Until Kodansha’s recent re-release of the first volume, Sailor Moon had been out of print in the United States for six years. What’s more, the original English-language edition suffered from many of the sins of early manga — bad translation, flipped pages, etc. Since it is, despite this, one of the most popular manga of all time, it’s not surprising that there are scanlations of it all over the web.
But when a Sailor Moon fan site linked to scans of Kodansha’s new edition, readers who clearly had no problem with posting scanlations were strongly critical of the site owner for linking to rips of an American edition. Here’s a comment that sums up much of the discussion:
This is so sad! The new books are really beautiful and it’s shame to rip them off this way. I understand why the Tokyopop translations were circulated because the copyright expired but this is very different. Really disappointing and I have to say I hope you remove them from your site.
But the person who posted the links, Elly, shoots right back:
Remember when the manga scan site Manga Fox announced they would stop posting scans of licensed manga?
Well, that didn’t last long. Yup, those are links to the latest chapters of Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach, all licensed by Viz. There is one Yen Press manga on the site, Darren Shan (released in the U.S. as Cirque du Freak), but the more popular series Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) and Pandora Hearts are still missing. I spotted some Tokyopop series as well: Maid Sama!, Deadman Wonderland, and Gakuen Alice are all up there and have been updated within the last month, and a number of other high-profile series, including Hetalia, Neko Ramen, and Hanako and the Terror of Allegory, are still posted but have not been updated recently.
Del Rey was not part of the publisher group that asked scan sites to remove their titles, and Manga Fox never took their series down. Consequently, the site is well stocked with manga that have been licensed in the U.S.
What’s more, they seem to be a little tired of vigilantes:
Several scanlation groups are reporting that they have received cease and desist notices from the Japanese publisher Libre, which specializes in yaoi manga. Baka-Updates reports that the scanlation groups Attractive Fascinante, Bliss, and Liquid Passion & Biblo Eros all received C&D notices, and the latter two have taken down or removed links to content owned by Libre. It looks like Blissful Sin has received a notice and complied as well.
On the one hand, it’s a little surprising that Libre is targeting these groups, as they seem to only scan manga that hasn’t been licensed in the US, and the audience for yaoi is relatively small anyway. On the other hand, Libre has been pretty aggressive in asserting its rights. The company was formed following the 2006 bankruptcy of another yaoi publisher, Biblos and picked up the rights to the magazine Be x Boy and the work of several creators. The American publisher Central Park Media was publishing series by these creators, but Libre accused them publicly of violating their IP rights. At the time, Ed Chavez (now the marketing director for Vertical, Inc., but at the time simply a blogger with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Japanese manga scene) commented on how unusual it was for a Japanese publisher to call out an American licensee, in English, no less. CPM disagreed but ultimately filed for bankruptcy, making the whole thing moot.
And now we get to the heart of the matter: Libre is publishing yaoi for the Kindle, under the aegis of parent company Animate, so they are obviously protecting their market. Animate publishes four titles a month in English, but they also occasionally put up a book in Japanese as well. Although most serious scanlators take down their scanlations of books as soon as they are licensed, there may be less lag time in this case. Or maybe they are just being aggressive; Libre is a member of the anti-scanlation coalition formed earlier this year.
The general reaction seem to have been pretty mature—the readers realize that scanlations are illegal, and they are resigned to it. Unlike Onemanga.com fans, they aren’t demanding that someone set up a new free manga site for them or that manga publishers just “learn to deal with it” and let the scanlators continue, although one reader did pen an embittered open letter to Libre on her LJ, in which she forcefully makes the point that she buys lots of yaoi, some of it directly from Libre—and details the order she just canceled. It’s an interesting twist on the voting-with-your-dollars argument, but one that most of us can’t pull off as we don’t buy Japanese manga to begin with.
(First spotted via Cait Branford on Twitter.)
Retailing | Barnes & Noble, the largest book chain in the United States, lost $63 million in the first quarter, a vast decline from a $12-million profit it reported for the same period a year ago. The retailer pinned about $10 million in losses on its costly fight with billionaire investor Ronald Burkle, and warned that a proxy battle could push the company even further into the red. [Reuters, ICv2.com]
Passings | Paprika director Satoshi Kon, who began his career as a manga artist before moving into anime in 1995, died Tuesday from pancreatic cancer. He was 46. Kon made his directorial debut in 1997 with Perfect Blue, and went on to helm such critically acclaimed anime features as Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and the aforementioned Paprika, as well as the television series Paranoia Agent. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | Kai-Ming Cha looks at initial efforts by manga publishers to provide digital content as legal alternatives to scanlations. [Publishers Weekly]
Roland Kelts has an interesting article in the Daily Yomiuri covering manga’s summer of discontent, and one point he touches on is the decline in manga sales in Japan—yes, it’s happening over there as well as over here. And one cause that the people he is talking to point to is the rise of scanlation in the U.S. Originally, scanlations were done by small groups and available only by download, so the audience was limited. Now, bootleg sites like the recently retired OneManga.com offer fan translations of the latest chapters of popular manga such as Naruto and Bleach, as well as scanlations of less popular titles and scans of manga published in the U.S. Here’s where it gets interesting:
Over dinner in Tokyo this May, a Kodansha editor suggested that the real damage posed by scanlations over the past three to four years was the direct result of manga uploads spiking in Japan. “Before, it was mostly non-Japanese kids posting and translating manga. But the kids in Japan caught on, and now all kinds of manga are available for free as soon as they hit the shelves [in Japan],” he said.
Is this really happening? Certainly scanlators are using raw scans posted in Japan, which saves them the trouble of ordering the books, waiting for them to arrive, tearing out the pages, etc. But, just for the record, Americans didn’t invent this idea. Back in 2005, when OneManga.com was just a glint in its creator’s eye, some Japanese guys got the idea to scan in a bunch of manga, put it up on a website with a cheesy name, and eventually charge people to read it. They were arrested and prosecuted under both criminal and civil law. Then in 2007, three more guys were arrested for uploading Weekly Shonen Jump and Weekly Shonen Sunday scans to the Winny file-sharing network before they appeared in the magazines. These both predate the big-time scanlation scene in English-language circles and suggests that there was a demand for free manga in Japan as well, either because people like to be the first to see the new comics or because, like their American counterparts they are broke (or cheap).
(Via Anime News Network, which has some additional background in their article.)
They kept updating right to the end, even squeezing in one last chapter of Naruto for their hard-core fans, but on Monday the shadowy forces behind OneManga.com kept their word and removed all the online manga from their site.
This is not goodbye, however: Site administrator Zabi says OneManga will continue to post manga lists and series information, although it’s debatable how useful that information is without the scans to go with it. Both OneManga and its competitor MangaFox (which has also pulled down most of its licensed manga) have active forums, which may keep readers coming back even without the free manga.
Meanwhile, anyone who can operate a search engine can still read plenty of licensed manga online, including weekly updates of popular Shonen Jump series like Naruto and Bleach. OneManga and MangaFox don’t actually do scanlations; they are simply sites where the scanlation groups who translate those weekly chapters upload their work, to build a better audience. Several scanlation sites already have their pages prepped for this week’s chapter of Naruto, and last week’s is widely available.
Ironically, one of the reasons OneManga was established, according to this interview with one of their forum administrators, was to combat a site called Narutofan, which enraged readers by charging for high-quality downloads of the scanlations — again, scanlations that were made by others and intended to be distributed for free. Yet Narutofan is still up and running, making money from both the ads on its online manga reader and the paid downloads, while OneManga is gone.
Incidentally, I checked my iPod Touch app that draws from a variety of scanlation sites, and it will no longer load manga from OneManga.com. So it looks like the manga really is gone from that site.
Sankaku Complex (warning: NSFW!) translated some reaction from commenters at the Japanese forum 2ch to the recent announcement that OneManga.com is shutting down. They weren’t particularly sympathetic:
“If you don’t release simultaneously with the Japanese release they will pirate them. They are that committed.”
“They get them even faster than the Japanese regions do. It’s too much…”
“What a bunch of crooks. They make a fortune off donations and advertising revenue. They pretend they are creators and heroes. I want to watch Hollywood movies and American dramas at the same time as their US release. Of course, for free.”
“Overseas manga is ridiculously expensive, so that’s probably behind One Manga’s popularity. However you look at it, ¥2,000 for a single volume is way too much.”
“If the prices drop they’ll just start using censorship as an excuse instead.”
“They wouldn’t buy even if it were cheap. Their anime is far cheaper than in Japan and they still won’t buy.”
The name-calling continues in a second post, in which the 2ch users react to the comments to the first post. What’s interesting here is that scanlators like to say that they are good for manga by promoting its popularity in other languages; the Japanese don’t seem to buy into that, and in fact some commenters complained that publishing unedited manga leads to a backlash:
One Manga, the largest scanlation aggregator and one of the world’s most-visited websites, has announced it is essentially closing down next week following pressure from publishers. Although the forums will remain open, all manga scans will be removed from the site.
“It pains me to announce that this is the last week of manga reading on One Manga (!!),” One Manga administrator “Zabi” writes in a message on the site’s main page. “Manga publishers have recently changed their stance on manga scanlations and made it clear that they no longer approve of it. We have decided to abide by their wishes, and remove all manga content (regardless of licensing status) from the site. The removal of content will happen gradually (so you can at least finish some of the outstanding reading you have), but we expect all content to be gone by early next week (RIP OM July ’10).”
According to Google, One Manga is the 935th most-visited website in the world, with 4.2 million unique visitors each month.
In early June a coalition of Japanese and U.S. manga publishers announced it would take legal action against 30 sites that illegally post translated scans of their titles if the administrators didn’t “immediately cease their activities.” Within days, MangaHelpers began shutting down (while launching a platform for creators) and MangaFox started pulling licensed titles from its list. However, the closing of One Manga gives the coalition its biggest victory, by far, to date.
In the wake of the One Manga announcement, administrators set up a Facebook page, which already has almost 53,000 “Likes.”
Retailing | Heidi MacDonald confirms rumors that well-regarded Brooklyn retailer Rocketship, the setting for numerous signings, release parties and art shows, has closed after five years. “We’ve come to the end of a five-year lease, and are deciding what to do now,” said co-owner Alex Cox. “Five years went by fast, and my partner and I are suddenly making some large life decisions about what comes next. We love the shop, and as fun as it is, we have to figure out what makes sense for us on a practical level.” [The Beat]
Pop culture | KRCW-Santa Monica (89.9 FM) will rebroadcast the 1991 radio production of American Splendor, starring Dan Castellaneta, from 7:30 to 8 p.m. PST today. This broadcast will appear on air and via KCRW.com live stream only, and will not be available on demand or via podcast. [KCRW.com]
Legal | The Wall Street Journal’s Tomomichi Amano looks at efforts by a newly formed coalition of Japanese and American manga publishers to crack down on U.S.-based scanlation websites. “People might say it’s like whack-a-mole,” says Vertical Inc.’s Ioannis Mentzas, “but we think even making one (legal) case will greatly change the situation.” [Japan Real Time]
Publishing | IDW Publishing has promoted Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall to the new position of chief creative officer, expanding his duties to encompass the company’s efforts across all platforms. Ryall, who joined IDW in 2004 from Kevin Smith’s Movie Poop Shoot website, will remain as editor-in-chief. [press release]
Publishing | In not-exactly-unexpected news, Dark Horse will move its online anthology Dark Horse Presents from MySpace to the publisher’s website. DHP originally appeared in print from 1986 to 2000, and was relaunched in digital form at MySpace in August 2007. [Newsarama]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller analyzes direct-market sales figures for May, which saw graphic novel sales slip 15 percent from the previous year: “My suspicion continues to be that orders for bigger-ticket items have been more likely to be impacted by the general recession; retailers are letting trade paperback inventories fall a bit, even in months in which they’re ordering more comic books (even given the price increases).” [The Comichron]
It looks like the first round in the scanlation wars has gone to the publishers, but appearances can be deceiving.
Shortly after several publishers announced that they had formed a coalition to fight manga piracy, a number of the most popular scan sites removed scans of series that had been licensed in the U.S. Or did they? As a blogger named Kimi-chan explained a few days ago, the site admins at two sites, Mangafox and Animea, merely disabled the links from the home page. If a user had bookmarked the series, however, the bookmark would still work, and Google searches still turn up valid links for these series.
Kimi-chan’s post has been up for about a week, and when manga blogger Deb Aoki tried the tactic with a number of Viz titles on MangaFox, she found that they truly were gone. But that made me curious about something else.
A few months ago, I downloaded an iPod app that pulls manga scans from the Onemanga database—it’s one of several free or cheap apps that do that. I opened it up for the first time since April, apparently, and it immediately updated the list of available titles. Sure enough, all the Viz manga were gone from the list. There were a scattering of Del Rey, Tokyopop, and Vertical series, though, and a number from Yen Press.
The French writer Xavier Guilbert has written an interesting editorial on scanlations at the zine du9, in which he questions the now-conventional wisdom that because the rise of scan sites corresponded with the fall of the manga market, the two are interrelated. He makes some good arguments, and I strongly recommend that you go read his piece.
It’s easy to draw a line from bootleggers making a product easily available for free to the sales of that product declining, but that was always an oversimplification. There are plenty of other reasons why manga sales are down, a weak economy being chief among them. It’s also worth noting that a lot of manga publishers were small outfits operating in a new environment, and several have failed despite, not because of, strong consumer demand for their product (ADV, DramaQueen, Go!Comi, I’m looking at you).
So the key question is, will shutting down the scan sites increase the sales of manga? Looking at the content of the scan sites and the comments in their forums, I am seeing four types of readers:
- Readers who live outside the US or far from a shop that sells manga
- Readers of mature manga that is not licensed in English (and not likely to be)
- Fans of Naruto, One Piece, and other very popular licensed manga who are looking for the latest chapter
- Everyone else
Publishing | Direct-market comics sales rebounded in May, increasing 15 percent from the same month last year. Sales of graphic novels, however, fell 13 percent. Diamond’s list of Top 300 periodicals was led by Avengers #1 with an estimated 163,867 copies — 50,000 more than second-place Siege #4 (the final issue of the Marvel miniseries). The lackluster graphic-novel chart was topped by the ninth volume of Ex Machina, with fewer than 5,000 copies. Once again The Walking Dead was a standout, with 12 volumes charting — including a reprint of the six-year-old Days Gone Bye collection, which came in at No. 19 with about 2,300 copies. [ICv2.com]
Internet | Kimberly Saunders looks at how scanlation aggregators hide titles on their websites, removing yaoi titles from the prying eyes of Google — Google’s AdSense application doesn’t permit sites with sexually explicit content — and seemingly satisfying take-down notices from publishers: “MangaFox is not alone in trying the shell game, either. AnimeA have game on as well. Visit their site, click on a manga title they have supposedly removed, (all Viz so far, just like MangaFox) and up comes a message that it is licensed and you have to buy it. But if you have a page bookmarked, or come via a search engine, and click on a listed numbered chapter of (name of removed manga), guess what? Yes, it is there, just hidden and inaccessible from the main page in an attempt to appear compliant …” [The Kimi-chan Experience, via Deb Aoki]
The manga publishers who have banded together to form an anti-piracy group have scored a direct hit on one of the biggest manga scanlation sites: A MangaFox administrator announced in a forum thread that they have pulled a number of manga, and a list of deleted titles shows they are mostly from Viz Media and include the powerhouse series Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. MangaFox is one of the sites that hosts scanlations of the most recent chapters of those series, so this is quite a blow to them; fickle readers, however, will be able to find them, at least for now, on other sites.
Deb Aoki, who broke this story at About.com, notes that Viz wasn’t the only protester: Apparently a number of scanlation groups have asked for their work to be pulled as well, presumably because they are worried about the publishers’ reactions. Interestingly, some of the scanlators had already requested that their work not be reposted on others’ sites, and now they are forcefully restating their requests. Since the original scanlations are themselves copyright infringements (although on a smaller scale, and more benign, than MangaFox), the whole situation reeks of irony.
UPDATE: Deb talked to a former MangaFox staffer who revealed that many senior staff have retired from the site, due not only to the anti-piracy coalition but also to some dissatisfaction with the parent company. Click the link above and scroll down for the conversation.
Just days after a coalition of Japanese and U.S. manga publishers threatened legal action against 30 scanlation websites, the effort has scored its first victory.
Administrators at scanlation aggregator MangaHelpers announced this morning that they’ve begun shutting down the site, disabling uploading and linking for scans and making existing files available only to scanlators so they may back up their work.
“The publishers will no longer sit idly by and watch the scanlation community spread their work,” reads the announcement. “They have identified some 30 larger websites, and have given a last warning to the scanlation community to voluntarily remove all infringing content, or face legal repercussions. Yes, we believe MangaHelpers is one of them, despite not being contacted by any legal representatives about this specific announcement at this time.”
The website also announced the launch of OpenManga, a platform designed to allow manga creators to distribute their work digitally.
On Tuesday a group of American publishers revealed they had joined forces with the 36-member Japanese Digital Comic Association to fight unauthorized online distribution of manga. In a press release, the coalition issued a warning to scanlation sites to “take it upon themselves to immediately cease their activities.”
“Where this is not the case, however, we will seek injunctive relief and statutory damages,” the group’s spokesperson said. “We will also report offending sites to federal authorities, including the anti-piracy units of the Justice Department, local law enforcement agencies and FBI.”