There's been a bit o' typing on this over in News and Announcements, but I wanted to bring it in here... tho perhaps it should be over in Marketing. Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about this, with inspiration coming from Courtney Love's blistering indictment of the music industry which was published on Salon.com:
And also from the article in the October 2000 Wired as regards Napster. Since things are going digital, and PDF files will be the MP3s of book and comics publishing, we need to look ahead and put some thought into what's going to happen, using the music biz as some sort of guide.
In the "ebook piracy" thread, I wound up babbling on about the "real" piracy of the entire entertainment biz, where "creations" are a salable commodity, but the creators themselves are treated as relatively worthless, even though they are the ones who actually "manufacture" the salable commodity; without the artists, the industry has nothing to sell. Since most artists are being paid a tiny fraction of the actual revenue generated by their creations, in my opinion the quote-unquote "LOSS" of revenue represented by ebook "piracy" and Napster sharing is essentially NONEXISTENT -- especially since there's NO MONEY changing hands as a result of these "improper" uses of copyrighted material.
The industry counts the "loss of revenue" by calculating how much they would have made had THEY sold that number of units instead of people downloading them for free. While there's some validity to looking at it that way, I feel that this is an IMAGINARY NUMBER. Why? Well, did the industry actually PRODUCE that many physical copies of the work in question? Did they distribute them to places where potential buyers could procure such copies easily, and at a fair and equitable price? Did they make sure these potential buyers KNEW about the product? In most cases, I believe the answer to these questions is "no."
Let's go back to the word "piracy" for a bit. Now, there have always been folks who will go out of their way to manufacture illegal PHYSICAL copies of copyrighted works, in the hopes of making a profit on it. There are tape bootleggers, CD bootleggers, people who print bogus copies of books, art forgers, and money counterfeiters. These people go through a whole lot of trouble to create fake copies of real stuff, and then they go try to sell it to and through legitimate sales avenues -- without paying royalties, which obviously allows them to keep all the cash minus their overhead. THESE people represent a LEGITIMATE THREAT to publishers and distributors, since they actually have PRODUCT that can supplant the real stuff on legit sales shelves, and therefore rips EVERYONE off, including we buyers, since we get a fake.
Obviously some people don't care whether what they have is a fake or not, but not many. Have you ever heard of someone buying what they thought was a real Picasso, and then being HAPPY when they found it's not? "Oh, it looks JUST LIKE a real one, so I don't care..." NOT! [img]http://184.108.40.206/ubb/smile.gif[/img] Bootleg tapes and CDs are another story of course, since you can get a nice clean copy on one.
So, there are true "pirates" out there manufacturing and selling bogus merchandise. These people actually DO cost the industry money. Probably not as much as people who hijack trucks full of music CDs -- and it happens! -- but they're a problem. And the money they make is a REAL loss to the industry. Fortunately, it's physically difficult and expensive to do, with pressing plants and printers being involved in it, so it's not something that everyone can do.
However, Napster isn't like this at all. There's no revenue. There's no money changing hands. Nobody is getting rich by abusing someone's copyright. As a legal technicality, there MAY be copyright infringement going on, but that is NOT certain at this time; each side of the Napster court case is presenting arguments about whether Napster sharing violates the Fair Use provision in our copyright law regarding NON-COMMERCIAL distribution. That provision makes it legal for you and me to make tape copies of our vinyl or CDs, and quite frankly if I make a tape of one of my CDs and GIVE it to you, it's a non-commercial distribution; there is plenty of legal precedent for this, and I can't be prosecuted for infringement if I do so. So, Napster is several million people giving each other mix tapes (really, the opportunity to create virtual ones) -- something which happens in the real world, LEGALLY, every day. And it's legal for me to burn a copy of my buddy Mike's Beatles CDs... as long as I DON'T SELL THEM.
So much for piracy.
BTW, anyone ever hear of someone going down to Kinko's with a Superman comic, running off 20 color copies, and handing it out to friends? No? Gee, how bout with a B&W minicomic (not drawn by the copier)? Not really? Hmmm.... wonder why?
Anyway, back to subject. As far as what's happening to the music biz as a result of Napster... where's the damage? Published figures show that after 5 years of flat numbers and no growth, hard-copy music sales -- the PHYSICAL products, CDs, tapes, vinyl -- are up TWENTY PERCENT (20%) over the last two years, the time that MP3 files have been with us. This represents several hundred million dollars in MO' MONEY going to the record companies and music retail, a big fat chunk more. Imagine ANY industry that enjoyed such numbers! 20% ABOVE predicted #s? Now, obviously this MIGHT be due to other factors, but I personally believe that Napster song-sharing is HELPING the industry sell CDs. In fact I've bought a few after Napstering a song or two.
Now let's look at the revenue stream as regards industry vs. artists. If you read the Courtney Love article, she makes it plain that she hasn't seen much cash from the record company from gross sales. Obviously, she's not broke, she's made some money. Record companies give advances (ostensibly to pay for the costs of recording), and smart artists make their records cheap and pocket the rest -- it DOESN'T cost a million bucks to make a record unless the band is completely incompetent and they spend six straight months 6 days a week in the most expensive studio there is. You can make a completely pro record for less than $100,000 -- excluding the producer's fee, which varies wildly depending on who it is. There's also money from live performances and merchandising and other little things like that which artists get a better piece of; ever wonder why an Official Tour Tshirt costs $28? Because it costs the vendor $25, out of which the promoter gets $12.50, and then the band and record company split the rest -- $6.25 goes to the band. Sell enough of those and there's some income. Bands get a good percentage of the ticket face value too, although they often pay for a pre-negotiated sum, and the promoter often takes most of the risk on the tickets. For the most part bands get paid for stuff like that. But for record sales??? Next to nothing, unless you obviously and visibly sell SO MANY records that they HAVE to give you SOMETHING.
I can vouch for this, I had a major label record contract. Without going into details, suffice it to say that the entire contract is designed to make it easy for the record company to NOT pay me, and next to impossible for me to sue them if they don't. They have the big money and big money lawyers on their side, so make no mistake -- unless you've got a LOT of money, you're not going to be able to sue the labels. Many artists have tried, and failed MISERABLY; Elton John, George Michael, and Prince (who just got his name back because his original label contract term ran out) are good examples. If you want to be a rock star (or have a hope of it), you do business their way, and their way means you get the trappings of fame and fortune -- while giving up the fortune.
It seems that the tide is starting to turn against the labels' business practices a little, which I think is cool; however there are so many people out there who have some talent (sometimes not a lot, uh, Britney) who want to be famous (or whose parents do, LOL), and they willingly sacrifice whatever they create for that chance. This is evidence of some screwy psychology, which becomes clearly apparent as we watch VH-1 Behind The Music... but it is how the music biz works. Unscrupulous people exploit psychologically delicate or corrupt creatives and take all their money... because they can. Unless musicians refuse to be exploited, this will continue.
And getting the word out to people may not help; even when they KNOW they're going to get screwed, a lot of musicians dive in anyway... because what else would they do? Get a day job? Musicians hate day jobs. Believe me, we do.
So, what's all this got to do with comics? This is a lot of rambling, Jeff, where you going with it??
First, let's talk about ebooks. Okay. So, there are some folks out there who believe information should be free, and these folks are dedicating substantial time and effort to scanning books through OCR programs, creating text or PDF files of them, and posting them out on the web for people to grab for free. I can understand publishers being nervous about this, since it's easy to go get any printed book and do this to it.
However, if it's being done to a printed book, is it really going to cut deeply into the profits? Most "big time" print books are released in hardcover format first; these editions are physical, durable, very attractive, and go for between $25 and $50. As a product, they are appreciated not just for the textual genius within, but for their very physicality; there is a specific audience that buys these durable items, mostly adults with some disposable income and enough storage space (bookcases) in which to put them; they are usually displayed with pride and treasured.
Anyone think that THAT particular product is going to be the victim of ebooks? Common sense says no way. So, that first flush of income from the hardcover editions is not likely to be affected in the least. And frankly, I bet if they bound up that online Stephen King novel (once it's complete) in a beauty hardcover edition, it will STILL SELL LIKE FREAKIN' HOTCAKES, thus INCREASING an already lucrative income from it SUBSTANTIALLY. Oh, and many who buy the hardcover also buy the paperback, so as to save wear on the one that's worth money, thus effectively doubling sales numbers.
Then there's the paperbacks. Okay, so maybe scanning these in and putting them up for free will cut into the profits a bit. I mean, I guess if I could download a copy of a paperback I wanted, I could read it on screen -- yeah, like I wanna be in front of a monitor for ONE MINUTE longer than I have to -- or print it out and read it... but that's not so cool. Even if I set the thing up to print two pages on landscape 8.5x11 in Quark, it's still not as cool as a book, in terms of the mechanical actions of READING.
Because of this, because of the current difficulties of actually READING a downloaded book, even with those hardware E-Book devices like the Rocketbook, I really don't think that ebooks -- legitimate downloads from the publishers or "bootlegs" from free-info types -- are going to make a significant impact in book publishers' profits. MUCH MORE significant is the steady decline in reading OVERALL; people just don't read as much, so book sales decline. THAT's much more dangerous to the book industry; it's possible that having lots of books available online will INCREASE the amount that people read, thus stimulating sales the same way that MP3 seems to be stimulating interest in music in general and sales in particular.
One more thing about the "bootleggers": Most of the money made in physical book sales is made by "out of the gate" sales. When a new book comes out and is popular, like a new book from a proven popular author, it sells like mad for a while; it'll be on the New York Times bestseller list for some weeks. That initial flush of sales is where the vast majority of money is made on popular books (textbooks, reference, etc. are totally different, having relatively slow but steady sales, with peaks around the beginning of the school year). Once that initial flush is over -- pretty much everyone who's really into it has bought the book -- sales trail off to a slow and hopefully steady rate, a small number of copies per month, as latecomers pick it up and as some people replace their copies. It's most likely that the majority of the books being etexted by free-info guerillas are of THIS type, books that have been around for a while and have already made the big chunk of money they're going to make; so yes, this might cut into that slow trickle. HOWEVER, that slow trickle of sales means that every once in a while, the publisher has to do another print run! This is expensive!! They may NOT EVEN MAKE MONEY ON IT... because the costs of printing and warehousing and shipping a 5000-copy run of a book may EXCEED the revenue gained by sales, if you look at HOW LONG it will take to sell those 5000 copies!! If it takes 5 years to go through them (not uncommon), they sit in an expensive warehouse all that time, and get shipped out, 1 or 2 copies at a time (instead of in bulk)... thus nickel-and-diming the publisher pretty brutally.
So, what if these publishers just LET THE TEXT GO ONLINE FOR FREE... they might actually SAVE MILLIONS by NOT printing, NOT warehousing, and NOT shipping slow-selling backstock books. Remember that there's NO revenue when someone puts up a book file for nothing, and a potentially NEGATIVE revenue stream in keeping a book in print. If the publishers and writers can look at that, and be willing to not be anal about every little FRONT-END penny, they might save one hell of a lot of BACK-END DOLLARS, that could help keep them SOLVENT and IN BUSINESS. A bit of giveaway might in fact revitalize their business, allowing them to concentrate on where the big bucks are: that first flush of sales, where they make plenty of dough.
Certainly the ability to print books on demand will save the book industry millions, and I hope they're looking forward to that! And I do believe, as I think most people in these forums do, that people will still want physical, printed hardcopy books for some time to come. At least until they come up with a really nice, flat, sharp-imaged hand reading device... the Rocketbooks etc. are kinda cool, but they're still not there yet.
I also believe that the book industry treats the authors with a lot more scruples than the music industry and comic industry does. I could be wrong... but I feel that they're much more professional, businesslike, and respectful of the authors who provide the product with which they make their living.
NOW... as far as giving it away and the comics industry.
Many out there are saying that Napster and things like it will lead to the destruction of copyright as we know it. Yes, that strikes some fear into all our hearts. It has the potential to theoretically destroy the revenue stream out there, the money pathway by which hopefully, eventually, we creators get paid for our hard work and creative uh, genius (we'd all like to ascribe to ourselves). It is possible that the concept of copyright may become IMPOSSIBLE to enforce because of the availability of instant free digital copies of, well, everything.
But would that be so horrible?
Think about it: copyright is what makes your creation a commodity to be bought and sold. Copyright is what these unscrupulous types TAKE AWAY from YOU, the creator. Do they take your talent? No. Do they take your skill? No. Do they take your individual artistic style and uniqueness? Hell no. In short, can they take away from you those things that make you a distinctive creator (and indeed, human being)?
What they DO take from you is "ownership" of your "work." Copyright says, whomever owns this work can sell it and make a profit from it, and if anyone else tries it, the owner can sue them. When you sign a work-for-hire contract with anybody, music, book, or comics company, you give THEM the ownership of your work, and hopefully receive payment therefor. However it isn't working out that way. What has happened is that them pesky lawyers have figured out how to completely subvert the "spirit" of copyright law; they have made it "standard industry practice" to force creators to hand over their work in order to get published-- and make no mistake, YOU OWN YOUR WORK unless you SPECIFICALLY, IN WRITING, TRANSFER THAT OWNERSHIP to them. I'll repeat that: you must WILLINGLY SIGN AWAY YOUR COPYRIGHT OWNERSHIP IN ORDER TO DO BUSINESS THEIR WAY.
So... whose fault is it that creators are treated so poorly and ripped off all the time? Could it be... OURS?
We now have a unique opportunity here in comics, one which many of us are already taking advantage of. We the creators have been almost entirely disenfranchised by the existing industry. Obviously there are people making a living working for the Big Four publishers; these people can continue to do so forever for all I care. They've proven themselves to the conglomerates in some way, and are hopefully able to negotiate contracts that reflect their worth -- tho obviously there's dispute over that, as Moore's problems with DC illustrate.
Anyway, the rest of us out here who really WANT to try different and interesting things, we're basically screwed as far as getting our books into distribution.
BUT... what's stopping us from CREATING? Nothing, really. A lot has been said about how we're supposed to be "doing this for love," about how creators create because they MUST, not because they are trying to make money. Well... this takes some soul-searching on our parts.
When we first started on Mystic For Hire, I thought to myself, "gee, if I have a day job, I'll never be able to do this book on a monthly or even bi-monthly basis." So, I decided to try to work as a freelancer, which pays a better hourly rate than most day jobs, so I could work less and do the comic. I also felt that if I could get work ONLY doing comics, that it would help my drawing and thus help MFH. I told Chris my writer that I couldn't do MFH unless I could do it MORE than full-time, so I wouldn't be able to do it if it wasn't paying us after a short while. So, I quit my corporate job, moved to Los Angeles, and gave it a shot.
Well, I was quite wrong. It's a lot harder to do that than I thought it was, and I made some mistakes that made it worse. My bad, I deal with it. For the record,
I now believe it is a GROSS ERROR to look at any creative venture as something from which to MAKE MONEY (especially quickly), and I mean anything creative too, music, screenplays, whatever.
As Chris pointed out, I was looking at it improperly from the get-go; and now we're re-thinking the whole process. Most of us looked at the existing industry, and said, "Geez, we have to crank out 3 whole books and some more before we go to Diamond, and raise all that cash for advertising and marketing and all that so we can hopefully generate sales, and cash in a quickly as possible, and make money from sales, do business their way, and we'll get paid, and we can then draw our book and make a living at it..." Can you see how that screws up the whole process? We instantly fell into the trap of trying to mold our creative process around the entrenched processes of the business -- which we really couldn't possibly be compatible with!!! BAD!!!
I was bummed out when I had to get back to a day job. But now I'm thinking, wait a minute. I have this decent job. I have steady pay, insurance, 401(k), other benefits. I work pretty much 40 hours a week, not much overtime. So... I don't NEED to try to make a living drawing my comic. I'm already MAKING a living. There is nothing stopping me from drawing my comic when I'm NOT at work (sometimes even when I am, ha ha)... so, why should I try to fit my creative process into an existing framework that is inherently designed to cheat me of a livelihood and of my creations?
I see no reason why I should do that. And what a change it makes in my mind.
So... I'm going to create anyway. I'm going to figure out a way to do the creative things I like to do in a way that fits my life. I am NOT in a hurry to make money with it. I am NOT going to give up any control of the creation. I'm no longer going to try to make a living drawing comics. I'm just going to draw my comic.
And then, we're going to GIVE IT AWAY. Yes, you heard me. We're going to publish it on the web for free, similar to how Steve Conley does with AST. (By the way, I want to publicly state that I very much admire Steve as a gutsy pioneer in this sort of thing, and hope we all gain inspiration from his example. Plus AST kicks ass! Note that he DID get a deal to publish it in print... even as it's given away online.) Anyone on earth will be able to read Mystic For Hire for free on the web, and we'll be doing some other giveaway sorts of things. Eventually, we hope to win over enough fans and create enough demand to be able to sell graphic novel collections of an actual book. We may fail, we may succeed. BUT, we will OWN our creation and we will NOT be poor broke creators with no retirement money.
How well off are most of the "famous" comic creators of yesteryear? Siegel and Shuster died penniless. Jack Kirby didn't have much either. Joe Kubert has his school, but I wouldn't say he's rolling in dough, he DOES have to work for a living. I doubt that P. Craig Russell is driving a Rolls. Maybe Adam Warren has a nice car, but he lives in Vermont or something, where houses are cheep! [img]http://220.127.116.11/ubb/smile.gif[/img] Alex Ross is probably doing well, but I hear people are getting tired of his work (I like it, so sue me). Anyway, the point is... if you slave all your life on creative work and get ripped off, are you better off than if you work a 9-5, while creating in your off time? Evidence says NO!!!
Anyway... I think that just doing your thing and giving it away is going to turn out to be a better idea. By all means, make sure you copyright it! YOU MADE IT, YOU OWN IT. But DON'T play into the hands of the ripoff artists; DON'T go for the fast buck. DON'T say to yourself, "I have to make my living drawing comics!!" unless you want to go hack out crappy superhero pages for $100 a page -- and you gotta draw a LOT of pages to make that into a living!. REMOVE the notions of fame and fortune from your brains, they are illusions. Stop thinking along greedy lines!
Create your stuff, and GIVE IT AWAY... but not all of it, save some to sell when people ask you for it. You're a creator! You'll come up with more stuff! The money people can't make any money from your work if you don't give it to them. Find another way to make money, even if it means a day job, and make your creative process fit. There is no reason to have NO LIFE for your art. You CAN sacrifice TOO MUCH.
Read the Wired article. Maybe they have it up on their site, but if not, get the October 2000 Wired, turn to page 240, and read John Perry Barlow's article. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
OMG I wrote a freakin' book! Yikes...
Pagan City Comicswww.pagancity.com