Until very recently Scans_Daily was a livejournal fan community dedicated to comic books. Their main activity was to post scans from comics, ranging from a page though to a significant portion of a comic book – mainly recent releases but also back issues – and to summarise, critique and, at times, satirise these comic books. Posting scans of a page or two is generally acknowledged to be covered under Fair Dealing (yes, we’re dealing with US law) but more than that gets into the ‘probably not legal’ territory, and a whole book is obviously in the not legal at all category. Despite that Scans_Daily operated for years, until last week. As Comics Worth Reading explains:
This isn’t surprising. The purpose of the community was to post comic pages and stories, which made it a good way to read a wide range of comic content online without the participation of the copyright holders, who tend not to like that kind of open sharing. The site originally started with a focus on slash (male/male fanfic-based pairings) but then widened its focus. While you could find pages from the latest DC and Marvel comics there, they also posted unusual manga and much older stories. It was a great way to check out what people were talking about, if there was a particular panel or scene that got attention.
Brian Cronin speculates that a report by Peter David to Marvel about X-Factor pages being posted may have had something to do with the shutdown. Based on David’s comment, he has the mistaken assumption that if he can remove free copies, all interested readers will buy the comic instead. Many companies assume similarly, that any free taste is a lost sale. That’s rarely true.
Responses to the shutdown from users frequently include statements like “I started buying comics again because of what I was reading.” It’s a shame that IP owners fear the free sample so much, because in some cases, at least, it does work to convert customers. The carrot — “like it? consider buying the next issue” — works much better than the stick — “you’re all thieves who must be forced into spending money with us”.
Now, I’ll return to Peter David in a minute (noting, incidentally, that I think he’s an excellent writer) but I think that dichotomy – fan communities are pirates vs fan communities promote and thus encourage people to buy comics – is a really important one to tease out; Brigid at Digital Strips does a pretty good job of suggesting why the latter makes more sense:
Now, there are two schools of thought on this whole affair. The first, expressed to its fullest extent by Kevin Church, is that the scans_daily folks are pirates with an inflated sense of entitlement, who are stealing copyrighted content and costing the creators legitimate sales.
The other point of view, which seems to be much more widespread, is that scans_daily is a site where people find out about comics and end up buying them. Johanna Draper Carlson and Merlin Missy express it rather eloquently on their sites, without some of the entitlement drama that was displayed in the comments to Mr. David’s post. If nothing else, all these comments and accounts (as well as this comments thread) provide anecdotal backup to the notion that free samples do indeed sell comics.
I’d like to express solidarity with that second point of view. There is a section of comics culture that is all caught up with comics stores and Wednesdays and pull lists and stuff, and if you’re inside that culture you may not realize this, but the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea that this subculture even exists. And you can’t sell something that no one knows is there.
The internet, on the other hand, is everywhere, and from what goes on in my own home, I can tell you with certainty that young people troll LiveJournal looking for stuff to do all the time. And when they find a place like scans_daily, they don’t say “Oh great, now I can find the latest plot twists in the Horned Ant saga without going to the comics store and paying $4,” because they don’t know what a comics store is. Instead, they look at it, and it’s cool, and then they realize that you can buy these things in stores and they seek them out. This is sort of like marketing, except that marketing is done by big companies and scans_daily is pretty grass roots.
And in case you are wondering, this is indeed different from Marvel or DC putting previews on their sites, because no one goes to those sites except people who are already Marvel and DC readers.
My own experience lines up here. I used to read a lot of comics, many years ago, but have neither the time nor the budget to read a lot today (and exactly how many X-Men related titles are there today??). I don’t claim to be an expert on the sharing of comics online, but I will admit I’ve downloaded a copy here and there, usually on the back of particular media hype – and anything I’ve really enjoyed, I’ve purchased. Similarly, I really don’t want to spend the time going to buy every new issue of Joss Whedon’s Buffy Season 8 but I have purchased every collected edition thus far, and will continue to do so, and thus I feel no guilt in downloading some of the individual issues as they are released. Dark Horse will get my money, as long as Buffy continues to be a good comic book. I’m not buying the same thing twice, but I think the number of trade paperbacks, and the speed at which they come out, tends to reflect the fact that these collected editions are preferred by many older readers (yes, I am now an ‘older reader’!). More to the point, of those comics I have downloaded, I’ve noticed something which I’ve never come across before (which is not to say it doesn’t happen, I’m just not aware of it happening): at the end of each comic book I’ve downloaded, not only does the person or group who scanned the comic ‘sign’ it with their own image, they also leave a clear message: “Like It? Buy It!”. An example:
This “Like It? Buy It!” strikes me as fans explicitly stating that they’re wanting people to join the comic book reading and buying communities; I’ve never heard of a Battlestar Galactica or Lost episode, or the latest Hollywood film that’s available online via Bittorrent ending with a ‘Please Buy the DVD’. So, the way I see it, comic fans scanning, discussing and sharing their fandom and some of the product that they love is, for the most part, good for comic book sales. Also, many people who legitimately own the physical comic book may actually read scanned versions; one of the annoying facts for comic collectors is that the very act of reading a comic book tends to decrease its value (and tiny fold or tear decreases a comic’s resale value) so I can imagine a lot of people buying, storing and treasuring their hardcopy and reading the digital version. There is, of course, the downside that if a comic is rubbish, the ability to see commentary and previews would pretty much guarantee low sales. But, as a rule, I would imagine that good comics = good word of mouth online + free copies online = more interest = more future sales.
Now, let’s return to the curious point that Peter David is accused of ‘killing’ Scans_Daily. To give a little context (under fair use / fair dealing), here’s a notice that appears on the inside cover of X-Factor 39:
In the internet era, someone explicitly asking fans to avoid discussing details of their chosen media goes against the grain a fair bit, but it seems most reviewers did try and respect Peter David’s wishes. That said, I did manage to find the entire plot for this issues, and the next, online very easily – I’ll say it’s a very gritty and harsh story dealing with some of those downsides of mutant powers – although the last of this 3-issue arc would need to be very impressive to live into the hype. However, it seems Peter David was actively patrolling the web, and after following a link back to Scans_Daily who ignored his request, Peter David asked Marvel to look into the copyright violation he saw. The rest of the story is a bit fuzzy as LiveJournal didn’t say who complained or why they suspended Scans_Daily. However, Peter David did write about the situation on his website (his position is, yes, he complained, but it wasn’t that complaint which got scans_daily taken down) and, as you might imagine, the comments have turned into something of a flame war with a few useful points made about copyright and fan activities as promotion (or otherwise). I don’t seek to judge who complained to whom, but I do think Peter David went a step further than necessary in complaining to Marvel – I suspect a link from his website asking for that post to be removed would have worked far better – but comic book fans are a fairly small community and I doubt this exchange will have helped the sales of X-Factor – more people might read it now to see if Peter David’s plea was justified, but I suspect a lot more of them will be reading online versions via Bittorrent or the like, just to prove their point. I still like Peter David’s writing, but I do wonder how this exchange has impacted his reputation amongst fans.
And at the end of the day, Scans_Daily is back, just with a new host who seem less likely to be as responsive to the requests of copyright holders to suspect their account.
Update: I was reading the comments on Peter David’s website and I thought this one summed up the fan position perfectly:
Hi. I’m another s_d member, and I’d like to add my voice to the rest of the people who say that if it wasn’t for that community, they wouldn’t have spent money on comics. s_d started me off into buying comics, issue by issue, because from s_d I could see what was good and what I liked and what I’d pay money for.
I don’t doubt that it’s easy to argue that s_d violated the letter of copyright law, no matter how mods tried to keep down the number of pages posted; I would however argue that it tried its damndest not to violate the spirit. The heart of this kerfuffle is not law but perspective: Mr David clearly feels that s_d intended piracy and damaged his livelihood; s_d members feel that its purpose rather was to build a community of like-minded people who could discuss a shared love and help each other decide what best to spend their money on–e.g. YJ. (I for one have chased down back issues from a decade ago because I saw’em on s_d and thought they were worth it.) Yes, Mr David was well within his legal rights to call foul play, and I accept that he was not directly responsible for nuking the site, but he clearly agrees that it could and should’ve been done, and that hurt a lot of fans. Many fans, paying fans, feel that it wasn’t necessary, or even warranted, because harm was never intended. We intended it in good faith, which has not been reciprocated. You can of course say that fans’ feelings have jackshit to do with it, and legally speaking, you’d be right. But it would be so much better for all parties involved if there was a friendly relationship between fans and creator that involved a free exchange of ideas instead of this antagonistic bullshit. This is not a zero-sum game. You could turn it into one–you could even turn it negative-sum–but why would you want to?
tl;dr fans are not always out to sucker the creator and get a free ride, and said fans would be happier (and presumably more inclined to buy things) if creators didn’t kick them inna teeth, even if creators have a perfect legal right to do so. If at all possible–I would humbly beg Mr David to please have some faith in his fans: we’re not out to rob you.