Lew Stringer wrote:
As for statistics, I don't have any but I do remember the case of a notorious pirate whose website showed that some comics had been downloaded thousands of times. One being Black Panther, which was canceled because sales fell below 20,000 (or thereabouts). I'm sure the comic might have lasted a bit longer without the piracy. (Marvel had that pirate shut down by the FBI so he's gone now.) I had a run-in with him because he was pirating Elephantmen that I was working for at the time. Indie comics can't afford to lose sales like that.
But downloads don't equal lost sales. Many, perhaps the majority of people who download stuff for free, would not have bought the comic if the pirate option was not available. In my experience many people who download free stuff don't even read it; they just get it because they can and in case they feel like trying it some day.
And then competing with sales only occurs for the period that the comic is on sale; typically a month for American comics. As soon as that sale period is up the illegal downloads are not causing lost sales because it is no longer being sold, but will likely continue being available to download indefinitely. So again the "thousands of downloads" becomes less of an accurate measure of sales.
There's also the study I mentioned, which also refutes this argument.
To be honest I think the publishers themselves have done more to damage their own sales than illegal downloads ever will. The decompressed style of storytelling means that a single monthly issue of a comic becomes an expensive quarter or fifth of a story, rather than a satisfying read. You can pick up a used paperback for less than the cost of a new comic and will give you hours of entertainment and a satisfying read. For the cost of two or three comics you can go to the cinema or buy a DVD. Many people wait for the trade paperback rather than buy the monthly comic; it's cheaper, fits on your bookshelf, and has a complete story. Or at least a substantial piece of one. But if everyone waits for the trade then the monthly doesn't sell so the comic is cancelled.
The publishers are also strangling the legitimate digital comics industry. They are so tied to the specialist comics shops that they can't sell the legal digital comics for less than the physical copies, even though they have none of the overheads of printing and distribution. If they sold digital editions at a fair price they would sell vastly more copies.
Of course it would also make a huge difference if digital copies were not limited to propriatory readers. Digital comics are at the stage digital music was when you could only play it using a specific program. You couldn't listen to it in the car or on your MP3 player even though you had legitimately bought it. There's a similar situation now with comics where buying digital comics legally means you can only read it on a specific reader, and different publishers have their own readers, wheras your pirated copy can be read by any reader and any device. Some of the people downloading pirate copies have probably already paid for the legal ones; they just want to be able to read them all in the same reader.