Who exactly pirates comic books?

You know, the folks who scan every single new comic book and post them on various torrent sites for illegal downloading. I’m sure there’s no single demographic face to them, but Bleeding Cool has a fascinating interview with one such comic book pirate, who used to go by the name Archangel.

“You seemed to come out of retirement to scan and upload a comic book every now and then, such as Iron Muslim, which appeared to go up at about 10.15am ET. How did you get a copy up so fast?

It’s from a digital source. As I said earlier, digital sources take a lot less time. Plus, the digital versions get released before most of the comic shops are open, with the exception of DC. Marvel digital is now available around 8 a.m. on release day. Image and other publishers are usually available around 9:30. DC is available around 1:30.”

So the availability of most comic books in a legitimate digital format is actually making it easier on the pirates. But before you read too much into it, keep in mind that these are the same folks who were pirating these same comics by buying a physical copy and then manually scanning each page, and in most cases were still uploading the files on the same day the book went on sale. Digital comics don’t make piracy more widespread, just a little bit faster.

Archangel estimates there’s an active community of over 100 pirates who scan books on a regular basis. He (she?) would actually buy a copy of every book that was later scanned.

I’m still grappling with my feelings about illegal scans of comics. On the one hand, it’s clearly copyright violation, and goes against the wishes of the creators and publishers. And yes, in many cases it takes money directly out of their pockets. On the other hand, there’s evidence out there that in certain cases, pirated comics actually lead to a sales spike for the physical copies. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle of the argument. Pirating is here to stay, and the industry needs to find a more realistic and productive way of dealing with the scanners than the draconian measures the music industry took (which failed them, by the way). Making legit versions of digital comics available for sale at a reasonable price is probably the best approach, a la the 99 cent iTunes song. Obviously, it’s not going to stop the pirates, or the downloaders, but as iTunes proved, people will embrace a legal, pay model if they feel they’re getting value for their money. All the major publishers have embraced digital comics, so they’re well on their way, but the $2.99 and $3.99 price points are still too high, in my opinion.

I will say this, though: many of the “embrace piracy” proponents who argue it leads to more exposure and sales for creators usually miss the point that it should be the creator’s decision, not the pirate’s. No matter how beneficial the results, frankly it’s a dick move on the part of someone else to put my work up for free because they feel like they’re doing me a favor.