Robot 6

4chan piracy causes spike in sales for Lieber and Parker’s Underground

Someone on 4chan scanned in all of Steve Lieber and Jeff Parker’s Underground and posted it for all to read. Rather than pitching a fit (which would have been perfectly justified under the circumstances), Lieber joined the discussion and cheerfully suggested folks kick in a few bucks if they like the book or maybe even, you know, buy it. Then he posted it on his own site for free. The picture above, taken from this post on his blog, concisely summarizes what happened next.

Why did it work out this way? Perhaps the comic is that good (I haven’t read it), perhaps because 4chan helped it find its audience, and perhaps because Lieber took some time to engage the readers and establish himself as a real person—it’s a lot harder to steal from someone you know.

He talks a bit more about it at Warren Ellis’s forum. (Found via Teleread.)

And remember, kids: Only Stephenie Meyer can defeat 4chan.



I’ve seen this story reported on out and about and what I’d like to know is how many numbers were actually sold? Sure, there’s a spike, but is that a spike of 5? 10? 20 sold?

What’s most remarkable about this story is not the fact there was a spike, but how Steve handled himself. Most creators and publishers would get angry by the illegal activity, and rightly so. Steve decided to engage the audience versus becoming hostile to it and by doing so he courted a new readership. In this economy any number of sales generated by simple outreach like this is welcome and could only grow.

I don’t believe this is a strategy that could work for all creators or especially publishers, but with a creator owned property like this Steve took a risk and it’s paid off — I’ve seen more press about Jeff & Steve’s comic today than I saw when the book was actually coming out. And if you want to learn more about Jeff Parker & Steve Lieber’s Underground, there you go!

You’re never going to defeat online piracy. The only way to survive it is to use the exposure to gain new honest fans. If people truely like something, they pay for it in order to see it continue. I will at least.

You’re never going to stop people from stealing cars. The only way to defeat it is to give me a new Cadillac for 200 bucks.

Isnt that analytics traffic? He had another image with the sales listed. And they sold out of the book at TFAW, so sales were pretty solid from the 4chan bump based on that.

Bad analogy, Shawn. Car theft isn’t something that anybody can do from the comfort of their home at the click of a button. Cars can’t be scanned, converted digitally, and compressed into a file. I’m not saying that piracy is right, but poorly thought-out snark-based responses don’t help your case.

Brigid Alverson

October 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Good point, Kirk. It might be. The image was so arresting I didn’t stop to look too closely, but it could be downloads.

Jonah, I usually am wary of graphs for this very reason, but the relative magnitude of the two spikes is telling. You usually get a pretty good bump from BoingBoing, and the 4chan spike, whether in sales or traffic, is easily 10 times as much.

He also shows his Etsy sales from the previous night. I count 24, and he says that’s just the first page. So even if there’s only one more on the next page, that’s 25 sales. Not bad for one day.

If I could create infinite, exact duplicates of my car using zero resources while retaining the original, I’d be glad to.

also, cool analogy, bro.

Paul Dempsey’s side-project from the late 90’s, Scared of Horses, was a CD run of only 500 copies. It’s pretty much continued its fame and existence through extremely expensive resellings and piracy.
Recently, Dempsey re-released the album on iTunes, recognising the audience for it. Again, a case of engaging with the audience and converting piracy into sales.

Lieber’s always known how to use the net for sales.
Back in the usernet days, he sent out previews of his ..Gateways iirc, series to folks from RAC* to get reviews and exposure..really good. Years later I met him at a con (we have a RL mutual friend at that point) and he was just cool.

Might have been Pathways…

Shawn, your comment reminded me of a sprite comic about the anti-piracy warning ads on DVDs.

Still, this is good news for Lieber and Parker’s exposure to a wider audience. This kind of viral marketing is the kind of thing that would make normal companies nervous, since it has the potential to fail either way.

Robert, you just described what I think is about to happen with Miracle Man/Marvelman. So difficult to get any physical copies, easy to find online copies, and we’ve got guys like Neil Gaiman basically saying he understand why people are ‘stealing’ it.

It took me FOREVER to track down the physical copies at a reasonable price — but I did it, even after having read the whole thing online, because it was that good. And you can bet I’ll be buying whatever package Marvel puts out, when the time comes, and with great excitement.

I believe I read the first issue of “New Frontier” online as well, and I’ve bought every iteration of that book that has been produced. Singles, two volume TPBs, Absolute and animated movie!

Quality deserves my money! Not saying stealing is right in any way, shape, or form, but as long as it is as easy as it is right now, it’s going to happen. Better to adapt than die.

Shawn, if cars could be simply reproduced by digital means, car theft much would be of an issue. Try to contribute to a conversation like an adult.

In an age where I can have every book for the week downloaded on Wednesday by 8pm, I’ll say this:

1. Make the books cheaper and I’ll buy them. You decided on glossy paper. You decided on these ridiculous contracts that lock the creators up. Stop ripping off fans.

2. Make books affordable so KIDS can actually buy them. Then they can be the “backbone” of your company’s sales.

3. Stop stretching out 2 pages of story into 6 issues to sell your TPBs. The empty feeling we get is also why we download.

‘Til then, I’m gonna download them.

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