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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:
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.”
A coalition of Japanese and U.S. manga publishers is threatening legal action against 30 scanlation sites, Publishers Weekly reports.
The group is composed of the Japanese Digital Comic Association, whose 36 members includes publishing giants Kodansha, Shogakukan and Shueisha, Square Enix, the Tuttle-Mori Agency and U.S. publishers Vertical Inc., Viz Media, Tokyopop and Yen Press.
According to PW, the publishers contend that although formerly fan-driven, scanlation — scanning, translating and posting manga, traditionally titles that are difficult to find outside of Japan — has become a profitable enterprise for high-traffic aggregation sites that host thousands of titles illegally. Google recently ranked scanlation aggregator One Manga among the world’s 1,000 most-visited websites. It draws 4.2 million unique visitors a month.
The group charges that in addition to attracting millions of visitors and reaping advertising revenue, some sites are soliciting donations and charging for memberships. In addition, iPhone apps are being developed “solely to link to and republish the content of scanlations sites.”
No lawsuits have been filed, and no websites named, but it seems likely that One Manga and Manga Fox will be among those targeted. A spokesperson said in a press release that the publishers group hopes “the offending sites will take it upon themselves to immediately cease their activities. Where this is not the case, however, we will seek injunctive relief and statutory damages. We will also report offending sites to federal authorities, including the anti-piracy units of the Justice Department, local law enforcement agencies and FBI.”
News of the effort comes a little more than a month after it was announced a coalition of U.S. comics publishers had worked with the FBI to shut down the piracy website HTMLComics.
Yesterday, someone at Anime News Network noticed that a free iPhone/iPad app called Manga Rock was scooping bootleg manga — in this case, scans of books published in the U.S. — from a scanlation site. Yen Press has already contacted Apple to ask that the app be taken down until all Yen titles are removed, but since the developer claims not to be affiliated with the site the scans are taken from, it’s difficult to see how this could be enforced. Manga Rock was still available this morning, although apparently Apple has pulled a similar app, MangaDL, from its store; the developers profess ignorance as to why.
Here’s why that doesn’t matter: There are still plenty of multi-comic manga apps on the iTunes store, and every one of them is a mobile reader for a scanlation site. All of them. Some legitimate comics reader apps carry a smattering of manga, but so far the manga publishers themselves have stuck to the older model of publishing each chapter as a separate app. That’s an expensive and clumsy way to read comics; the paradigm has shifted, but the manga publishers haven’t responded.
The publishers should be worried about this. From the user comments on these things, users like the convenience and the features, as well as the fact that for a buck or two (or nothing, if they don’t mind ads) they can read a ton of manga for free and keep it forever. Some users may not realize what’s going on. Some of the interfaces look pretty slick, and since Apple vets all apps, it’s reasonable to assume they wouldn’t let anything as blatant as a mobile version of Onemanga.com into their store. Reasonable, but incorrect.
I’m sure that publishers can tick off a lot of reasons why a multi-title reader would be hard to do. Japanese creators are notoriously reluctant to part with digital rights, and the reader would have to include titles from many publishers, not just one. But if I were reading comments like “I’ve been looking to buy fruits basket (my favorite manga series) and now I have them for 2$ !! Hehe I’m so happy:)” I’d be looking hard for a way to make it work.
Manga | Following up on Wednesday’s announcement that Yen Press will move its Yen Plus manga magazine online after the July issue, Gia Manry gets a few more details from Publishing Director Kurt Hassler — among them, that the web version will utilize a dedicated browser designed to emulate the print edition.
Digital publishing | In its White Paper presented last week at C2E2, ICv2 estimates that digital comics sales in North America last year totaled between $500,000 and $1 million. Naturally, it’s expected that sales in 2010 will “expand dramatically.”
iTunes | After Apple CEO Steve Jobs weighed in on the issue, the company has approved for its App store the NewsToon app from Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore. Apple had rejected the app in December, stating that Fiore’s Flash-animated political satire, “contains content that ridicules public figures,” a violation of its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement.
Digital comics | At Extreme Tech, Jim Lynch provides a lengthy overview of comics on Apple’s iPad: “Marvel and the other publishers have taken some important first steps, but they still have a way to go. The iPad has solved the problem of storage and readability, but now publishers must provide the app features, subscriptions, and digital delivery that will fully take advantage of the iPad and make reading comics on it as easy and as much fun as reading them in traditional book form.”
Copyright | A response to a brief post about the Manga Rock 1.0 app is a contender for quote of the day: “This is awful. You’re PAYING to use OneManga, which illegally hosts copyrighted materials! This is such crap.”
The manga boom in this country started out with a handful of enthusiasts who, when they couldn’t find the books they wanted in English, learned Japanese, translated the books, scanned them in, and pasted in the English text, then shared them with their friends via the Internet. Basically, these fans became mini-publishers, except for one important thing: They didn’t have the rights to the works they were reproducing.
Back in the day, though, most people shared their scanlations via IRC (Internet Relay Chat), which is clunky and requires a bit of technical know-how, so there was enough of a barrier to entry that you had to be at least a bit motivated to get your free manga. In the past few years, though, a number of sites have sprung up that basically pirate the pirates, downloading scanlations and posting them on a website so anyone can read them in their browser. What’s more, these sites are also posting scans of English-language manga for all to read — a far more violation of copyright than anything scans_daily ever tried. I recently spoke with an industry watcher who said that traffic on these sites is increasing sharply, and the publishers are worried.
Manga fans resurrect the scanlation debate periodically, and it started up again last week when Kate Dacey, a.k.a. The Manga Critic, addressed the issues of pirate sites and provided her readers with a primer on copyright. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson responded that the way things are now, there are plenty of incentives for readers to use pirate sites and pretty much no disincentives. Simon Jones argues (facetiously, I think) that digital rights have become worthless and obeying the law is for chumps.
This caused manga veteran Jake Forbes (editor of Fruits Basket and writer of the Return to Labyrinth manga, among many other fine series) to ask if he could post a guest editorial at my home blog, MangaBlog. It’s long but very informed, and Jake addresses the deficiencies of the American and Japanese publishers as well as approaching the fan entitlement issues from the point of view of someone whose own introduction to otakudom came through those primitive tools I mentioned up top.
All of these posts have lengthy comments threads that are worth reading in their own right, and I expect that the discussion will continue this week with more commentary from people inside and outside the industry.
Passings | John Hicklenton, the comic artist best known for his work on 2000AD, Judge Dredd Megazine and Nemesis the Warlock, passed away last week after a long fight with Multiple Sclerosis. He was 42. Hicklenton was an advocate for better treatment of MS sufferers, becoming the subject of the award-winning 2008 documentary Here’s Johnny that detailed his struggle with the disabling neurological disease. [Forbidden Planet International Blog]
Organizations | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has announced the expansion of its management team: Cheyenne Allott has been hired as development manager, overseeing fund-raising and outreach initiatives; and Brady Bonne has joined as operations manager, coordinating the organization’s office and fund-raising logistics. [press release]
Conventions | Using next month’s Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con as a hook, Michael Volpe looks at how the city is becoming a “fan festival hub” as it attempts to add Comic-Con International to a convention schedule that includes BlizzCon and The D23 Expo.
“It’s something of an accident,” said Mindy Abel, senior vice president of convention sales for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau. “Our focus is getting trade groups and corporate events that will bring out-of-town guests, but those same amenities are very attractive to public promoters and consumer events.”
According to the article, the Wizard convention is expected to attract 30,000 attendees — “small potatoes compared to the San Diego event.” [Orange County Business Journal]
Publishing | Following widespread accusations that Incarnate creator Nick Simmons plagiarized Bleach and other manga titles, bloggers Deb Aoki (on Twitter), Rob Bricken, Christopher Butcher, Johanna Draper Carlson and Simon Jones weigh in with commentary on plagiarism, scanlations/piracy and fan art. Butcher has some particularly pointed words for “the legions of artist-alley dwellers selling mass-produced copies of their fanart,” while in the comments of Comics Worth Reading, Jones neatly ties together the discussion by pointing out that some of the Bleach art that Simmons is alleged to have copied comes from volumes not yet released in North America. [Robot 6]
The title is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.
The folks behind the manga site ComiPress have just unveiled Inside Scanlation, an impressive website that chronicles the history of scanlation, that is, bootleg fan translations of Japanese manga (and later, Korean manhwa as well). It’s an amazingly detailed and textured history, complete with interviews with scanlators and industry figures, a glossary, and a timeline.
One of the things it chronicles is the way scanlation groups helped create and maintain the market for translated manga in this country. Licensed manga is just a bit behind the bootlegs—scanlation sites were doing a brisk business by 1998, while the bookstore boom in manga took off around 2000. Coincidence? I think not. Here’s Del Rey editor Dallas Middaugh reminiscing about his early days at Viz in an interview with Dirk Deppey of The Comics Journal:
To be honest, when I was at Viz back in 2001, 2002, we were following scanlations as a way of discovering new titles. [Deppey laughs.] Hey, I don’t read Japanese, and the people making scanlations were finding good manga.
Internet | A draft letter leaked earlier this week has revealed the desire of a manga-scanlation group to partner with a major publisher, and touched a nerve with members of its online community. In the muddled draft, one of the owners of Manga Helpers suggests Viz Media could somehow benefit by teaming with the website, which posts fan-translated scans of Japanese comics. (MangaHelpers recently received cease-and-desist letters from Japanese publisher Kodansha.)
Reaction to the leaked letter was quick and largely negative, causing another Manga Helpers founder to post an “explanation on current events”: “The goal behind presenting that document to a company was so that we can promote the fans — not their work. We wanted to create a bridge between publisher and fan (scanlator – translator – artist) to help everyone work together and not only make online distribution legitimate, but to increase the amount of released manga by promoting the talented translators, editors and artists we have at MH.”
Simon Jones notes that financial concerns may be at the core of Manga Helpers’ proposition: “They are worried about having to pull more content at the request of Japanese companies giving increasing scrutiny to the scanlation scene, and in the process lose a great deal of their user community and the advertising profits from it. Shueisha and Shogakkukan are larger manga publishers than Kodansha by volume, and through Viz, Manga Helpers hopes to secure their remaining content.” Brad Rice, meanwhile, suggests it’s probably not a good idea for a site that hosts illegal scans to attract attention to itself. [Manga Helpers]
Business | Sonny Bunch suggests that Disney should have passed up Marvel, whose major properties are tied up in film and theme-park licensing agreements, and instead purchased an “indie” publisher, such as Dark Horse. [The Washington Times]