Marketing Through Piracy

From: Thrillbent

[cross-posted from my process blog]

(Actually, I loathe the use of the word “piracy” in the context of filesharing, but a good headline is supposed to be short and punchy, so.)

It came as no surprise to me that, about 24 hours after we posted the first installment of INSUFFERABLE, the pages had been downloaded, zipped into a .cbr or .cbz file, and uploaded to various torrent and filesharing sites. The only thing that startled me was that it took 24 hours. Sure enough, installments two and three were similarly webripped, converted and uploaded with increasing speed. By week three, they were available for download around the world within hours. Taken straight from the Thrillbent site.

THIS IS A GOOD THING.

I am not being the least bit sarcastic when I say that I WAS OVER THE MOON ABOUT THIS.

Your mileage may vary but, me, I’m okay with torrenters and “pirates” sharing INSUFFERABLE. Not just because, what the hell, it’s free anyway, Mr. Cynic…my hand to God, even if we were charging for it, I’d still be happy because the exposure and promotion is worth more to me at this point than dollars and cents. But more than that…more than that…after having been hip-deep in the research for the past three years, I have seen zero conclusive evidence that, on the whole, “piracy” removes more money from the system than it adds to it. Are there readers who would be buying my print comics who download them for free instead? Sure. Are there, conversely, potential readers who download one of my print comics, sample it, and then become a paying customer if they have access to ensuing print copies? Absolutely, and I’ve personally sold books to hundreds of them at store signings and conventions. Do the latter outweigh the former? (a) I don’t care, because I can’t stop the former, and (b) I believe, if you build up enough of a loyal fanbase, that potential exists; certainly, every meaningful* study undertaken on how piracy affects CD sales, DVD sales, etc. shows repeatedly that “pirated” content of quality material can actually act as an effective marketing tool and lead to increased sales. (*meaningful = not bought and paid for by the MPAA or the RIAA. Listening to them talk about piracy is like getting your cancer statistics from Big Tobacco or nutrition info from McDonalds.)

I could be wrong about this. I don’t think I am, but I don’t know everything. So, that said, let’s put my personal feelings away. Let’s set aside the hypothesis that, on the whole, torrenting is as much a plus as a minus. Leave that out of the equation. Ignore EVERYTHING in the previous paragraph after the word “cents.” Let’s just look at the facts.

FACT: Within hours of INSUFFERABLE installments being posted, they’re torrented.

FACT:  There is no force on Earth that I can use to stop that from happening.

FACT: Being angry about it or trying to prevent it is like standing on the beach and trying to push back the incoming tide by yelling at it.

So why be mad, I decided? Why not turn file-sharing into a tool I can use and control more directly rather than yell at the ocean? 

As you may have noticed, effective with yesterday’s installment four and retroactive back to Week One, we elected to make pirating INSUFFERABLE easy. No longer do uploaders have to go to the trouble of downloading the screen images and packing them into a file they can then share. Now you can read the installments online, as you have been…OR you can download them as PDFs and as .cbz files that you can read offline, upload, share, whatever. The links are right there underneath the comics themselves. That’s right, my pirating friends, I did the work FOR you. I didn’t muck with the comic itself, I didn’t DRM the images, I didn’t add anything to the downloadables that made them different in any way from what we give you online…

…EXCEPT for a stylishly designed credits-and-copyright page at the end that says “if you liked this, visit Thrillbent.com for more free comics!”

I can’t control the internet. I couldn’t count on uploaders not to “simply” unpack the Installment Four file I provided, excise the referral page, repack the file and upload that.

Except they didn’t. Judging by what I’ve seen around the web, the digital file that’s most in circulation is the one I myself provided…the path of least resistance…which means that thousands upon thousands of new readers who might otherwise not have thought to go to the source are now exposed to the Thrillbent link and have been pointed right towards the site and have been invited to join the community.

This doesn’t have to become a standard Thrillbent procedure; as other creators come aboard, I’ll let them decide for themselves whether or not they want to follow suit. But for now, this is a marketing model that works for me on a technical and ethical level. If you’re with me, I appreciate your support. If you think that all I’m doing is validating thievery and devaluing comics and, in general, contributing to the breakdown of civil society, I look forward to your enraged responses.