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Piracy Businesses Your Rights Online

Comic Sales Soar After Artist Engages 4chan Pirates 305

An anonymous reader writes "Steve Lieber, the artist behind the graphic novel Underground, discovered that someone on 4chan had scanned and posted the entire comic. Rather than complaining, he joined the conversation, chatting with the 4channers about the comic... and the next day he saw his sales jump to unheard-of levels, much higher than he'd seen even when the comic book was reviewed on popular sites like Boing Boing."
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Comic Sales Soar After Artist Engages 4chan Pirates

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  • Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:03PM (#33988876)

    Engaging your customer base is good for business...

  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:05PM (#33988912)

    Something the RIAA/MPAA will never learn.

  • by feepness ( 543479 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:05PM (#33988914) Homepage
    Those with high sales would see them reduce, and relative unknowns would see them increase.

    Thus the resistance at the high end, and embracing at the lower end.
  • Re:Good? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:10PM (#33988980)

    4chan can use their powers for good?

    Um... I just don't know how to process that information...

    4chan strikes me a bit more like the classic greek gods, capricious, capable of granting blessings and curses on a whim.

  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:15PM (#33989058) Homepage

    They might... they just might. The fact is, they need to read the book "Raving Fans." When your customers are your fans, they will overlook higher prices, problems with delivery and all sorts of things with the exception of poor quality and/or poor service.

  • Re:Good? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:15PM (#33989064) Homepage Journal
    Not to mention, way too obsessed with sex and the human form.
  • by Chalex ( 71702 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:19PM (#33989110) Homepage

    As Cory Doctorow says "my biggest threat as an author isn't piracy, it's obscurity."

    What better way to increase sales than making sure that everyone has heard of your work?

  • the other trend (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:20PM (#33989136)
    is people like gene simmons and lars ulrich trying to convince executives that the real reason their sales suck is because of piracy. I guess this pretty much destroys that line of thinking.
  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:22PM (#33989162) Journal

    Engaging customer base = good. However, simply because something works on the micro level doesn't mean it scales to the macro level. I somehow doubt that having hundreds of artists flood 4chan would result in all of them getting increases in sales.

    It is kind of like "if i stand up at a baseball game I can see better, therefore if everyone stands up at the baseball game everyone can see better".

  • Re:Good? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:27PM (#33989254)
    They've done it before (with the Scientologists).
  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:27PM (#33989256)

    They already use lawyers and Congress to "engage" their customer base. why do it directly?

    Their true customers are the shareholders of the companies that are member of the MAFIAA, not consumers.

  • by imthesponge ( 621107 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:28PM (#33989260)
    The summary tries to spin this story as "theft increases sales". In reality the theft just prompted the author to do the smart thing and talk to potential customers.
  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:29PM (#33989284)

    Engaging customer base = good. However, simply because something works on the micro level doesn't mean it scales to the macro level. I somehow doubt that having hundreds of artists flood 4chan would result in all of them getting increases in sales.

    If this were a new thing you might have a point. However, in Japan they have their own equivalent of comic-con and people make their own fan-zines and sell them for a profit. It's technically illegal but they never get shut down. The reason is that excitement over a franchise is still excitement over a franchise. This was known over 10 years ago but nobody over here is paying attention to it. It's amusing to me because the same country that's known for its $4 cups of coffee is under the impression people will go to extremes to avoid paying money for stuff.

  • Example (Score:4, Insightful)

    by imthesponge ( 621107 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:30PM (#33989292)
    Apple is a good example of this phenomenon.
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:34PM (#33989340) Homepage

    Are you assuming this or do you have data to back this up?

    "Piracy" (by which I mean copyright infringement) has many variables associated with the rate and amount of infringement activity. Some of these are ease of copying, price of legal content, restrictions on legal content and more.

    Furthermore, it seems no one has ever produced any hard evidence that shows exactly what connections, if there are any, exist between piracy and sales "losses." Lost sales are a negative and it is pretty difficult to prove a negative. One would have to have access to alternate time lines to know for sure. Thus any estimated losses due to piracy is always a completely wild guess.

  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dalzhim ( 1588707 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:41PM (#33989440)

    Well you just contradicted yourself. They won't if it won't get their customers to overlook poor quality and/or poor service...

  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrekkieGod ( 627867 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:45PM (#33989494) Homepage Journal

    This is one of the reasons why I release all the music I make on and in a torrent...both of which will be freely available and supported by me when the time comes to put my stuff up for sale.

    Granted, I'm not trying to make a living off it, but still...the more access people have to it...

    The article had a quote by the author that he posted on the 4chan boards that really got to me:

    As for putting all the pages up here. What can I say? I get that this is how things go, and I'm trying to live in the same decade as everyone else. If nothing else, I'm flattered that someone thought enough of the book to take the time to scan and post it.

    From that quote, I noticed two things: he didn't expect that he would get a huge boost in sales from the event, he was just kinda resigned that you can't stop piracy. However, the most important part was the whole bit about being flattered that people liked his book. Sometimes you forget this caliber of artist still exists: the guy who cares about the work more than the money. The money is nice, and I'm happy when the artists can survive and even get rich off it. However, that shouldn't be the motivation for what they do.

    So, thanks for what you do, keeping the real art alive. I went to your website, and found the links to to your music, and I will take a listen. Obviously I don't know if I'll enjoy it, but if I do, you can count me on your list of customers as soon as they go on sale.

  • Re:the other trend (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:55PM (#33989640)
    what are you talking about? "In Rainbows" would have never gotten that kind of marketing any other way and it is still selling. And everyone knows bands make most of their money from their concerts so in cutting out their record company, EMI, they kept a much larger percentage of the earnings than they would have gotten from a traditional release. It was a huge success for them.
  • Re:Fighting 4chan? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:58PM (#33989678)
    I don't think this was exploiting them. This was realizing that there was interest and making the most of it. Personally I'm much more likely to buy something from somebody that recognizes a desire for the product and engages in a mature manner rather than letting lawsuits fly because of poor marketing decisions.
  • by hesiod ( 111176 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:58PM (#33989686)

    No, because they got to see the artwork and read the story, and then engage with the author immediately afterward, as a surprise. If he just showed up out of the blue, a bunch of jerks would be all "who the hell are you, and why should we care", etc. Others would think he was an imposter, and a ton more would assume it's a crappy marketing ploy.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:01PM (#33989720) Homepage

    Steve Lieber is a nice guy and a talented artist, and his comics are worth reading, but let's put this scenario into a little perspective. This is not a case of Steve posting to 4chan and then all the little 4channers running out to buy his comics.

    Point 1: Underground could already be downloaded for free [] from Lieber's Web site, so it being "pirated" on 4chan wasn't that big of a coup.

    Point 2: Comic book companies do not track sales on a daily basis. The sales that went "through the roof" were sales of signed print editions from Lieber's Etsy store [].

    So rather than a massive vindication of 4chan, "engaging your audience," or anything else, I see this more as a case of: A.) creator makes a product available online; B.) author manages (if inadvertently) to find an effective marketing channel for said product; C.) people who spend most of their time online notice the marketing and buy the product.

    Pretty simple, really. Engaging his audience helped, but he would have been happy to engage anybody that came his way to begin with. The problem is, "build it and they will come" doesn't really work on the Web. Lieber lucked out that someone else noticed him and chose to promote his product in a way that he couldn't on his own. He was smart enough to pounce on the opportunity.

  • by __aatirs3925 ( 1805148 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:21PM (#33989934) Journal
    I think we're missing the point. 4chan (likley /co/) purchased, reviewed, and raved about a non-cp, gore or furry comic. That's quite impressive! In all honesty, I am doubting the validity of this because as we all know, such a cause and effect with the given circumstances is not possible around the chan. It requires filth, so much so that not even a mountain of dial-soap could be of any help. That's why I am dismissing this article by calling it fluff in attempt to get more sales.
  • Re:Well I'll be (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:23PM (#33989962) Homepage

    It wasn't the free sharing of this book that boosted its sales. What boosted sales was that the artist got tipped off about it, and had a chance to introduce himself and interact with the pirates, and put a face on "the copyright holder" for them. He was no longer some non-person they could continue to not give a fuck about; he was a human being (and a pretty cool one) whose creativity should be rewarded. It's easy to rip off some anonymous corporation like "Disney" or "Sony" or even "Image Comics", but not so easy to rip off "Steve Lieber" and his co-creator "Jeff Parker". Lieber met them where they lived, and gently poked a hole in their disregard for him as a creator by being a real person. It's a good lesson for other creators... but it'd be nice if more consumers were willing to meet the creators on their own home field as well. If you like a person's work, don't just "share" it with 100,000 of your closest friends: bring them to the creator's web site or Facebook page or whatever, so he has a chance to interact with them like a human being. An artist shouldn't have to engage in detective work to ferret out the people who like his work; if they really like it, they should act like real fans (rather than leeches) and reach out to him.

  • by zill ( 1690130 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:23PM (#33989964)
    Funny how I memorized which xkcd strip [] that he is referenced in, yet I still have no idea who he is.
  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:27PM (#33990018)

    >> Something the RIAA/MPAA will never learn.
    > They might... they just might.

    This depends entirely on what you think the RIAA is doing. I don't believe, based on their activities, that they are interested in merely increasing profit. They seem to be about _control_ of the content. Their long-term goal is increasing profit, sure, but I'm pretty sure they want to entirely control the content, end-to-end, for their long-term benefit.

    You listen to a song on the radio, the ratio station pays, and you probably pay for the ability to listen to it digitally, too. You hear Happy Birthday at a birthday party, somebody's gotta pay. You want to use a 5 second snippet of a song on your kid's soccer game video, you gotta pay. You play grandma's favorite song at her wake, gotta pay. Can't read the lyrics online unless you pay. Want to cover someone else's song in a free video online? Show us the money. Sample a song with your smartphone so you can go buy it online - gotta pay for that sample before you can go buy the song. Sorry, buy the right to play the song for your own individual self on that particular device you downloaded it to. Gotta pay, can't move it to another device, no stripping the DRM off it so you can even MOVE it to another device. Gotta pay.


  • Re:goodie (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clone53421 ( 1310749 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:33PM (#33990102) Journal

    No, you’re missing the point. With a physical object, like a house, someone else moving in uninvited would detract from your ability to use the house. With information, it doesn’t, unless you’re a snob... somebody else having a copy of your painting doesn’t interfere with your ability to enjoy it, unless your enjoyment of it was partly based on the fact that nobody else had it in the first place.

    It’s more like they copied the blueprint for your house and used it to design virtual houses in SecondLife, which became so popular that people who would otherwise never have known about you came and wanted to buy copies of your blueprint to build real houses.

  • by Kazoo the Clown ( 644526 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:54PM (#33990404)
    This shows that sometimes you will do better when you're actually nice to potential customers, and don't try to ram things down their throats or P. T. Barnum them.
  • Re:Example (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:03PM (#33990528)
    At least the higher prices part. Not so much the delivery issues part. I remember I sent a laptop in for repairs on a Saturday over a 4th of July weekend once, and got it back on Monday, fully repaired and with a new hard drive that had twice the capacity. That's the sort of reason they have fans.
  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:08PM (#33990600)

    Why yes, yes it is. Politeness and courtesy can work wonders. (Even with people that you'd have a good reason to have issues with.)

    Yet most businesses would rather enrage their customers instead. Following the more typical model, the author would have been a dick and eventually get his internet DoS'd.

    Maybe business majors and legal types should do a case study of stuff like this and learn something.

  • Re:the other trend (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:25PM (#33990800) Homepage

    Are you kidding? Do you know how much "pirated" tapes took for them to reach any kind success?

    "Piracy", as they call it, existed before the 'net. "Home Taping is Killing Music", indeed.

  • Re:Good? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:28PM (#33990826)
    4chan is Chaotic Neutral. They're not in it for good OR evil, they're just in it "for teh lulz".
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:34PM (#33990878)

    It may not be explicit, but it is the underlying message. Why else post it on Slashdot?

    Because slashdot is not a monolithic belief system.

  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:44PM (#33990956)

    They have learned, they've just learned the wrong way. Viral videos, torrents posted by music execs; they're in the "pirate" community, and manipulating it to increase their sales. They're just not smart enough to know that eventually the masses will wise up and stop falling for their ruse.

  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday October 22, 2010 @06:14PM (#33991254) Homepage Journal

    Steam / Valve is one of the best examples I can give. I would rather pay $5 more and get it from Steam than on the shelf.

    Are you getting paid to spew this bullshit? I have non-Steam games which autoupdate, "automatic install" is a lie, automatic configure is too (and I speak from experience) and every game I own can be installed on multiple computers.

    Steam is an attack on First Sale law.

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @07:04PM (#33991820)

    If anyone in the industry is listening, hear this.

    The last three video games I purchased were purchased after first torrenting them.

    Nothing, and I mean nothing, will give me more incentive to buy something then a test drive--a test drive that ends with positive results.

    You have nothing to fear if you create a worthy product.

    And, in terms of reviews of a product, nothing speaks like seed/leech least until someone starts gaming THAT as well.

    Steve just reminds us that we all have a choice--you can keep paddling into that wave, or you can hop on your board and go for a ride. Either way, that wave is headed for the beach and it just might be the best one of the day.

  • Sage lesson (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RenHoek ( 101570 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @07:06PM (#33991844) Homepage

    People underestimate the power of not being a dick.

  • by brit74 ( 831798 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @07:41PM (#33992188)
    Seems Steve Lieber has an explanation for why his sales increased (and it's not generalizable to other media - e.g. music, software, movies - which is "native" to digital format):

    "The problem is this: I hate looking at the kind of comics I do on a screen. I read plenty of funny comics on the web, but adventure stories just don't work for me online. Heavy brush and ink line art art seems ill-suited for monitors, and the storytelling rhythm is sort of *off*, somehow. I think it's an inferior experience for the reader. Or at least it is for me, but when I'm creating a comic, I'm have to go by my own tastes."

    This is why I also think books have done better with piracy than other media - people don't like reading books on their computer screen. Hence, people like Doctorow, who want to sing the praises of piracy, are ignorant of why their media is different from other people's media. I'd find it funny how clueless they are about their own situation if they weren't out there trolling people who make other media.
  • Re:Imagine that! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:37PM (#33992674) Homepage Journal

    I'm not being paid either, and think Steam is the greatest thing since boiling water. I simply don't buy games unless they're released on steam. In your 20's you move so many times its difficult to keep track of all your physical game copies. When you finally settle down and Have A Life, its nice to know that when you click on a game, it'll load first time. I'm too busy to keep up with patches on my own.

  • Re:Well I'll be (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @01:45AM (#33994346)

    It wasn't the free sharing of this book that boosted its sales.


    What boosted sales was that the artist got tipped off about it, and had a chance to introduce himself and interact with the pirates, and put a face on "the copyright holder" for them.

    Not so,

    What the artist did is called "good marketing".

    If the artist had of run in and shouted "Pirates, ha, I'll sue you, and you and your grandma, I'll dig up her grandma and sue her after I finish having my sweet, sweet way with her corpse" the people would have just said "what a douche, I'll just copy his crap".

    Instead he walked in and said "so... you like my work, lets talk about it". From this people got the impression that he was creating things because he wanted to, not to make a quick buck. It's not about guilting them into it as you've inferred. If it were that easy the RIAA would have a picture of a kitten with a gun to it's head on every street corner to remind everyone of the "real" cost of copyright infringement. His sales increased because people liked him, this is part of the reason Valve is doing so well, people like them.

    This is good marketing.

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