“When there are standard formats, more scalable systems, more ubiquity, we’ll see more adoption.”
Oh my goodness, what utter douchebag said THAT?
Ah, erm, yeah, it was me. ^_^;; And I wasn’t kidding, although I was being ironic. But let me begin from the beginning.
This past Thursday, JManga launched what I consider to be one of the best Yuri licenses they have, Ameiro Kouchakan Kandan by Fujieda Miyabi.
I posted this on my personal timeline on Facebook and someone I like and respect brought up many of the same issues I’ve heard from others in regards to digital manga; specifically “ownership” vs. “possession” and format standards.
In addition, another party involved themselves in the conversation, taking the part of “Perpetually Angry Fan”. I wanted to re-state some of my points here for future reference (and address the issues around being a P.A.F. I know not all of you are perpetually angry, probably not even most of you. Okazu readers are some of the sanest, most reasoned people on the Internet – something for which I am forever thankful. But if you are – or you know people who are – perpetually dissatisfied and angry about not getting what you “really want” or because you can’t “have nice things” I hope you’ll read it with an open mind.)
So this post is not about anything…it is quite literally miscellaneous musings on issues surround the transition to digital. Change management is complicated, especially when we’re managing someone else’s change.
Here’s the ideal world we all dream of – media comes out in globally accessible open standards, with multiple languages and flexible formatting. So I buy a print book, get it also as an open standard e-book which can be read on any device anywhere in the world (and, ideally in any language I might want.)
Reality looks like this – Japanese companies manage print and digital licenses separately, so one has no relationship at all to the other. Most licenses are by country, so America and the UK have to have separate licensing companies, with separate agreements.
Things are changing, but probably not towards our ideal world, just towards a new reality.
Point One: The concept of “ownership” is being detached from that of “possession.”
And it’s freaking us out.
For those of us who started watching anime in the late 80s, early 90s, the only way to watch anime was to own it. We would buy a VHS tape and watch it. That was the only way we could watch it. No anime was on TV. There was no Internet, no DVDs/BDs, no streaming, no video files.
If we wanted to read a comic book, the only way to read a comic book was to own it
The point is, if you are not under 12, you have been trained to associate *consuming* media with owning a physical copy. You may not even realize to what extent this behavior has imprinted itself upon you. We like books because we are used to books. We like scanlations and fansubs because they give us a file which we hoard on media storage
And yet, this horse has already left the gate. People “purchase” books on Kindle by the millions. They listen to music on Pandora. They stream movies on Netflix. People who do these things are not angry about not owning a copy. They are paying to enjoy the content on that platform. You’ve been renting movies for decades. You don’t own the movie, you don’t get to keep the movie…and when the local Blockbuster closed, it took that movie with it.
This issue, I’m sorry to say, is over. Books are around as long as my generation is around. When I pass away, books will already have been passe’ for decades. It’s not a bad thing, really. I’m watching Airbender: Legend of Korra on Amazon Instant and I’m very pleased with it. I really don’t need to have the DVDs. I just want to watch the show when I have time to watch the show. I am pleased when I can log into Funimation and watch anime without having to buy it first, just to watch it. It would be nice if my selection wasn’t format/company specific, but that is out of my control.
Point Two: Things change.
And it’s freaking us right out.
Dear Perpetually Angry Fan, I understand that you feel disappointed because:
Tokyopop went out of business, and wasn’t able to finish printing your favorite manga.
CPM went out of business and wasn’t able to finish printing your favorite manga.
CMX went out of business and wasn’t able to finish printing your favorite manga.
ADV went out of business and wasn’t able to finish printing your favorite manga.
Go Comi! went out of business and wasn’t able to finish printing your favorite manga.
Infinity Studios went out of business and wasn’t able to finish printing your favorite manga.
And, for good measure, DC or Marvel cancelled the comic you like with the artists you liked.
None of this actually gives you any imprimatur to be angry or feel betrayed. Change happens. Businesses have life cycles and absolutely none of that has anything at all to do with you. Companies are not “betraying” you when they change their business model or if a series you like is not selling well enough to pay for itself. Can you imagine, for a moment, having a friend who took it personally that McDonald’s cancelled the McRib sandwich? That seems kind of extreme, right? It would seem very odd to me if a person ranted that they were NEVER going to McDonald’s AGAIN because they cancelled the sandwich. (I’m not saying people don’t do this, but it does seem an extreme over-reaction to, you know, a sandwich.) Fiction has characters we begin to identify with, see as friends. So of course when those friends are no longer in our lives, we’re sad.
Feel disappointed – go ahead. I was very disappointed when the Aria manga was cancelled the first time by ADV and disappointed again the second time when it was cancelled by Tokyopop. (Then I finished it in Japanese and realized I didn’t like the end anyway.^_^;;) Feeling disappointed is absolutely reasonable. Feeling betrayed is a little less reasonable. To betray you, there had to be at least a social contract – betrayal is an act of intention. You don’t guarantee that you’ll buy a book when it’s published…there is no social contract between you and the publisher. They are not going out of business to spite you. Be unhappy, be disappointed. Don’t be bitter and perpetually angry. The thing about tantrums is not that they are only for children – it’s that they indicate the person having one is a child. If you’re blaming companies for going out of business and forcing you to read scans, that is a tantrum. No one forces you to consume any kind of entertainment in any format. It is not Stu Levy’s fault that you read scans. ^_^
Let me stop and try to explain where I’m going with this analogy. If you read this blog and you talk to the computer screen every day, I will never hear it. You talking to your screen is not a social contract with me. I have no idea you are there, because, from my perspective, you are not. If you’re angry that I liked something you didn’t or did not like something you did, you were not betrayed by me.
If tomorrow I were to announce that I was done and will no longer be writing Okazu, it would be a really super-self-absorbed leap for you to think that I had betrayed you. My decision, when that times comes, will not be about you, it will be about me. Understand?
My point is that you have never once been betrayed by a manga or anime company. Not. Once. They have made decisions you don’t like, yes. That is not a betrayal. It’s business. So, Perpetually Angry Fan, your righteous burning anger that companies are screwing you by not fulfilling their part of the social contract you have never committed to is pretty meaningless. I have had otherwise sane people tell me quite honestly that they can “never trust the manga/anime/comic companies, since they’ve been screwed so many times.” Fans have never been “screwed,” (again, this implies intention) they have been disappointed. And the manga companies don’t want or need “trust,” they need people to buy books. Translation is an art, not a science. Being critical about translation choices is the least clever thing you can be on the Internet. It is not a betrayal if a choice made is not the choice you would make if you were the boss.
Please, if you are perpetually angry or dissatisfied, please stop being so negative all the time. It’s not helping. It’s not righteous, it’s not meaningful. The only thing it does is alienate the companies that are, actually, trying to help you. Take a second to think about how rough it is to be the person who realizes that their life’s dream is disintegrating, they have thousands of dollars in debt and they have to lay off dozens of people they like? Please be more vocally appreciative for the options you do have right now, for entertainment you like right now. Thank you very much.
Point Three: A Quick Guide to the Points System on JManga.
Which is not as confusing as it seems.
The point system is to make it possible for everyone globally to pay a fair price. 500 points equals 500 cents, 500 yen, 500 pence, 500 euro cents. So everyone around the world is paying a fair, very reasonable price for digital manga. If you bought Ameiro Kouchukan Kandan in print it would cost 900 yen. Even at an unrealistic 1 cent=1 yen exchange rate that would be $9.00 In reality it would cost $9.98 plus shipping (at time of printing. it was actually a little more when I first wrote this.) On JManga you get it for $5 or £5 or whatever the standard is where you are.) JManga pays the creators, the publisher, the translator, editors and letterers, so I gladly give my money to support these people.
Last night on Twitter someone from Japan asked me if Ichijinsha was showing flexibility by charging half price on Ameiro and I said yes. That they are allowing a digital license at all is pretty great, that they are comprehending the perception that digital ought to be a lower price, since we are not paying for physical materials (although we are still paying for work like translation, editing and lettering) – all of this shows some real flexibility on Ichijinsha’s part. I’m pleased when I see manga magazines with sample chapters online, as well.
Comparing legit manga to illegal methods of distribution is always unfair. Because scans are free and unregulated, it always seems like you’re getting ripped off when you’re asked to pay. I think $5 is a very fair deal to read manga, especially when that is basically 50% of the retail cost of print, and no shipping. Despite the fact that I worked on this, I still paid for it (and all the other Yuri Manga, sans Yuru Yuri, on JManga.) Because I truly believe that digital manga is the best possible solution for a global market. And I do put my money where my mouth is.
Point Four: We are in the middle of technological change.
Suck it up.
Yes, I said these words, “When there are standard formats, more scalable systems, more ubiquity, we’ll see more adoption.” I meant it – and I believe it, to some extent. Except the bit about standard formats. Those will never last more than a short while from now on.
Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, iPad, Android tablet…yeah, every hardware has its own format.
People did not collect books when “books” were gigantic heavy vellum things that took years to transcribe. It was the invention of a process that standardized the creation of “books” that made it possible for regular people to read them and own them.
I completely understand and sympathize that you may not want to switch to digital – see Point 1. I always said that I’d switch when digital became the best option for me, not just an option. Well, if I want to read Yuri manga in English, JManga is the best option for me right now. Additionally, I found that carrying 15 books around on my tablet, which incidentally also allows me to connect to my blog and Twitter, is loads easier than carrying 15 books around and a laptop when I travel. Digital is not the perfect option, but is a very good option right now for me. (When I can buy Light Novels from Amazon JP on my Kindle app, it will be the best thing evar.)
In no way am I saying that you should or have to move to digital.
You don’t. Not now, not ever. (Take a moment and reflect on elderly relatives who had one huge console TV that had rabbit ear antennas. That could be you, if you’re comfortable with that.)
I am saying that if you love reading Yuri manga, there is a way right now that allows you to access translated Yuri manga that is legal, mostly global (with some exceptions) and is becoming more portable as they work on it. The people who do the work are paid, the folks who create the comics you like are paid. It is not perfect, but it is a very good option and has the support of the manga artists and publishers. When you spend your $5 on JManga you are not stealing anything from anyone. You can feel morally sound and enjoy your Yuri. ^_^
No, there is no guarantee that JManga will exist in 10 years. And I get that you can play your parent’s LPs. But you can’t probably play their 8-tracks or their Betamax. Some media formats last longer than others. We’re watching all sorts of formats vying to become a standard. Pick a format that works for you and run with it. When it turns out that reel to reel, then Betamax, does not end up being the media standard, you have to re-purchase your favorite movie on VHS and again on DVD, then Blu-ray. Actually, you really don’t HAVE to. You can wait until you really need to get a new whatever and upgrade your media to fit it, get whatever is state of the art at that moment and just realize that there will never be a point in time when a “standard” exists for more than a few years.
The world is speeding up, don’t expect it to slow down just because you remember when it was slower. ^_^
In my life we’ve gone through punch cards, then large floppy disks, then small floppy disks, then thumb drives, SSD and the cloud. I’ve had to reformat some of my files completely a dozen times. This is not something to be pissed about – it’s something to learn from. Change happens and it never stops happening.
Welcome to the future – here are your dancing shoes.
Try, to the best of your ability to separate what you are used to/like from what is good and righteous. And, please, no screeds about how awful the companies are, how bad translation sucks or whatever imagined criminal infractions they have made against fandom. See Point 2. That having been said, your comments, rebuttals and miscellaneous musings are welcome in the comments.