Yet Another Webcomic Reading Piece of Software

Another program to read comics that fetches images directly from servers. The creator’s FAQ acknowledges some of the tensions such programs create for the artists who create webcomics:

Q: Don’t you rip off the artists when you view the strips, but not the ads?

A: Ad revenue on the web is so low these days, comic artists have already added (or completely switched to) many other support models. And I encourage everybody to make those models work for them. Please buy books or T-shirts, join their clubs, tip them money, do visit their homepages and click on some ads… I do regularly!

These programs appear to be here to stay – how will they impact the “free” model so many webcomics, even highly successful ones, continue to employ? Is bandwidth cheap enough that a program such as this that can “rip” an entire archive of image files will not cause financial problems for creators? What other issues surrounding distribution of webcomics are on your mind this week?

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.

59 Comments

  1. To webcomic authors: Exactly what do you find offensive about comic rippers, or, more specifically, under what circumstances would you have no problem with them?

    The major complaint seems to be that they don’t download ads; some people complained that their comics were removed from the context of the rest of the webpage; there were also complaints that the archive-downloading programs spiked bandwidth; others were upset that the programs gave false user-agents or ignored robots.txt.

  2. I’m not a webcomic author, but I wrote an essay on this topic… oh, twenty minutes. It’s here.

    In brief: this doesn’t just take the reader away from the advertisements. This takes the reader away from the tip jar, from the online stores. From the “hey — buy this tee shirt” bits. This software archives comic strips that some artists don’t provide free archives for, but instead require a subscription to archive, so that over time you can have for free what the artist wants you to pay for. This software consumes bandwidth and eliminates all the ways the artist or online syndicate uses to recoup those costs.

    I have no problem at all with RSS readers that collect the feeds artists allow to be created for their strips. That acts within the boundaries the artist has created for viewing his art (unless someone creates a feed without permission, in which case I have a big problem with it). However, this goes one better, and just takes, dinging bandwidth costs, and dumping it onto a hard drive.

    And that’s just not cricket.

  3. As usual, Websnark.com gets it in one.

    Other forms of stealing are also “here to stay” in the sense that people will continue to steal somewhere, somehow. But that doesn’t mean the burden is upon *us* to “cope” with them.

    The smugly hypocritical Q&A actually makes me more angry with this guy, not less. “Ad revenue is so low. I’m sure cartoonists won’t even MISS it! And hey, buy their books, T-shirts, club memberships or tip jars on the SITES THAT MY PROGRAM WILL KEEP YOU AWAY FROM.”

    Jesus Christ.

  4. I have only one more thing to add to waht Websnark wrote: what seems to be also a big issue on these softwares is the fact that those authors ask no permission whatsoever, or even try to make deals with the webcartoonists BEFORE lauching them. So after those people put out their softwares, we’re given no choice than to support them or work out deals with them.

    Just to make a horrible metaphor (and I apologize for it, since I’m actually more supportive of comic-rippers now then I was when I first posted a message about them), it’d be just like a guy walking up to you, beating you to the ground, tying up your legs and hands and yelling “YOU’LL BE ASS-RAPED AND YOU’LL LIKE IT”.

  5. Or even worse, “I don’t see why you’re not wriggling a bit more, to make this more enjoyable for me.”

  6. First, didn’t Xereres post a link once to a site showing how, using php code, you could send different image files to seperate browsers through the same file address?

    Just set up to send a low-resolution, copyright notice included, watermarked image (“Thanks for the interest, please see the original at http://www.example.xxx“) to everyone who either rips or deep-links, and the nicer, high-resolution, cleaned up version to everyone who takes the time to come in to the origin site.

    Second, now that I think about it, another possibility without the coding hocus-pocus is to just append an ad to the bottom of the image itself, so when it does get ripped or deep-linked they get the ad as well as the comic — crass and comercial, but if it’s the same comic-with-an-ad sent to everyone regardless of where they see it, then who can complain… its still free, right?

  7. To webcomic authors: Exactly what do you find offensive about comic rippers, or, more specifically, under what circumstances would you have no problem with them?

    The major complaint seems to be that they don’t download ads; some people complained that their comics were removed from the context of the rest of the webpage; there were also complaints that the archive-downloading programs spiked bandwidth; others were upset that the programs gave false user-agents or ignored robots.txt.

    Under no circumstances would I have no problem with them.

    The major complaint is not that they don’t download ads. The major complaint is that they rip the graphic file from its intended presentation environment. This includes not just the ads, nor just the merchandise promos, nor just any other site features which ennable certain cartoonists to make a living, or even just maintain the site, which the new program’s FAQ dismisses so casually. Though this alone, mind you, is why rippers are of the same moral and legal turpitude as what Napster was taken to court for doing – and lost.

    This also includes the site features which constitute the aesthetic environment intended by the webcartoonist. For instance, the panel borders of my cartoons are designed to blend in with the background color of the page. You rip my cartoon off my page and that effect’s lost. Even though there’s no ad or fundraising requests of any kind on my site, you do this and it pisses me off.

  8. First, didn’t Xereres post a link once to a site showing how, using php code, you could send different image files to seperate browsers through the same file address?

    The fatal flaw in your argument is it proceeds from the assumption that everyone who’d like to defeat rippers uses PHP.

  9. You know, most of the bigger webcomic artists don’t even care about employing anti-hotlinkng measures. That’s one of the things that made me change my mind about comic rippers.

  10. Nah, I think it’s more like a guy walking up to you, beating you to the ground, and telling you that, the web being what it is, ass-raping is an inevitable function of your profession and he thinks you should just lay back and think of England, but you can A) sell T-shirts (perhaps that say “I ass-raped a webcomic and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”!) and B) they’ll be happy to check for polyps while they’re up there.

    *cough* Nah, it’s not that bad, but I’m never one to pass up a horrible metaphor.

  11. >>To webcomic authors: Exactly what do you find offensive about comic rippers, or, more specifically, under what circumstances would you have no problem with them?

    What I find most offensive about them is that they know that artists don’t want it, but do it anyway and tell everybody that it’s wrong of us to mind. I can’t think of any other place in society where it’s OK to decide for one individual, over another’s objections, what they can do with something that is unquestionably the other’s property.

  12. It’s a small download, less than 11 KB. But what would happen to his bandwidth charges if a lot of people put a <img src="http://www.rowlff.de/comanche/comanche_1_07.tgz" width=1 height=1 alt="not an image"> in an unobtrusive spot on their web pages?

  13. Hi,
    I’m Marc Rohlfing, the author of Comanche – yesterday I received several very interesting and well thought out emails from members of this community, that refered me to this forum. If I may, I’d like to weigh in with my side of the argument.
    I realize this is not going to be easy for me, but I sincerely think that both sides of this argument have things going for and against them, and that we may be able to profit from one another:

    Please let me address your arguments single file:
    – Using Comanche keeps people from seeing your ‘Donate’-Buttons and thus from donating! As I have written in responses to personal emails already: If somebody likes your strip and wants to donate, he will do so. If he does not, a button will not change the user’s mind. It’s always up to the reader to donate – a level of abstraction will not change anything here.
    And for the argument that people will NEVER have seen the homepage and therefore don’t even know they can donate… Comanche is based on the assumption that you use it as a personal tool to deliver to you (and only to you) the strips you like in a format you choose. You do know the homepages of your favorite strips, and how to support them.

    – Not displaying the ads is stealing! That seems to be the most mentioned point: I work in web-development myself, and from the numbers I get myself and hear from clients, ad-revenue these days IS low. If I was wrong in this assumption in regards to web cartoons, I’d like to apologize (and will remove the offending part from my FAQ, that seemed to irk you the most).
    This, I think, is the point where both our camps could probably start a careful approach, too: If ads are such an important stream of revenue for you, I would like to modify Comanche to download the ads as well when retrieving a comic strip. That way, both sides win: You get your hits, and Comanche users still can enjoy the strips in a (for them) convenient format.

    – I want to show my strips in my context on my webpage only! Here I have to strongly disagree: The most important feature of the web (and one that will only gain in importance in the coming years) is the ability for me as a user to get imformation in a format I like. If I want to read the strips only – I should be able to do so.
    Let’s try an analogy here: If an author wrote the greatest novel ever. Critics hail it. You want to read it. But can’t, because the author insists that his works can only be truly appreciated in handwritten copies, leather bound by himself? Or, a little closer to home, if you were offered syndication for your strip, would you refuse, unless you were guaranteed a separate page in the paper for your strip instead of being crammed on the funnies page?
    Again, this is not a black and white issue: Just because somebody prefers to repackage your strips via Comanche and read them as an rss feed does not mean he will never visit your site. Or never donate.

    Looking forward to your opinions

    -Marc

  14. >>If an author wrote the greatest novel ever. Critics hail it. You want to read it. But can’t, because the author insists that his works can only be truly appreciated in handwritten copies, leather bound by himself?

    That’s tough luck. The author wrote it, and owns it, s/he calls the shots.

    >> Or, a little closer to home, if you were offered syndication for your strip, would you refuse, unless you were guaranteed a separate page in the paper for your strip instead of being crammed on the funnies page?

    That’s my decision, not yours.

    Your points are irrelevant. I can draw comics and insist they be used as kleenex. My economic decisions could be mindblowingly stupid. It’s not your business. You don’t own it.

  15. You miss a crucial point:

    You’re using the artist’s bandwidth to slurp down his cartoon (and archives), taking them away from all the different reminders of how a person can help to defray that bandwidth. You are, in effect, costing the artist money for the privilege of entertaining you on your terms.

    And it’s not just a donation link. It’s tee shirts (which they’ll not know are available unless they happen to go to the site after they come out). It’s book collections. And yes, it’s advertising. PvP makes a lot of money through their advertising model from all reports, as does Penny Arcade — in fact, I think Penny Arcade gets most of their food for themselves, their wives and the new child via the advertising dollars that come in.

    Finally, on this:

    If an author wrote the greatest novel ever. Critics hail it. You want to read it. But can’t, because the author insists that his works can only be truly appreciated in handwritten copies, leather bound by himself?

    J.D. Salinger wrote “Catcher in the Rye.” It continues to pay his bills. Because his bills are paid, the huge amount of writing he has done since then he has not chosen to publish. It’s likely very very good writing, but he’s not writing it for you. He’s writing it for himself.

    If your software broke into his house, smashed into his office, broke into his safe, stole his manuscripts, photocopied them, and tossed them out to the whole world, would you expect J.D. Salinger to kiss you for it?

    Your argument boils down to “but I really want to do this. Why can’t I?” The only possible answer is “basic human decency.”

    Think about it.

  16. Heya Marc! 🙂

    I changed my opinion on Comic Rippers after I spent some time as a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I came to realize that denying a technology that could improve the internet is pointless. I don’t know if I could say I support your program, but at least it’s safe to say I don’t mind it anymore. Yours isn’t the first one and it sure won’t be the last. Even if webcartoonists were to work out deals with you, soon enough another program, to make things even more convenient, would make Comanche obsolet (which would be quite ironic, to see you in our position for once). That’s what the internet is about, and as Joey Manley once put, one thing we can all be proud of is not cristalizing into a handful of business models. We’re still experimenting, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and maybe the time where people read comics on an html page has finally come to an end and we’ll have to look for other ways to provide our content. Who knows?

    But one thing, as you yourself guessed, is wrong about the way you put things:

    Not displaying the ads is stealing! That seems to be the most mentioned point: I work in web-development myself, and from the numbers I get myself and hear from clients, ad-revenue these days IS low. If I was wrong in this assumption in regards to web cartoons, I’d like to apologize (and will remove the offending part from my FAQ, that seemed to irk you the most).”

    I don’t know if ad revenue is down these days. I don’t see any of the revenue my comic makes. But it pays for my host. It pays for my bandwidth. Some comics don’t rely, at least not heavily on advertising. But others run solemnly on it, and the most important one that comes to mind now is KeenSpot. KeenSpot has an online store, and I’m sure it brings a pretty buck to the owners and the artists. But a large amount of the KeenSpot income comes from advertising. In case of Spot’s free hosting, it’s even more evident. KeenSpace has no other means of making money than ad sales.

    In these cases, a product like yours can mean the end of these services. Maybe not for the artists, they can always have someone else to host their comics. But for the guys who started these companies it can be fatal.

    I’m still wanting to see a comic-ripper author wanting to put his money where his mouth is. Tell you what, you’re much welcome to host my comic in your own server for free and then distribute it with your comic viewing software, if you want. How does that sound?

  17. As I said back on Websnark, I have contempt for this program.

    You’ll note, however, I’m not calling for its source code to be put to the fire. For one, I’m an EFF supporter too. For the other, there’s this girl named Pandora who called about a box? She says hi.

    But I think it’s important to recognize that this does hurt the artists, as well as make them upset. And that those who use the software to circumvent their business models are directly making it harder for them. And that makes me a sad panda.

  18. “But I think it’s important to recognize that this does hurt the artists, as well as make them upset. And that those who use the software to circumvent their business models are directly making it harder for them. And that makes me a sad panda.”

    I used to think like that too. Back when the Comictastic issue was raised, I contacted a number of big webcartoonists trying to ask them if they’d be interested in dedicating a day to inform readers about the malefices of using a comic-ripper. Only very few of them actually took the time to answer me, and of the ones that did, none of them were interested in having an “anti comic-ripper day”. They either said that they don’t know how they feel about rippers or just plain said their main income doesn’t come from advertising.

    It really gets me wondering: where is Tatsuya when issues like these are brought up? Where are Gabe and Tycho? Where is Scott Kurtz? I don’t know… Drawing comics, maybe…?

    I ended up with this impression that only us underdogs are strongly against comic-rippers. The big guys just doesn’t seem to care (with the exception of Hard, maybe). Which is sad, because I’m interested in hearing what they think. If those guys, who are the most affected by those softwares just don’t care, why should we?

    Anyways, I still completely agree with what you said. One thing it’s important for our programmer there to realize is that we don’t form a monolict opinion. Some are supportive of comic rippers, others are against, and others just doesn’t care. You can’t thrown away the opinions you don’t wanna hear and just focus on the ones that agree with you.

    A webcartoonist does not speak in behalf of all webcartoonists.

    You don’t have to be experienced in our community to know that there’s actually nothing more true than this.

  19. I think you are mixing two different things here:
    You own your comics? Sure you do – I can not make money off them, Neither can I pretend that I created them. That’s what copyright law is for, and it’s a good thing.
    But as son as you publish your work for people to consume it – which surely is what you want, don’t you? After all, you have a web page for everybody to read your strips – it’s up to the consumers how they decide to do so (especially on a medium like the internet).
    To get back to the author example: You can write on the back of your book “Not to be read in the bathroom” all you like – that will (and should) not stop anybody from doing so anyway. And if I want to cut out all the pages and glue them together as one long strip of paper to read, thats my prerogative, too.

    Now, I agree that these analogies all fall flat when it comes to the economic difference – that is that I have paid for a book in the first place, whereas visiting your web site is free (or, rather, paid for by the ads, which brings us back to the main complaint you have about Comanche). That’s why I was asking in my first post whether the webcomic artists and the authors of “Comic Rippers” should not get together and find a solution that benefits everybody.
    The title of this article “Yet Another Webcomic Reading Piece of Software” clearly indicates that people want webcomic readers. You will argue that they want so because they are all greedy pirates out to steal your content, but bear with me here when I say that I am very sure that most people use comic readers for the convenience, not to rip you off.

    As a new question and example, why don’t all webcomic sites offer RSS feeds? Doing so would give your readers the convenience so many obviously desire – and you a way to have ad content in these feeds to help pay the bills! As long as you insist on providing the one, true format, people will find ways around it.

    -Marc

  20. I understand all of your concerns – and a lot better than I thought before (^_^)

    I surely do not belong to the “information wants to be free”-camp that insists on getting everything for nothing, claiming that artists will continue to produce great works, just because they love doing it so much (now, I sure hope you all love what you’re doing, it’s just that I think you deserve to get paid, too).
    On the other hand, I think the consumer has a right to choose (or, at least, influence) the way he consumes your art – like I can choose to see a movie in the theater or on DVD later, buy a hardcover or a flimsy paperback.
    As you have stated realistically, by stubbornly insisting that people can only consume your comics by visiting your web sites, and accusing all others of piracy, you are not doing yourself a favor (because many, I dare say most, do so for the convenience, not to rip you off). And surely you’re not halting or turning back the wheels of progress on the internet.

    So I would love to find that mentioned middle ground that benefits both you as artists (allowing you to get paid) and me as a consumer (allowing me to choose the way content is displayed to me). One idea would be for you to offer RSS feeds on your sites, including ads in there. That would make programs like Comanche more or less obsolete – and I’d be fine with that.

    Another way would be if Comanche did download the ads in addition to the strips. It defeats the purpose a little, but in the interest of that middle ground, I would agree and build that.

    Yet another, way more utopic but still interesting, idea would be to agree on a set of standards to send ads or other content you deem important (tip jars, new t-shirts) to the users of “comic ripers”. Imagine a <viewer> tag that contains information that’s only visible if your content is viewed with a comic viewer…
    Will every program adhere to these standards? No? But then you may start calling the users of THESE programs pirates as much as you like!

    -Marc

  21. – Using Comanche keeps people from seeing your ‘Donate’-Buttons and thus from donating! As I have written in responses to personal emails already: If somebody likes your strip and wants to donate, he will do so. If he does not, a button will not change the user’s mind. It’s always up to the reader to donate – a level of abstraction will not change anything here.

    It changes everything. Out of sight, out of mind. Most people, even dedicated fans, don’t spend their every waking moment thinking “Boy, I’d really love to give the guy who draws suc