Explaining to Companies Why Giving Stuff to Them for Free is Excellent Business

This weekend there was a great disturbance in the online geek community. The LiveJournal group “Scans Daily” was suspended for violating one of LJ’s few rules that don’t involve stories about Harry Potter characters having sex with each other.

This community was known primarily for two things: posting scans of current (and older) comics, and then bitching about what happened in them. Rumor has it that the cause of the shutdown was one comics creator finally getting fed up with people both ripping him off and ripping on him and decided to put a cork in this thing once and for all.

Naturally, this immediately caused great consternation and outrage among the folks doing the scanning and bitching, who replied with the geek’s usual calm, reasoned discourse:

Dear Peter David,

When I tell you ‘Die In A Fire’, I do so because I don’t want to use sex as an insult or phrase revolving around my disgust and anger with you. Fucking is fun, and it shouldn’t be used to tell people to go deflate their heads. Also, rape is serious and also shouldn’t be used to go tell people to deflate their heads.

Now I’m going to imagine you happily roasting to bits in a fire (LIKE BACON)- cause really, my personal fantasy tv, isn’t something you can censor (though you can complain). Much like I can complain, but can’t censor your skanky race and gender issues.

To hear the Scans Daily people talk, you would think that every one of them was buying multiple copies of every comic posted there, and thus filling the coffers of the comics companies to overflowing with their patronage. Which makes it perfectly reasonable to ask: if this is the case, why scan them? Just talk about the comic you all purchased right there in front of you for reference.

Look at me! I'm a grassroots marketer!

Look at me! I'm a grassroots marketer!

But instead there is geek outrage because The Man has shut down this bastion of free speech, this grassroots organization, this bunch of people all knowingly violating copyright but feeling that not only should it be okay for them to do so, but that they are entitled to it and should be thanked by the comics companies for doing it.

After all, goes the argument in the second comment of this MetaFilter thread about the event, comic books cost too much. So really, when you think about it, this is all Marvel and DC’s fault. Comic books are pricey, so we revert to the standard rules of Capitalism: it’s okay to steal something until the price comes down to the point where consumers will deign to pay for it. (See also: music.) The next argument in the thread states that the “Big Two could try not being so awful and gimmicky” which drives the point even further that this is a failure on the parts of the comics company. If the comics weren’t so terrible, I would buy them instead of relying on copyright violation to find out what happened next in Thor.

The main argument being put forth by the SD-fans is that this “try before you buy” outlet got more people to buy more comics than didn’t. By shutting down Scans Daily, they argue, you are shutting down the only way people have of discovering new titles, or even comic books in general, because remember, this is LiveJournal, and for most people there, the Internet outside LiveJournal is a vast, uncharted wasteland peopled solely by Langoliers and possibly hoodoo spirits. The fact that there are plenty of places online where you can find out about what’s going on in comics — as well as get plenty of preview pages — is unknown to those who don’t venture outside LiveJournal, even though they refer to those sites in their defense because they don’t understand the difference between a company releasing five pages as a preview to a news site and some geek with a scanner offering up half a book on his own.

These two arguments — that the material is too expensive and low in quality and that also these scans increase sales — are coming out of the same mouths despite their obvious contradictory nature. In essence the SD crowd is attempting to threaten the comic companies with an ominous, “Terrible business you’ve got here. Wouldn’t be a shame if anything happened to it.”

The geeks are now trying to convince the comics companies that it’s in the companies’ best interests to let them do whatever they like because otherwise they’re alienating their fanbase and “being dicks”. This is similar to the arguments made for Napster a few years ago except in one major way: the music industry wasn’t the shambling, amateurish mess that the comics industry is. It’s not so easy to tell if the loss of Scans Daily patronage would affect the comics companies. After all, is a wino in an alleyway really much better off if the lice are removed from him?

Nevertheless, the geeks will continue to try to threaten the comics companies into letting them have the product for free, and in fact have already moved to a new site for doing so. They can continue scanning half of each new issue of Batman and then complaining that DC are a bunch of dickless morons because they won’t give Stephanie Brown a memorial case in the Batcave while all the time wondering why DC doesn’t thank them for doing so.

Does it make sense? Of course not, but geeks LOVE explaining to companies why giving stuff to them for free is excellent business!

12 Responses

  1. Just a note, my blog’s about race and gender issues in SF and my wish for Peter to die (disappear from the human race) involved his amazingly ignorant blog entry on why he avoids discussions on race as well as amazingly ignorant comments on gender and demands that everyone’s english cater to him, in threads on S_D.

    His blog included things like how “If you touch a hot stove, get burned, and say, “Whoa, I’m not touching that stove again,” to describe conversations on race and “Racial epithets that whites can only refer to as “the N word” whereas blacks use the term routinely in rap songs?” – because Oppression Is Not Being Able To Use A Racial Slur.

    I don’t do rational discourse with racists. I scream, point them out, occasionally wish them dead and move on.

  2. You’d have a bright future in the goalpost moving industry, Willow.

  3. I eagerly await Cory Doctorow’s take on this issue when he finds out about it in a couple of months.

  4. “the music industry wasn’t the shambling, amateurish mess that the comics industry is”

    More of a lumbering, obese hydra swallowing its own heads while it’s cave crumbled around it…

  5. I get what you saying about the pirating, which is stupid, wrong, and anyone who whines about “entertainment should be free” needs to get a swift kick from me, because I need to make money to eat.

    Other than that Scans_daily did an amazing service for critique in comics. I didn’t go there to read whole comics (though many did) I went there to find out what amazingly horrible grotesque cliche these dominate publishers of the medium saw fit to print say over things my peers are working on. Things like posting partial pages to show how terrible the writing or the word or the comic has become should be on all sites, including the big two, but it’s not.

    That is not something you can find most places in such a consentrated form. Of course there’s other forums posting things illegally, and whatever, but this community was known at least in large part to seriously pointing out things that most readers of mainstream comics gloss over or don’t even notice.

    So, yeah, it’s littered with pirates, but had value over other areas of the internet. I appreciate your scathing sarcasm though, but calling it “scanning and bitching” really doesn’t describe some of the things that went on there.

    And let’s be honest, if this wasn’t on a regulated site with terms of service that change constantly, it would still be around, and no one would be writing about it.

  6. seriously pointing out things that most readers of mainstream comics gloss over or don’t even notice.

    …or didn’t care about. You’re aware that S_D was the laughingstock of the comics internet, right? Which is really saying something. Most of us, if we see something we don’t like, we just don’t buy it and get on with our lives. We don’t spend months or years railing on DC for not putting a fucking glass case in a fucking fictional Batcave.

    if this wasn’t on a regulated site with terms of service that change constantly, it would still be around

    The inevitable happened. To pretend that S_D wasn’t fully aware of the ticking clock over its head is a childish fiction.

  7. This all kind of reminds me of that joke Woody Allen quotes in Annie Hall about the people at the restaurant complaining- “The food is terrible. And such small portions!”

  8. An “anti-racism” blogger telling a Jew to “die in a fire” or “disappear from the human race?”

    Wow, the irony level there is nearly fatal.

  9. You can’t wish individual jewish persons dead. That’s racism.

    You are only allowed to wish white anglo-saxons dead in fires. Wishing anyone else dead in fires is racism.

  10. Wow, anonymous internet douchebag, way to miss the point there.

    Just stroll over from LiveJournal, did you?

  11. This might sound a bit harsh, but s_d was pretty much a fandom toilet. Asides from reasons mentioned by people elsewhere, you could find a lot of what was less than laudatory about geek culture and internet fandom on there. Including some of the items covered on this blog, like “Hatred”. Because for some of those folks, it wasn’t enough to not like certain titles or the output of certain writers or artists or editors or honchos, etc. No, they were horrible people and stupid dumbface hack jerks who didn’t understand the characters like the True Fans did. Dan Didio? More like “DIDIOT”! ROFLMAOLOL EPIC WIN!!!1! Like complaining about how awful Wonder Woman is and how it’s all Gail Simone’s fault and how she’s history’s greatest monster can’t you SEE?!?

    And some of the post-crackdown Peter David commentary is just crazy. Like on one forum where this raised a kerfuffle, one person snidely asked something like “Oh does David think his corporate masters at Marvel are going to give him extra royalty checks for being such a tattletale, hmmmm?”

  12. Dorian– given the way I’ve seen DIAF slung around in internet tiffs, it’s entirely possible that the person didn’t know PAD was Jewish. Hell, *I* didn’t until your post.

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