on DVD (no more big clunky boxes in the basement…..)

I really don’t understand why Marvel and others don’t get on board.

How do you beat piracy? Find the price-point in the market for the resource. Remember: Economics preaches that Supply will eventually equal Demand. However, it is up to the comic company to determine if that should be 3 issues at $3 apiece, or 12 issues at 75 cents apiece.

h2oman says:

I don't understand this.

“At a minimum, Marvel and DC should ensure that those fans who want to download high-quality scans of their comics have the option of paying to do so legally.”

This is so, so wrong. Marvel and DC OWN this material. Who is anyone to tell them they have to do anything with it?

Stealing it and then saying “We will keep stealing it until you let us buy it.” is plain and simple blackmail.

Let’s say you buy a car. Your neighbor takes it for a drive when ever he wants without your permission. When you complain he says “Well you should let me pay you to rent it.” We who the hell is he to take it to begin with?

Monarch says:

Re: I don't understand this.

First off, it isn’t stealing, it’s copyright infringement with the comics online, there is no loss of actual physical product or merchandise.

2nd, your neighbor takes your car without permission, THAT IS STEALING, and a Felony.

3rd, if you were in the business of making cars and then deciding not to sell your best ones, but letting them sit and rust in a back lot, your analogy might make a bit of sense. But as it doesn’t, maybe you should do something to raise your I.Q. a bit, or at least take a class on Critical Thinking and Logic.

tek'a says:

Re: I don't understand this.

“Stealing it and then saying “We will keep stealing it until you let us buy it.” is plain and simple blackmail.”

so if someone said to you “let Me buy this or I will steal it, so there!” you would.. choose to Not let them buy it?

that may be proper recording/movie(and soon comic) industry thinking, but its bad business to anyone else.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I don't understand this.

“This is so, so wrong. Marvel and DC OWN this material. Who is anyone to tell them they have to do anything with it?

Stealing it and then saying “We will keep stealing it until you let us buy it.” is plain and simple blackmail.

Let’s say you buy a car. Your neighbor takes it for a drive when ever he wants without your permission. When you complain he says “Well you should let me pay you to rent it.” We who the hell is he to take it to begin with?”

No, no and no.

First of all, the analogies to physical products is always dumb. If I take your car, you no longer have that car. That’s stealing, as you no longer have your property.

This is copyright infringment at worst. That means if I download a comic, I have done so without paying Marvel for the privilege. Now, that’s where the article above comes in. Let’s say I want to get hold of a Spiderman comic from the late 60s. I could buy a copy, but it would be second-hand (so Marvel wouldn’t see any of my money anyway). A used copy would also be fragile, so I might be a little wary of reading it, open even taking it out of storage lest I reduce its value.

So, the next best thing is to get hold of a digital copy. Since Marvel doesn’t offer me a way to download a high quality copy to my PC, I use P2P. I’m happy (I can read the comic I want), and Marvel hasn’t lost anything since *they were not selling the product in the first place!*

That’s the problem here. On the one hand, Marvel doesn’t want to offer the kind of service that people want to pay for in the first place. On the other hand, they want to sue to stop anyone else offering the service for free.

Let me ask a question of the coporate defenders here: how exactly is anyone “stealing” from the publishers if they’re refusing to offer the same service for any charge? If this was about new, first run comics, you might have a point. But this is about a second-hand market being replaced, so how are the publishers losing anything?

atomatom says:

Guys, come on… this old egg pops up in every DRM discussion. The fact is, DRM has already lost. The industries lost. Period. People are going to steal your content. That. Is. A. Fact. All you can do now is offer the best quality the easiest way in a fashion that fans prefer, and work out a new business model. Asking people not to infringe on your copyright is just plain naive. Nice sentiment, thanks for the car stealing analogies and all, but you’re just blowing air. Frankly, if webcomics authors can make a living offering their work for free from day one then companies like Marvel should surely be able to figure something out.

Jaylen Smith says:

the point

What I don’t get is that instead of seeing this as an opportunity to not only expand their audience, they choose to ignore the moves in consumer culture.
Personally, if I owned something that it is clear that people are seeking, I would try my damnedest to find a way to make a profit with limited to no cost. That’s the whole point of capitalism.
Current structures want a monopoly on their works and all the control therein.
I think that like the anime industry instead of viewing the internet as the wild west of the information age, use it. We have had this medium for a few years now. This isn’t so new that we (as consumers and producers) are in shock. Right now the next leaders in industry will be flexible in their business models to follow trend properly.
With visual content that can be digitized, you not only have the physical limitations of the market, but now you have to face the fact that some one will figure out a way to get around your protections.
Used the internet and it’s billions of travelers:
Free market research
Trend spotting
the limited cost of the introduction of new products.

trying says:

The market already exists..

If people are downloading comics over P2P it is a sign that a market can exist for downloading comics. Its up to Marvel/DC/etc to figure out how to take traffic from p2p and make it their own or they will be seen as saying that they don’t really want to be in the comic DL game which would be enough for the DLers to justify what they are doing . Obviously their current attempts to do this are not good enough ( lower quality images, bad reading interface ,poor selection ) The first 2 can be fixed very easily and I would suspect that the last would potentially be an issue of royalties for illustrators which would inflate prices to cover the additional cost.
After all of that they could still have a superior product at a reasonable price , like $1.50 an issue. Throw in the ability to “season-pass” your favorite books ,showcase new and up-and-coming talent for free or lower cost, Special online-only cover art or alternate page illustration and you could see a nice growth of revenue from casual readers as well as rabid gotta-have-it types and the start of a real distribution platform in the form of a Publisher controlled online comic store complete with

forums – comic collectors love to 1 Buy comics and 2 talk about comics ,

comic news – oh yea i forgot #3 Read about comics
yes ads – noone likes ads but they do make the whole deal do-able for the companies.
I don’t think that is unreasonable to ask for as well as it not being unreasonable for the publishers to actually try . As a side note – every day that goes by another potential online comic buyer becomes on online comic stealer ( or should I say copyright infringer) because a legally viable solution to high quality p2p scans simply does not exist.

Name says:

par for the course

Soo… An industry threatened by: an influx of popular foreign goods (manga), unauthorized digital distribution of their own product, lagging sales in the stores (see manga), and/or high quality web comics that they can’t control decides to drag out the lawyers.

That sounds about right. Pressuring unauthorized distributors (I refuse to call them pirates – real pirates generally *murder* people) in conjunction with, most importantly, putting out a product that people WANT should help them clear the air. It’s the latter that’s going to save them, of course – and how often does that happen without tears and tantrum?

Brian Carnell (user link) says:


“as well as selling DVDs of popular comic series:

I actually own this DVD. The irony is the quality is horrible on these DVDs compared to what you find on file sharing networks. There are a lot of people who put in a lot of time to get just a little better quality scan of X-Men issue whatever, whereas … to be charitable … the company behind these DVDs doesn’t.

And its a lot like music downloading. The people I know who download lots of comics actually spend more now in their comic book stores than they did a few years ago. They’re just spending it on action figures and posters and t-shirts and other epherma rather than on comics.

The reality in the comic book industry is that companies like Marvel already make most of their real money on licensing for movies, toys, etc. The recurring joke is that Marvel is going to get out of comics altogether and simply make movies and action figures.

Tom says:

Former heavy Comic buyer

I used to get comics at the convenience store in the 70s. $1 got me 5 comics. Sometimes I would get the 100pg giant which had a new story and some good reprints of material I hadn’t seen before. I probably stopped getting comics when I hit Jr. high & discovered girls in 1980. Plus I couldn’t find them at the stores so much. And they were $1 each.

Fast forward to college in 1986. There was a comic store so I went. 1st one I’d ever been to (none in my hometown). I started buying on a regular basis again. There was lotsa of good stuff. Love & Rockets with the rest of the indy comics. Deluxe editions, multiple covers. Manga.

There was also some crap as publishers catered to buy one to bag, one to read crowd.

After college I started reading lots of stuff. I was spending $30 each week. Anytime I tried new stuff, I had to spend $2-4 for the issue. If there was a crossover, I had to get everything to keep up with the story. Some good, mostly not. I got DC & Legion of Super Heroes. Most of the crossovers wouldn’t affect LoHS unless they made some convoluted reason.

Fast forward to the 90s. I got married. I had less time. Plus I was spending $50/week for my fix. I found I wasn’t reading them. So I stopped.

Now, I can find Graphic Novels in bookstores. Most of it is good stuff. So that’s what I get. I spend lots less, I don’t have to worry about missing a week/issue. It goes in the bookshelf easily too.

I have a 4 year old now. He’s gone to the comic shop a few times. Most of the comics are geared for 20 year olds. No Gold Key or Richie Rich. Most titles are to be continued in the next issue. *sigh*

I think the audience grew up to a large extent. Thank goodness for Manga for having something to introduce kids to the medium.

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