Thrillbent: Entering the Embrace of Piracy

Alternate title:  If you can’t beat ’em, work with ’em.

Mark Waid is one of my favorite comic book writers. He’s also controversial. A few years ago, Waid was almost shouted off the stage in a room full of comic book pros because he advocated embracing the oncoming digital comics age. That didn’t mean that print comics were going the way of the dodo. He just meant that, like all good surfers, comic pros had to ride the wave instead of getting crushed because they weren’t ready for it.

Waid put his money where his mouth was and created Thrillbent, a webcomics site that hopes to experiment in the new media and find its ground, including its excellent title Insufferable. It’s a brilliant comic, really, and you should check it out.

He even has the balls to put the hero in the sidecar!

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Comic book piracy is a big deal. Now, not every pirated copy translates 1-to-1 in lack of issues sold. Anyone who tells you that is bonkers. But let’s admit it, pirates have taken some business from everyone who used to need a physical copy for their work to be sold and enjoyed. Even in the digital age, where Thrillbent funds its website through merchandising and advertising, Waid has found his Insufferable comics repackaged and uploaded onto pirate sites when they’re just as free and accessible on his website.

But Waid’s not fighting back, and I think he’s darn smart. Instead, he’s chosen to embrace the pirates. By repackaging the files himself, making them easily available for the pirates to put online, and including a page that asks the readers to check out the site if they liked what they saw, Waid has found a way to increase his site’s traffic without making a false attempt to try to prevent the piracy. It’s a well-known fact that the issues are going to be online and pirated. He can’t stop them. So instead, he’s driving traffic to his site by helping the pirates.

And this isn’t the first time that someone has benefited from piracy, either. Take a look at what happened when Steve Lieber and Jeff Parker’s Underground found its way onto 4Chan. There’s a huge spike in sales linked directly to when that pirated copy was uploaded. Did it translate into long-form, rising sales? No. But look at that flat line leading up to that spike, would you?

Mark Andrew Smith’s Sullivan’s Sluggers raised almost $100,000 on Kickstarter (on a $6000 goal!) due in no small part to the fact that Smith advertised on the front page of The Pirate Bay.

I’m not saying that piracy is good. I’m not, no way. That’s an argument for someone else to make.

What I’m saying is that we have to understand that piracy is not going away anytime soon. It isn’t. But the smart pros are the ones who find ways to utilize this existing audience and translate it to sales or pledges. Those who don’t just might find themselves left in the dust.

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