Image Comics, holding a media event on Tuesday reminiscent of Steve Jobs-era Apple, announced it will sell DRM-free digital comics through its newly redesigned website. And like clockwork, there it is, beginning with a compilation of the first 50 installments of the webcomic Scatterlands by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard for 99 cents. Also available for the launch are Image hits like Lazarus #1 by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, and Jupiter’s Legacy #1 by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, both priced at $2.99 to match their print editions. Digital comics can be purchased as PDFs, EPUBs, CBRs or CBZs.
This isn’t the first time DRM-free digital comics have been made available, of course. Earlier this year, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin set up Panel Syndicate to sell their comic The Private Eye in a successful name-your-price model (readers can choose the format). Since 2011, Artist Alley Comics has been putting out a small line featuring creator-owned work by Tim Sale, Craig Rousseau, Richard Case and others as PDF files, generally priced at no more than $1.99. And as early as 2006, the beleaguered Wowio.com began selling downloadable PDFs of comic books and graphic novels. There have also been others here and there.
Headlines touting this as the first time you can get DRM-free digital comics might not be entirely true, but that doesn’t take away from it being a big deal. Image is certainly the largest publisher to make this move, and combined with the rest of its digital comics strategy, this instantly positions the company as an industry leader in the digital arena.
According to a survey commissioned by U.K. communications regulator Ofcom, the classic Pareto principle is in full effect for people who use pirated versions of copyrighted material. The top 20 percent of copyright infringers account for 88 percent of all infringements (with the top 10 percent being responsible for a whopping 79 percent).
What’s surprising, however, is that the top 20 spent £168 (about $253) on content during the six-month monitoring period. That’s not just more than the amount spent by the lower 80 percent (£105, or about $158), it’s significantly more than the £54 ($81) spent by the average person who never pirates anything. In other words, the worst pirates get the vast majority of their stuff for free, but they take in so much media that they end up spending 321 percent more than people who never pirate.
Publishing | Bob Wayne, DC Comics’ senior vice president of sales, and John Cunningham, vice president of marketing, discuss May sales figures, which show the publisher edging closer to Marvel in market share and Batman topping Justice League. Wayne also explained why DC won’t change its practice of publishing collected editions first in hardcover, then as inexpensive paperbacks: “While certain titles do get a deluxe or an Absolute Edition at some point, we think our retailer would be leaving a lot of money on the table if we didn’t give consumers the chance to buy hardcovers first on select titles. The sales we are having in both channels on Batman and Justice League in the month of May indicate that we don’t have that many people waiting the trade, looking for that cheaper edition. A lot of people seem to want a nice durable hardcover and we plan to follow this model for the foreseeable future.” [ICv2]
Piracy | Manga scanlators (and proprietors of other bootleg comics sites, such as HTMLComics.com) have argued that reading manga on their sites is no different from checking it out of the library. Librarian and graphic novel expert Robin Brenner explains why that just isn’t so. [About.com]
Legal | Don MacPherson, who covers the courts for his daily newspaper, updates the case of Josue Rivera, aka comic artist Justiniano, who pleaded not guilty in May 2011 to charges of possessing more than 100 photographs and videos containing child pornography. Rivera was arrested in Connecticut following a July 2010 incident in which police say he mistakenly gave a funeral home director a thumb drive containing 33 files classified as child pornography instead of the one containing photos of a deceased relative. Police later seized Rivera’s computer and found 153 files of suspected child pornography. A judge has denied a motion to suppress the thumb drive, which Rivera’s attorney had argued was obtained by police through an illegal, warrantless search. However, the judge ruled the search valid, as the material on the drive was brought to the attention of the police by a third party, the funeral home. MacPherson’s summary of court documents provides more details on the case. [Eye on Comics]
Creators | Novelist and X-Club writer Simon Spurrier recounts how he gave up his seat on a panel at last weekend’s London Super ComicCon to creator Tammy Taylor, in the spirit of “Panel Parity”: “Paul’s idea is that you can’t expect true gender parity in comics unless you create the conditions to facilitate it. Even if one has to dabble in positive discrimination, even if one must expect outraged cries of ‘tokenism!,’ ‘political correctness gone mad!,’ ‘patronising cockcentric condescension!,’ it’s worth it. So Paul created a movement he called ‘Panel Parity’ in which he planned to exercise the only real power he has – like any of us in the weird world of industry conventions – to make a difference. Paul pledged that whenever he’s invited onto a panel which doesn’t feature at least 50% women, he’ll surrender his own seat to a female speaker. Even if that means tracking down someone less ‘well-suited’ to discussing the topic at hand than himself. Even if it means disappointing people in the crowd who travelled to the show specifically to see him talk. As long as Said SheGuest is able to contribute in some way to the conversation, Paul feels her presence on stage is more valuable than his own. Which is a brave and important and splendid thing to say.” [Simon Spurrier]
It’s a well-known fact that you can get bootleg scans of every Marvel and DC Comics title by the afternoon of their release, but where do they come from? David Brothers and David Uzumeri did some sleuthing and speculating, and came up with a surprising answer: The Marvel scans are coming from an inside source, either someone who works for the House of Ideas or who works closely with the publisher.
While DC comics start popping up on bootleg sites one at a time on Wednesday afternoons, Marvel scans appear all at once before the digital release time of 2 p.m. ET. This suggests that while the DC titles may be from hackers who have figured out how to crack comiXology’s copy protection, the Marvel scans are from another source. Brothers goes over a number of other clues — the uniform size and quality of the Marvel scans, the placement of titles and credits, information that would only appear on a print comic, and some very telling errors — and concludes that “Someone’s got Marvel’s print-ready files before they’re finalized, and they’re slapping them up online as digital scans. Clever girl.”
Legal | The attorney for Marc Toberoff, the lawyer representing the Siegel and Shuster families in the bitter battle over the rights to Superman, argued last week before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Warner Bros. shouldn’t be granted access to sensitive documents stolen from Toberoff’s office and delivered anonymously to the studio in 2008. A federal magistrate judge ruled in May 2011 that Toberoff waived privilege to the documents when he turned over the files in response to a grand jury subpoena issued in the investigation of the theft. An attached cover letter, dubbed the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline,” was determined in 2009 not to be covered by privilege, and become the basis for the studio’s lawsuit against the attorney, in which it claims he acted improperly to convince the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to seek to reclaim the original copyright to the Man of Steel. Warner Bros. also alleges that Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights. [Courthouse News Service]
Legal | Former Judge Dredd artist Brett Ewins was arraigned Thursday on charges of grievous bodily harm with intent following an incident last month in which he allegedly attacked police officers with a knife when they responded to a public-disturbance call. The 56-year-old Ewins, who reportedly has a history of mental-health issues, was remanded into custody pending a Feb. 17 preliminary hearing. [Ealing Gazette]
Conventions | San Diego City Council on Tuesday approved the basic funding plan for the proposed $500 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, home to Comic-Con International. At the center of the financing scheme is an assessment district that adds between between 1 cents and 3 cents per dollar to room taxes of 224 hotels with more than 30 rooms. Those hotels closest to the convention center would be assessed an extra 3 cents per dollar, and those farthest away could be charged an extra penny per dollar.
The expansion plan has a ticking clock, as Comic-Con has signed a deal to remain in San Diego through 2015, but larger venues in Las Vegas and Anaheim have been lobbying organizers to look elsewhere. [NBC San Diego]
Legal | A teenager was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for his role in the July 2010 theft of a valuable comic collection from an elderly Medina, New York, man, who later died of a heart attack. Eighteen-year-old Juan C. Javier, who pleaded guilty last fall to attempted second-degree burglary, is one of seven people whom police say were hired by businessman Rico J. Vendetti to break into the home of Homer Marciniak to steal his comics. Marciniak, 77, awoke during the burglary and was beaten, suffering only cuts and bruises. However, he had a fatal heart attack later that day. Eight people, including Vendetti and Javier, were indicted in November 2010; the indictments were dismissed against four of the accused so the U.S. Attorney could charge them with murder under federal law. [The Daily News]
Tokyopop may be defunct as a manga publisher, but someone is still posting on its Facebook page, and it makes for some pretty entertaining reading. Because it’s Facebook, a lot of the readers are teenagers, and I think it is more representative of that segment of the manga audience than any other site.
So when whoever posts as Tokyopop asked, “How do you read manga — digitally or as a physical copy? Which do you prefer and why?” I was interested enough to tally up the answers. The responses were almost comically lopsided, with only 18 out of more than 250 commenters preferring digital; some said both, but the vast majority, almost 200, said they liked to read their manga on paper, not pixels.
Of course, what they mean by “digital” is online manga sites, almost all of which are bootleg. People read manga online because it is free and because it’s the only way to read series that haven’t been licensed in English. But they don’t like it very much. Complaints about digital included eyestrain, slow load times, and that you can’t keep the manga or take it with you. Many commenters simply said they liked the feeling of a book in their hands.
Following a request from a scanlator for unlettered pages from Skullkickers to make the comic’s translation into Russian easier, creator Jim Zubkavich has stumbled across re-lettered versions of two covers from the popular Image series.
“This one blows my mind,” he wrote this morning on Twitter, indicating the cover of Issue 8. “They even translated the signs around their neck.” He later added, “That’s high class comic pirate rock n’ roll.”
Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers, a lively action-comedy series about two monster-fighting mercenaries, has been one of the success stories of 2011 in the North American market, and now it turns out to have overseas fans as well. Last week, Zubkavich got an e-mail from someone named Roman who is translating Skullkickers into Russian, then carefully cleaning the English words out of the word balloons and replacing them with the new text. Roman actually e-mailed Zubkavich and asked if he would be willing to send unlettered pages to make the job easier.
“I have no idea how to properly respond to this,” Zubkavich wrote on Twitter. “I mean, I can’t send him page art like that, but it’s just so damn bizarre.” Zubkavich noted that he owns Skullkickers (which is published by Image), so he knows there are no plans for a Russian edition. A fascinating Twitter conversation followed, with Cameron Stewart arguing for sharing the files — “it may be ‘piracy’ but I’d reckon the goodwill you’d get from authorizing it is significant” — and Indigo Kelleigh expressing reservations: “But politely point out that him giving your work away for free makes it difficult for you to enter that market legitimately.”
Zubkavich is still mulling it over, but he shared his e-mail reply to Roman with Robot 6:
Most webcomics creators figure that once they have put up their comic in a free format that is accessible to everybody, they have done their bit. Jim Zubkavich is taking it another step: He just posted a PDF/CBZ version of the first chapter of his webcomic Makeshift Miracle, and he is inviting readers to spread it far and wide:
Download the torrent file, pass it around, re-seed as much as possible and convince your online friends to try it out, absolutely free. Once they’ve read chapter 1, they can come back here to continue the story with chapter 2.
While webcomics creators often promote their work on Twitter and in online forums, Zubkavich is taking it to another channel altogether. Torrenters have their own community, and getting noticed there will bring him new readers; he’s already getting some love on Scans Daily, which is probably not his usual audience. Beyond that, reading an entire issue of a comic at once is a different experience from reading an online comic that updates a couple of times a week. A lot of readers want to sit down and read a whole chapter at a time, and Jim is giving them that option. And if they like it, they can share it with their friends.
Piracy is a double-edged sword; it reduces sales of the comics that are passed around via BitTorrent, but it also brings in new readers. Balancing one effect against the other is a lot easier when you are giving the comic away for free to begin with. Obviously, Jim wants to drive traffic to his site, and ultimately he will be publishing a print edition of Makeshift Miracle that won’t be given away for free. And that will be the results phase of the experiment, when we see if his generosity now pays off in strong sales when the book is published.
Publishing | Damien Lucchese, a production artist laid off last week by Marvel, explains why fans should not boycott the publisher over the layoffs: “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want everyone to just see the MARVEL logo and think of a huge, top-heavy company, full of money hungry suits that make poor decisions (in some peoples’ opinions). That’s not what MARVEL is and there are still people working very hard (even harder now), day after day to put out comics for people to enjoy.” [Blog@Newsarama]
Digital piracy | Jim Mroczkowski posts his third interview with a digital pirate; as in the first two episodes, what comes through is that social pressures and one-upmanship have a lot to do with it. Also, piracy is expensive for the pirates, who usually buy the comics they scan—and often don’t even read them. [iFanboy]
As the shape of the digital comics world emerges from the haze of uncertainty, readers are saying one thing loud and clear: “I want to own my digital comics.” And most publishers are sidestepping the whole issue by saying “We will gladly sell you a license to read our digital comics” and going no further.
So when Viz Media reps unveiled their SuBLime line of Boys Love (yaoi) manga at Yaoi-Con on Saturday, they made manga history: They will be publishing some titles digitally in a download-to-own format, according to manga blogger Deb Aoki, who was tweeting from the panel. The licenses will be worldwide, not restricted to the U.S. and Canada like Viz’s other digital releases. What’s more, the downloads will be PDFs, which can be read on a Kindle, Nook or iOS device as well as pretty much any computer.
That’s right: DRM-free downloadable comics, available worldwide. And the cover price on these e-books is a very reasonable $5.99.