“And the Lord did look down upon the burning cities of Sodom and Gamorrah and sayeth to the people gathered: “Do not despair my children for one day, thou shalt be able to download better S#&% than this…FOR FREE.” And the people they did rejoice!”
-Face psalms 10:14
Ah the Internet. Who out there doesn’t love to be able to instantly access a FAQ on how to break not 8, not 9, BUT ALL 10 of those bothersome Commandments? And all for FREEEEEEE! Heck, you can go to Wikipedia right now and add a few commandments of your own just so you can break `em (don’t worry, they’ll never fact-check it). And while we’re on the subject let’s be real here, with just a couple of grand in your pocket, you can go to Vegas and smash 9 out of 10 of those pesky – soooo two millennia ago – rules in 11 maybe 12 hours tops! (I’d ixnay any plans for breaking the whole “thou shalt not kill” thing though because sometimes what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there).
The Internet and Free are indeed a perfect storm of happiness. The two go together like other iconic duos such as peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, Batman and Robin, Hassle and Hoff… you get the idea. But of course nothing is really free is it? Or is it? Just look at The Hoff and all the free publicity he got when his Cheeseburger (very) Happy Meal went viral (well unless you can put a price tag on humiliation I guess). But now that I think of it, the former “Sultan of Speedo’s” humiliation w/cheese was far outweighed by the entertainment value for the rest of us, so let’s call it a wash.
Someone once said: “The best things in life are free” (I think it was that kid that just got arrested for stealing airplanes and cameras). Somebody else once said: “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (dude never been to Vegas). I don’t know if the best things in life are free, but I suppose one can argue the easiest things are – unless you’re one of those people that will spend $10 in gas and an hour in traffic because you get a FREE bag of dirt for every $50 purchase of flowers. If that’s you, then seriously, I can’t help you. Free then, should be something that comes with little or no effort, or, as a cool byproduct of some other effort like: “I changed some ladies tire on the street the other day and she gave me a free blo…um sandwich!” Point is getting something for nothing is a pretty sweet concept.
Now most of you know I own a publishing business and I know where some of you think this is heading: “Those damn kids and their pirating ways! And get off my lawn you little hooligans!” Nope. Although it’s a valid concern, the five-fingered-genie is out of the bottle so…too bad so sad. BUT (notice the big but) I get it, and when I say I get it I mean I understand that “It should be free!” is an inexorable part of the cultural zeitgeist, as well as being part of basic human nature. Plus this free stuff on the Internet thing has a huge upside (for some, not all) that we’ll get to in a sec.
The only reason anyone even raises a stink about all this free stuff is really all about scale. When I was younger, my thug friends and I used to “liberate” stuff off something called a “radio” using an equally primitive device called a “tape recorder”. The only thing that kept the scale of the “liberating” manageable was it was a pain in the ass to record something and if you wanted to share it with your delinquent friends you had to physically hand the “tape” to them. As we all know that little inconvenience has now been dealt with. But the thought process back then was the same as it is now. It’s just that back then the impact was minimal so nobody really gave a S#&% because back then the term “digital” was reserved for science fiction novels, not the favored delivery system for entertainment.
The Internet has allowed people to get S#$% for free on such a massive level that the “business” of entertainment will NEVER, EVER again be able to follow the same “hey, you give me that, and in exchange, I’ll give you this” paradigm (a paradigm btw, that has existed since the days when a club to the head was considered fair payment). If you want to see the “good news/bad news” effect in all its glory look no further than the porn industry. The bad news for those guys is they were once the benchmark concerning new delivery systems for content (VHS anyone?). But looking at the downward spiral of that industry I guess they’ll have to find a new term for “the money shot”. The good news is for the rest of us – FREE PORN! The thing I’m pointing out here is that the dynamic duo of Internet + Free is primarily an issue for that entertainment thing I just mentioned (and hey you’re right, porn is entertaining). In other words you can’t download a free car through your modem but it’s pretty easy to get a clip starring (insert favorite porn “actress” here) or the latest track from (insert favorite band here). But it is what it is.
In an earlier post I wrote about how crap-pants scary new technologies can be to businesses like music etc., but we adapt and when you look back on how resilient we are as a species adapting is what we do. Plus adapting pretty much always leads to a better way of doing things. Yeah sometimes it hurts like giving birth to a thirty-pound baby, but in the end the rest of the world would be wildly entertained by a YouTube video of somebody popping out a thirty-pound baby…eh, maybe not.
So really what are we to think about all this? On the one hand you’ve got businesses trying to make profits (no profits = no business) and on the other, the basic human nature of wanting – and often deserving of – free stuff. For a minimal monthly fee to my Internet provider, I can find out pretty much anything (see first paragraph) but beyond that, who gets paid what for the info I get means zip to me. As for my business (comics) there are markets that have a way to go before being able to get their comic fix on anything other than ink printed on paper. But in markets like the US and many others, the choices will be multiple. Call it iPad vs. wood pulp.
Personally, I’m betting that the comic biz will be one of the few that will be able to embrace both the traditional and the new. In fact, I’d bet good money that as cool as comics look on wireless tablets (and they do) most comic fans would like to have a choice. I believe that for the foreseeable future that choice will remain. If you’re a follower of our stuff and a traditionalist don’t worry, Top Cow will be using paper for a looooong time. But at the same time we’re going to be exploring all the promise of this new platform/art form. It’s a scary/exciting time for the world of comics but we all will adapt and like I said, adaptation leads to better stuff.
The Internet is the biggest turning point in comics since those butt-munchers at Image Comics hit in 1992 and changed our business forever. Image didn’t invent creator-owned comics but the scope of its initial success made it a viable option for more artists and writers to take a risk. As we all know, the comics world had to adapt to what Image and other independent publishers stood/stand for. Because of that adaptation, the ensuing years has brought a whole new breed of creative talent to the forefront. That new breed of creator has brought with it a new level of quality for the hobby/business/lifestyle we love. I reference the birth of Image to illustrate that back then some people thought its success harbored the end of civilization as we knew it and some are feeling the same way about downloadable comics.
What I want to say about all this is that #1: wireless ain’t going away so digital publishing is happening anyway and we had all better do a good job at making it cool. #2: I believe the sheer number of new eyeballs will be so high that it will probably mitigate the inevitable losses to “liberated” downloads. And in a perfect world, those new eyeballs will have a positive effect on traditional publishing. Look, newspapers are screwed because they’re specific to news and news is faster and more convenient online. But lifestyle magazines are doing just fine. I believe our world of printed comics will do just fine too.
So, to again reference my other post, video didn’t actually kill the radio star it just presented an additional way to get music. Movies and music are obviously still reeling from the effect downloading (illegal and legal) has had on their respective businesses but they’ll figure it out because they have to adapt. And all of us in the comic biz from the creators, to the publishers, to the distributors, to the retailers, to the fans, will figure it out too.
Yeah, it’s tricky right now but the Internet and traditional entertainment will someday find a happy middle ground where they can make icky, gooey love, not war, but even in all the current crazy, the digital world is bringing all kinds of happy (free porn!). As Matt, my right hand guy at Top Cow is known to say, this is just “food for thought” and of course just one geeks opinion. So yeah, maybe a person can’t really beat city hall, but they can sure as hell make it work better for them. Until next time…
Shelter dogs are FREEEEE (so go get one)!
Marc Silvestri was born in 1959 on Easter Sunday, coincidentally on the same day his mother gave birth to him. He’s been in the comic business his entire adult life and in 1993 started his own company, Top Cow Productions. Marc spends his days making crap up for comics, movies, TV, and video games. And is proud to now add professional blogger to his resume. He also likes you just the way you are.