Guest editorial: Dear Manga, You Are Broken

I’m handing over the keys to Jake Forbes this morning. Jake is a longtime manga editor and writer who has worked for many American manga publishers, so when he asked if he could post this editorial on MangaBlog, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. All opinions are Jake’s, of course, and you are welcome to share your take on this in the comments.—Brigid

Dear Japanese Publishers,

It’s time to start thinking globally. You have a product in manga that people around the world love. Do you really want everyone outside of your tiny island nation to experience manga via second-hand scans and translations dependent on guesswork? And I’m not talking about scanlations here—the totally legit publishers you work with often have no choice but to scan Japanese books and figure things out on their own. Yes, I know things work fast, and you might only have a day or two between when a manga-ka submits pages and when they have to head out to the printers, but you know what? In the time it takes to prep a chapter of Naruto to appear in tomorrow’s edition of Shonen Jump, a translator, editor and production artist could localize those pages. I’m sure the idea of organizing the simultaneous localization of dozens of dozens of titles has got to be a hassle, but if you treated your international licensors as partners and not an aftermarket, you really wouldn’t have to do that much work.

OnePiece57Yes, it’s hella impressive that One Piece sells 3 million copies in Japan alone, and it’s true that the U.S. can barely sell 1 percent of that as printed books right now, but if you really make an effort to make a legit version of One Piece available in English, Spanish, Tagalog and Arabic and whatever other languages have sufficient untapped audiences, surely you can find a way to monetize a few million more. Your biggest audience doesn’t have access to a well stocked bookstore—they are getting their content online. Scanlation sites are reaping profits from Google ads by giving away your content—if you were the one giving it away, you could not only track how many readers you really have, but you could get more $ out of each reader with targeted ads and links to licensed merchandise. You could take a page from the Free-to-Play gaming market, where companies are finding ways to give minors a free shared culture while still making a nice profit.

Scanlations aren’t the problem of American or other international publishers—they are YOUR problem because with rare exception, you don’t consider digital distribution options as a fundamental part of the license. Do scanlations hurt the sales of licensed printed books? Probably. If you don’t step up and recognize the demand for faster, cheaper and digitally available content, you’ll never know what market you’re missing. Transitioning from print-only to a hybrid print and digital world isn’t easy, and there’s going to be some hiccups and belt-tightening along the way. Either empower your licensors as partners or bring localization management in-house as a serious endeavor. How else are you going to know what kind of business digital manga represents?

You missed your chance to monetize on the iPhone app explosion of the past two years. There’s a new window to do right with the introduction of the iBookstore from Apple, and no doubt Amazon is working on tech that will do justice to your work (whereas current generation grayscale Kindles don’t). Of course, you don’t have to pay attention to what’s relevant and who’s paying for content in the US and abroad. Manga fans abroad have no right to translated manga—it’s your prerogative to ignore that demand—but the longer that you leave the means of consumption to pirates, the harder it’s going to be to convince honest readers to accept your terms down the road.

Dear American manga publishers,

NarutoWhy do we need you? Seriously. There’s not a lot of sympathy for the industry, because frankly, you guys aren’t doing much to earn it. You didn’t convince me Bleach was cool—I figured that out on my own, 6 months before you announced it. And you want me to spend how much to read it legit? $300?! I could buy a PS3 or the entirety of Buffy, Angel, Firefly and anything else Whedon produces for the next five years for that price, and either of those will give me so much more bang for the buck. And that’s just one series. To stay up-to-date with just the biggest hits, the cost is astronomical: Naruto: $400; Fruits Basket: $250; Vampire Knight: $90; Negima: $300. No wonder more people are reading your books on the bookstore floors than buying them—your value sucks. And it’s not fair to say “well, readers should pick and choose just the few that they can afford and read only those,” because you know perfectly well that the lifeblood of fandom is a shared passion—that’s what allowed the manga boom in the first place. You embraced the manga conversation going big—you put 500 titles a year on the shelves. Like it or not, American Publishers, your core audience doesn’t have credit cards, and they are hungry for content. Scanlations aren’t authorized, but the convenience and value they offer is awfully compelling. Fans expecting to read any manga they want for free isn’t reasonable, but neither is it reasonable to expect your audience to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a year to stay up to date with content that their Japanese kindred spirits can get for a quarter the cost.

And, frankly, licensed manga publishers, are your editions that much better than what the free (albeit, unauthorized) scanlations offer? Sometimes, sure, but you hardly make quality a selling point. You are supposed to be the PROS, right? And yet you treat your unique creative staff (translators, adaptors, production artists) as interchangeable cogs in the machine. American publisher, you can’t assert quality control on Tite Kubo, but you do have your own pool of talent who play a key role in differentiating your version of the product form others. If you truly believe in the value of your translation, shouldn’t you empower your translators as part of the team, then compensate those people by allowing them to share in the revenue? Studio Proteus, RIP, might not have created the objective “best” localization possible, but they did put a face and a voice to their work that most current localized manga lack. Bill Flanagan and the Nibley sisters blog about their work, and maybe their public presence nets them more work in the long run, but publishers don’t respect them as talent in the same way they flaunt the creators they can’t work with directly, which is a damn shame.

51urF2jFGnLAmerican publishers, there’s no doubt that with your resources, you could deliver a superior product to scanlators. Heck, if you had the freedom to release authorized digital versions, you could offer multiple translations on different tracks to provide both “authentic” versions and naturalized versions. But it’s not fair to blame you for the Japanese publishers’ fear of embracing a digital/international market. Tokyopop in particular, I know you’ve been trying to go digital for a decade. But if all you can publish is a print edition, then let’s see the best damn print edition the market can afford. A one-size-fits-all model, especially when the default price is the middling, but not that attractive, price of $8-$12, can’t really be the best option, can it? GoGo Monster is a gorgeous book! Maybe if you did a few thousand copies of Bleach with that level of production artistry for serious fans, as Marvel and DC do with their perennials, you could offset a more reasonable price for those who just want to keep up with the story? Give your readers something really special—an experience they can’t get from digital. You really can’t control the conversation, but you can certainly do a better job of capitalizing on it and keeping yourselves relevant.

Dear Manga Fandom,

Where did we go wrong?

haruhi_1Let me break that down. First the “we.” For the past 10 years, I’ve been an “industry guy,” starting as a Junior Editor at Tokyopop and moving up the ranks there, before working as a freelance editor/adaptor for Viz and CMX, as well as serving as Editorial Director at GoComi for the company’s first year. So why do I say “we” when talking about fandom? Let me give you a full disclosure. My introduction to anime (outside of episodes of Robotech that I ate up as a kid) came from crashing the local college’s anime club as a young teen with a couple friends, one of whom had an older brother who was a member. This was at the very beginning of the modern anime industry when Akira was first making waves. Authorized content was scarce, so we’d watch a combination of legit VHS copies, product brought back from Japan (laserdiscs with subtitles, if possible!), and sometimes even rips of TV of newer shows, static and all. Sometimes the club leader would pass out transcripts or summaries of the raw stuff so that we could follow along, or else you’d want to sit close to the one guy who spoke Japanese so he could fill you in. One of the club’s favorite series was Ranma ½, which Viz was releasing pretty close to its original release. At one point though, we caught up and I distinctly remember the energy in the room when someone would bring in tapes of the very latest, untranslated episodes. I distinctly remember the collective thrill of being ahead of the curve.

Eight years later, when I attended my first anime con as a “pro,” it seemed like things really hadn’t changed. There were still the dark rooms abuzz with the excitement of being a part of something new. There was still the same mix of big spenders, freeloaders, and the majority that fell in between. I hadn’t been active in the subculture for many years, so it took me a while to realize the impact that high-speed internet was having on “sharing;” to understand how the checks and balances of media mail and 2nd generation dubs had disappeared. Anime torrents and scanlations made it possible for fans to put out an all-but professional product and control the means of distribution so much more efficiently than the pros could. Fans captured the golden goose and now we’re cutting it open to get the all the eggs when we want them, damn the bird that lays them.

moteki1Where does passion and innocence become something more nefarious? Before I can do any finger pointing, I really need to be honest about my own experiences. Was my passive involvement in an anime club, watching unauthorized screenings of frequently unlicensed work, strictly legal? Not really. Did I think I was doing something wrong? Well, sorta in that I was watching cartoon boobs that my mom probably wouldn’t have approved of, but did I think I was stealing, no. I didn’t think so then, I don’t think so now. What I was doing was mooching. Most of what we watched was a legit purchase, whether licensed or imported, either owned by a member or paid for with club dues. At the time (mostly this happened when I was 12-14), I didn’t have the money or the laserdisc player or the access to buy legit anime on the scale that the club made possible, but my attendance did turn me onto the local comics shop where the owner was a serious otaku. Even if I couldn’t afford laserdiscs, I could buy an occasional die-cast mecha. My tweenage freeloading also planted the seeds for my teenage spending, so that when Evangelion, Macross Plus and the next wave of anime releases hit, I saved up and bought a few series of my own, and the OSTs to boot. At the end of the day, I consider myself a responsible fan. Naïve at times, absolutely. Professional work aside, I think I’ve done my part to feed the industry both by buying what I loved when I had the means, and by contributing to the greater anime/manga fan discussion through legitimate channels (in my case, primarily by contributing articles to the online fanzine animefringe). I would wager that most fans think of themselves the same way. Solid citizens. Even so, I do think something has changed in fandom over the past 10 years. It happened slowly and without malice, but this change has turned fandom’s relationship with the industry from a symbiotic one to a harmful, parasitic one.

kuragihime1Widespread availability of unauthorized content, be they torrents or scanlations, enabled this change, but that’s not the root of the problem as I see it. What changed was fandom’s concept of ownership, and the product itself is only part of that equation. Way back in my open letter to publishers, I made several mentions of “The Conversation.” Japan, Tokyopop, “the man”—they don’t own The Conversation. Fans do. Marketers want to shape The Conversation (and in plenty aspects of fandom, we let them), but the joy of being a part of a subculture is that we can decide for ourselves what’s cool and what’s crap. The Conversation takes many forms—from blog posts, to convention panels, to Tumblr memes to Deviantart networks to good old-fashioned club meetings. The Conversation can include both licensed and unlicensed works. It can include fanfic, slash doujinshi and official merch. The Conversation can include SPOILERS. Who says you can’t talk about the events of Bleach, chapter 265, six months before it comes to the U.S.? No one!

But here’s the thing—freedom to discuss copyrighted works is not the same thing as freedom to access them. Today’s fandom, empowered by torrents and scanlations and a glut of legit licensed content, takes unfettered access for granted. We think that we’re entitled to watch and read it all. And with that change, The Conversation is now dominated by cataloging and playing catch up. “Here’s what I read.” “Here’s what happened and how I rate it.” “Here’s what I want next.” And, occasionally, “Here’s my outrage at not getting what I want!” Frankly, The Conversation has become pretty boring most of the time. That’s what happens when a counterculture becomes a consumer culture.

Anime and manga’s growth is inherently intertwined with the rise of online sharing, first message boards and webrings, now blogs and Facebook fan pages. Aren’t scanlations just a natural evolution of sharing? No, they aren’t. This isn’t 2000 anymore—collectively we can’t claim naiveté as an excuse overstepping our bounds as consumers. Let us be completely honest here. Scanlations don’t fall in a legal grey area—they are brazenly illegal copyright violations. A single purchase can be infinitely propagated without the copyright holders receiving any compensation. It’s a far cry from sharing a single laserdisc with twenty people in a dark room or even selling a thousand dubs of Kodocha fansubs on VHS.

Argue all you want about whether or not scanlations are a net positive for the industry, but the simple truth is, YOU AREN’T THE INDUSTRY—YOU ARE THE CONSUMER. You can’t know because you don’t have the facts. You don’t know the true cost of making manga, so how are you qualified to know the harm that lost sales causes? As I covered before, I whole-heartedly believe the Japanese manga industry is doing itself a serious disservice by not leaping to fix the system. Baby steps like releasing all of ONE mainstream series simultaneously in English and Japanese is a joke. A noble joke, but a joke nonetheless. Is free, ad-supported online manga the future? Maybe. But unless your name is Tite Kubo or Shueisha Publishing Co. Ltd., you have absolutely no right to make that leap for them.

A few days ago, Johanna Draper Carlson on Comics Worth Reading made the claim that “Legal doesn’t matter” in regards to scanlations. When it comes to the relationship between a reader and the unauthorized reproduction, I agree completely—either you’re too naïve to understand the legality, or you know what you’re doing is wrong and you chose to ignore that law. She uses speeding as a comparable breach of the law that normal, honest people choose to break on a regular basis. I’m still with her. But she goes on to make a statement in the comments that, whether or not it’s what she intended, sums up where fan entitlement crosses the line:

“More to the point, there are laws that most people agree everyone should obey (like the ones against killing, to be dramatic) and laws that most people choose to ignore (like speeding, as I said above). Just because it’s against the law doesn’t mean people agree with the law, based on their behavior.”

The legal avenues for getting manga are clearly not up to the task, and indeed, the rampant proliferation of scanlations show that many fans don’t agree with following the rules. But just because you don’t like a law, doesn’t mean you’re not guilty when you break it. Copyright laws, digital “ownership,” and piracy crackdowns are such messy, hot-button topics, and I don’t feel the least bit qualified to get into what the law “should” be. I’m not going to point fingers at scanlation readers, because unless it’s my copyright being violated, I have no business telling you whether to obey the letter of the law, and if I did, I’d be a hypocrite. What I do ask is that you don’t take “free” for granted. Sooner or later Japanese publishers will address how manga is made available digitally abroad. Most of the legitimate frustrations we have now will go away in time. I hope that collectively, we true fans will give the legal copyright holders of the works we love a chance to make good. And if in a year or so, you’re still into manga and you can’t get your fix except by reading unauthorized editions—get a new hobby. Manga is a luxury, not a right.

heartofthomas1Why should we respect publishers, Japanese and English, if it’s only the creators we care about? Because creators rarely create in a vacuum. Even if a creator writes and draws everything alone (which with manga is almost never the case), it takes years of thankless work and sacrifice before a creator makes that breakthrough hit that captures the attention of the world. When a publisher takes on a new creator, it’s a gamble—maybe it will yield the next Naruto, or maybe the creator will never develop the discipline or the unique voice to succeed. Sure, Viz isn’t responsible for the creation of Bleach, but there are dozens of people aside from Tite Kubo who helped make it a hit, and every sale that Viz makes pays royalties into the system that pays Kubo’s support network and ensures that there will be a new breakout series down the road. You can’t have an economy of nothing but creators and consumers anymore than you can have an ecosystem of nothing but predators and grass. And if you truly believe that only creators should be compensated, then you might as well give up TV, shopping in stores, going to movies, listening to the radio, and especially reading a slick, corporate product like manga.

Before I end this unexpectedly long rant, I would like to turn this conversation back to the concept of “The Conversation” by offering some suggestions for how we might redirect some of the passion that’s currently going into scanlations:

A common justification for scanlations is that the authorized translations suck. You think so? Great! Talk about it, explain why, even offer up your own translations under a creative commons license and work out the kinks with your peers. Technically scripts for manga aren’t 100% legit either, but as they’re only useful if you have another source for the art, just go for it.

Keep digging up undiscovered manga treasures! Read them in Japanese, summarize if you want, but more importantly, add something unique to the discussion—something personal and NEW that you can really claim as your own. Real criticism is an art form; it’s not just product reviews.

If you want to help bridge the gap between cultures, look for Japanese bloggers who have interesting perspectives and ask if you can translate their content. We spend so much time reading about otakus, but there’s practically zero dialog with our kindred spirits.

nightschool_1And finally, if you’re truly passionate about manga and want ownership of something, then for God’s sake, stop using scanlations as a crutch and create something original! I’m sure that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at knowing that your peers like “your” work when you upload a scanlation must be pretty great, but don’t let that feeling get to your head. Anyone with a couple years of college Japanese and access to photoshop can help make a scanlation. Instead, take a cue from Japanese fans and try your hand at doujinshi. It’ll be hard. You’ll get plenty of “likes” for your pinups of Kakashi, but don’t stop there. Learn to do sequential art. You’ll probably fail—a lot. Maybe you even copy the style of your favorite artist, or, God forbid, TRACE, but you know what? That’s okay right now because you’re not finished yet and you know better than to try and pass it as your own work. You get better. You make a real comic. Your friends won’t be nearly as excited about your crappy comic as they are about reading the next chapter of Soul Eater. They’ll try to marginalize your potential by trying to put a label on your work. Screw them. You’re better than that. Put it online for anyone to read—this time it is your right. The page views won’t be pretty, not like they were when “your” scanlations went up on OneManga. Don’t give up. Whether or not you make it big, at least you can look back at your comic and say, “that one’s mine,” and no one can tell you otherwise.

(Images of licensed manga from the Viz, Tokyopop, and Yen Press websites; image of the Japanese cover of One Piece from ANN; images of untranslated manga from The Manga Curmudgeon.)

Did you enjoy this article? Consider supporting us.


  1. I know this is only taking one thing out of the whole deal, but….
    I know in Japan, anime is grossly overpriced, particularly when compared to America. Is manga that much cheaper there than it is here? And I mean for the same page count/content volume. Though to be perfectly honest, when you read a 20-ish page color comic book and that costs $4, getting a 200-ish page (without annoying, interuptive ads to boot) black and white for $10 doesn’t seem too bad. Marvel sells little digest sized color comic trades, running around 120 pages, for $7.99. And if color = pricier, then that certainly makes our manga look overpriced, too. I agree that in the long run, it’s really expensive. I have close to 200 volumes, most are at the 8.99-9.99 point, a few at 10.99, some oversized ones that are a little more (around 14). That’s about $2K for around 6-7 years of collecting. That doesn’t seem too bad to me, but it may just be because I’m used to it or don’t know better.

  2. Kris,

    From what I understand (and I’m not an expert, so someone else may have better information), a volume of manga in Japan costs more like the equivalent of $4. If that’s true, it’s less than half the price of most manga now published in the US. Of course, the print a whole lot more of it over there, which is I’m sure what keeps the price down.

  3. Excellent piece! The advice to everyone is spot-on. I hope everyone reads it.

    @Melinda and Kris — It’s especially a shame that buying imported manga also costs easily above $10, after the markup from shipping or American bookstores. I haven’t been to Japan in years, but I often wish I could teleport there to buy manga and come back (of course, I’d probably teleport to BookOff, which wouldn’t make Japanese publishers especially happy either)…

  4. This is well-written, but I suspect the fundamental problems are economic. As M. Beasi pointed out, prices tend to be much steeper in the US. My own interviews with US shopkeepers over a period of several years indicate that people DO buy manga when it goes on sale, but don’t often buy it at regular prices. It is only when manga is written off as a loss – and thereby sold at below cost to the store – that it becomes economically feasible for the consumer to purchase.

  5. Very well written, Jake! To me, it’s like a visit from an old friend every time you write about manga.

    I know the topic is manga on this blog (which may just be the most laughingly obvious thing I’ve ever written), but anyone who doubts that scanlations and illegal downloads are having SOME sort of impact need only take a look at some of the indie comics you can find available on torrent sites. Considering some smaller publishers can’t even meet the 2,000-copy threshold to have their books listed in Previews, that should give you an idea of how modest sales of some indie titles are. Even a few hundred downloads can make a difference.

    While a few hundred illegal downloads of Fruits Basket or Naruto is water in the bucket in comparison, it also stands to reason that they’re being downloaded a lot more. What I find interesting is that when I first started at Tokyopop, scanlators would often take down titles once they were licensed. They’re not doing that anymore. Is their argument just that they think the official versions suck? That sounds like an extremely lazy excuse to justify copyright infringement to me.

  6. @Tim, your post reminds me of another thing that confuses me — why Viz sends cease-and-desist letters to developers of scanlation iPhone apps, but why such letters either (1) aren’t being sent to or (2) are having no effect on sites like onemanga and mangafox.

  7. Great article. I agree with a lot of it. It’s interesting to see the Japanese publishers do a lot of innovative things with digital manga in the realm of keitai manga (and novels) but not much in the way of other digital distribution methods. Shueisha has a fun preview site where you can read the first few pages of most of their tankoubon for free. I’d love to see them expand that beyond just a preview, add more languages other than Japanese, etc.

    I channel my fangirly-ness into the ‘dig up undiscovered treasures, read them in japanese, summarize/comment on them’ option, but even that is becoming more difficult with the crappy exchange rate driving the price of import manga up to nearly matching the price of the US releases. :( For over 10 years, the cost of an average tankoubon at Kinokuniya was somewhere around $5.50. More than what it would be in Japan, obviously, but still half the price of a US release. Now the same books are hitting $7.40 and rising. Ah well, I have about 4000 volumes cluttering up my apartment, so it’s not like I don’t have stuff to talk about, but the price increase saddens me :(

  8. @Tim — Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

    re: “hundreds of illegal downloads of Naruto,” if only it were such a quaint number. On MangaFox alone (if their tracking is to be believed), Naruto gets over 1,020,000 views a MONTH. OneManga’s figures are probably much higher as they’ve been at it longer and they come up higher in google search results. In fact, google “Naruto Manga” and onemanga is the top search result, and you’re one click and no download away from reading it all.

  9. One big reason as to why a lot of scanslators don’t stop putting out scanslations once a series is licensed, which I did not know about for years, is because they’re not American. That’s not out of “F U man, I don’t have to play by your rules” sentiment, but often out of “Yes, it might be licensed now, but I can’t buy it anyway because I live in Serbia/Brazil/Mexico/Philippines/etc. and I can’t import it because that would cost me an entire day’s pay between shipping, the exchange rate, and the difference in the cost of living between here and America.” While this is about anime rather than manga, I’ve definitely noticed when downloading torrents that most of the little IP country flags in the peers list are not stars & stripes or maple leafs. Sometimes it’s as high as 70% of the people being from overseas.

    On that note, it’s also important to keep in mind that back in the day (meaning before say, 2005) there simply wasn’t fast, affordable internet access in those other countries. It’s pretty awkward trying to download a 100 meg ZIP file over dial-up, and I would think that that would have kept most of the internet manga and anime fandom at the time restricted to USA/Canada.

  10. kind of what I was pointing out, but its coming from some one who knows what he’s talking about.

    In general there is so much disconnect between the 3. Then again, this doesnt just happen in the manga industry.

    you know, I wouldnt mind buying/reading some doujinshi if it didnt cost like 15$ for 20 pages (I’m not talking of the 2nd hand dealers, I’m talking of the few english doujinshis).

  11. @jpmeyer — you’re absolutely right about scanslations being an international issue, not an American one, which I tried to touch on in the first section. That doesn’t make it less illegal — just less enforcible. And since enforcing it is next to impossible, that’s all the more reason why Japanese publishers ought to embrace online distribution now.

  12. Hell, it’s also a really big issue in terms of the “Dear American manga publishers” part of your post, too. The presence of those fans really can only hurt the American distributors, whether or not Japan figures out a way to offer timely paid downloads since now “everyone” has already read that chapter like 2 years ago and has moved on to something else (with Japan getting that money for the something else!) Actually, now that I think about it, I wonder if that would cannibalize some of the Japanese publishers’ income? The American publishers could come in to bid on some new series and be like “Well, you’ve already recouped $X from your digital downloads out of the $Y what we consider to be the full value of the license , and since Z people have already read it, it devalues the license by $A so we’re only going to bid $B.”

    And related to that first part of the post, I’ve personally never been able to quit scans cold turkey without also killing my interest in the series. Even in some of the best case scenarios in terms of release times like Naruto (thanks to Viz putting out multiple volumes a month to catch up), it would take something like a year and a half for the American tankobons to catch up to where the scans are. For example, I remember dropping Air Gear when Del Rey announced the license at NYAF 2006. About a year later I had completely forgotten about the series, until like 6 months ago when I saw that the American releases had finally caught up to where I dropped it almost 4 years earlier.

  13. Interesting points, guys.

    @Jake, oh I knew the numbers had to be much higher than that, but truth be told I’ve never been on a scanlation site and had no idea they tracked the number of downloads (maybe for their sake they should stop doing that!). I’m more familiar with torrents, and I know you can’t really get a sense of how many people have downloaded the torrent. Just how many people are currently seeding it.

    @jpmeyer, you’re absolutely right. The fact that much of this is happening overseas has to be feeding into the problem. I wonder, then, if Japanese publishers did take a cue from Jake and start distributing their material electronically themselves, what impact would that have on websites like OneManga. Something tells me they wouldn’t take down their scans, even if reading manga legally in a country outside Japan, Europe or North America no longer required paying import costs. It would be really great to be proven wrong about that, though.

  14. At the current exchange rate, the typical Ko B-ban tankoubon (the most popular format) retails in Japan for around $4.25, and the larger JIS B6 for around $6.00. I buy manga from BK1, which (unlike Amazon) has the much more affordable SAL shipping option.

    I think a large part of the problem is that Japanese publishers still haven’t wrapped their heads around the marketing implications of a product produced for the domestic market becoming popular abroad.

    Hollywood has at least figured this much out. When I first lived in Japan 30 years ago, it would take months, even years, for Hollywood films to arrive at theaters. Now Hollywood films often debut in Japan. International localization is factored into the production costs.

  15. Whew, Jake, that was fairly epic!

    When it comes to the industry side, I’ll take your word for it. At first glance, some of these prescriptions – faster releases, lower price points, better quality, more status (i.e. money) for the folks doing the adaptation – seem a little contradictory, so maybe this would be more like a menu of options that you’d have to weigh against each other. It definitely seems like the industry needs to do *something* about the digital model, but there may not be a single right answer just yet, and maybe it’s just time for some risk-taking experimentation.

    On the fandom side, I appreciate your addressing the moral case – do you aspire to be a creator, or just a passive slug whose life revolves around accumulating and consuming as much commercial product as possible? – as well as the legal one. If anything, I feel like the moral argument is the stronger one, since it doesn’t hinge on the minutiae of international copyright law. A world in which people didn’t bother patronizing scanlation sites because they were too busy trying to finish their dojinshi in time for Virtual World Comiket would, I think, be a better and more colorful one. :-)

  16. Thanks for such an excellent, thought-provoking, guilt-inducing article! :)

    @Kris and the others talking about pricing: Canadian manga-buyers have it even worse, and though sites like The Book Depository have ameliorated that a little, something clearly needs to change in terms of distribution. I always have to think two and three times about purchasing a book, especially if it’s in a longer series — it’s a huge investment, and poor sales may mean that I will have paid hundreds of dollars for something whose end I will never see. I realize that my hesitation contributes to the poor sales and the cancellation of good series, which makes me feel even worse! Still, used books and discount-rack treasures aside, as my disposable income gets lower and lower, $10 becomes quite an investment and I actually find myself ‘researching’ potential purchases. (This is why I can’t completely side with you on your criticism of ‘product review’ manga commentary.)

    (I also have to rant: yes, North American readers have a rough time of it, but Francophone Canadian readers have it worse yet — I started blogging about manga partly to discuss series I can read in French but which I want to finish reading in a lower-priced English edition, haha. For example, if I want to buy Glénat’s edition of One Piece, I’m looking at paying nearly $13 CAD a volume! I was overjoyed when Yen announced they’d be publishing Bunny Drop, as that’s nearly $20 a pop in French here in Montreal, and I’m not talking about omnibus editions.)

  17. @Mark — thanks for the comments! As for the industry contradictions, I think that’s a result of my brain trying to fuse together my cynical take on the mainstream manga market (basically, what Simon Jones said today), and my immense admiration for the art/adult manga market that is succeeding at its modest and far nobler goals.

  18. @Tim

    Onemanga is HUGE. According to Alexa, it’s ranked #323 on the internet. It’s one of the most visited sites in SE Asian countries (representing twice the population of the USA, too.)

    Which, in turn, also plays into that point that I mentioned above. These sites are actually much bigger outside of the USA than inside the USA. I mean, Onemanga is the #18 site in Singapore! #28 in Philippines! That’s the kind of placing that sites like IMDB, Flickr, and Photobucket have in the USA! As bad as piracy might be in the United States, there are places where this site is visited more than basically every site outside of like Google, Facebook, and It’s just as stark with the less-popular sites like Mangafox and Mangastreams, which are like #2000 in America but like #200 over there (which again is still higher placing than even Onemanga is over here).

  19. Japanese manga is typically priced between 400 and 800 yen per volume (currently it’s about 90 yen per US dollar, though the dollar is pretty weak right now). The Japanese printing industry is a bit different in several different ways, including the sizes and types of paper they use, plus a penchant for dust jackets. As far as I know printing in general is cheaper there, even for low-volume stuff like small-time doujinshi, but the book industry in general is difficult to deal with. Prose books are much harder to license than manga, and the established publishers don’t seem to want to have anything to do with e-books. The good news is that in Japan digital stuff is wide open for anyone brave enough to try it, and some more independent individuals and companies are doing so.

    Which isn’t to say that American publishers are perfectly enlightened; entertainment industries here have also resisted new technology, generally to their own detriment, and often in the name of a quixotic bid to prevent piracy. As a creator my motto (derived from something Cory Doctorow said) is “obscurity scares me much more than piracy,” and in general I think that while piracy is a problem, the way to address it is by giving consumers an incentive to give you money. The likes of the RIAA and MPAA have tried in vain to create disincentives to pirate, and have only succeeded in making pirates develop better tools. They killed off Napster, but now BitTorrent does what Napster did and a million times more. And yet, movie ticket sales are up, and many movie theaters feel justified and safe in raising prices—especially on 3D films—even in the current economy. This has nothing to do with a drop in piracy and everything to do with movie theaters providing a compelling experience.

  20. As Jake points out, there’s no way for manga to compete with scanlators without totally reworking the system of international licensing.

    Basically, Japanese publishers would have to work with foreign-language publishers, not on a series by series basis, but on a magazine by magazine or publisher by publisher basis. Translate *everything* from Jump and Jump Square (and Ikki) as it’s coming out. Put it all out there, without guessing whether it’s going to become popular or not in advance.

    But how would these translators and localizers be paid? And wouldn’t this be as much as admitting the irrelevance of the printed magazines? Good questions.

  21. Elliot Page says

    Wonderful post.
    To chip in on the impact of non-US scanlation readers, I have to admit
    my own UK has a big hand in this.
    The history and general feeling (regardless of the current situation) is that us Brits will have to wait through delays for manga compared to those in the US, or we may not see something altogether. This
    provokes a variety of reactions, mostly including the idea of “well, I don’t see why I should be denied!” and so scanlations are seen as the first option or Reading a title.
    It is a rather sad state really, and I feel that only something drastic and accessable can fix. As i sit typing this at a convention, a cosplaying fan is Reading and discussing One Piece right off of his netbook. Surely this can become an income stream, rather than an illegal act?

  22. I cannot wait until I can read comics and my own comics on ebooks, hopefully they’ll be cheap enough everyone won’t mind paying for them, and come out at the same time as other countries. Also I can’t wait till we get digital comics from all over the world, not just japan.

  23. Belldandy bless you Jake Forbes. For you speak the truth. You take everyone to task, and I appreciate it.

  24. This is an incredibly well-deserved scathing condemnation at all three fields of enablers, each one sponging off the other.

    And yet… I still don’t know what the solution to the problem is. The price for the Shonen Jump volumes has gone up to $9.95 from their bargain-bin $7.95 price range. Which makes it even more ludicrous given their One Piece Nation. They’re asking potential customers to dump at least $50 a month for five months to catch up to where the series is right now. And things are seriously getting crazy insane in the storyline as is.

    If I hadn’t had the good sense to force myself to slog through at least 300 chapters before the really good stuff happened, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the amount of inventiveness Oda puts on the page. I was too concerned over getting to the end of the storyarc to pay attention to the other things going on. At times, I was annoyed at how long some of the early stories tended to drag on. (Luffy’s delayed punch on King Wapol is one that frequently comes to mind)

    I’m also of the mind of supporting series that would otherwise never get translated, such as long-running titles such as Hajime no Ippo, Grappler Baki and Glass Mask. Trouble is, fans are more likely to translate the most recent titles rather than the historically relevant ones. It’s why I’m so relieved at seeing the Fantagraphics translation of more Moto Hagio. I’m still on the fence on the other book, Wandering Son. Without having seen any interior pages or an example of a singular chapter, I’m unwilling to risk any hard-earned cash for something I might not like. Maybe once I read some pages in the bookstore, I’ll change my mind.

    On the one hand, you’ve got stories that you’ll likely read only once and never pick up again. On the other, you’ve got stories you don’t mind reading over and over multiple times. The trick is to find those series you don’t mind paying for. It was this mindset that made me devoted to paying the volumes of 20th Century Boys even though the story went downhill somewhat, and the translation isn’t up to par to the scanlated version. But I’m still paying for it because I really like it. It’s just unfortunate that it’s being released at a larger and more expensive format. If it were at a similar size to Monster, it might be more widely read. The shame is, it was originally going to be solicted three years ago, but Urasawa wanted Monster released first. If it was released then, we would be reading the end of that epic by now, instead of the catastrophic date of 2012.

    Another thing that Jake Forbes brings up is talking about the sub-par translations. This is something I readily agree with. One example that comes to mind is in the 3rd volume of Death Note when Rem tells Misa about how a Shinigami can die, by loving a human. In the Viz version, she says it’s “a wonderful way to kill”; but in the scanlation, she says its “a romantic way to kill someone”. There’s a very subtle difference there, and one I really would’ve preferred to see the scalated version of.

    It would be great if the official translation could take cues from the scanlations and what they find most enjoyable to read. But it tends to turn into a pissing contest where everyone wants to put their own mark onto the translation, preferring their own over others, instead of picking and combining the best efforts from everyone available. Fans are more likely to glomp onto a property if they feel they’ve made their unique voice heard, and can feel betrayed if a certain phrase isn’t uttered a certain way. (Hand of God anyone?)

    Maybe what we need is some kind of webcomic that can be on par with their Japanese competition. Trouble is, there are very few that have the kind of page-ending cliffhangers that Manga excel at. Gunnerkrigg Court and Jack are two wonderful exceptions that come to mind.

  25. autsanaut says

    Hey maximo! HELLLLOOO

    One point I add to the expensive issue is that you can shop around and find a cheaper price for your collected works: I’ve managed to buy pretty much new copies of many titles for about 50 English pence (75 cents) or even cheaper (Welcome To The N.H.K. for 1 penny, new!). Even with Amazon’s criminal shipping charges it can work out cheaper than buying it from a book store or elsewhere.

    Not to mention most of the bookstores I’ve seen and my local comic shops often have 3 for 2 offers on manga titles, so the price is brought down quite a bit. I use my LCS to buy up Berserk this way, which works out at 6 quid a book rather than ten.

    The dealer you buy from has already paid the cost price for the book, so the publisher gets their dough from it…maybe the dealer doesn’t, but hey, I doubt they care about a brightly coloured tome of Japanese comics gets sold at a loss. Shop around!

  26. My mistake – I meant the 4th volume of Death Note, not the 3rd.

    I’d also like to express my appreciation for the scanlation of 3×3 Eyes, even though it updates very… very… slowly.

  27. Well, everything starts in Japan. Sadly, to the Japanese, we are just a gaijin aftermarket — icing on the cake. As such, we do not matter. That is why the Japanese will never allow the Negima! pactio cards to be licensed in the U.S. — they are for Japanese otaku only and those few gaijin who can afford the massive costs of importing a product from Japan. They’ve seemingly spread this down to anime as well with the OAD releases that are exclusively attached to limited edition tankoubon releases (“Negima!,” “Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle,” “xxxHOLiC”).

    Want to get an insight into the Japanese way of doing business? Watch the movie “Mr. Baseball.” Everything is “carefully computed” and that’s the end of the discussion.

    Still, it is an interesting read, Jake. Thanks for the post. ^_^

  28. On a note about Canadians- if you shop around, you can get a price lower than the US cover price, if you know where to buy online or even in store- my local comic shop does US price whenever the dollars at 90 cents or above, and then gives 10% off for preorders. Coles/Indigo/Chapters has it’s discount card and occasional sales. Online Used book stores and conventions can be boons of endless cheap manga.

    Having bought domestic comics for ages, I think manga are still a good value even at 10 bucks, but it’s too bad they had to increase the price on the SJ and SBeat books (though I understand
    sales are a major influence on prices, and the main reason prices have gone up). I think more Omnibus releases would be a good way to increase value and production frequency.

    Having more online manga is something that will hopefully happen. Folding the cost of translating for online audiences into an eventual print edition [which could be touched up moreso] would be a good idea- I hope VIZ expands on it’s Rinne style simultaenous releases, and I think doing this for Naruto would be the next step.

    I also think that taking down MangaOne and MangaFox is a must if they go ahead with more digital offerings- it’s the Japanese companies who hold the most leverage as the copyright owners and not licensors, so I hope they take them on.

  29. Oh, and it’s worth noting in a recent PR about TVTokyo becoming a shareholder in Crunchy Roll, they mentioned negociations with japanese publishers-$750000-investment-by-tv-tokyo

    If this means more online manga from them [they do some with Udon], Tokyopop and VIZ had better think ahead so they can get some of this market.

  30. Excellent article! You really touch on a lot of great points. And thank you for acknowledging the flaws on ALL sides of the spectrum.

    Really, this is a problem that faces ALL forms of media these days. TV, radio and libraries have long been providers of free content, funded by advertising and donations. However, the internet has become a radio/tv/arcade/cinema/library of epic proportions. I think ALL media industries need to stop digging in their heels and insisting we go back to the old guard – and start thinking of ways to serve their product over the internet in a way that benefits them AND end-users. To be honest, I have no idea how they’re going to do that… but then again, I’m not a business major ;) There are people who get PAID to come up with clever ideas… and they need to start getting busy! ;)

    @Tim – A lot of ‘respectable’ scanlators DO still drop series when they get licensed. The exception, however, is when a long-running series that is still ongoing in Japan gets licensed. Those tend to keep being scanlated at the same rate they were pre-licensing. It’s surprising to me how “caught up” a lot of US localizations are these days, but it’s still the reigning notion that it will take years for the localized title to catch up to the original releases.

    As a reader of scanlations, I have to say one of the most annoying things is when a license is purchased, the scanlations are stopped… and the US publisher never ends up publishing the book(s). Or, they publish one or two, drop the series… and no one picks up the scanlating again. I’m sure a lot of people will waggle their fingers at this paragraph and shout “Fan entitlement!!!” but I’m admitting to this to illustrate that yes, it’s still the norm to stop scanlating licensed series… even at the expense of fans.

  31. Shari, I think it’s a case of putting money where your mouth is- when you’re reading scanlations, it’s not really valid to take companies to task when they can’t financially afford to continue a series due to low sales. Especially when there’s a number of smaller pubs who are either apparently dead, or on life support like Go Comi, Dr.Master and Aurora.

    Higher prices on volumes of lower selling series looks to be Tokyopop’s answer- Gundam Ecole du Ciel and Suppli are both back, but at a few bucks more, which makes the smaller print runs feasible. I think it’s something that could work, and a different take from the usual move to a slower release [which will work for some titles, but not all- having options is a good idea]

    It’s really a give and take between fans and publishers, and I think not calling “fan entitlement” would be irresponsible. Getting upset at publishers, and telling them why is a good idea, but using it as an excuse to pirate is iffy.

    And then there’s also the fact that some “scanlations” are just scans of the translated editions, so the waters on that issue are pretty murky- I think nowadays people stopping the pirating of a series when it’s licensed is very rare, and it’s clear that with many series, another scanlator will just pick up the torch and set a bad example for others.

  32. @Shari: I wish that more groups would follow the “we stop if it gets licensed” model. In my idealistic little mind, they drum up interest in a series and give fans the impetus to read the licensed edition when it comes out. If you’re part of that group of readers, more power to you, I guess. The existence of those scans of English translations that Andre mentioned, however, indicates that if this was ever the norm, it doesn’t work that way anymore for the vast majority of self-professed manga fans. I also get the impression that few of these entitled readers would feel the need to buy the volumes they’d already read in these unlicensed previews; that probably contributes to the low sales and cancellation of series that only see “one or two” volumes released in NA.

    I’m going to ‘fess up: scanlations have been responsible for some of my purchases, but I think it’s largely because I usually hate reading things on my computer. If someone links a chapter or two of something, I’ll add the title to my bookmarks, where it will languish, unread, until I’m reminded of it by a license announcement. I’m really glad to see more publishers offering extended previews of their releases, because they serve the same purpose for me — except that after having my interest piqued, I’m able to buy the book right away, much to my wallet’s disapproval.

  33. Simon Jones says


    >Sadly, to the Japanese, we are just a gaijin aftermarket — icing on the cake. As such, we do not matter.

    No no no no no, not at all.

    The online broadcasting situation in Japan is not a whole lot more advanced than the US.

    The reason the Japanese publishers have outwardly shown little interest in digital distribution is primarily a combination of the following:

    1. No one wants the responsibility of making the bad decision if the online initiative fails. So the decision keeps getting deferred. See how the Japanese government has been working lately to get an idea of this. This is the biggest problem of all.

    2. Specific to manga: book publishing is not like TV or movies, where the company owns the copyrights. The copyrights of manga are owned by the artists. The publisher would have to negotiate each book separately.

    3. Lack of technical expertise. Many manga publishers still do not digitize manuscripts. They still shoot film!

    4. International rights are inherently difficult to process.

    5. They fear that opening up more digital content distribution will hurt their brick and mortar sales. This is exactly the same problem facing print publishers here.

  34. @DanielBT:
    Interesting point about translations. I don’t know any Japanese myself, but I am aware that it’s a complex language, and some words can be interpreted in multiple ways. I have also noticed subtle differences in scanlation translations and published translations…subtle changes, but the difference in meaning can be huge. It can completely alter the meaning of what is being spoken by a character. I don’t know to trust the scanlater, with their couple years of college Japanese providing a rough understanding, or a professional working for a publisher. Even the professionals make mistakes.

    It makes me really upset when I buy a manga and I see these glaring errors in the text. It’s like…”Hey, what am I paying for this for?” You’re not going to pull anyone away from scanlations if you can’t provide a quality product. It’s frustrating as a consumer that I’m paying 10 or more bucks per book and they can’t even get gender pronouns correct (one of the errors that upsets me the most).

    I want to buy manga. I want to buy a lot of manga. I love having it in my hands, and I want to support the publishers. Why should I have to feel anger that I’m not getting a quality product for my money? If the problem is that they need more editors….*waves* You can pay me in manga.

    Anyway…I forgot what point I was trying to make…..

  35. >>One example that comes to mind is in the 3rd volume of Death Note when Rem tells Misa about how a Shinigami can die, by loving a human. In the Viz version, she says it’s “a wonderful way to kill”; but in the scanlation, she says its “a romantic way to kill someone”. There’s a very subtle difference there, and one I really would’ve preferred to see the scalated version of.>>>

    To defend the translation here… The Japanese for that line is “suteki na koroshikata.”(素敵な殺し方) The Viz translation is an pretty much exact recreation of the line in English. If you want to fault the Viz version for not sounding as “poetic” or whatever as the Scanlated version, that’s fine. But let’s not act like the Scanlation version is more “accurate.” Fans are always complaining about how the licensed release changes stuff and “butchers” the original. So Viz tries to get the line precise and still gets dinged…

  36. Some good points made. First, Japan has to think globally. Well now, you gotta translate it into Japanese.

    Second, US has to lower their prices? Good point. Be like Walmart, sell more for less. Or like Bandai and sell the anime, manga, music and merchandise to the US—diversify the business. I doubt profits from a book can compare with dvd profits. Look at Japan – manga for $6, dvd for $60, cd for $30, figure for $80.

    And your third part—- gotta translate that into Chinese. While English-literates make up a good part of scanlators, I think the Chinese community makes up the largest part. Even over half of those reading English scanlations aren’t in America. And they don’t care about how US businesses are doing. It’s gonna take more than words to convince the world to stop ‘speeding’.

    You have to admit that the downturn in economy plays a huge part in ‘oh-no, profits are down’. Have you ever read the British study which says that the people who buy the most music are the ones who download the most pirated music? I’m sure manga downloaders are the similar. They are the ones picking up the manga, artbooks, plushies, merchandise, but with no money? Eh, less buying overall. Though, it wasn’t clear what your overall gripe was. What’s wrong with the industry?

    And your final points? Find undiscovered treasures and read the original Japanese? thought this was entertainment, not homework. And stop scanlating and create? Do we really need more OEL?

  37. Some publishers do tend to take a literal approach to translations. That’s something I’ve noticed.
    Most recently, Yen Press in Black Butler. They translated Sebastian’s catch phrase literally, and used “I’m a devil of a butler” (which they explain in detail at the back of the book). It struck me as odd, not simply because scanners and fan subbers used “One Hell of a butler,” but because this phrasing is a common phrase (meaning “One Hell of…”). So they chose a literal take instead of a more recognizable (I might say “Americanized,” but I don’t know where the phrase comes from exactly) phrasing. It’s a double edged sword really, I’d imagine, because a lot of people don’t like it when text is “Americanized,” and want a more faithful translation. But the translation they chose reads awkwardly to me. The “I’m a devil of a butler” is literal and straight forward, while “One hell of a butler” is more like a subtle nod to the situation, which I also think fits the character better.

    But that’s just me, and I’m rambling off into nowhere now.

  38. It really does suck that the Japanese manga publishers aren’t embracing their products more, Kodansha Comics may have stepped into the english market, but not much has been done since their debut, and the translations. Trolling for the old and not yet into the new, so sad. Since there are people in the english community who go out there and learn Japanese, so whose to say that the Japanese aren’t learning english and other languages too? Bottom line is that there are more Japanese publishers then there are English. The Japanese have an advantage on translations because they can actually work with the authors in person, and not to mention n the licenses they already have. Just relying on english publishers to license those many series would take forever, that’s why the Japanese really need to use the resources already available go even further into their already established business.

    Best place to start, move into the english community.

  39. Garrett Albright says

    No, no, and no to the idea of Japanese publishers doing their own translations. Odds are they’ll cheap out and get translators who are not native speakers, leading to translations that are quirky at best and unintelligible at worst. I’d much rather see companies based in Anglophone countries continuing to do the translation work.

    (And, as others have mentioned, it’s silly to assume amateur fan translators are producing more accurate translations than professionals who are paid to do nothing but translate all day.)

    I also think the comments about domestic publishers not putting out a valuable product were harsh and simply not true. But I’ll vote with my dollars on that one.

  40. KrebMarkt says

    Joining this discussion ;)

    I will give some outlooks from the French market which for those who don’t know is the 3rd manga market after Japan & North America.

    Prices in France start as low as below 7 €. At this price you can get a volume of Skip Beat! with dust cover. For the upper pricing there is no limit, Shigeru Mizuki’s NonNonBa is at 30 €.

    Scanlation does hurt French publishers, there was publisher representatives wearing T-shirts with something like “Fuck the scanlation” written on them during the Japan Expo.

    French publishers have similar problematics than the English ones save that the French comics tradition makes paying between 7 to 9 bucks for a manga less big deal than in NA, Franco-Belgian comics prices usually range between 9 to 15 bucks.

    Publishers wise, we have a broad range of publisher from the one which think that manga is nothing but a mass market consumer product publishing on a print, sell and ditch licenses basis. On the other hand there are the very qualitative and way more expansive releases from publisher like Cornelius which Red Colored Elegy French edition got even praise in some English blogs from those who made the trip to Angouleme this year.

    We will not have the same Special Ed. release than in Japan but publishers with enough guts & convincing power can put their own Special Ed. I should point you to Etorouji Shiono’s seinen Ubel Blatt which volume 9 was released in France with standard and a limited edition. The limited edition cover was made especially for this release and not something previously printed.

  41. Having bought a number of french edition manga since a lot is imported here, it’s generally an excellent value. I think US publishers are only on the edges of the variety it’s long offered in terms of formats and price points. And compared to domestic comics, manga are generally cheaper, so I think pricing is the smallest complaint offered in the article [though dropping SJ titles back to 7.99 wouldn’t be a bad thing]

  42. Few more numbers on French marker before going on more initial post subject. French manga market reached a plateau with manga about 1400 published in 2009 representing around 60% of all Comics sold in quantity but only something in the 40% in term of value. The big problem of the French manga market is the top 10 franchises represent 50% of the run print total. When those franchises are either ending or catching up with the Japanese serialization, you have problem.

    Now on digital distribution:
    As someone who bought a lot of Ebooks years before the apparition of any hardware from Apple or the Amazon Kindle, viable economical model for digital distribution existed already, see Baen Books Webscription system which was one of the first to generate profit in that area.

    In the case of manga, one thing is obvious for a manga-ka if any of its works is popular this work will be put online 99% of time without its consents or any royalty or other form of financial compensation for the artist.
    This is a reality so publishers and artists have better to join in to make some money out of it rather than the closest thing to zero which is the current situation.

    I felt what is lacking is bother courage & imagination because a lot of things can be done to get readers into the legal digital market just that no one want to play the guinea pig.

    There will be two way to access digital manga contents one on the read online basis which could be supported by advertisement and/or subscription that the anime streaming & Video on Demand way to do it. The other one is the Download to Own which is closer to the Digital books distribution way to do it.

    The two way will to consume Manga will coexist and overlap someone who read a series through a legal subscription portal can purchase digitally the whole series bundle at an advantageous price.

    As i’m way more on the classic Ebooks things, i’m listing how Download to Own style should be done:
    *Readers friendly don’t overdo it with DRM
    *Minimum $1 must get to the manga-ka pocket
    *Cheaper than paper version. $7 price tag maybe. Special price offer for purchasing a bundle of digital manga
    *Play on synergy, drop coupon for the digital copy of a manga in the paper version one as promotional gesture. Aggressive special offer for readers purchasing both the paper & digital versions.

    There is something that isn’t covered by the initial post is how manga-ka will handle the digital format which has no material constraint from its paper counterpart.
    An example with a Tetsuya Tsutsui short story in French (for a mature public)

  43. I’d say DRM is kind of needed, if only to prevent piracy. I think VIZ and TP did it well with their flash based systems. Keep files low-res, and add a few obstacles and it’ll stay reader friendly without being heavily piratable.

    TP really needs to rework their website- dump the social networking aspect and maybe rework that as a larger, more serviceable forum, and put a stronger focus on advertising their books and making their existing digital previews easier to find- they have a LOT of good content, from useful stuff like OOP lists to previews of their series to a large catalogue of all the titles they’ve published, but their website is a horrid mess.

  44. I’m in favor of some sort of digital signature system but not something that make you to re-download your whole digital bookshelf one file at time every time you change computer or re-install your OS.

  45. @Andre – I think you misunderstood my post before. I wasn’t using the publishers’ faults with releasing titles they license as an excuse to read scanlations. I was expressing annoyance for those scanlations that get stopped because of a licensing, which then never produces books. As for my reading of scanlations? I don’t make excuses. It is what it is.

    @J. Harper – Really, it comes down to more of an argument about piracy in and of itself. ALL media industries are quick to point the finger at piracy for the reason why their various endeavors are failing. But a lot of the arguments amount to little more than your own statement of, “I also get the impression that few of these entitled readers would feel the need to buy the volumes they’d already read in these unlicensed previews; that probably contributes to the low sales and cancellation of series that only see “one or two” volumes released in NA.”

    Now, making a statement like that is fine for you; you’re just a person on a blog, discussing the issue. What isn’t fine is that this basically amounts to the sum of data collected on piracy in general. In industries where some scanty studies have actually been done, ie the music industry, there is no real substantial proof that piracy IS actually hurting the industry. Piracy seems like it should hurt sales, and people assume it does, so that makes it gospel. And, of course, record companies and publishers are quick to point the blame finger at anyone who isn’t them. Those pirating heathens are ruining everything for everybody!

    But the real truth of it, what most pirates know (because they do it, their pirate friends do it, their pirate acquaintances do it) is that pirates DO buy the stuff they like, same as non-pirates. Most people who pirate a release and then don’t buy the legitimate release wouldn’t have bought it anyway. A pirate will take a Britney Spears album, because it’s there and hey, it’s free. But if it wasn’t there? They wouldn’t buy it. The record industry will tell you that Britney album download translates to a lost sale, but in the majority of cases, it simply doesn’t. It’s a non-sale met with piracy to create… a non-sale.

    Which is where the piracy as free advertising argument comes in. Often times, a pirate will grab something they would have never spent their money on in the first place (because hey, it’s free!)… only to find they really, really like it. And, as most pirates do, they’ll go out and buy what they like. There you go. One new sale for Britney Spears (or whoever) that wouldn’t have existed if not for piracy. What studies HAVE shown is a tendency for piracy to create a new sale for nearly every sale lost. In other words, piracy simply doesn’t hurt the industry as much as people THINK it would.

    And before people start yelling about how this isn’t the case… I’d like to see some proof of that. Instead of proof, you’ll find a lot of histrionics thrown about by industries desperate to hang onto the old guard and refusing to change, and people assuming that stealing MUST equal lost sales somehow. Piracy was blamed for lagging CD sales for YEARS… instead of industry heads realizing the CD was a dying medium being replaced by MP3. Once they opened their eyes a little, services like iTunes were finally born – and are blazingly successful.

    Likewise, people are complaining about how piracy is killing the manga market in the US. I call foul, to be honest. Scanlations existed before the US manga boom a few years ago. They didn’t prevent that boom from happening any more than they’re creating the lull the industry is experiencing now. Want to know who to blame for the lull? Look around you. The entire economy is crumbling around our feet. People who don’t have jobs and have to scrape to get by simply don’t have the money to spend on manga. THAT is what has changed from the manga boom to now. And yeah, there are more pirates these days downloading and NOT buying – because they can’t afford to buy anything in this economy. But again, a non-sale that isn’t made… is still a non-sale.

    I don’t make excuses for my behavior or the behavior of other pirates or scanlation readers (as I hesitate to call them actual pirates). It’s illegal and it’s wrong. But it’s also largely misunderstood. And by industries and consumers pointing their fingers at piracy to explain away all their ills, the real issues are often being ignored or glossed over. Yeah, the US manga industry is in trouble right now – along with almost every other industry in the US (except maybe Repo Men. I bet that’s an industry that’s booming right now :P). Would ending piracy heal what ails the industry? No. An end to this recession would.

  46. Kreb— I guess that’s a selling point for paper product though- it can go anywhere, and doesn’t die if your computer dies :) It can even outlive you, your children and grandchildren, if well cared for.

  47. KrebMarkt says

    Think about the weight and the place it would take ;)

    I still remember someone who put a secure server with all his legit DRM-less ebooks behind so he could read them where ever he would be.

    Return from experience showed that digital version won’t replace the paper edition. In contrary its extends the readership plus there is a real segment of readers which double-up purchasing both the digital & the paper version.

  48. Garrett Albright says

    (Ack, two pages of comments… confusing…)

    Andre: I guess we have a different definition of “reader friendly.” I can’t stand Flash, and I can’t stand reading made-for-print comics (as opposed to web comics) on a low-res screen, so I find Flash comic readers on Tokyopop and SigIkki and such to be worthless. Perhaps I’ll change my mind if/when I get to play with a Kindle or iPad (though neither support Flash), but for now, give me a high-resolution, non-Flash, DRM-free method of reading comics… like printed books.

    Shari: You parrot the old line about how pirates wouldn’t buy the things they pirate anyway. It’s just not true, though especially the bit about how pirates will buy something they’ve stolen and liked, “as most pirates do.” That’s just something pirates keep telling themselves to justify what they’re doing, and it gets echo-chambered back and forth so much that people start thinking it’s true (a common occurrence in all sorts of groups and communities both on- and offline). You know what most pirates are going to do if they pirate something they like? They’re going to pirate it some more! If that weren’t the case, sites like MangaFox would be out of business and domestic publishers would be posting record profits.

  49. Garret—- reading comics in book format is the most fun way. I know I’m hoping to get around to doing print on demand editions of my webcomics- my minicomics tend to look better then on-screen stuff, and that’s just photocopying. I doubt digital presentations will ever be able to fully equal the crispness of printed work. Print has a lot more advantages then people give it credit for [not to mention the fact that all things considered, while it might be easier to find stuff online, there’s still way more information in print then the net will ever have or be capable of archiving permanently- so much information is lost on the net, but a book in a library collection or. I know I turn to Jason’s Manga Guide of Helen McCarthy’s Anime Encyclopedia first when it comes to “is it licensed” or “is artists _______ work available in english” or “what is this old anime” type questions. It’s unexpectedly quicker than even googling if you know the right resource, and filled with less Spam.

    Really, there’s so many comics you’ll never find scans of online- a back issue bin or a used japanese book store is a more rewarding experience in many ways. But that’s just me]

    Shari- Garret’s right- there’s many people who would pay for a book or go for a legal option in place of pirating if the pirated material wasn’t there. You’re generalizing too much, and I think you’re missing a lot of Jake’s points while trying to express your opinions

  50. PS- Brigid, I posted a link on ANN’s forums, but I seriously think you should forward Jake’s article to as many sites as possible- maybe contact their admin? It really merits to be as widely seen as possible. I’m hoping you’ll post about it on CBR’s Robot6.

  51. I also wonder what would happen if this were posted on OneManga or MangaFox’ forums- anyone with an account at either want to attempt it? Not a member at either (so worried signing up might be mistaken for trolling), but I’m curious about the reaction it would recieve.

  52. Very impressive post.

    For the most part I completely agree, almost all of the problems in both the anime and manga industry are all caused by each other and everything just runs round in circles with everyone pointing fingers but doing nothing about it.

    However, it’s much bigger than just the USA. In a lot of cases the UK will get anime and manga even later than the USA and Canada (in English); however, we are able to import fairly cheaply and we’ll get everything as soon as we want it legally, thus impacting the profitability of the UK companies. The UK can only get things as fast as their agreements allow obviously and I think this is the main problem. Licensing from the original country (Japan) is the biggest issue.

    If anime or manga was simulcast, or even shown a few days later in the UK via stream and then it goes on DVD two weeks after the last episode of the 13/26 episode series is a much more viable model than what currently exists. Nothing’ll change though, not until the impact we see daily really hits Japan hard.

  53. I think I’m going to pull out of the circular, irreconcilable piracy debate before it gets uglier.

    @Garrett, I completely agree with you on Flash readers and the like as tools for reading entire volumes of manga (vs. previews). I have rather poor vision and staring at screens for long hours of comic-reading gives me headaches, which leaves me in the awkward position of wanting inexpensive ways to read my favourite comics but loathing the least expensive ones. If digital is the way things have to go, I hope that publishers will be able to at least sustain some sort of print-on-demand model.

    @Andre: mostly off-topic, but what are your webcomics? I ask because I used to be a creator myself and I still follow the scene — I’m curious. :)

  54. KrebMarkt says

    There is no point to whip a dead horse. Digital edition won’t kill dead tree books ends of the story. However that doesn’t change the fact there is a demand for digital edition that is currently filled with non legit websites.

    4 years ago, i still remember someone calling dead tree books “Treewares” like we have already the software and the hardware.

  55. J. Harper— I do webcomis for Girlamatic and also post some works at

    I’m also the mascot designer and art monkey for Animaritime [not the only artist, but I do t-shirts/booklet covers/line art and design the characters themselves]

  56. Kreb- I do understand why people want to have digital versions though mind you ^_^

  57. The industry will come to its senses. The anime industry is. Take a look at CrunchyRoll. I pay for the premium membership because I can get the anime the day it comes out in Japan. I can get relatively good translations, and best of all… I don’t have to wait for it to download. I can watch it right then and there.

    The manga industry needs to come out with something similar. Direct from Japan. Make it affordable, and hell yeah, I’ll be at the bookstore in an instant. I do my best to buy whats out there, even if I have already read the scanlation. Its important to me that manga-ka’s and their support staff get what they deserve.

  58. The problem with importing everything from Japan is that sometimes what’s popular in Japan isn’t popular here- just look at Raijin/Coamix Wave’s efforts here , from a company started by japanese comics creators. I think there’s still lots of an advantage to keeping domestic licensors in the mix, as they have a better understanding of what sells here than anyonelse. Even an online effort would require some kind editorial direction to determine what’s most likely to attract an audience interested in paying for it, or keeping stats high enough for ads to pay for it [it’s harder to make money when you have to actually pay for the licenses/work with artists/etc.]

  59. On a legally complicated note, looks like MangaFox, which has appeared to be NY based, is actually based out of China

    That’s probably not helpful in taking them down

  60. Though they do sure leave themselves open to lawsuits.

  61. @Andre Although the company is based in China, the MangaFox site (like OneManga and MangaVolume) is actually hosted by Softlayer, which is based in Texas.

  62. Miguel—- really? Wow, gonna look that up….

  63. Thank you for the shoutout to the often overlooked (or across-the-board bastardized) manga translators who truly are used as “interchangeable cogs in a wheel” by the big American publishers. I know some are just there to pay the bills and make the kinds of cringe-worthy mistakes that real manga fans can’t stand (re: volume 1 of Del Rey’s “Tsubasa”… no true CLAMP fan would ever have made the assumption that Fai was the king of anything but angst), but there are others like myself who love manga, who really try to delve into the series they’re translating and create distinguishable/true character voices. Folks like us take the crappy pay, the “you’re a dime a dozen” attitude from many editors, and lose lots of sleep (since, naturally, we’re not paid enough to make full-time professions out of manga-translating and have to keep our day jobs as well), out of love for the manga form and the series we’re translating.

    But unsurprisingly, not every freelancer is willing to (or able to) live this life of job-juggling and/or income insecurity for long—and then it’s little wonder that dumb, easily avoidable mistakes like the one mentioned get made. While it’s true that highly paid editors are also supposed to be well-versed enough in their titles to catch mistakes like the above and correct/strengthen character voices in their scripts, they’re in charge of many, many series and have all manner of non-creative responsibilities to deal with for each book they oversee as well. They obviously don’t have the time to read the original Japanese line-for-line to double-check a translator’s work, but that’s how the current system goes—hire any grunt with a Japanese degree who’s willing to work for peanuts, then put it on the editor to make a slapdash literal translation nice enough for printing.

    You can see how this is a problem. As with literature translation, the burden of catching all the little mistakes and nuances of a manuscript should logically lie with the translator. But being underpaid, treated like your work doesn’t matter (i.e. will be ripped to shreds by the editor anyway), uncertain of whether you have any future with this company, and also juggling a full-time day job besides, how can a manga translator be expected to do so under the circumstances?

    That’s why, as Jake suggested, publishers need to start hiring at least a few house translators for their more difficult or high-profile series (to start; eventually, the majority of manga translation should be done in-house if possible). Treat us as part of the team/show us that you actually acknowledge our work and, miraculously, a lot more translators will take greater pride and ownership of their scripts. Quality is (or SHOULD be) the only difference between free scanlations and professionally published official manga—and frankly, right now, we are not always giving the consumer a reason to buy.

  64. People can argue until they are blue in the face over whether scans are right or wrong but, as this wonderful article suggests with it’s three part structure, there is no answer to any one problem without addressing the other problems. I have always been hugely frustrated by the lack of availability of ‘legit’ English editions of more obscure / unusual / innovative manga titles and unless the publishers can be bothered to translate and distribute them with the same dedication as the fansubbers then all I can do is give a huge rousing cheer for the fansubbers! Where would we be without them? Stuck with the mainstream big boys that the commercial world chooses to pass on to us? Until there are changes in attitude all across the board, there’s not much more that I or anyone can say about fansubing!

  65. I have a question – and forgive me if this is a stupid one but I am still quite new to the technicalities of manga itself. But what role do independent presses play in the distribution of English manga titles? Compared to the ‘big boys’? I ask because in the slipstream fiction world, where I am from, it is a complete waste of time to expect big boys to handle niche markets in any really compelling way. They are infamous for never doing really interesting and original (or dangerous) stuff. And the same is true of western comics, witness the thriving indie-comics scene. It is the independents who really give life to an artistic system. And I really do think that manga, especially the more interesting and unusual titles, IS a niche market in the west (as are all the best things!), even though it maybe isn’t in Japan. So could part of the problem be that we are looking to publishers with a mainstream mentality to somehow handle a niche? What I would really like to see are small independent presses, just run by a few lovers of the medium and with very few overheads – maybe even working in collaboration with the fansubbers who do such an excellent job – producing specialist (licensed) releases of the obscure titles that the big boys would never touch. But there I have to confess a complete ignorance of the licensing process! Would such a thing even be physically possible? Do such things exist?

    I might speculate in my generally unknowledgeable way that, if it was easy for small independents to work with Manga Material, we might see a much healthier manga market in the west.

    Myself, I run a small and very specialist and independent book publisher in the UK and we have recently taken on our first comic book release – I have always dreamed of doing something similar with Manga and distributing some really obscure and wonderful titles that I have read or heard about – but of course, that is still just a dream and I haven’t the foggiest idea how to go about it! I am not nearly expert enough in the field! :-)

  66. Ther are lots of good ideas out here.However the only thing I can’t understand is WHY aren’t we taking them to where the can do some good.i.e. the publishers.We are just sitting here complaining and arguing .If we take it somewhere then at the worst we’ll be back where we started.

    @ whoever wrote this:
    Send this to publishers/scanaltors/readers.

  67. In Australia We’ve had to get used to paying $15 bucks per volume of manga and up to $20 for DarkHourse volumes. I love manga and buy a shit load of it but it’s just too expensive here. I normally spend $100 a week on manga. I was really hoping to find somewhere online to buy it like I can with comixology so I can pay $10 per volume like in America or single chapters. Pretty disappointing they haven’t sorted it out yet. It’s just too easy to steal manga with a free app on my iPad with retina display.


  1. […] Updated: Jake Forbes, manga author, adapter and aficionado, stops by MangaBlog and takes everybody to the woodshed. […]

  2. […] My Darling! Miss Bancho and Stolen Hearts… and Jake Forbes drops by MangaBlog, where he posts a thought-provoking essay on the state of mangadom, addressing the ways that publishers, fans, and critics are undermining the industry, and offering […]

  3. […] the big, bazooka-sized post is by Jake Forbes, who writes an open letter with sections for just about everyone. In his opinion, Japanese […]

  4. […] MangaBlog an ongoing conversation about manga « Guest editorial: Dear Manga, You Are Broken […]

  5. […] Forbes, a fan, editor and translator has a few words for Japanese and American Publishers as well as Manga fandom.  A lot of what he says has been part […]

  6. […] don’t know what the solution is, and I don’t want to play the manga blame game either. All of publishing is going through a turbulent phase right now, manga included, so it comes […]

  7. […] and I’d rather not get into that debate here. A couple months ago, I posted an epic rant about how the manga industry is broken. Today, in much fewer words, I wanted to outline a suggestion for a better […]

  8. […] whom they are reliant, in part because they simply see them as mindless consumers.  Jake Forbes, in a blog post from 2010, summarizes the, to my mind, corporatist mindset that plagues fandom with its […]