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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.

      • 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.

        • Example (Score:4, Insightful)

          by imthesponge ( 621107 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:30PM (#33989292)
          Apple is a good example of this phenomenon.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anubis IV ( 1279820 )
            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: (Score:3, Informative)

              Well if your looking at anecdotal evidence, I ordered and Ipad from the apple store (as a gift) and it didn't even ship until 4 days after it was supposed to be delivered. This is with a promise of "ships in 24 hours". Apple customer service ran me around for an hour claiming I hadn't even made an order until suddenly they found it in "some other system". They then promised it would still deliver on time. I don't see why they just couldn't have been honest and told me they were backordered instead of w
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dalzhim ( 1588707 )

          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 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:Imagine that! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:31PM (#33990076) Homepage Journal

          Or the forward to any of Cory Doctorow's books. From Makers: [craphound.com]

          There's a dangerous group of anti-copyright activists out there who pose a clear and present danger to the future of authors and publishing. They have no respect for property or laws. What's more, they're powerful and organized, and have the ears of lawmakers and the press.

          I'm speaking, of course, of the legal departments at ebook publishers.

          These people don't believe in copyright law. Copyright law says that when you buy a book, you own it. You can give it away, you can lend it, you can pass it on to your descendants or donate it to the local homeless shelter. Owning books has been around for longer than publishing books has. Copyright law has always recognized your right to own your books. When copyright laws are made -- by elected officials, acting for the public good -- they always safeguard this right.

          But ebook publishers don't respect copyright law, and they don't believe in your right to own property. Instead, they say that when you "buy" an ebook, you're really only licensing that book, and that copyright law is superseded by the thousands of farcical, abusive words in the license agreement you click through on the way to sealing the deal. (Of course, the button on their website says, "Buy this book" and they talk about "Ebook sales" at conferences -- no one says, "License this book for your Kindle" or "Total licenses of ebooks are up from 0.00001% of all publishing to 0.0001% of all publishing, a 100-fold increase!")

          I say to hell with them. You bought it, you own it. I believe in copyright law's guarantee of ownership in your books.

          So you own this ebook. The license agreement (see below), is from Creative Commons and it gives you even more rights than you get to a regular book. Every word of it is a gift, not a confiscation. Enjoy.

          What do I want from you in return? Read the book. Tell your friends. Review it on Amazon or at your local bookseller. Bring it to your bookclub. Assign it to your students (older students, please -- that sex scene is a scorcher) (now I've got your attention, don't I?). As Woody Guthrie wrote:

          "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

          Oh yeah. Also: if you like it, buy it or donate a copy to a worthy, cash-strapped institution.

          Why am I doing this? Because my problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity (thanks, @timoreilly for this awesome aphorism). Because free ebooks sell print books. Because I copied my ass off when I was 17 and grew up to spend practically every discretionary cent I have on books when I became an adult. Because I can't stop you from sharing it (zeroes and ones aren't ever going to get harder to copy); and because readers have shared the books they loved forever; so I might as well enlist you to the cause.

          Emphasis mine. Oh, and BTW, the book is available for free at the linked page, in many ereader formats. It's a pretty good read, except he uses too many hyphens (parking-lot, shopping-center, etc)

      • 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jgtg32a ( 1173373 )
        >Implying that dragging people to court isn't engaging
      • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by zill ( 1690130 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:18PM (#33989890)
        The last time RIAA "engaged" me I was forced to pay $6000 and sign a stack of paper half my height.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ultranova ( 717540 )

        Something the RIAA/MPAA will never learn.

        The RIAA/MPAA aren't artists, they're middlemen. Artists directly engaging their customers is the *AA's worst nightmare, since it makes them unnecessary. That's why they fight all alternative forms of distribution tooth and nail.

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

      by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:19PM (#33989114)

      Engaging your customer base is good for business...

      People looking for entertainment spend more money when they have more fun. That's one of the main reasons actual losses due to piracy aren't calculatable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Pojut ( 1027544 )

        This is one of the reasons why I release all the music I make on last.fm 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...

        • It seems like whenever this conversation comes up, someone posts "I would like to listen to music from artists who do this, but I can't find any" or similar.

          In the interest of giving them a lead, and letting us here your stuff, care to post a link to your own work?
          • Re:Imagine that! (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:44PM (#33989480) Homepage

            Here you go [last.fm]. Look in the "shout" section for a link to the torrent.

            It's all a combination of spacey ambient ("Transient Unknown" project), drone ("Implied Reality" project), and chilled-out head nodding stuff ("Lost on the Way to the Laundry" project). I have a LOT more than what is on there, but that's what I've publicly released so far.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Pojut ( 1027544 )

              One other thing: be sure to listen to it with headphones! It's been mixed with that intention...you can use "regular" speakers, but a lot of the dynamics are lost.

            • Will check it out, thanks!
        • 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 last.fm 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 last.fm 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: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Pojut ( 1027544 )

            Thanks! That's basically why I do it...it's something that I really enjoy. I make music that I personally want to listen to. While there aren't many people that share my tastes, there are at least some out there :-)

            I'd suggest starting with the "Lost on the Way to the Laundry" stuff (only two tracks up there at the moment)...it's the most accessible.

    • 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: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.

        • On the other hand, Japan has what we'd consider some rather draconian copyright laws. Copying data even for personal use has been ruled infringing, and folks have been arrested for sharing television shows on P2P networks. I can't help but wonder how this might have played out in 2chan.

    • It's not a customer base, it's a treasure island.

    • 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.
    • Apparently, he even posted the scans [undergroundthecomic.com] on his web site. On that note, can anyone recommend me a good comic viewer that will browse/open this type of .cbt files on Windows, or even better a comic viewer that could browse/open this type of .cbt files on my Evo (Android phone). There are so many manga/comic viewers out there, I'd rather not waste my time trying a different bunch of them.

  • Good? (Score:5, Funny)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:04PM (#33988886)
    4chan can use their powers for good?

    Um... I just don't know how to process that information...
  • Talking with your userbase boosts sales. News at eleven.
  • 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.
    • Thus the resistance at the high end, and embracing at the lower end.

      Almost sounds like electronics.


    • 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.

    • At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I suspect this spike came because of the novelty of the situation. Should all comics try this, I suspect the effects would be analogous to webcomics. The very best and/or the best marketed comics will gain hits while the others will be mostly lost in the noise and the free publicity won't do much for them.

  • Fighting 4chan? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gizzmonic ( 412910 )

    Fighting 4Chan is a bad idea. But exploiting them for money? That's new! Will this trend extend to other vendors such as Doritos or Mr. Pibb? Maybe that infamous "Dollar Menu? I'd hit it!" ad that seems to advocation burgersex was actually aimed at 4Chan.

    • Relevant self-pimping:

      I published a book last summer about a 4chan-ish group called Amity (name of the book and name of the site where they congregate). In the book, a major soft drink corp tries to do just that: take advantage of the scale of the site users by pushing ads on them, thinking them an innocuous group of consumers. As one could imagine, it doesn't go so well for the soft drink company...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )
      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 Anonymous Coward

    Windows sales: post to piratebay

    Thanks in advance, although, a cashier's check in the amount of Euro 100,000,000 would help.

    Yours In Krasnoyarsk,
    Kilgore Trout

    • by Anonymous Coward
      K.T., I find your advocacy of the distribution of dangerous viruses to unsuspecting cybercitizens to be reprehensible.
  • 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?

  • by Foolomon ( 855512 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:19PM (#33989112) Homepage
    ...the comic was not about Gene Simmons?
  • 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.
  • by HannethCom ( 585323 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:21PM (#33989142)
    This kind of reminds me of what Monty Python creating their own YouTube channel and their sales going up 23,000%. http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/monty-python-youtube-move-boosts-dvd-sales-23000 [fastcompany.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... how many of the sales were completed using credit card numbers that turned out to be stolen? (grin)

  • Good people skills (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:31PM (#33989300)
    Treating your customers with respect is the best way to see them respect you right back, often with money and sales. RIAA needs to seriously take notice of this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )
      If the RIAA respected their customers, do you really think that crap like Hanson and Bieber would ever be released?
  • by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:35PM (#33989368)

    I can't wait to see his sales graph after he adds the /. effect. How do we stack up to 4chan in terms of economic power?

    I'm ordering the TPB. I got back into comics about a year ago after dropping out for a decade. Wish I'd noticed this when it came out.

    • by gknoy ( 899301 ) <gknoyNO@SPAManasazisystems.com> on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:47PM (#33989524)

      More importantly, how many of us would be ordering mainly because we want to read the book versus we want to reward the author for being a non-jerk, and hey this book looks neat too? I'd fall in the latter, if I were to read it.

      On the other hand, that's exactly the reason I deliberately look for Baen-published books at the bookstore when I'm looking for something new. Read about their awesome policies, read Honor Harrington online, bought some (not enough!) novels in print later.

  • by RealGrouchy ( 943109 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:38PM (#33989408)

    So that's what happens when you feed the trolls...

    - RG>

  • Sure, this vastly increased sales-- the artist's direct sales of the trade paperback on his own Etsy. We have no sense at all of the scale of impact on overall sales. In effect, this was just the best opportunity he had had to drive traffic to his own site. Would this have even shown up as a blip in total overall sales? Did Amazon see a similar peak?
  • by Kevin108 ( 760520 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:56PM (#33989650) Homepage

    The B&W chapter 1 preview PDF on the author's site is NSFW.

  • 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 [undergroundthecomic.com] 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 [etsy.com].

    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 klui ( 457783 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:28PM (#33990034)
    I think this post by Steve clinched it for the lurkers. http://undergroundthecomic.com/4chan_thread_20614483.html#20642617 [undergroundthecomic.com]
  • 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.
  • Bah (Score:5, Funny)

    by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:09PM (#33990626) Homepage

    These sales CANNOT compare to the BILLIONS UPON BILLIONS of dollars he would have earned had these evil pirates not stolen his property.

    (signed, the RIAA)

  • 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 numbers...at 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.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire