(This is a slightly modified thread I wrote on Twitter yesterday).
Here’s the thing: Piracy is not taking money out of our wallets. Getting rid of pirated comics won’t cause readers to spend more money buying comics.
To illustrate why, let me talk about when I was a teen.
I’m Gen X. When I was a teen, I bought a new album every week or two. Everyone once in a while, I saw a concert.
And I had a collection of ten times as many albums as I bought. Mostly on cassettes tapes, illegally recorded from my friend’s albums.
Or they were recorded from someone else’s illegal taped copy, which may itself have been recorded from another illegal copy.
Let’s say that I spent $15 a month back then on music (about $35 in today’s dollars). If all those illegal tapes weren’t available, you know how much I would have been spending on music?
About $15 a month.
Because my music budget wasn’t very elastic.
I had my allowance. I had what I earned working part-time at the grocery store. And I had expenses other than entertainment.
My music budget was determined by how much I could afford to spend on music, not by how much music I listened to.
When cartoonists say “they’d be buying more comics if piracy didn’t exist,” they’re imagining that readers’ comic budgets are determined by how many comics they read.
But that’s wrong. People’s comic budgets are determined by how much they can reasonably spend on comics.
So when I see cartoonists, or really any creator, looking at 1000 people reading a pirated copy of their comic and seemingly thinking “that would have been 1000 sales for me if piracy didn’t exist” – well, no, that’s not how it works.
People have finite budgets for entertainment.
Getting rid of piracy, even if that were possible, wouldn’t change how much most people spend on entertainment.
Incidentally, in the 80s, I didn’t know a single teen who didn’t have illegal tapes of music. Some people had many, some just a few, but NO ONE had none.
How many Gen-Xers huffing about damn kids these days expecting media for free, honestly never had illegal tapes?
Or, for people a decade or so younger, never copied a game or an album from a friend’s digital files?
Or, for kids in this century, have never borrowed a friend’s Netflix password?
Entertainment budgets are finite. Therefore, there’s only two ways people will buy more comics.
First, when comic readers’ incomes grow, their entertainment budgets grow, and they buy more.
Second, if comics get cheaper, readers could buy more comics with the same entertainment budget.
Piracy is not reducing our incomes. Getting rid of piracy won’t make people’s comic-buying budgets any larger. It would only mean people would be reading fewer comics.
(And also, fewer kids will get addicted to reading comics in the first place. Yay!)
Most people spend more on non-pirated media as their budgets grow.
(That’s why middle-aged people buy more non-pirated media than teens; we’re not more moral, we just have more money.)
So kids pirating comics now, is good for cartoonists twenty years from now.
Comics’ problem isn’t piracy. (And it’s not diversity.)
It’s that comics today provide much less bang for the buck than in the past (comic prices have gone up WAY faster than inflation). It’s that the big 2’s products are impenetrable to newbies. It’s that the comics distribution system is amazingly badly designed.1
Middle grade & YA graphic novels are growing much faster than the rest of the comics industry. You know why? It’s not that we do better work. And it’s not that we’re not pirated.
It’s that the book industry doesn’t rely on the Marvel/DC mess, and has better distribution.
P.S. I used to use pirated copies of PhotoShop to make comics. Now I pay for PhotoShop, because I can. I’m pretty sure 1000s of other cartoonists, including some of the ones angry about piracy, did the same.