The Solution to the Scanlation Solution

June 11th, 2010

I have been working on this article for about two months, and have been discussing these issues on Twitter and elsewhere for about the same amount of time. I was holding on to this article for release on Hooded Utilitarian, but with Jakes Forbe’s post and today’s announcement by MangaHelpers, I believe that if I don’t post this today, it will become entirely irrelevant. As you will see, they are not alone in their vision. We’ve all discussed the problem of scanlation. Today, I’d like to talk about the solution.


The Solution to the Scanlation Solution
Scanlation – the widespread, illegal act of scanning in books/comics/manga, sometimes translating them into another language and distributing them for free through digital formats and technologies.
Scanlation is, everyone will agree, a big problem. The comics publishing industry is losing sales even as downloads of scans hits numbers that most comics publishers can only dream about. The comics/manga journalists agree, talking as they do to the publishers and creators – who feel particularly angry in regards to the wholesale refusal of their “fans” to respect their IP rights. And the pundits who discuss the quickly disappearing value of copyright and IP ownership agree.
Cartoonist Scott Adams recently blogged on this disappearing economic value of content as it becomes easier to search for – without necessarily being involved in a ‘scan’dal himself. (Adams allows free and fair use for all his work, and encourages fans to do mashups, parodies and original work based on his material.)
So, if everyone agrees that scans are bad, why are they so rampant? How can we fix this pervasive problem?
In order to fix the problem, we have to step back and realize that scanlations are not the “problem” – they were the solution.
I’m speaking here as a fan of manga, comics from Japan. When I started to read manga there were – to be generous – very few titles licensed and translated.
The fans who loved manga saw the problem clearly  – there was a lot of cool stuff being drawn in Japan and very little of it was translated into English. So, they formed groups called “circles” – passionate volunteers who pooled skills and resources into scanning in manga and translating them. This way, they could share the series they loved with other people who would never otherwise get a chance to read them. It was (and largely still is) a love for a title that leads a person to scan it – not a desire to harm, but a deep desire to share and expand the audience.
Scanlation was the solution to the problem. It wouldn’t hurt anyone – none of those books (or anime series) were ever going to make it over here, so no harm, no foul. At least one person had to buy the book (or VHS tape) in order to render and scan it, so there was at least one additional sale to “pay” for the work. No scanlation circle ever made a cent on their efforts. They gave their love away for free, so they could call it fair use. And they were very specific – if you paid for a version of their scans or subs, you were ripped off and you were committing a copyright violation,
Then the digital revolution really hit and suddenly more series than ever were being scanned and subbed. It isn’t hard to get a scanlation – all one needs is a browser and a search engine. What had formerly been distributed to dozens of people was now being distributed to thousands or tens of thousands worldwide. Hits on popular scanlation aggregation websites go into the millions, bringing at least one such site onto Google’s list of top-visited sites.
And, in the middle of this, distribution companies started to license more series than ever. But now it was even easier to scan than before – often a scanned raw version is available, so no original copy is bought. Scanlators can put out a whole volume in days in just about any language a group might want. And the more popular, the more ubiquitous the content becomes, its economic value drops ever closer to zero.
What we need now is not a solution to the problem, but a solution to the solution.
Scanlation affects three entities. The fans, for whom it is uniquely an excellent – and elegant – solution. The publishing companies, for whom it is a strongly negative factor in both incentive to license and in actual sales. And the creators, who are often clueless about the scale of the issue, feel helpless and angry if they are aware of it, and whose bottom line is the most damaged by it.
For the sake of meaningful discussion, I am going to ignore the existence of overtly criminal scanlators and subbers. These are people who illegally distribute books and series that are legally licensed and available in their country. They know they are committing a criminal act and do not care. Their audience is either naïve and unaware that these distributors are illegal – or they are aware and, like the scanlators, do not care. These people are engaging in IP theft and copyright violation with criminal intent. They are not relevant to this discussion, in which we are going to address the “problem” created not by the desire to steal – but by the desire to share.
I say that scanlation is a solution. The problem it solved was “things I want to read are not licensed for my country.” This was true in 1998 and now, in 2010, it is largely *still* true. I follow a genre called Yuri (lesbian-themed stories), which has had a Renaissance in Japan, but is almost completely unlicensed – and in many cases unlicensable, as the content is difficult, if not outright impossible to market in the western world.
I learned Japanese to be able to read these books but, for most of the audience, this is neither sensible nor viable. Scanlation of this genre is still driven by love of the genre and desire to share with other fans – this is the motivation of an “ethical” scanlation group.
Let’s take a look at an “ethical” scanlation circle.
An “ethical” scanlation circle only scans series that are unavailable in their primary language. They strongly encourage their readers (what I refer to as “the audience”) to buy the book (to become “the market”) when it is licensed in that language. They do not charge for their efforts, do not have ads on their website, do not take monetary contributions to their efforts.  Ethical scanlators may ask for donations, but are more likely to want resources (bandwidth, seeders, expertise, etc.,) than money. It’s a labor of love. These circles are often composed of people who do buy that original copy or two – and many of their senior members may also purchase the book in the original form to support the creator. Ethical groups pull their versions off the Internet – and ask their fans to stop sharing theirs, should they have them – as soon as news of an official license is announced for a work. And because ethical groups are trying to help, not harm, it’s a high probability that if creators asked them directly to stop scanning their work, they would. (August 2010 Update: Although Toboso Yana’s plea to her “fans” to stop illegally distribute her work was met with contempt and derision, so apparently I’m wrong about that. Fan delusion is hard to break.)
I believed 80% of groups would stop, because as sad as it would make them feel, they really are only trying to help. That would leave 20% who voluntarily enter the realm of “criminal” scanlators, in the sense that they know they are going against the creator’s wishes and violating their IP rights, but for whatever reasons, don’t care – and now I think that percentage of people who just don’t care is higher, as high as 50%. Japanese and American manga publishers have just created an alliance to attack this group of people who simply do not care.  I think this makes sense for them and wish them well at it. It is wholly within their rights and responsibilities to protect their IP. Interestingly, many of the ethical scanlators also dislike the aggregation sites precisely because these sites distribute material they have no right to distribute, i.e., work done by scanlation circles. Ironic as it is.
Despite the ethical scanlators’ best intentions, not all of their audience is as ethical as they are. Not everyone in their audience wishes to support the creators or the publishers. Many plead lack of funds as a sufficient reason to only download scans. Some fans have oddly selective memory and will recall a slight from years ago by a publisher who dropped the ball, and will use that as justification for never buying from that company – even if by doing so they would be supporting a creator whose work they love. For many of the audience scans are their only option, as no companies in their countries have made an attempt to license what they would like to read. For these people, scanlation continues to be fair use of the content.
Lastly, there is the issue of translation. One of the pervasive arguments against scanlations is that official translations are better in all ways. Unfortunately, this is very often not the case.
Publishers are bound by contracts, copyright, and requirements from the licensors, creators and market forces. A name may be commonly translated by the fandom in one way only to be altered by the licensor or creator to something that looks/sounds/feels utterly absurd to a western fan. I can remember reading a book in which the main character’s family name was Naitou, but for some reason, the creator wanted it spelled Knight-o…which just looks silly on the face of it. If a character’s name rides the edge of a possible copyright infringement, it must be changed, not because the publisher hates the fans, but because there is no comics publisher around that can afford ongoing lawsuits with major western media companies who guard their copyrights with an absurd, creativity-killing zeal. Publishers are at the mercy of hired translators and editors who they hope are accurate and skilled. And, lastly, publishers are bound by the need to *sell books.* This means that a publisher may make a decision to change something to make the book appeal to more than just the core audience – sometimes at the risk of offending the core audience. Scanlation groups are not bound by any of these issues and are free to translate names in a way that is a common usage among fans, or which makes the most sense.
Scanlation groups often do a tremendous amount of research, to explain puns and literary references, offer historical context, descriptions of military terms, define common honorifics and generally provide the reader with as authentic a reading experience as possible. Publishers, for any number of reasons, will often not do this. In one case I can think of, a licensed series that previously had detailed translation notes has now had them cut back to nearly nothing, so that many of the references simply go undecoded.  It might be because of money or time, but many licensed series can’t provide that level of detail.  Not every scanlation group does this, of course, nor does every publisher skimp, but I can easily call to mind several series in which the scanlation groups did a better job than the legit publisher and several groups who work is professional quality (in some cases because professionals work with them.)
And, finally, there is the issue of out-of-print material. I will admit that, up until a few years ago, I was providing a scanlation group with material from a magazine that is long out of print, never had collected volumes and was in danger of disappearing, forgotten. I have stopped, because of my shifting feelings about scanlations, but I do not regret having done what I did.
Some of the American comics scan sites distribute back issues – the infamous HTML Comics touted that as their raison d’etre. The owner of this site, which has now been shut down by the FBI, insisted that the companies left him alone because he only made old material available. It’s true that a die-hard fan can find any number of avenues to find and purchase Thor #142, but for a casual reader, it makes no sense to attend a show or hunt online for a single volume that you simply want to read once. That’s why libraries exist in the real world – and there are no pamphlet comics libraries available to the average person in Whatevertown, USA.
The sole problem, really, with scanlations is that they are illegal (and, perhaps, immoral.) The scanlation group is distributing something they do not have the right to distribute. In effect, if they could gain permission from the creator, scans would *still* be a very elegant and simple solution to the problem. Permission is very much the crux of the matter here. Musician David Byrne wrote about a creator’s right to grant permission on his blog,  in which he says plainly, “It’s not just illegal because one is supposed to pay for such use and not paying is, well, theft — it’s also illegal because one has to ask permission, and that permission can be turned down.”
2012 Note: And in an unfortunate, inevitable devolution, some scanlators are now trying to sell their digital scanlations (see the Other News section of the report.)
So, in the past, the problem was “things I want to read are not available” and the solution was “scanlations.”
Now, what is the current problem? Not scanlations, which are the solution to a previous problem.
I propose that the problem we are really dealing with is this:
1) Readers want what they want to read, in their language, for a reasonable price (or free), in a reasonable time frame, in a format that is not reliant on a single standard, format or hardware.
2) Creators want the right to make decisions about their work, grant access and distribution rights, give *permission* and make a fair wage from their work.
3) Publishers want to be able to sell materials that they have paid to license (or to create) and make enough money in doing so that they can pay their employees, themselves and have money to invest in new properties.
For readers, the problem hasn’t changed all that much. Readers’ expectations have changed, because at this point it seems absolutely absurd that I really can’t just get what I want to read in my language. Regional licensing? Why? Clearly it doesn’t help Czech readers to learn that a Korean version has been licensed, or English readers that France will get a release of a book they’d like to read too. The fact that DVDs are still region encoded when most DVD players are no longer limited by that seems more of a sad memory of some ancient gerrymandering of the planet than anything useful or intelligent. Where is our global economy?
For the creators, the problem hasn’t changed at all. Where once upon a time, the companies raped you for your content then wrung it dry, now the fans do it too. Nice way to say “thanks” for all that hard work. (2012 Note: I have been excoriated for my use of “rape” in that sentence, but recent legal decisions that has stripped creator right from many successful comic characters bears up my – and many fans’ – belief that corporations are as close to that act as a legal entity that is not an actual person can be.)
And for the publishers, the problem is seemingly endless and constantly shifting. How to determine what titles are most likely to actually sell, to license work people want, get it to them quickly and with high quality, and for free, then provide a way to sell books as well, without involving a distribution model that relies on some third-party company whose decision-making is schizophrenic at best and seems pretty heavy-handed all the time, or whose hardware requires a proprietary format.
The solution we need must address at least the first two of the above three issues. It’s already clear that publishing is changing, and if the role of publisher disappears into a world in which readers and creators interact directly and meaningfully then I, as a publisher, don’t mind all that much. But, I do think there is a place for publishers in the new solution, even though the concept of “publisher'” will change.
Now, all that has gone before is a discussion of “The Problem,” which was really just the solution to an earlier problem. It’s time to consider the “The Solution” to our new set of problems.
I had this discussion on Twitter and received an enormous amount of excellent feedback. Here are some (not by any means all) of the specs of the new Solution. None of these are my ideas, this is a synopsis of the collective mind.
But, before we move into the specifics, I want to be up front and address the obvious argument against what I am about to lay down – it all seems utterly unreasonable. Of course it is. It’s crazy thinking. Off the rails. This is not a solution that fixes a problem – what we need now is a solution that creates an entirely new vision. I believe that the heart of this new solution is in the core of the old one – the passion and love the fans have for comics and manga. I’ve seen both technology and process shifted by scan groups as a way to better serve their audiences. If we can harness that to begin with, we’ll have a strong start.
The solution needs to be platform- and technology-independent. Not hardware dependent, not company/distributor dependent. Manga Expert Jason Thompson posted recently about how badly the iPad serves manga . Many articles exist about how Kindle and Nook at this point, are not good for graphic novels. There is more commentary about the increasing difficulty of distribution of printed comics and manga than any one person can really keep up with. We need something better, something that allows creators to make their own decisions about how their work is viewed and readers to make our own decisions about what content we choose to read.
There must be self-regulated community standards so that children can find comics that suit and so can adults, without having to be “protected” from porn by over-zealous hardware gods.
Creators should get payment for every download/view and also reasonable payment for every approved modification, parody or use of their material. For instance, if a creator approves a translation of their comic to Uigur, a small fee (one in proportion to the number of people on the system with that as their primary language) can be paid by a group, so they can then translate that work into their language. The download/view fees will then pay the creator royalties for their content. Comic artists will have control over what happens to their work, and will be paid for the use of it. has created a Creator-Endorsed Mark, to be used in exactly this way.
“Publishers” will be anyone who is not a creator, but modifies a work by translating, editing, retouching, relettering, etc, for an approved project. This will give passionate fans the ability to share their favorite works in a legitimate manner. Perhaps these “publishers” can get a percentage of the approved projects that are downloaded/viewed. For instance, if that Uigur scan group is composed of 5 people, every time the Uigur translation is read, the translator, editor, proofreader, letterer and retouch person might get a small percentage of the download/view fee. 95% of the fee would get to the creator who approved the work and each of the scanlators might get 1%.
There needs to be a creator community and a reader community as part of this solution. Every scanlation group has a community and it’s this that keeps the group – and the love – alive. Fan work can/will be encouraged, but also managed. Some creators are already going this route on their own – taking their work online and developing their own methods to monetize it. This solution would provide a home for all creators, worldwide, to do the same, in a way that allows them to focus on their work, not on the technology of distribution.
Reader and system suggestions – and free previews of series that are not in the readers’ normal genres – will help stimulate reading. 2012 Note: has made tremendous inroads in this area and, while not quite perfect, is far more satisfying than the proprietary apps listed by other American and Japanese publishers. It’s laying down a new, relatively high benchmark.
And, for those of us who still love the feel, smell and look of books – print on demand capability, with reasonable price points. Like pamphlet comics? As long as the creator gives their approval, each chapter can be printed that way, or as a whole GN volume. The creators will have the opportunity to merchandise directly in the form of whatever products they want – T-shirts, postcards, or limited printed lithographs of a cover piece. It will be up to each creator to decide what they want to do and what form it would take.
Take the passion already put into scanlations, give it the power of community, suggestions and ratings, add the freedom of webcomics, a creator community in multiple languages and above all of this allow *permission* to be granted by the creator and fees to be paid for the use of the content.
I am not smart enough to do this, but I am convinced it can be done. It’s not in a company’s best interest to come up with the solution – companies have to pay bills, they have to protect the IP they have and the status quo of how they work. I challenge all of you out there to create this new solution. And I challenge you to all work on this, not wait for someone else to build it. Scans were developed by fans to solve a problem. Don’t focus on the problem – or why this can’t work – focus on the solution and how it can – then let’s make it happen. For the creators who want control of our work and readers, who want freedom to enjoy that work in our own way this is an unparalleled opportunity. We can all create a new paradigm that will make readers, creators and publishers equal stakeholders in an industry and in the content we all love.
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62 Responses

  1. Ana Marie says:

    That was like an awesome braveheart speech ^^ amen.

  2. oneplusme says:

    Ever since you mentioned that you were working on this, I’ve been giving it a bit of thought as well. I almost entirely agree with you about what a solution will have to look like, but I think I have a couple of things to add.

    Firstly, you’re right that hardware-independence is vital. Publishers really do have to accept that DRM is both stupid and dead (it’s always cracked, and it simply makes pirated copies more valuable than legitimate ones, because they let the user use the device of their choice and won’t vanish if the publisher goes under). About the best thing that’s left would seem to be a watermarking system which embeds a unique subscriber ID invisibly into each file; if your files show up on a P2P network then you’ll be the one in trouble. Obviously it wouldn’t stop the hardcore hackers, but then nothing ever will; it’s non-intrusive and a tolerably gentle way to keep people honest. (Also, it works just fine with the CBZ and CBR files which already exist and work on every computer, smartphone and tablet under the sun.)

    Secondly, the barriers to entry need to be as low as possible. Largely this means that the copyright-holders and the web-store intermediary need to set up a simple system of boiler-plate licenses. One licence per language, worldwide – no more crazy “US-only” policies; the market is small enough as it is, and fandom is globally distributed. As soon as lawyers have to get involved, everyone has already lost, because things get too expensive and too slow.

  3. @oneplusme – Adam, I was thinking more in the line of language-based licenses, rather than location. And English translation can be read by anyone who reads English, a French one by anyone who reads French. So, yes, I agree that location-based licenses are no good. Beyond DRM, we need to be independent of the Amazons, Apples, Diamonds of the world, who decide what is worth distribution and what is not.

    And, let me also say that I am absolutely ecstatic that my talking about this has got you thinking. You’re ridiculous smart and I know you’ll bring a great perspective to the issue.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry, but I’m afraid the traditional publishing companies in Japan will never allow this to happen. Since most professional manga artists are under contract with them, they will not risk biting the hands that feed them either.

    What’s left is a few dozen of independent/amateur artists who would be willing to try anything to break into the industry. Unfortunately, the works created by those artists won’t be enough to sustain the kind of community you suggest because the scanlators/fans themselves won’t be motivated enough to help.

    An artist can put their work online, that doesn’t mean that every scanlator would jump at the chance to translate and edit it, not even when the artist him/herself asks them to. Scanlators are a very opinionated and choosy bunch. Most do what they do because they hope the manga they scanlate will be read by a wide audience. That’s why there are so many Shonen Jump scanlators out there.

    Obscure mangas created by obscure artists simply don’t attract the kind of audience that would make it worthwhile for a scanlator to bother scanlating it. This is the main reason I believe OpenManga will fail (just like Manganovel before it) unless they are able to bring a big-name artist from a major magazine on board (very unlikely).

    In short, I think your idea is noble but it will never work because the main reason why scanlation works is because it’s illegal. By trying to make it legal you are stripping it from its most powerful components, basically making it a toothless dragon. The scanlators themselves are well aware of this fact and I anticipate most of them will not go along even if such a community will be created one day.

  5. @Anonymous – You missed the critical bit about not focusing on why it will not work – saying no is easy. Focus instead on how it can, or really, stay out of the conversation, since you’re not bringing anything to the table except for a pinchy “no” face. :-)

    Secondly, in many cases in Japan, creators retain the rights to their work. It is not up to the companies to decide in those cases.

    I also disagree with your assumption that scanlators only do this *because* it is illegal. I know many and they would jump at a chance for a legit method.

  6. I agree with you 100% on this, and I think your idea is a great one. I like to use the online manga reader websites such as emanga and Netcomics, but they are extremely limited in both content and reach – if you cannot read English, then you are out of luck. I think there can be room for these types of distribution websites still, but I love your idea because it goes beyond the English-language supremacy in place in the current market.

  7. Anonymous says:

    @Erica: I’m not sure what you expected. You laid out your idea. I only pointed out why I think it won’t work. If you just wanted to hear people cheer you on and do the happy dance, you should have said so in the beginning of your post. ;-)

    Anyway, to address your points:

    1) Yes, many Japanese artists do own rights to their works and some of them might be willing to join your community. The reason why most won’t is because they are still interested in working for and getting paid by Kodansha, Shogakukan, Shueisha and Co.

    Do you really think these companies will just sit idly by and watch how their artists bypass them and pocket all the money themselves? Unless the artist in question is Rumiko Takahashi or Eiichiro Oda, they will be cut loose immediately.

    2) I didn’t say the _scanlators_ do it because it’s illegal. I said the only reason _scanlation_ works as a “business model” is because it doesn’t have to rely on an external regulator.

  8. @Anonymous – I actually do say plainly that I’m looking for folks who want to make it work, not sit on the side and criticize.

    I think I know who you are anonymous, and you’re missing my point, so fine. I also think you need to re-read the essay, because I talk about the companies protecting their already owned IP and I support that as well.

    I’m proposing change – sweeoping, crazy thinking change. It’s cool if you feel uncomfortable with it and want to support the status quo.

    Scanlation – not the 20%, the criminally naive, but the 80%, the folks who just want to read what they want to read, works because people are passionate. If you really cannot even vaguely imagine that many of them would *love* to have permission from the creators and would dearly love to give the creators a fair fee in return, you really aren’t familiar with a lot of scanlators. Love, not crime, drives scanlators.

  9. oneplusme says:

    @Anonymous – You may well be right that the big publishing companies will reject any new solution out of hand. Then again, all it really needs is for one of them to be persuaded to dip a toe in, and the rest might well follow eventually.

    The trick, I suspect, would be to offer them enough comfort (be that a quality-review veto, or pushing out a few obscure titles, or whatever) to get a response. After all, they still own a heck of a lot of very attractive content; the choice is really between making some money from it or making no money at all. (Sure, they could blacken the sky with lawyers, but that’s ruinously expensive and hasn’t worked for anyone yet.)

    If (and it’s a big if) they have a lot of foresight, they might worry about disintermediation in the long term. But there’s still a lot of mileage in dead trees for the moment, and even in that hypothetical future there’d still be a major role for publishers-that-were as collections agencies. After all, most creators have neither the time nor the inclination to do all that accounting; and in the end, every corporation aspires to turn into a tax collector. ;)

  10. Mandy says:

    It is incredibly difficult to not consider what you are proposing impossible. From an Economics standpoint, there are monumental hurdles. But you don’t want to hear no’s and you’ve probably heard it all before anyway, so I’ll stop there.

    I’m going to proceed from a kind of Economics angle, if I may, though I’m very rusty in thinking through this method. From this standpoint, I am unsure if a publishing or technological solution would be a correct answer. I’m sure they would help a great deal, but it doesn’t solve the base problem of the incentives behind scanlations. People really only do things because they receive some sort of benefit from it, so because they receive no monetary benefit from doing scanlations, typically benefit mostly from feelings that they are doing something good and important for their fellow anime/manga fans. Feelings of power and ego bolster this. This is similar to how someone might feel good doing volunteer work, but this has a bit more added benefit from belonging to a club kind of thing. You could liken it to ohhh an LGBT community or maybe like my mom who volunteers with a bunch of other little old ladies at the Japanese American museum. It’s a club kind of thing and it’s fun, though it drives her insane.

    My point is that there are very strong incentives for scanlators to keep going. People heap praise on them and it makes them feel good and accepted. So, pretty much this is going to continue unless those feelings are somehow shifted and/or countered. I wouldn’t say to threaten them, because I’m sure that would just add rebelliousness as an added incentive… but there needs to be a negative. Actually probably lots of little negatives that add up to gently, subtly push things away from that direction. This is where technology or publishing helps. For example, hmm… paper that’s difficult to scan? Though that’s added cost for publishers that goes right into the retail costs. But it would increase the difficulty of doing scanlations which provide a reduction in the incentive to do it. Working hard = less fun.

    That is sadly all I could come up with at the moment. I do not even think I approached the subject in the way you wished, so I apologize. I tried my best, but my thoughts tend to come out jumbled when I think too hard. :x But this is something that does merit much thought so I will puzzle over it more.

  11. @oneplusme Also, there’s no reason to insist on a I have it/you don’t dichotomy. There are many audiences that cannot get work through the traditional models, so why shouldn’t a company maximize a work with these translations to languages they wouldn’t otherwise license to.

    Taking Yuri as an example, Company A currently has 0 licenses overseas. They could be the ones to negotiate terms with group B to license release of a online only version for a work, where that work poses too many problems to license in print form for that audience. There’s no reason to insist that Company A is undercut or run around in this system. Just that it becomes *another* distribution stream.

  12. Kino.Gal says:

    I’m all for big changes and going against our current norm, and willing to support whatever will get us to a happy manga-enjoying future.

    The only thing that is the fact that the 80% do it because it’s a hobby. There are many that will do great in your proposed ideal world… But while it doesn’t seem like someone would be able to make a significant living in this scenario, still, I think for many, this hobby would become “work” and lose its enjoyment.

    My main point is that the only way I’d like to see the new solution evolve from the current scanlator base is if the original spirit of that 80%, of wanting to help spread a good thing, can stay in tact. The lack of a business mind keeping their motives pure, but we know that manga can’t live that way.

    The creators, the manga artists, are in the same boat of a passionate, not business-like mind. I think we still need publishers of today (Kurt Hassler and such) to be those middle-men. If anything, to oversee the creators and “publishers” that modify their work for a foreign language audience, or else things will get too far out of hand.

  13. I think maybe companies in Japan should partner with some of those “ethical scanlation” groups you speak of and have them do an e-book version available for download, for a fee of course. That way, we can still pay for it, but it’s in an e-book style format like what you’d get from the Nook or Sony e-book website, for example. Also, since it’d be an e-book, they wouldn’t have to front funds that tag along with publishing a paper copy (the physical, tangible supplies, I mean). Just the fees for publishing in the USA and all the licensing issues, etc. But it’d be a great solution for fans who want ENGLISH manga (like YURI!) and who are willing to pay for it. Plus, if those people are already doing the “labor of love” for free, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind becoming official translators as a profession. I’m sure there is flaw to my reasoning somewhere, but it’s always nice to dream. *sigh* :)

  14. Sean Gaffney says:

    I agree with many of your comments. One thing I loved seeing recently was Viz’s deal with Rumiko Takahashi and Shogakukan regarding Rin-Ne. Straight-up same day release on their web site. If you can just a) get enough translators and adaptors to make this happen for more than one title, and b) find a way to may it pay without making it proprietary, you’re golden.

    As the biggest key, in my opinion, in your article was ‘within a reasonable time’. The majority of scanlations of titles already licensed in North America are not done to rip off companies per se, they’re done as the companies are SO FAR BEHIND JAPAN. Fandom is not going to wait the current length of time a graphic novel takes here.

    As an example, let’s take the Viz-licensed Square Enix manga Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa. The series just ended in Japan this week, with chapter 108. The collected final volume, if Viz keeps to its current schedule, will be in January 2012. Almost 2 years after most of the online fandom read the scanlation. Yes, many of us will support Viz and SE and Arakawa by buying it, but a ton of fans will simply have moved on.

    Heck, a same-week release would even help sales for some licenses! School Rumble, never a big seller to begin with, absolutely tanked when the ending came out and was found to be… lacking, shall we say. Fans were so upset with it they dropped the NA releases. If they were paying by chapter for same-week releases… well, they’d still be upset, but they’d have paid!

    As long as online fans are insane fanatics, you’re going to get scans so people can follow what’s happening NOW in Japan. Solve that problem, and 80% of the scanlators of those licensed series lose their reason to do anything. After all, how many Rin-Ne scanlator groups are there compared to, say, Naruto?

    Come on, everyone! Let’s make this happen so that EVERYONE wins.

  15. Dr. Weeaboo says:

    (follow up on last comment)

    The thing is, there’s no need to pay the translators any money. You’d just need to pay the people who check over the translations and consult with whoever has the rights to make sure the translation is acceptable to be published. MangaNovel paid translators in credits that they could use to buy more manga on the website. One of the principles of web commerce is that people will contribute to your site for one of three reasons: they either want to get ‘paid,’ ‘laid’ or ‘made.’ Ignoring the first two for the moment, getting ‘made’ basically means that you feel like your contribution is acknowledged in a way that makes you feel like you are so awesome. Usually it works by having some kind of point or trophy system. It’s the same reason why people play video games where the goal is to get a high score. There are a lot of ways that you could profitably integrate that idea into the site.

    Now if you really are interested in doing this, I would suggest starting with a niche market, get it working for that market, and then expand. Start with a market that is currently under-served in America. Let’s say Yuri. Start an online distribution site for translated Yuri manga, develop ties to Japanese publishers and manga artists through this, get a working business model started through that and then you can get other publishers and investors interested in your idea because you will have shown that it can work. Don’t try and tackle the whole industry at once.

    So the first two problems that need to be addressed are, like I said, developing contacts with Japanese manga artists and publishers. You may want to start by making contacts with fans in Japan first because they may have a better understanding of the industry and some of them may already be or may become part of it.

    The second thing you’ll need is a website or network of websites with pre-existing Yuri-inclined audience that you can draw your readers and translators from.

  16. BruceMcF says:

    Also learn the lessons of neighboring audiences w/&vs markets. Anime bootleg streaming is one generation beyond the current anime viewing sites, which actually host the manga to an extent that leech streaming sites could never afford … leech streaming sites are built around genuine aggregation rather than hosting, though of course behind the scenes they are busily illegally uploading the material that they are aggregating.

    So, there would be a tremendous benefit from aggregation of legit manga viewing. Given an agreement with even a few big online tentpole mangas from big publishers … the aggregator could very well then provide its diversity via also viewing from one or more niche crowdsourced translation publishers.

    Calling it “Legal Aggregator” or LA for short, “(Conventional) Publisher” or Pub for short, and “Crowdsource Online Publisher”, or COP for short, the relationships are LA:Pub1, LA:Pub2, LA:Pub3, LA:COP1, LA:COP2.

    Each LA:Pub# might involve its own independent negotiated page serving system, but ideally the LA:COP# relationship involves an open-standard content system, and the bells and whistles and app’ing and etc. to make the viewing experience as easy as possible for the novice viewer as possible is provided by the LA.

    For the business model, there is a wide range of content that the Japanese publishers cannot afford to localize, international license holders cannot afford to localize, and crowdsourcing localization can. Publishers cannot “grab” that portion of the content without embracing crowdsourcing of localization … and if they embrace crowdsourcing of localization, “we win!!! Woot!”.

    The thing about the viewer side is that the more, the merrier is the manga, not the sites. More manga at one site, more people coming to read the manga to chat with in the forums … the viewer side “wants” to have a power law distribution: one to three big viewer sites.

    On the online publishing side, it kind of “wants” to be fragmented. Circles of crowdsource translators and their supporting fans, focusing on a niche or genre or approach … or language.

    In order to allow both natural distributions to work, the COP’s need to be set up with licensing that allows aggregation access with a fair share of aggregator revenues. That allows the aggregator sites to focus on ad based monetization, while the COP’s focus on subscription model monetization. The subscription proceeds allow payment of the permission to attempt a translation, PAT, as well as group member view royalties, while the aggregator payments to the COP are passed on through to the creator or their assigned agent.

    One side point, that has not been raised: each COP needs to have a ranking of how much royalties each of the hobbyist translating circles have raised for the mangaka that they are translating. Not the dollars, just so and so 5th, so and so 4th, so and so Bronze Medal, so and so Silver Medal, so and so Gold Medal. Pure bragging rights. “We made our mangaka’s money, WE WIN! TEAM-GLIB WINS!!! Woot!”

  17. DanielBT says:

    This is a much more eloquent and well-thought out arguement for the support of the scanlation community. Far better than my meager attempt to put my thoughts in order.

  18. BruceMcF says:

    Also @oneplusme is exactly right. DRM=#fail. Redundantly digital watermark the file to subscriber, when a subscriber’s file gets out into bootleg circulation, call them on the carpet, if two get out, can them.

    Technically, redundant watermarks would be a conspicuous visual watermark, an inconspicuous visual watermark, a conspicuous digital watermark, and an inconspicuous digital watermark. EG, an actual watermark in the margin of the first page of a chapter, a subscriber ID in the comments section of the file etags, a digital watermark such as valid but suboptimal jpeg or png encoding at randomly selected pages and etc.

    Choose one of several varieties of inconspicuous digital watermarks, and sooner or later the subscribers responsible for leaks will slip.

  19. Pat says:

    You did say your idea was going to be ambitious. :)

    My biggest suggestion to making this work is to consult/make friends with a copyright lawyer. The reason for regional licenses all revolves around the ridiculously tangled web of copyright law in the US. Only someone who specializes in that field could point out specific hurdles and possible solutions to your grand plan.

    I also disagree with a suggestion a previous poster made about not paying translators and going to some kind of point system. Instead, I suggest paying the top tier of translators respectably (your head translators and editors), and providing an incentive package to the worker bee translators. In exchange for their diligent work, they could get a formal recommendation for future translation jobs, free access to the site for the length of their employment, and maybe discounts from major publishers. It’d be more of an intern position with benefits. Just expecting them to work for free is a bit unrealistic, IMO. Make it worth putting the effort into. I know several people who work part time for Geek Squad just so they can keep the huge employee discount at Best Buy. The pay sucks, but the perks are great.

    Way to think big, Erica! Keep looking at things positively!

  20. C. Banana says:

    I notice that with fan video game translations, that those translators never offer the video game on their own site instead they just use a patch to change the data from the original to the translation.

    Yuri Visual Novel examples:

    Aoi Shiro patch –

    Sono Hanabira Ni Kuchizuke Wo patch –

    Of course this doesn’t prevent a person from pirating the game from a different source.

    Still, if there was a way that we could obtain legitimate digital copies of the manga, then current scanlators could theoretically just offer a patch that changes that data from the Japanese version to the English version similar to how fan video game translators do it. There is some incentive for scanlation groups to do it that way since it cuts down on their bandwidth and makes it far less likely that manga companies would pursue litigation against them. It might be in a manga companies best interests to offer software tools to facilitate translation patches as it adds value to their product.

    Of course a digital distribution model may solve another problem. To get manga from Japan, the biggest cost for people overseas is just for the shipping of the material and that wouldn’t be necessary under a digital model.

  21. BruceMcF says:

    But, Pat, they already work for free. Why is it unrealistic to expect them to continue to do so?

    However, this would seem to be another dimension in which the distribution of Crowdsource Online Publishers “wants” to fragment. There are some niches where paying translators is simply unrealistic as a business model. At the other extreme are the big tentpole serials that could support professional pre-release translation and online English publication synchronized to Japanese print publication.

    And in between are niches that would support “semi-pro” per page translation rates combined with, eg, access to a range of content at cost.

    The seed is an open standard for the unlettered art and translated overlays, including panel geometry to support more sophisticated readers needed to read content on more portable devices (even a netbook requires a 90 degree rotation switch and fullscreen display to be really effective as a manga viewer).

    Planting the seed involves establishing a crowdsource online publisher publishing to the standard and one or two widely used sites that can bring an audience to the content. Crunchyroll and AnimeNewsNetwork would be the most obvious … and if there were no arbitrary region restrictions, that would be a welcome relief to CR, who can offer very little to members in South, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East or Southeast Asia.

  22. Anonymous says:

    It seems like a technical angle would be to use a micro-payments protocol or subscriptions to pay royalties for online access.

    CrunchyRoll seems to be able to make subscriptions work for anime. No-one seems to be doing end-user micro-payments, though the concept was explored years ago.

    But subscriptions might work if the rates are low enough to be painless.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this article, I really really liked it! ^_^

    Let me see if I have understood the problems… (here it too hot even to think XD)

    The foundamental problem is -> I want to read something that is not yet published in my country
    The problem is not -> I want to read something that I could buy but I – poor thing! – don’t want to pay even 1 cent for it.

    And I think the thing is not – at least in the beginning – “future scanslation sites has to replace publishers” but more like “scanslations has to supplement the market with their work”. If it’s true that you are doing scanslations for fun and because you like a manga that is not available in your language, then you cannot ask for money for your own, not even to pay your translators or editors, otherwise it’s like publisher work. [a little digression: as a translator or editor your name is on the work, so if some publsher notice you, he can always hires you :) ]

    I think that, just to open the mind to other new possibilities, you could offer a service that can provide a link between the author of manga/comics/novel and the readers, in accordance with the author; for example: open a site which offers the possibility to read translated and edited manga (not licensed ones, of course) in other languages, under the payment of a little amount of money, that will be almost entirely devolved to the author.
    In this (utopic? :D) way the author can even listen to what the fans think about their work, see if one of their works meet the tastes of fans etc etc, and eventually a publisher can evaluate the possibility to license some works of that author.

    I know that all this is almost utopic, but can I dream a little more? :D

  24. G Clark says:

    If you think US copyright law is bad, you need to read some of the non-US ones.


    G Clark

  25. Folks who want to comment and are posting links to game patches, comics translations, etc – your comments are not being approved because you are linking to people who are distributing information they have no permission to distribute. I’m glad to post your ideas – without those links.

  26. @Bruce_McF I think the idea od group ratings being tied in (proportionately) to a creator’s earning is genius. Obviously, there is a smaller reader base for Yuri than action titles, so keeping it proportional will be key. Say if a group’s translation has been read by 90% of th audience registered with the tag “Yuri” it can be considered successful and it’s rating go up.

  27. BruceMcF says:

    @Erica: Oh yes, definitely do like the Best Seller lists and the Movie Awards and have distinct categories … since rankings are quite cheap – a little programming to generate the ranking on the basis of information that the site has on hand anyway – no need to be stingy.

  28. Anonymous says:

    as far as i’m concerned as long as people are supporting scanlator by either seeing/reading the “work” and donating minimal amount then IT WON’T STOP

    We all can voice out opinion but CHANGE must happen to each and every people who are logging in and browsing the NET just to read manga…it is an ethical… yes, it is wrong…yes…But does the site register the name of the reader who visit/browse the site…NO, do we have laws for that…NONE YET…
    Reading from an SCANLATOR site has it’s pros and cons…but by the end of the days it is a personal choice and opinion…

  29. Nathan says:

    I disagree with you on some aspects of copyright law and thus on some specifics of your conception of the problem, but your solution is absolutely wonderful and EXACTLY what I would like to see fans and creators reach out to each other and do now that we’ve got the Internet to help us. On-demand printing is a generally good idea and one that many webcomics already use. This may very well, in fact, be the business model that I use when I get around to putting serious thought into publishing the things that I write.

    I appreciated the links to David Byrne’s piece and Scott Adams’s, since they’re both men whose work I like and whose opinions it’s often interesting to read.

    I would like to add, however, that I think that larger-scale publication for bookstores and libraries should still be an option, simply because most of the world’s population still does not have Internet access, and because as you said there are those of us who simply like the physicality of a book.

  30. BruceMcF says:

    Basic business model decisions:

    In-site rights or rights to further distribute? Exclusive or non-exclusive?

    First, non-exclusive rights is what is compatible with the goal of being supporting fans of the artists creating the work.

    Second, the business model oddly becomes simpler if the focus is both on providing content to site membership and distributing content on a revenue basis for legal aggregators. There is a goal-conflict between forming a cohesive, coherent community and gaining the broadest possible visibility, and the technology provides substantial support for resolving the goal conflict by having distinct going concerns doing each. The Crowdsource Online Publisher can be a subscription organization, and have a special class of subscribers that are distribution channels.

    An initial target might be looking to OneManga as a channel, working with ANN to form a channel, and working with Crunchyroll to form a channel.

    What form of royalty: share of gross revenue, share of net revenue, fixed royalty per view. Share of net revenue eliminates risk of loss. Share of gross revenue ensures income to the artists with maximum flexibility in negotiations with distribution channels. Fixed royalty per view would be similar to existing print publishing agreements.

    A mixed option is share of net revenue from subscriber base and share of gross revenue from redistribution.

    Also, view, download, or PoD? One can of course do all three. My hunch is view for external channels and choice between view and download for subscribers. This emulates the online ecology with more expert users relying on torrent downloads while by far the greatest readership is on viewer sites.

    Hosting costs are reduced if downloads are by torrent (note that just because torrents are heavily used for illegal distribution, they are not restricted to illegal distribution).

    Price point: different scenarios have to be worked out, starting with a baseline target subscription base and hosting costs. The Crunchyroll price points are $7/month paid monthly, $6/month paid $18/quarter, $5/month paid $60/yr.

    A different pricing structure would be $x/month plus a per page charge, eg $0.002/pg viewed, $0.005/page downloaded, $10 minimum starting balance. This fits a share of gross revenue royalty structure, giving coverage of overheads with sufficient subscription base and a per page charge on which to base royalty payments.

    A balance system would also allow for credit to translators per page of approved translation overlay.

    A final element of a crowdsource model would be crowdsource rights protection. This would involve rights defense groups identifying infringing distribution and reporting infringing links to rights owners.

  31. BruceMcF says:

    Anonymous said…
    as far as i’m concerned as long as people are supporting scanlator by either seeing/reading the “work” and donating minimal amount then IT WON’T STOP

    But note the goal: the goal is not “wipe out scanlation”, the goal is “don’t allow scanlations to destroy the market value of the works that we value”.

    One advantage to an existing scanlation group if legal crowdsourced translations can be established is that its easier. Get access to clean artwork. Generate the overlay file. Upload the overlay file into the “unapproved by author” section. Those eager to get any translation read the manga with the unapproved overlay from the sidebar, and if they wish rate and comment on the translation. If approved by the mangaka, the overlay goes onto the front page and the approved by author library and is available on the external channels.

    And if the translation proves popular, help your mangaka earn money for their work, say 80% of gross revenue, with 5% of gross revenue going into the group’s account to help cover their subscription … or if their translations are popular, completely cover their subscriptions.

    First, as a legal source, the legal channels get the work first, before they are ripped off from the legal channels by the illegal channels. So the illegal channels will not be boosted by the demand to “get it first” (DB remarked when they dropped Naruto on how the quicker their turn-around way, the higher their download counts were).

    Second, if the original work is the crowdsource translators is done legally, it also becomes harder to maintain fan delusion on the basis of “but, scanlators are performing a service that the publishers”.

    Third, doing the crowdsource translation legally also puts the of the crowdsource translation in the strongest position from which to engage in crowdsource rights protection.

    So while ripping will not be eliminated … total elimination of ripping is not required in order to ensure that there is a space for a market to operate.

  32. Anonymous says:

    if the publishing companies are willing to negotiate, the scanlation community might really change for them, even if it takes a lot of work and time. but the whole hobby thing turning into work could potentially kill a lot of scanlator’s intent to do it, because doing scanlation as a hobby is fun while doing it as a work is not as much. even if scanlation is a lot like work already for some of the scanlation groups, but to make it “official work” would just add more stress.

    however, scanlation groups as a whole are way outnumbered by the readers in this case. and only readers/downloaders of those scanlation can really make the difference, if huge numbers of them are supportive of this potential solution and act to make it work, then things will really change for the better. yet there’s also large portions of the readers who’ve always read scanlation because it is free, and they may not be willing to pay for what was once free and then not anymore. it all depends on the majority’s opinion after all.

    perhaps a campaign would be a good start, or at least get more people to read this whole blog entry.

  33. BruceMcF says:

    Anonymous said…
    if the publishing companies are willing to negotiate, the scanlation community might really change for them, even if it takes a lot of work and time. but the whole hobby thing turning into work could potentially kill a lot of scanlator’s intent to do it, because doing scanlation as a hobby is fun while doing it as a work is not as much. even if scanlation is a lot like work already for some of the scanlation groups, but to make it “official work” would just add more stress.

    You basically seem to be proving here that crowdsourcing is no fun if its legal, and thereby proving that Wikipedia does not exist, nor is there any actual user created content at YouTube.

    I don’t see exactly how making crowdsourced translation less hassle is going to make is less fun. Very few of the scanlators worth having are doing it for the thrill of doing something illegal – all the valuable ones will be doing it for the love of the medium. Being told that they are stars for helping make money for the mangaka drawing “their” projects and getting free downloads of other people’s work if their translations are popular just does not seem all that “work”y to me.

    Unless you are replying to another Anon who said the opposite, that nobody would do it without being paid, in which case the generic inability to click name/url and make up a pseudonym, “SpepticalSam” or whatever, makes it really hard on people when Anon’s start arguing with each other.

    Start from the fringe where crowdsourcing translations is an obvious business model win, and where the international rights for translation into English, Lingala, Urdu and Khmer are of insufficient commercial value for the publisher to fuss if the magaka asks to strike those rights out of the contract with the publisher.

  34. Dorota says:

    I just want to point out a little (pretty well documented) psychological effect.
    Can’t remember who did the researches, so I can’t drop any names or supply a bibliography.

    It seems, that when you pay people (small amounts of) money, it totally shifts the perspective from “I do this hard work, because I love it” to “Why am I doing this hard work for mere peanuts?”.
    So maybe fan-translators are better left unpaid. I think they would still do it.
    Web 2.0 already proved, that people will happily supply free content. The key is freedom, I think. If the creators or right-holders would get too picky about how exactly you can re-make their work, it could really spoil the enjoyment for everyone.
    That’s the biggest problem I see.

    Other stuff is just a paradigm shift. But the internet is one huge, insane paradigm shift, I think people forget that.

  35. BruceMcF says:

    Dorota said…
    I just want to point out a little (pretty well documented) psychological effect.
    Can’t remember who did the researches, so I can’t drop any names or supply a bibliography.

    It seems, that when you pay people (small amounts of) money, it totally shifts the perspective from “I do this hard work, because I love it” to “Why am I doing this hard work for mere peanuts?”.
    So maybe fan-translators are better left unpaid. I think they would still do it.

    Note that with the kind of audience that the biggest scumbag manga viewer sites are attracting, the biggest most popular titles would easily generate enough of an audience to pay 80% of viewership revenue as royalty and still fund professional translation on reasonable payment terms.

    However, those are the tentpoles, and tentpoles without the surrounding broad tent is only half an online strategy. Its the broad tent titles where the crowdsourcing of translation comes to the fore.

    These two should be pursued by distinct online publishers, otherwise invidious distinction between crowdsourcing and paid translations will be an ongoing headache. For the Yuri manga that we here hope to see broadly legally available, the focus is on the broad tent, and if any emerge as tentpoles, well, Hurray!

    “Free stuff”, otherwise commonly known as “prizes”, does not spoil things in the same way as a miserably low wage does. In the psychology, the prize is a bonus on top. This is why I suggested winning free content if the mangaka descends from the heavens to approve a translation. Up front it would be made crystal clear that the prize is bonus balances to claim free content as a prize – the balance could not be “cashed out”. And of course, consuming that prize then mostly directs royalties to the artist whose work is being read.

    Web 2.0 already proved, that people will happily supply free content. The key is freedom, I think. If the creators or right-holders would get too picky about how exactly you can re-make their work, it could really spoil the enjoyment for everyone.
    That’s the biggest problem I see.

    Here is where in the subscriber-insider / channel-outsider model would come into play. All subscribers are on the inside as far as the crowdsourcing of the translations. All subscribers have the right to contribute (even if a majority will be subscribing as to a magazine and will only contribute to discussion of given works), which entails all subscribers have the ability to views other’s contributed overlays whether or not the translation wins authorized status.

    How generous or stingy, prompt or procrastinating a particular author chooses to be about authorizing content, the subscribers have access to the content. Rather, its the external channels that have to wait until there is an authorization, so it is in part individual mangaka trade-offs between concern for fidelity and desire for exposure that will determine how free or stringent individual mangaka are with their authorizations.

  36. electricbob says:

    So are you proposing a modified music performance model, where one or more organizations gather proceeds and distribute them to author(s) (including the artist and writer I assume if they differ)?

    And on the rest I agree – I have grown fond of the Yotsuba series (not Yuri but still fun for me) and found it via such a fan site – I have purchased all the books as they’ve come out and will continue; those translators do what you have suggested, explaining many of the hidden puns and societal norms that would be missed in a ‘straight’ translation.

    Nice article – I plan to read David Byrne’s next but wanted to comment while your ideas were fresh.

    Have fun! – Bob

  37. A really thought-provoking post, Erica! I’m glad to see it stimulate so much interesting, productive conversation. I’m also glad you mentioned NETCOMICS, as I think they’re pioneering a model that works well for titles where there isn’t a guaranteed audience, e.g. avant-garde manga, works of historic interest, works that are aimed at a niche audience in the creators’ home country. Their flexible approach strikes me as very smart: if there’s demand for a title, they can do a print edition (as they have for series like Click), and if there isn’t, they can appease the series’ fans by finishing it online.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Netcomics’s recent print runs seem to have been on the small side. It’s been rather hard to get ahold of them.

    Furthermore, a lot of the manga they started putting into a print that they then pulled at a later date. Some even had release dates and ISBNs when they did so, which is a real shame.
    Operation Liberate Men is completely translated (well, up to vol 9 where the series is on hiatus), but only 4/9 are in print.
    Two Will Come is completely translated. It was completed in 2008, yet only 2/4 are in print. Two out of four :(
    In the Starlight’s translation even stopped in May last year, at 4/10 volumes (of which 3 are in print), and Kingdom of the Winds’ translation stopped part way through vol 4/24 in August, and nothing has been heard from either since :(

  39. Anonymous says:

    The Japanese manga industry is something like $5 billion, the US industry is around $200 million. Why should the Japanese publishers blow up their system to try and get a few extra dollars from people who are currently reading stuff for free?

    And why would anyone want a system where manga is translated/edited by people who have to work for free? Theoretically, some creators could be helped under your “solution” but there’s nothing stopping them from doing what you suggest right now.

    Do you see your system producing the same amount of revenue as the current system? That’s really all that matters.

  40. BruceMcF says:

    Anonymous said…
    BTW, its not hard to tick “Name/URL” and just make up a name on the fly, to let people know whether you are a new Anon or a formerly Anon following up

    The Japanese manga industry is something like $5 billion, the US industry is around $200 million. Why should the Japanese publishers blow up their system to try and get a few extra dollars from people who are currently reading stuff for free?

    Wherein does the Japanese manga industry have to blow up their system?

    Not holding international distribution rights for titles and/or languages for which international distribution rights otherwise have no commercial value. “Oh, my, what a threat”.

    Indeed, if OpenManga is negotiating with 70 mangaka, that tells us that the Japanese publishers may not, in fact, spend a lot of effort in nailing down international distribution rights that have no commercial value under the traditional print publishing business model.

    And why would anyone want a system where manga is translated/edited by people who have to work for free? Theoretically, …

    THEORETICALLY??? This post is talking about how to replace the existing crowdsourced translation of manga that, as presently organized, undermines the market value of the work of mangaka.

    … some creators could be helped under your “solution” but there’s nothing stopping them from doing what you suggest right now.

    These types of systems have substantial network economies. There’s no technical impediment – but the system is not in place, and not being in place, any individual that wished to try it would have to carry the burden of setting the system up.

    Its a straightforward infant industry situation – the maintenance and growth of one of these systems is not as hard as the establishment.

    Do you see your system producing the same amount of revenue as the current system? That’s really all that matters.

    Since its not supplanting the current market but extending the current market into an audience presently outside the market, it does not need to replace the revenue of the current system.

    The current system will, after all, still be there, at least if the venture is successful.

  41. @Bruce_McF said:

    > Since its not supplanting the current market but extending the current market into an audience presently outside the market, it does not need to replace the revenue of the current system.

    Exactly right. Fans tend towards a curious binary where things must be one way or therefore another, rather than the more reasonable mush of everything all at once.

    This is a market already in flux and most companies are attempting a digital model. So this solution is just one that focuses rather on the creators and the readers, rather than worrying about the companies’ already held IP.

    In no way is this *instead* of the traditional model of publishing. It is meant to supplement that model and provide a new market from what is now only an audience.

    To Anon’s point – what is stopping creators from doing this now? Nothing. Several creators are, already, doing something completely similar both in Japan and here in the US. Ideally, this solution takes the burden of maintenance off of the creator, so they can focus on creation.

  42. Eugene says:

    Anonymous (5:48) has a point. Look at this through the eyes of a corporate lawyer. Or a paper-pushing salaryman on the fifteenth floor of a Tokyo office building.

    When I was in graduate school (way back at the dawn of time), the head of the ESL program developed an innovative multimedia prototype similar to the French in Action series, but using a computer-based hypertext engine and LaserDisc.

    When efforts were made to produce a commercial product, the reply from the rights owners was (and I paraphrase): “Give us a jillion dollars or go away.” It was enormously frustrating, and in the end it was cheaper to shoot our own video.

    But I understand where they were coming from. The lawyers alone would cost more than they’d recoup from us in royalties. Add to this the paranoia that they’d be licensing for a song rights that would turn out to be worth much more later.

    This paranoia is not unjustified. Consider the decade-long nightmare of the SCO-Linux controversy. Or recent attempts by book publishers to claw back ebook rights as authors start self-publishing their own backlists.

    The lawyers will tell the client to do nothing until it’s been studied to death. Because what we learn from history is that nobody learns anything from history. I’m afraid that it will ultimately be easier to find forgiveness than get permission.

  43. @Eugene – Totally valid point of view.

    It interests me mightily that most of the “it won’t work” presumes that the companies will be the ones to bog it down.

    And yet…I never proposed involving the companies in this new solution. The creators are the one with the greatest motivation to control their own work. the companies can continue to deal with the creators as they have. This system would be an add-on method for those creators. It’s not unreasonable, as most creators maintain their own rights.

    But, yet again, I say – do NOT focus on the why nots. There are many, and they will kill creativity and vision. First, focus on how this can work. Frankly, any idiot can say “no.” (And most do.) “Yes” is much, much harder and requires a lot more work.

    Our alternative is to allow hardware creators with Victorian morals tell us what we can and cannot read, and allow companies to come up with a dozen different solutions, no one of which suits most people. Books are a single standard solution. I’m looking for an equivalent digital standard do companies, creators and readers don’t have to buy 5 different devices and read in 8 different formats.

  44. Eugene says:

    As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t bet on the creators having such a free hand. Once the dollar signs appeared, U.S. publishers “realized” that unspecified ebook rights were actually specified all along. For the most part, these efforts haven’t succeeded (see here), but that doesn’t mean that the threat of legal action alone won’t cow many authors into seeing things the publisher’s way.

    Here’s my suggestion for getting forgiveness instead of asking permission. To start with, I’m perfectly fine with take-down notices and enforcing anti-piracy measures (while also arguing that Cory Doctorow has an position worth listening to and that there’s a difference between digital piracy and digital smuggling).

    Otherwise, I’d take the sports/talent scout approach. That is, a “scout” spots a high-quality scanlation and buys it outright (most professional translation of this sort is fee-for-work), in exchange for which they pull the scanlation and the publisher doesn’t sic its lawyers on them. Essentially, the scanlation is an audition.

    The same way a talent scout will spot a talented cover band (BTW, highly unlikely that said band is paying ASCAP/BMI for the songs it covers) and offer them a contract. After which they go “legit.” The scanlator gets “discovered” the same way the band or actor or first-time author does.

  45. @Eugene – You may be right (although in my experience it is not that cut and dried, depending on both the company and the creator) but that still only applies to previously created work.

    I’m adamant about this being the future. If Tite Kubo (picking a popular creator at random for argument’s sake) was working on a new, post-Bleach work, there’s absolutely no reason to thing that he might not want to consider a new distribution model in conjunction with the old.

  46. BruceMcF says:

    @Eugene, but note that in much of the target market, these are dollar signs that only exist under this business model.

    If publishers claim a piece of the action in the form of a share of the revenue, that is between the publishers and the mangaka to sort out, but in general, the more auxiliary income a mangaka can expect to receive, the better for the publishers. It would seriously undermine the business model of the serials if they had to cover the full cost of producing the original art on their page rate alone.

    Likely bargaining points:

    Japanese originals to inform overlays versus unlettered art and Japanese scripts to inform overlays. If PoD is available, full Japanese originals seem unlikely to be tolerated.

    Synchronized publication versus one week delay (with the insider-subscriber / outside-channel model, a one week delay is easy to build into the release to the outside channels)

  47. Wouldn’t you say that there is also a lack of originality in certain titles to the point where fans would rather just read for free than pay?

    I actually did my take on it. You can read it at:

  48. @Manga Therapy – No, I cannot consider that a valid point. If the Gap’s sweaters are itchy this year, you may buy them, or not, it’s not a “good” reason to steal them.

    Manga is entertainment. There are only seven plots. And all work is on a distribution curve – there will *always* be less good than average and bad combined. Therefore, 95% comes in below what you see as “really good.”

    Most people don’t think about their own delusions and forget that you can only be a virgin once. You read more, of *course* it seems derivative. It’s not the first one you read. Trust me – that one wasn’t as good as you remember it, either.

  49. Anonymous says:

    You can’t expect Japanese creators to dump publishing companies that provide them with assistants and help them sell in the only market that really counts (the Japanese market) because you offer the unproven prospect of earning pocket-money in the western market. The best way to do this would be to start with smalltime western creators, prove you can profit, move up to slightly bigger creators, prove you can profit, etc. Then, and only then, should you try to expand into dealing with Japanese creators.

    Now, if you’re successful in the West, some American company will probably buy you out, which may or may not squash any hope of expanding into Japan. However, it doesn’t really matter if you prove your business model is superior to the current model, it will inevitably be implemented in Japan (and everywhere) by someone.

    The best way for westerners to change the Japanese comic industry is to change the western comic industry first to prove the different business model is viable.

  50. @Anonymous – Again with the binary either or. Why not both? There is nothing in this essay that requires any creator to stop being part of a publishing company. There is nothing that requires creators to be part of a publishing company.

    Why is it so hard to see past conflict to a future that has multiple options for all parties?

  51. Anonymous says:

    I’m pretty sure the publishing companies generally require creators not publish any work published by that publisher with another publisher. Shinjou Mayu ran into this problem when she left Shogakukan and had to change things like character names when she continued her currently-running series with another publisher.

  52. @Anonymous – That is true in some cases, not all. There are many artists who work for a number of publishers.

    The mentality that all things are locked into fixed absolutes that cannot be changed is interestingly medieval.

    ALL things can be changed. Terms can be renegotiated, options can be offered. This is a system in flux. Don’t be so damn positive that we’re stuck in a bog, when there’s hemp to be threaded and a rope can be made.

    Once again, the challenge is to *not* focus on the why nots (something all the Anonymous have been obsessively focused on) but to focus on the how it can work.

    Dear every Anonymous – by god, you’ve come up with another reason that this system may not work for a few more mangaka. How clever of you. How about you turn one half that energy into finding a way to DO a thing instead of commenting on how someone else’s thing won’t work? It’s harder to create that destroy – that’s the point.

  53. BruceMcF says:

    On the “how to do it” as opposed to “why its impossible”, Matt Blind has a good point that the most widely used eBook format is just css and html packaged up into a single file and mucked about with to require the use of an ereader, since otherwise any browser would be able to read the ebooks.

    The proven manga/comics viewer system is web pages with image files … proven as in over a billion served per month! … and css already solves the image overlay problem … define each art page as its own container, and then each localization displays the black and white and transparent language overlay on top of the art.

    The intellectual property to be protected is then the images, and there are a range of distinct fingerprints that can be applied to images, including embedded text tag watermarks, visible watermarks, and encoding watermarks. The html is useless without the images.

    The most widely used graphical image format that is artefact free for fine black and white artwork and has adequate color depth is png – gif does not have adequate color depth and jpeg generates artefacts with fine black and white art.

    What is missing is the 2d panel display info. Full page display is fine with a big enough screen, but for smaller screens, what is needed is autopan from panel to panel, which means that the image needs to have embedded panel geometry info. Ideally this would be information that can be added at any time.

    Well, the png format has ancillary data in the form of a sets of “keyword=data” info. All that really needed is to publish a standard way to specify a panel in that format, so that any viewer application is able to use that information.

    As far as making it one file, just define a standard directory/subdirectory layout and make it a zip file, just as CBZ files do. Changing the file format to zip and unzipping it allows it to be viewed by any browser on any platform, with the readers only required where the auto-pan by panel is desired.

  54. TakakoFan says:

    The redistribution of copyrighted material without consent is against the law. I think it is even worse when a scanlation site breaks the law and then has advertisements on the website in which they profit from. Excuse or not, law is broken.

    Shimura Takako is my most favorite mangaka ever.

    If I were to meet Shimura in life, I’d give her a hug. I am not sure Japanese people even hug, but I’d do it. I’d tell her that I read and love her work and I’d want to give her money from my pocket. I’m a poor college student too and living in New York City is expensive. And that is the thing, I’d tell her that I read her work, but seeing I hardly speak Japanese I’d guess she would figure out how I did so.

    I always wondered the feelings of Shimura every time I read the much anticipated chapter of Aoi Hana, or Hourou Musuko, or some of her shorts. I think about what gave her inspiration to create such works. I wondered how she would react to me if I met her. I wonder if she had me or anyone I know in mind, in the US, when she wrote her manga and when it is sold. I wonder if she knows about me or others around me whom read her work as much as we know of her.

    For I read her work only because it was available online and I came across it. If it were not, I would have never read it. Shimura Takako would most probably never existed in my mind. If I never discovered free anime and manga online in one of the languages I speak, it probably would have never dawned upon me to start studying Japanese, or go to Japan, which is where I am writing this from at the moment. Or even decide to continue studying beyond reason of manga because being here made me discover that I love it for many other reasons.

    Availablity is important. I remember visiting Cali once and eating at “In n Out” and thinking how much it was an enjoyable substitute to McDonalds, Burger King and other crap and I would eat there again if I needed a quick, cheap meal. However there is no “In n Out” in New York. Why? I haven’t the slightest idea. But I cannot eat there, because it is not physically here, and I would never eat at McDonalds or Burger King.

    If I were to pay for every manga that I have read to date, an estimate puts me at an amount that is just not possible for me. I remember movies were $5.95 and popcorn $1.50. I used to attend up to 15 movies a year, more than $90 a year. Now as movies approach $15 and popcorn $5, I have not been to more than 3 movies since 2005, $3 from me a year. I wonder how Shimura would feel if she knew about me reading her manga and loving it and she not getting money from me. I wish I could write an e-mail to find out. As it stands right now when I read the scanlated manga online, that is $0 profit from me. If the scanlations are taken down and the manga is not sold translated into one of the languages I speak, $0 profit from me. If manga is sold timely and at just cost in a language I speak, I will probably buy from 2-3 of my favorite mangaka meaining $0 profit from me to what else I have read, and it equals one sale if one of us buys it and share it or we read it together. When I walk out of my hotel to the convenience store to buy juice or a snack and I see students and salarymen alike crowding the manga section, reading a manga, and putting it back on the shelf and leaving, $0 profit to the author, publisher, and the store. It is certainly not a question of law, for the law is broken; it is illegal. I don’t believe it is a question of business either, there is hardly anything at all to gain from me or others I know whom read unpopular genre. For me it is a question of whether or not the mangaka of the work knows that there are audiences that exist elsewhere that are not adequately being addressed or receiving attention and does that mangaka care enough to vehemently lash out to his or her fans of their work whom they do not receive profit from, only attention and admiration. Will Shimura point her finger at me and say “How dare you?”

  55. KrebMarkt says:

    Hi all,

    I want to share my experience as a text ebooks consumer as i think there are a lot of similarity with digital manga.

    First point to be workable it must be DRM free. DRM is very annoying, cost a lot of money to maintain and results of more loss of sales due to the DRM drastic constraint than to misuse of file without DRM. Years ago Amazon’s ebooks DRM server went down for 3-4 days resulted to legit consumers to be deprived from the ebooks.

    Second, it must be medium independent. I wont buy a Kindle or an Ipad for the sake to reading legally something.

    Third, pricing should be 25-30% cheaper than papers editions. Publishers save money on printing and logistic.

    Fourth, at least $1 per manga volume download should go to author pocket. Usually mass paperback paper book earns less than 30 cents per copy. There was a petition from over 300 Franco-Belgian comics artists against the proposed crappy pay publisher rate for each downloads menacing to require their works retired from the publisher digital store.

    Fifth, digital manga won’t replace paper manga. It’s just another way to consume manga. With smart pricing you can get people purchasing both the digital & the paper version.

    For further reading i should point you to the Sci-fi publisher Baen Books who was one of the first publisher to go into eBook market without DRM and one of the first to make profit out of it.

  56. Franzi says:

    Honestly, I think the general MangaNovel model could work fine, even with the obscure, unpopular series they were able to get so long as the worst of the DRM nonsense was removed and the site was made a bit friendlier to users.

    I was very excited about MangaNovel when it first started being publicized and was definitely planning to contribute translations. I’d have been happy to pay too. However, when the site opened, I discovered that–despite being a website–it required a wretched downloadable viewer. On top of that, the viewer was Windows only. The MangaNovel staff kept claiming that they were planning a Mac version as soon as the site took off. Of course, since the site never took off, there was never a Mac version. I downloaded it on my work computer anyway just to have a look. It didn’t allow for very nice placement of English text, but I did like how you could flip between translations and the original Japanese easily. But when it comes to translating, there was a little problem: the image quality was low, and the viewer only allowed one (not very good) level of zoom. For a professional translator, that might have been ok, but for an amateur scanlator who might not be that fantastic at Japanese, being able to enlarge blurry kanji is essential. For readers, there was the added problem that you couldn’t do two-page spreads properly. (When you set the viewer to a double-page format, it would make pages 1 and 2 a single spread, 3-4, 5-6, etc. If you wanted 2-3, 4-5, there was no way to do that.)

    There weren’t easily findable, actually usable forums anywhere on the site, and no one off the site seemed to have heard of it, so it was impossible to interact with other users and build any kind of community. They had a promotion to get people to do sample translations. I submitted mine (done after hours at work). They rejected it because I’d used a font they had IP problems with… A font that the viewer allowed me to use and that the rules never specified wasn’t allowed. I had to resubmit with some hideous font, and they eventually updated the rules. Their final attempt to build interest in the site involved a translation contest with an actual judge and a nice prize (iphone? ipod? something like that). They didn’t get enough entries and extended the deadline multiple times without clearly indicating on the site what they were doing. Of course, how could they clearly indicate anything? They didn’t have a proper FAQ or user forums. The contest finally closed months after it was supposed to and without anyone who was originally interested in it really knowing what was going on. The site folded not long after.

  57. Franzi says:

    Hmm… I keep trying to leave comments, and the site keeps freaking out. Blogger really is terrible.

    Long story short, there are lots of manga authors who would support something like MangaNovel. The only reason that site failed so miserably was because of DRM that made it impossible to use.

  58. Franzi says:

    I think the key would be to start with the site fully operational and to have enough capital to last the several years it would take to build a reputation and user base. If you’re going to do a Mac version of something, do it first. Don’t pretend it’s coming one day when it’s not. You’d also need an easy way for fans to interact with each other and with the site management so that people actually know what’s going on. It would probably help to have niche titles: it’s easier to get those rights and the few fans out there are more likely to be willing to pay or to tell their friends. It’s true that there are tons of scanlators, but there are plenty of types of manga that are almost never scanlated. Those fans are a captive audience. Off the top of my head, some types of manga or manga themes that could have strong niche audiences if properly advertised are:

    anything about geisha
    anything about takarazuka, ninja, samurai, shirabyoushi, the Heian period, onmyouji, bonsai tending, insert special interest Japanese topic here
    Bara (as opposed to yaoi)
    shoujo comics from the 70s (Matt Thorn has created the audience; someone just needs to supply it with the product.)
    anything published in Garo
    manga adaptations of Sherlock Holmes or other English language literature that’s out of copyright

  59. Ozan says:

    big news Erica, we havebills to pay, too. so don’t freeload on other people’s works.

  60. BruceMcF says:

    Franzi said…
    Long story short, there are lots of manga authors who would support something like MangaNovel. The only reason that site failed so miserably was because of DRM that made it impossible to use.

    Yes. Fingerprint the files to the individual account, with multiple redundant digital fingerprints, but if its selling downloads, use an open format.

    Heck, even if it was views only, store the material in an open format in case downloads are offered later.

  61. A2 says:

    Yes, in the future there will be manga for everyone to download with fee.

    The closing of these scanlation groups is just the first step of the whole plan.

    Of course, the publishers will hire many translators to make the job more reliable, and well, after those people get hired they will be called “publisher”(if you know what I mean). I’m sure their salary will not be cheap either.

    I believe in the eyes of the big company the group of freelancers are not reliable enough.

  62. Anonymous says:

    What if the original mangaka and their publishing representatives cracked down on the doujinshi undermarket?

    That way, would-be scanlators could no longer look at the doujinshi market and conclude “gosh, mangaka don’t mind if you don’t get permission before using their ideas in making fanworks, and scanlation is a fanwork like fanfics and fancomics are…”

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