Legal Doesn’t Matter: More on Scanlation Sites

For the last month or so, spinning out of the Nick Simmons plagiarism mess, various smart people online have been bemoaning scanlation sites like One Manga and MangaFox. (Probably the two best known. I know some will say I shouldn’t be linking to them, but plenty of people easily find them by typing “read free manga online” or similar into Google.) These sites post manga scans online without having the copyright owner’s permission. Some have been translated by fans — either the work isn’t published in English, or the series in Japan is running far ahead of what’s available in the U.S. — while others are scanned from published English translations. What torrents and rapidshare are to superhero comic piracy, these sites are to manga.

The reasons for readers using these sites are varied. Some customers are cheap. They can’t or won’t pay for all the manga they want to read. Some customers are limited. Perhaps they’re younger, and they can’t get to the library or bookstore on their own, or they don’t have a credit card to order online, or they want to read manga that’s rated age 18 and up without being carded. Some customers are picky. They want to try before they buy, and it’s becoming less easy to browse as bookstores realize they can’t stock everything. (This is especially true if you’re interested in books from smaller or less popular publishers, like CMX or Vertical.)

Some think that it’s a matter of education. For instance, Katherine Dacey recently posted in detail about how one of these sites is violating copyright law. The problem there is, I don’t think the users care. After all, there are plenty of laws that people willingly choose to violate every day, such as speeding. (When it comes to teens, there are even more, since technically, sending your also-underage significant other a naughty picture of yourself may qualify as child pornography in some locales. I think this is more a failure of law than of behavior.) Plus, fans have wanted to share things they love for free for decades. Home taping begat Napster, anime video dubs begat DVD burning, and so it continues.

There is minimal benefit to the user, in this case, for respecting copyright law (and what benefit there is, like the publisher not going out of business, is long-term), while there is plenty of immediate benefit in reading online for free. Is it any wonder that the scanlation user sees no reason to quit? If the publisher isn’t trying to shut these sites down, why should the customer take up their battle? The publishers may be trying, behind the scenes, to do something quietly, but if the reader doesn’t know that, and given the length of time these sites have been around, the obvious assumption is that they’re not.

All the customer sees is that the publisher (with the exception of Viz, and their SigIKKI and Rumic World sites) isn’t providing any legitimate alternative. In a way, the publishers have ceded the online reader to the “pirates”. As the iTunes store has demonstrated, it is possible to compete successfully with free. You can make the material easier to find, more reliable in quality, or provide extra features, for example. It requires creative thinking and understanding the audience’s wants more than calling them names and telling them they’re doing bad things, though. That approach doesn’t solve any problem.

Then again, maybe some of the publishers look on the bright side. Coming down hard on scans may seem anti-fan and turn off some customers, while silently tolerating them as “free publicity” might gain some customers who like what they’re seeing so much they want to buy their own copies and other merchandise. Plus, they can track popular, not-yet-translated titles as a kind of audience testing. Various people working at various publishers started in scanlations, so some see some value there. (I’m reminded of a superhero comic higher-up who refused to do anything about fanfic because he enjoyed it in APAs when he was younger. It’s hard to crack down on something you did.)

Anyway, I’m wandering away from my point, which is that fans are unlikely to change their behavior when it’s so easy and fun for them. Daniella Orihuela-Gruber tried to provide a list of alternatives, but all of them require more work or spending money and may not work for you after all. (I’d love to find a used book store that stacked more than 20 volumes of random manga, but I have yet to see one.) Badgering them isn’t going to help. It’s not a matter of ignorance, but of choice.

78 Responses to “Legal Doesn’t Matter: More on Scanlation Sites”

  1. Joshua Macy Says:

    Some titles aren’t available from official sources and likely will never be. I would cheerfully pay for a US release of, say, Angel Densetsu if only the publisher would agree to sell me one.

  2. Caitlin Collins Says:

    Great article and completely relevant and true, the one thing you haven’t mentioned is the time it takes to get access to these things legally. While some series don’t take long to be released in English others take an incredably long time, Reborn! is one example, Viz is releasing the volumes and has released up to volume 14 which has up to chapter 125 but in Japan they have up to volume 28/chapter 268 in tankobon format and Viz did only start publishing it 2 years after it had lready started but they are now nearly 3 years behind. I do buy them as they come out but the urge to read the chapters online is high as not doing so means that I can not participate in online discussion without having the plot spoiled by those who do read it illegally.

  3. thekamisama Says:

    With fan translating already existing well before the ease of internet file sharing, I imagine it might be a bit harder animal to kill than just normal comic piracy.

  4. Thad Says:

    Straight up. It IS possible to compete with free — iTunes does a pretty good job of it, in fact.

    Of course, the reason is that nothing IS truly free — if you’re not spending money, you’re spending time and energy. Rapidshare and Usenet are, quite simply, a pain in the ass to use, and illicit filesharing networks also come with the risk of malware. Then there’s the issue of bandwidth: BitTorrent is, by its nature, fantastic for sharing popular files and lousy for sharing obscure ones.

    Users will pay for reasonably-priced content, especially if it brings the added value of a fast, reliable, trustworthy download.

    None of which helps much for manga that hasn’t actually been published in English yet, of course.

  5. Shari Says:

    Excellent article! You’ve got some excellent points.

    To add to what you’ve said here… I have something to say about the “damage to the industry” argument that a lot of people throw about.

    There are two types of people who read scans. Those who also buy legal manga… and those who don’t.

    The thing is, yes, scanlations that result in lost sales WILL hurt the industry. This is a fact and no one’s disputing that. However… The fans who don’t buy the manga anyway likely don’t care. They’re not buying it anyway, so what do they care if Tokyopop (or whoever) goes out of business? What do they care if ALL the English manga companies go out of business? They DON’T care, because they’re not buying the manga anyway.

    Now the second group I mentioned… they DO care about the industry. They’d be sad to see companies fold and the manga shelves go bare in their bookstore. Of course, that’s because… *drumroll please* They’re buying manga! :P

    So that, in a nutshell, is why I tend to roll my eyes every time I see the “It hurts the manga industry!” argument. It amounts to little more than hot air.

  6. laurie Says:

    ” I don’t think the users care”

    The only ones who care are the ones who are buying the manga anyways and are reading this.

    What I really wish this Nick simmions thing talked about was the ‘value’ of art is self and weather comic art is ‘art’.

    I have a guess that most of those that dont care, is because they dont have a ‘value’ of art and that it is easy to do to make quick money. I’ve seen it first hand, the only people I see appreciate comic art is those who are involved (or know some one personally involved), at least tried it once and understands the ‘value’ of art.

    Just telling people ‘you should buy this because its legal and puts food on the table’ will meet responses like ‘well isnt it easy money to make manga? isnt manga fun? at least its not as bad as my job’. I know this because when I was younger this was how I thought.

    I 2nd what Caitlin said because the legal version is just to far behind, because they want to. I’d get it if its just a couple volumes behind the printed ones (which should be pretty close to the japanese release please) so they can get sales but 10+ behind? In this age of fax, email, ftp there is no excuse

  7. Johanna Says:

    I’m glad my rant made sense once I finished. Thinking about it further, I think the education idea makes some assumptions about online readers — they’re younger, they aren’t familiar with the law, they’re not educated enough about the issues — that aren’t always likely to be true.

  8. Jake Forbes Says:

    Your article is spot on. The ball is definitely in the publishers’ court to innovate to stay relevant.

    I’m sure digital sales with iTunes like convenience (which we’ll probably start seeing in a couple weeks when apple unveils a bookstore and the viewing tech to do justice to comics/manga) will satisfy a portion of scanlation readers, but I don’t hold out hopes for very large sales as the paying audience for 90% of all translated manga is so tiny and the pirating audience is (probably) largely without credit cards. Also, at least anecdotally, it seems as if the most motivated to pay manga readers cite physical copies as a prime motivator.

    As a creator who hopes to make a living off of content, I find it frustrating when folks, as Laurie explains very well, don’t consider my work worthy of compensation, but still have to read it as soon as possible so as to participate in the conversation. It’s frustrating, but that’s the reality of our time, and we as publishes and creators have to adopt.

    @ Shari, it may be true (mostly, for now) that the health of the licensed manga “industry” is independent from the act of manga creation, but scanlations are undeniably a theft against the creators. Looking at this particular niche of piracy as a “victimless crime” because you happen to have a taste for works from a foreign market is disingenuous. The legal modes of manga consumption are clearly not up to the demands of the hungriest manga readers, but that doesn’t make the illegal models acceptable. Propagating a price tag of ZERO with out compensating creators and publishers does hurt the industry. That’s not hot air.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Maybe the people who want to read without buying are compensated for, partially, by those who are convinced they want to buy because of the conversation? I’ve sought out series after hearing people talk about them online. Free samples can drive traffic — Showtime, for example, is giving free access this weekend so that prospective viewers can try its series (several of which are debuting) and service to try and gain customers. Of course, that’s not quite comparable, since it’s a limited time free trial, but it does indicate the principle.

  10. g Says:

    @Jake: What’s “hot air” is making that argument on the internet to try and make people stop. It won’t stop the people who don’t care, and the people who *do* care (and have the money to spend, and live in an area where the particular manga they read is accessible…) already support the industry.

  11. Jake Forbes Says:

    @Johanna, absolutely there must be some trickle down sales that occur that way, but ultimately that choice should belong to the copyright holder, and unless the copyright holder has the ability to track the consumption of the giveaways and can place it into the context of their expenses, all we can do is speculate and play armchair publisher.

    re: your sample suggestions, that is one tactic that Tokyopop at least has been aggressively experimenting in, from the preview books at cons to sample chapters persistent on the company’s site, to limited time full volume (or even full series, in the case of Fruits Basket, Bizenghast and others) previews. Granted, they gimp themselves with a user experience that’s probably driving away more potential viewers than it attracts (that’s me playing armchair designer :P). Viz has stepped up their efforts in the last year, as you point out. In both cases, though, it’s tough to compete with the one-stop-shopping of onemanga/mangafox.

    I’ve got a lot I’ve been meaning to say on this topic (publisher-nudging, not pirate bashing), so I should probably take it offline till I’ve organized my thoughts proper.

  12. Johanna Says:

    I would love to hear more of your comments on the subject — you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into it. Tracking, for example. I know companies love to get an idea of return on investment and conversion rate and those kinds of stats, but they also have to realize that using the internet means giving up a certain amount of control that they will never get back. Some aren’t willing to acknowledge that, so you wind up with restrictive software, which may turn off readers, as you say, and can encourage alternate distribution. It seems to me that fans want digital copies that they can take where they want instead of having to be connected to the internet to read them.

    I saw something, during research for this, that suggested that if comics were doing better overall, there would be more slack in the system to make up for those who read without buying. But with sales decreasing, whether we’re talking about superhero or manga, publishers are more leery of losing any possible customer they can try to convert or badger into spending money.

  13. Joshua Macy Says:

    I easily deny that scanlations are theft from the creators. Calling it theft is an attempt to set the terms of the debate by means of a false analogy. Or are libraries, which also purchase a small number of copies of a work and then share them indiscriminately, also hotbeds of crime? I could equally well call attempts to hoard and demand payment for information, the only thing in this world that can be shared without diminishing it, piracy of people’s natural rights, no more moral than pirates who stop ships and demand money to let them pass. It’s not likely to convince anyone who doesn’t already share my point of view.

    If you actually want to make progress in discussing “intellectual property” you have to start out by acknowledging that it’s a completely artificial category and has special properties that can’t be analogized to anything else. The natural state, absent any coercion, is that people can freely share information without diminishing it, and if you don’t want to let them do that you need to keep it secret. From there you can then reason that the natural state provides too little incentive to create and share new information…people would ultimately be better off if you created a legal framework where creators would have a limited monopoly on the duplication of the information they share. But how much better off they would be depends on the exact parameters of that monopoly…and it could make them worse off if the rules are poorly written. It’s pretty easy to say, well, nobody really needs to read Naruto so there’s a very small price to pay if you don’t let them read it until the publisher puts it out… it’s a lot harder when you’re arguing that poor folks who could never afford a certain drug they need to live should die even if there was somebody willing to produce the drug cheaply if only they had the right to duplicate the information because otherwise there’s not enough incentive for creators to come up with such drugs in the first place. The latter argument may even be harsh but right, but saying it’s simply or obviously theft from the creators strikes me as an attempt to short-circuit any rational discussion of the trade-offs.

  14. Logomacy » Blog Archive » Scanlations as “Theft” Says:

    […] from a comment I left on Comics Worth Reading: […]

  15. Johanna Says:

    It’s very difficult to discuss this subject without using language that’s been colored with all kinds of connotations and political positions. Copyright abuse is not the same as property theft, true, but the industries were successful in tagging it “piracy” — although now they’re backing away from that term because now they think “piracy” is “glamorous” and “adventurous”.

  16. Joshua Macy Says:

    Exactly. It is difficult, which is part of why I get so exasperated with “education” efforts (primarily by industry) that attempt to leave the public less informed about the actual issues than they were at the start if that’s possible. Another source of frustration is that the louder the industry squeals about creator’s rights, the more likely it is that they treat the creators like dirt and use phony accounting to rob them of participation if they don’t make it straight out work-for-hire.

  17. Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] ensues in the review's comments thread and continues on Dacey's blog. Johanna Draper Carlson has additional commentary. [The Manga Critic] Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse […]

  18. Dexter Says:

    I hate commenting on debates like this because the people that are in the wrong somehow hold themselves up as paragons of true art.

    I’ve got a vested interest. I’m a copyright/trademark attorney that has spent many years working with creative people.

    I truly hate the ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone, so it’s okay.’ So, if you read an illegal copy, that doesn’t hurt anyone. Neither does walking into a theatre without buying a ticket and sitting in a nearly empty room watching a four week old movie.

    Guess what? It’s illegal. It doesn’t matter that no one else was going to use that seat or that the movie was going to be shown anyway. It’s trespassing…it’s against the law.

    Libraries violate copyright laws? Good heavens! Wait…no they don’t. There are specific exclusions for libraries. Copyright also does not prevent me from buying something and lending it to as many people as I want…it prevents you from taking a book, photocopying it and giving it to as many people as you want. Digital media is the same…just easier to play with.

    I do think copyright terms have been lengthened too much over the last 35 years. I think the 1976 expansion was more than enough to bring things into line. The recent expansion just to protect specific companies (Disney, mainly) really stretches the credulity of the purpose of protecting copyrights.

    But, yes, copyright is property that has specific non-physical aspects that make it a specialized area. That’s why there are laws specifically pertaining to governing the specialized area.

  19. Johanna Says:

    Occupying a theater seat without paying means one less physical space for a paying customer. Watching a copy doesn’t prevent any paying customer from doing anything. The two situations don’t directly compare, as you go on to point out, so I’m confused by what your exact point is?

    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. (And every law has its own exceptions, too — like army service or self-defense in the case of killing.)

    I agree with you that copyright law has become too restrictive. But what would Disney and Warner do if Mickey Mouse and Superman entered the public domain, as they should have already?

  20. Joshua Macy Says:

    Yes, libraries are exempt. Why are libraries exempt? Because the law recognizes subtleties and trade-offs in the public interest that calling it “theft” attempts to obscure. I’m pro-IP, I pay creators for their works and I’m in favor of others doing to as well. Because I’m in favor of compensating creators, I don’t think it’s helpful for people on “my” side to advance false arguments and analogies that any ten-year-old can see through or to overreach and try to make harmless behavior criminal trying to extract every last fraction of a penny that a property might someday yield and cause the whole framework to be held in contempt and ignored.

  21. Jake Forbes Says:

    Thief and Pirate are definitely loaded words and inaccurate when describing illegal digital copy consumers — Parasite or Freeloader would be better analogies. :P

    The people who run MangaFox and OneManga (and rapidshare), however, are thieves and pirates as they are illegally supplying a product that they have no claim to and running its distribution as a for-profit business.

  22. Jake Forbes Says:

    @Joshua — Libraries pay for the copies they share. Each sale can only be read by a single customer at a time. Heavily circulated books add to sales by spurring additional copies or replacements for ones damaged by wear and tear. Libraries are a major paying customer for books as a whole, and for many niche titles, they might be the single most important customer.

  23. Joshua Macy Says:

    @Jake irrelevant to the case that sharing = theft. Theft by only one person at a time doesn’t make it less theft.

    Here’s what I worry is happening: overzealous advocates of strong IP law figure that by conflating the most harmless with the most harmful copyright infringement they can stigmatize all copyright infringement. As the advocates hoped, the public stops appreciating there’s a distinction, but since the harmlessness of the trivial cases is readily apparent, they conclude that the strong IP advocates are full of it and the whole thing is nonsense. You convince them that it’s all “Piracy” but they conclude “Piracy” is fun and sexy. Not a win.

  24. Jake Forbes Says:

    @ Joshua, you can’t look at all media sales/licenses the same. There are many types of licenses/sales that are legit, some of which include sharing. When you buy a song on itunes, you can play it on 5 devices. When you buy a game, you’re paying for the license to play it, not for the right to futz with code. When you buy a movie ticket, you’re paying for the access to a one-time viewing. When you buy an ebook for your Nook, your license might include the right to share it with other Nook owners. Libraries aren’t a grey market — Libraries are paying customers and their methods of sharing are embraced by publishers and authors. When you patronize a library, you are taking advantage of a subsidized and totally legal system of borrowing. It’s only if you photocopy the books you borrow (or burn CDs, etc) that that legal borrowing becomes theft.
    If you still want to argue that libraries = theft, then fine, you win.

  25. Jake Forbes Says:

    @ Joshua, Ignore my sign off above. I get where you’re coming from and largely sympathize with your points. The legal methods of sharing are way out of step with reality, that’s for sure. That’s why I think Libraries are a model to celebrate. Sorry to end with a snark.

  26. Johanna Says:

    I’ve known of some authors who thought libraries were stealing their royalties, because otherwise those readers would have to buy their own copies. Which illustrates how perspectives don’t always match up — authors and publishers want the most sales possible, while some customers will read only if they don’t have to purchase. It’s when one party thinks they can force the other into doing things to their benefit that problems occur.

    Plus, you wind up with weird situations, like when I buy a DVD. Fair use says I should be able to play it in any machine in my house, but DMCA says that it’s illegal for me to run it on a Linux machine (because there is no licensed software for that platform, so I have to break the copy protection to run it on a Linux laptop). That kind of hair-splitting makes no sense to the customer who just wants to watch their legally purchased movie, and being put in those kinds of situations is what encourages customers to find the ever-growing restrictions ridiculous.

  27. MangaBlog Says:

    […] Draper Carlson weighs in on scanlation sites, pointing out that the vast majority of readers don’t care that they are breaking copyright […]

  28. Lyle Says:

    Johanna, you reminded me of when the music industry tried to keep people from copying CDs by making CDs that wouldn’t work in CD-ROMs. At the time, I only listened to music while I was using my computer and, therefore, didn’t need a separate CD player.

    When these CDs started appearing in stores, I bought a number of that I couldn’t use. Eventually, I started to return them as defective.

  29. Paploo Says:

    Y’know, I feel bad for ragging on little kids who want to read Naruto online, but I also feel that tolerating it in excess can only lead to bad things.

    Also, in Britain and other European Countries, governments have set up royalty systems so that every- Jonathan Clements explained it in great detail on his blog. In Canada, CanCopy uses library access information to give out royalties from members to academic writers.

    I really hate when people bring up libraries as being the same thing as comics scans, because it’s not really the same thing at all, and ignorant of how the system works.

    If manga/comics publishers were to do something, there would have to be some way of compensating the creators. Creators are getting the real cruddy end of all this, losing control over their works and their ability to make a living. I do think it’s important to consider the consumer, but right not most of these arguments are entirely consumer-oriented.

    I think it’s a combination of ignorance and choice- they choose to bootleg, and choose to remain ignorant of the issues relating to why it’s a bad choice. I know I can’t change anyones mind, but I think it would do creators and the industry a disservice not to have a continuing discussion of these issues and just let people off guilt free. If changes are to happen, both sides should participate in the dicussion, even the ones that might make some people feel uncomfortable, like the fact that some fans are parasites.

  30. Johanna Says:

    Is reading scans a “bad choice” for an individual? I don’t think a compelling case has been made that that’s an obvious conclusion.

  31. Paploo Says:

    It’s a choice they make against retailers, creators, publishers, printers, people who provide online content legitimately who could be getting their time, libraries, and more honest fans who then have to deal with them gloating about how many comics they have on their hard drive. It only benefits them, no one else, and is an entirely self-serving action that ruins the intergrity and morals of fandom as a whole. So yeah, it’s a bad choice.

    They just put their hands over their ears and go “la la la” or flagrantly and openly argue why they’re totally right to steal stuff directly to creators like Gail Simone or Kurt Busiek, or as we see here, myself and Jake Forbes. I’m tired of people telling me that they can do whatever they want with my work.

    Is there anything I can do about it? Not really. Should everyone sit down and condone it because of that? No, we shouldn’t.

  32. Paploo Says:

    I guess i’m mostly saying that reading free content online isn’t a bad choice. But reading illegal content online is, for the reasons I outline above. Good people make bad choices all the time, and sometimes if they make enough bad choices, they become bad people. We’re looking at a sea of bad fandom on the horizon, and brushing it aside isn’t a good thing. I hope more stuff like SigIkki does pop up, but I also look at it realistically- logistically, a legal version of OneManga isn’t possible, the closest thing would be VIZ putting it’s entire catalogue online, but given how much cost and work is involved in having a handful of series online, the money required to support maintaining such a site (which scanlation sites appear to be making a profit at) AND paying the creators (which they skip altogether) isn’t there yet.

  33. Johanna Says:

    “Ruins the morals of fandom as a whole”? I think that’s quite an exaggeration, and not a particularly helpful contribution to the discussion.

    If I’ve already decided that I’m interested in title X, but not enough to buy it sight unseen, I’m going to look for ways to read it for free. I may borrow it, if a friend or the library has it, or I might browse for online samples. From the individual user perspective, those actions are very similar in their result, and there is no negative impact to the retailer or publisher, since I’ve already decided I don’t know if I like it enough to buy it. Alternately, I may like it so much that I want my own copies, in which case, there’s a positive impact.

    You mention “your work” — what is your real name? What published work are you referring to?

  34. Paploo Says:

    Johanna, I do comics for and I’ve done smaller print work here and there you probably haven’t heard about, most of it for a local convention I help run. I imagine others might belittle my work since I’m “just a webcomic artist” (in posting this, I hope you don’t) and not some Marvel/DC creator, but all of this is stuff that feeds into my views of things.

    My worry is that all this is creating a system that works against creators, while also devaluing the content, and giving the consumers who do the right thing the crappy end of the deal by taking either a pro-scanning stance at worst, or even a neutral one.

    What’s the point of putting my comic online if some other site is going to mirror all the images and create torrent files of it, profit off of them, all while my ad rates go down to nothing while my comic is seemingly “popular”. I’m the one who should have a say in how my content is presented and where it is presented. I also feel that my experiences in webcomics for the past decade have given me a more realistic view of the possibilities for business- the fact that the only people who make a living at it do so by print editions of their work is something that says a lot about how little value there is in digital content.

    It’s not creating a vision of the future that feels constructive towards creators- I feel like there’s less and less of a chance to succeed in print when there’s massive shift of readers who don’t want to support creators, as smaller publishers have to deal with poorer margins and a smaller pool of dedicated fans to rely on, and I feel like there’s also little point in making webcomics when I have to compete against illegally presented professional content for readers attention (unfair competition in my book), and it’s clear that there’s no real way to make even a small amount of money at it.

    I’ve found I’ve had the best reception with minicomics I’ve sold at cons in terms of fan reaction or amount of pay. Digital comics could be such a great thing for the industry, but the way in which fans choose to embrace them has resulted in a harmful, openly illegal industry that profits off consumers while affecting producers incomes negatively. Both consumer AND creator rights should be expected.

  35. Paploo Says:

    Oh, and the comic is

    As for why I don’t mention it in these debates a lot, well, I’m not that confident about my work, and don’t really feel like having it be a weapon to be used against me. My having it online isn’t something that undermines my argument- I choose to publish online, and have an exclusive deal with my publisher to do so. I think it should be up to creators and publishers how content is presented, and if fans want to have more online and digital content presented, then they should stop defending the illegal online and digital content, and support the real stuff. There’s no excuse to be stealing from creators who create their product for print, when there’s a bunch of us who have chosen to make it viewable online.

    Likewise, it should be up to creators if Project A is onlineonly and Project B is printonly. Taking control away from them, and devaluing their product is something that can damage their ability to create- I know I find conversations like this really frustrating, and the total lack of respect for creator rights in the current online comics fandom culture is something that makes me feel like I should just throw in the towel, and stop making comics.

    It’s a very personal issue, and I’d appreciate it if you respected it.

  36. Paploo Says:

    And honestly, I’ve heard waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy too many horror stories about the living conditions of working full-time cartoonists from other artists I know, to accept any argument that creator rights don’t count. The comments at Deb’s Simmons discussion about how artists should just live for making art and nothing else is very unrealistic and disrespectful, and I think any argument even mildly supportive of illegal scans is something that unknowingly/unintentionally promotes this sort of belief.

  37. Apple Says:

    I completely agree with this article. There is a way to compete with free, and I would like to see more publishers being innovative, such as what VIZ is doing with their online titles.

    Also, I would like to throw in that most of the people I know that read scans do so because the material doesn’t have a domestic release, or they want to read ahead of where the publisher has gotten to in translating, but they do buy the volumes when they come out.

  38. Shari Says:

    @Jake – Please read my initial post again. The argument might hold merit technically, but it IS hot air when it comes to debating the issue with actual people who read scanlations. Either the person doesn’t care about an industry they don’t benefit from (ie, they’re not buying manga from US publishers) or they DO care about the industry because they already ARE buying manga.

    In other words, it’s important to understand that there are 2 kinds of people who read scanlations: Those who don’t care about the health of the US manga industry and those who ARE buying manga.

    The “Scanlations hurt the manga industry” argument is a pointless one to make to EITHER of these groups.

  39. Eric Robinson Says:

    Companies should work hard to fight this. While it does allow people who lack access to manga, to access manga, it will hurt the industry. While their are people who read scanlations and buy the manga afterward, their is an even bigger amount of people who just don’t care about the industry. I would like to believe that most people who read manga actually care about the industry, but the truth is that most of the manga fans I’ve seen on various forums (myanimelist,,etc…) and in everyday life just don’t give a damn. Companies should fight this, as while it may seem “anti-fan”, it will absolutely harm the industry later on. If we want to see more manga being licensed by these companies, they must take responsibility and get rid of these sites in order to make more money, regardless of how unpopular it is.

  40. Johanna Says:

    Paploo, let me reassure you — I didn’t ask to pick on you or belittle your experience. I just wanted to better understand your perspective by knowing more of the context behind it.

    I do find it interesting that, as a webcomic artist, you are posting your work for free, yet you seem to downplay the benefit to the reader of sampling. I understand that there is a huge distinction, of course, in whose choice it is to make the work available, creator or customer.

    I don’t take an “anti-scanning stance”, as you put it, because I don’t see that having any positive benefit. Screaming at readers that they’re criminals and responsible for books being cancelled and creators unable to get paid for their work — well, it reminds me of MPAA President Jack Valenti calling the VCR the equivalent of the Boston Strangler. Movie studios and TV networks wanted to stop home taping, since they thought users were going to kill their industries, but the Supreme Court ruled it legal, and now, movie studios survive on income from DVD sales (which took the place of VHS rentals). A new technology opened up a whole new business, allowing those who at first called it evil to survive and thrive in new ways, once they got over their conservatism and adjusted to the new market opportunities.

    If your comic is popular enough that people are pirating it, hey, that’s neat! Your audience is growing, and that’s more people you can sell print copies or personalized sketches or merchandise. (The latter is much harder to pirate, and no one can provide personalized work but you.) One of the biggest threats to the aspiring artist these days isn’t copying, it’s anonymity. There are so many out there that any given artist will get lost in the flood without people paying attention to their work. Of course, you’re right that it’s your choice what to do with your work. And if you want to send cease-and-desist letters to those who copy, you can. (I’ve had to, when my blog posts here were being lifted.)

    You’re right that it’s tough to make money directly from digital — but there are media with that model as well, like TV advertising. And there are lots of successful webcartoonists who provide information on how they did it, either for free or at a minimal cost, so there are easy ways to continue learning how to grow your business. Your characters are really cute, so I would think there are lots of potential income areas for you. Although I didn’t see a store link at your webpage, so I wasn’t sure how to purchase your minicomics.

    One final note: I may disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I am disrespecting you, your opinions, or your work.

  41. Paploo Says:

    I’m not against people reading or accessing material online for free- I just think the creators should be compensated and be a part of the situation. Like I am with my webcomics. Reader sampling can be an excellent thing, but it should be done in a way that also respects the creators wishes. Thay’s why I find it a poor and flimsy excuse for accessing illegal content.

    When the shift to home video occured, there was a lot of work done on laws to ensure studios were compensated and a part of decisions- the legal aspects of online content aren’t as clear cut, and it’s more difficult to prosecute given the international boundaries involved. It’s easier to stop someone making bootlegged dvd’s on a street corner than it is to stop someone putting up a torrent, which will probably involve far more copies being made.

    I sell my minicomics at cons- I really don’t sell much online because of the general atmosphere I get online, from anime and comic forums, and from comments like those of Shari, that a majority of fans do not really care about peoples work, rather they just want to get it for free and don’t really care about creators rights either way. It’s that specific culture that gives me issues with all that- it’s a much larger issue in anime fandom than it is in manga or comics fandom at the moment, but that’s mostly because anime’s been dealing with it for longer. The fact that so many fans about this are very disrepectful and openly agressive whenever someone tells them they’re affecting the anime industry negatively doesn’t exactly inspire hope or love of fandom in one’s heart. I fear that that’s the future for comics.

    It gives me the feeling that trouble involved in making a print edition isn’t really worth it when it comes to online fans. Meanwhile, the trouble is worth it with Cons, because most people are generally there to spend money. I know there’s some people who actively support creators, but the overall mood I get from online fandom currently is very pessimistic towards creators. The fact that most fans choose to support the illegal offerings of digital content over the legal options even when they are presented is something that really concerns me- CrunchyRoll going legal hasn’t stopped fansubs. I think the only real way to see if stuff can succeed is if companies offer a legal alternative while also educating readers AND continuing legal efforts, perhaps even more openly than they do currently. Don’t like that you can’t watch Naruto on Narutofan? Hey look, VIZ has it up on their streaming website.

    I think that taking down illegal services is something that has to be done if you want to get creators onboard for a legal one.

  42. Paploo Says:

    Also, on a note about libraries, one copy of a book can be circulated about 17 times a year. If 500 libraries each order let’s say, 5 copies each of a given Naruto volume due to demand, there’s 2500 copies- keeping in mind that VIZ does hardcover editions just for libraries, and Permabound issues entire catalogues of comics just for the library market, it really is something different than online sampling. It’s a valid industry that contributes to creators and publishers incomes. And gives us all a cheap venue for entertainment. If your library doesn’t have what you want, tell them rather then going on the internet to steal it- they’re there to serve you, and will probably try to acquire materials that suit you if demand merits.

    If they each ordered a lower selling manga, there’s 1/2 of the manga’s or gn’s print run right there in a lot of cases. And any damaged/discarded or stolen copies will be replaced with a new copy.

    If you want your own copy, you’ll have to buy one of your own, because you have to return the copy you borrowed.

    High levels of circulation mean more jobs, more books, more libraries who will buy those books.

    2000 people reading a scanlation of Naruto on a website just means one copy was sold, the one used to pirate it. If they want their own copy to keep, they don’t have to buy anything- they can just burn the image files to CD. The only people they give money to are the people stealing the work. Anythingelse is just wild guesses, or a personal experience, and not solid sales numbers.

    That’s my issue with those kind of comparisons.

  43. Emilio Says:

    As I’ve written about in my blog, a huge problem with these online scanlation sites is that they’re profitable. They sell adspace (often partnering with “reputable” organizations like Google) and make cash. It’s immoral in the sense that bootlegging is immoral, as opposed to something like fansubs or scanlations themselves.

    Us Otaku live in crazy times… on my blog I have an image of a google ad on advertising Viz-licensed 20th Century Boys movie… right above a scanlated page of Viz-licensed 20th Century Boys.

    That said, I wish Japanese publishers would work directly with sites like Crunchyroll to get their manga online in some form. It’s not only good for fandom, but it would raise the profile on the massive amounts of quality manga both scanlators and american licensing companies frequently neglect. Osamu Tezuka isn’t the only person who wrote Gekiga, you know!

  44. Johanna Says:

    Paploo, I think your position is the ideal, but I also think that ship has sailed. I don’t know that you can stop the scanlation sites now for the reasons you mention. You say “The fact that so many fans about this are very disrepectful and openly agressive whenever someone tells them they’re affecting the anime industry negatively” — I don’t think that’s a fact, the way you’re presenting it, but an opinion, and many times the way that opinion is presented is dismissive and insulting. So no wonder that fans aren’t respectful, when they’re being called idiots and criminals and babies.

    I am discouraged to see you ceding your market to those you disagree with. You’re not offering an alternate to compete!

    The library question is an interesting one — I know of several librarians who want to shelve certain series, only to find that they’re out of print. Which is another factor driving fans to find ways to read. If you’re trying to buy book 16, you want to be able to read book 12 before.

  45. One Frustrated Consumer Says:

    I think this what is really going on at sites like mangafox:

    1. Readers/consumers are starving for the content they find there. They will read BAD translations. They will puzzle through BAD scans. They will go surfing for the original scans when the chapters are coming out too slow, even though they are unable to read the original language– just in the hopes that they can manage to puzzle out what happens next.

    2. All of the above means that: The work isn’t being legally translated and published fast enough to keep up with the demand.

    3. The readers wait MONTHS for some dedicated/devoted/nice scanlation group (who will put in hours of their own time) to release new chapters of the stories they are following. The readers will voluntarily join (or try to join) scanlation groups just in the hope of making the content come out faster.

    4. It is a great way for readers/consumers to find new stories and authors they like. It might need to be tweaked–but this is part of the new emerging publicity/marketing model. You can’t shut down the net. Creators and publishers need to work with it instead.

    In the end, it all comes down to lack of easy access. The legal publishers are NOT doing their jobs. Popular/well thought of mangakas *might* only have one or two books translated and for sale at store fronts and amazon. Take the title Gokusen, for example. This is an insanely well regarded, fifteen volume story in the manga fan community. In Japan it spawned anime, a tv show of three seasons, a movie… some of which are available to buy. But can I buy the original manga? No.

    I think if the publishers make the stories available and easy to buy they will make more money. To argue that they are losing money because of the scanalation groups seems weird to me. Very few scans are posted that are already available somewhere else. It takes too much work to make quality scans and clean them for readers to waste time with readily available material. Most uploaded scans exist because if they weren’t, no one could read them anyways. The publishers would be better off worrying about all the money they are ALREADY losing because they aren’t meeting the demands of the market, instead of some hypothetical money that might lose upon publishing.

    If you follow posts in the forums, the readers are aware that actually buying the manga supports the creators and that this action gives the readers more of what they want: good stories. But to belabor the point… They can’t buy what doesn’t exist. (And they will buy, regardless of their age–just check out itunes.)

  46. Johanna Says:

    Adding to the whole debate, Jason Thompson just reviewed ways to read scanlations via iPhone apps at He calls them “a shocking reminder of how publishers lag behind pirates in terms of technology. In the time it takes for one manga’s digital rights to be negotiated between the Japanese and U.S. publisher, scanlators can upload 1,000 chapters of manga and develop 10 apps for reading them.”

  47. laurie Says:

    you know, I know nothing of this industry.

    but I’d like to say another few things…

    from what i’ve heard/read japan just doesnt want to do internet access digital stuff. They still have cd stores, they have large creator oriented (fan or original) cons, they have many anthologies, they have high priced merch (them blue rays) and a lot of other things that dont work in America.

    we cant keep blaming the american publishers as they are doing what they can to keep themselves aflout and keep to our demands. In fact, this should be the time were we support them the most in any initiative they try and give feed back. I recently read Arata (that new Watase comic. not a watase fan) on Viz then read a few more chapters on onemanga (to see if it was worth following). Let me tell you, if I had liked that comic I would have waited till the viz one came out for quality sake.

    Which is something else, I’ve found that I like to buy really well presented (and good stories but thats an opinion) manga even more expensive then to buy 10$ ‘economical’ manga cause I dont feel its worth 10$. Publishers being more selective is a good thing for me and not just flood the market with more generic ‘teen’ books.

    I’m fine with another Watase book, but I’d love to read ‘The taste of God’. Luckly, I can import the frence version (and maybe english if europe has one) cause even niche books are hard to find scanlations of.

  48. Guest editorial: Dear Manga, You Are Broken « MangaBlog Says:

    […] 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 […]

  49. More Thoughts on Free Online Manga Distribution » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    […] up on my post pondering what users get from scanlation sites and many of the issues surrounding posting and reading free manga online, there have been some […]

  50. Another frustrated consumer Says:

    First off – the first comment on this entry is totally spot-on. There’s a ton of manga out there that has no official translation and no prospect of one forthcoming. The same goes for plenty of anime. This is a seriously dire problem here in Australia, where even those works which have been translated in the USA simply don’t get released here (or are delayed by months and in some cases, years). It’s also hideously overpriced; one volume of manga here costs about $20, even though the same volume might be $7 on Amazon – the problem lies in the shipping costs, so even that turns out to be unviable.

    Secondly, what’s with manga publishers in the west putting no effort whatsoever into the presentation of their carefully translated products? I’ve bought manga volumes published in French, a language I have only the most minimal grasp of (albeit much better than my grasp of Japanese, haha) simply because their publications are *beautiful*. I’m talking slipcovers, foil embossings, coloured page edgings, the works. By comparison, volumes published in the USA look about as quality as a crossword book or telephone directory. If the publishers made their products look like something you’d wanna spend money on, they might find people doing just that. Seriously, even just hiring better graphic designers for colour choices and whatnot would help. I’m looking at you, xxxHolic.

  51. Manga Xanadu » Blog Archive » This Week in Manga 3/20-3/26/10 Says:

    […] she explains why a aggregator site like Onemanga is illegal.  Johanna Draper Carlson replies with a post that readers of scanlations know perfectly well what they’re doing is illegal, and just […]

  52. Lively Internet debate: Bloody pirates! | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] 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 […]

  53. Publishers Threaten Manga Scanlation Sites » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    […] a book”, especially for titles they may not love or be uncertain about. In other words, reasons for reading free online manga may differ per person. (Disclaimer: I have reviewed a scanlated series before, […]

  54. Shiny Noctowl Says:

    In America, Viz has only published the first 7 volumes of Pokémon Adventures (or pokespe, as it’s popularly called). I can get these volumes from my library without having to pay anything. However, pokespe currently has over 30 volumes, and the rest are only published in English by the Singaporean publisher Chuang Yi. Because Chuang Yi doesn’t ship outside of southeast Asia, I have to use eBay to buy pokespe volumes 8+. With shipping and the extra bit of money the seller adds on for his “trouble”, they cost about US$20 per volume!

  55. Johanna Says:

    Wow, that’s a lot for a Pokemon comic! I admire your initiative in hunting down a legal way to get the material, but I can understand why a free alternative would be tempting.

  56. Saya Says:

    I like to read before I buy. I refuse to buy online ANYTHING that is a ‘opinion’ related item (Jewelery, books unless they’re HIGHLY recommended or by an author I trust, clothing, etc). Some things should be ‘tried on’ before they’re purchased. Considering a lot of the publishers want to SHRINK WRAP comics, the only way I’d be able to do that is to go to the Library. They don’t have many of the comics I like, and many I love aren’t even translated yet (Heaven knows, I craved the weekly updates of Inuyasha when it was in publication, and I HATE the American version of Sailor Moon), and since I can’t read Japanese (much less afford to pay shipping for comics FROM JAPAN) I guess I’m just screwed. You know, if they charged a reasonable fee, maybe I WOULD wait for the English publications. But 10-20 dollars for something that costs 200-500 yen in Japan is highway robbery. >.>; So sufi and die.

  57. Jabun the Wanderer Says:

    Hi, I DID have a huge multipage rant for you guys that was pretty much me agreeing about how no one is going to pay twenty bucks for something they can get for free, and then suggesting how the manga providers could lower their prices without cutting their profits too badly even with the economy bathing in the porcelain whirlpool of feces. my idea was that they could lower their prices by opening up more advertising space between panels, as well as hiring the very people whom they are trying to run out of town to do the translation work, instead of the big-time translators like say 4Kids, who has a reputation for metaphorically raping every potentially well-made anime and manga that they get their hands on. since these people are willing to do the translations for free, they would obviously be willing to work for less than those who will only tranlate the stories and subplots if you fork over wads of cash.

    these online “scanlators” also have another thing over the professional translators in that they do this job because they are passionate about their work instead of being ruled by the almoghty dollar. In essence, these people would honestly want to do a better job because they would have more respect for the hard work and dedication that the artist has put into the manga themself. In other words, while the artist and the scanlator are on opposing sides, they both have an equal ammount of respect of the product, as well as the scanlator having a high ammount of respect for the author and illustrators. they just happen to show this through the most basic form of flattery. (mimicry for thos not familiar with the addage)

  58. Johanna Says:

    Lowering wages for those professionals who do translations (when that’s already happened) doesn’t strike me as a smart strategy if you believe in a fair wage for good work. Just because someone is willing to work for free doesn’t mean you should let them do it.

  59. LolaDaRogue Says:

    I have to be honest, I never knew this was illegal! I always figured that it was fine because you didn’t own or download the mangas, you can only see them online (kind of like music and project playlist or a public library). I thought if it was illegal, you’d see something against it like all the anti-pirating stuff for movies and music. I feel really really stupid now, especially since I’m completely against the whole torrenting thing.

    Holy crap. :(

  60. MangaFox Scanlation Site Still Running » Manga Worth Reading Says:

    […] of heart over intellectual property or losing the business, money is what talks. And as long as the demand continues, there’s plenty of audience for them. […]

  61. Briana Chadek Says:

    Well I do agree that it is unfair for the publisher and sellers of the book if we aren’t buying there books from them and all that but they don’t understand that right know we are going though a bad economy and some people are not rich and cant afford to buy manga every two weeks because My family doesnt even make 11,000 dollars per month!!! You also got to think if these writers of manga want us to buy manga from the book stores they need to get those books that are all over theh internet to the stores because if you go on these manga internet sites you can see that they have more mangas on sites then they do in stores!! I read manga on the internet because it gets me off the stresses of the world I LOVE TO READ!!!!! I read off the Internet because its worth while and fun and you have alot more selection of books to choose from. Its kind of funny that people are trying to get rid of manga sites but they dont understand we have been told from a young age that reading is good for you and that you should read more and know its like your trying to say if you want to read you have to pay. WE should have the right to read and have fun reading. if your going to be keeping us from reading then you are pretty ridiculous. Reading is apart of life and we should be able to read for free JUST LIKE A LIBRARY!!!

  62. Opposing Viewpoints on Comic “Piracy”, Starting With Colleen Doran » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] People who file-share don’t hate you, artist. They aren’t even thinking about you. They’re thinking “here’s something I’d like to read/hear/view, and it’s easy, so I […]

  63. Pirates and Their Reasons Part of the Future of Comics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] I’m curious to see how this all turns out. He’s against the act, as many (but not all) comic professionals who make their income from the direct market are, but a later Twitter comment — where he says, “It seems self-evident to me a huge part of comics’ piracy problem is US eco[nomic] inequality & 20-40% youth unemployment rate” — suggests to me that he is, at least, looking at the big picture. He’s probably already aware of the Underground example, but I thought readers here might be interested in seeing another collection of viewpoints, given the wide-ranging discussion that’s taken place here in the past. […]

  64. Hajiwee Says:

    I agree that scanlations are bad and whatnot for the industry but I feel that the publishers are making too big a fuss blaming all the decline in sales in scanlations and not considering the fact that we’re in a state of an economic crisis where people has less money then ever before and as some people say manga is a luxury so when people have no money people ain’t gonna buy your books. It is also because of the economic crisis we are in that publishers are trying to earn every penny they can which is understandable. However they fail to comprehend that by letting scanlations run when it just started as a way of publicity when the publishers were earning big bucks when we weren’t in an economic slump, led to it’s popularity as scanlations are faster and most of the times within acceptable accurate translation range. And because of that manga became internationally popular even in many places where even a bookstore is rare. And so of course they would find it difficult to remove scanlation sites now as such actions would deprive many people internationally and further deter people from buying printed versions as in such a dangerous point in the economy people are more careful with their money and only want to spend it on worthwhile products, and as the saying goes “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” so you can’t expect people to buy a manga without knowing whats it about how’s the art. That’s another reason why scanlations are popular. However scanlation sites have crossed the line by making it profitable and not paying the creators for the profit they earn. The worst thing about scanlations are that they are often where new fans of manga are horned these new fans have no idea of what manga is worth or where they come from just that it’s there online. Which is down right insulting to creators. But at this point it is impossible and inhumane to remove scanlation sites as it is the only source of manga for the kids and poor. One thing that’s possible to solve all these problems is very simple actually, that’s to create a another legal scanlation site that’s better than mangafox where users have to create a free account which could be used to track and record that they a reading a manga which could be used to catch people who copy and post on other websites. the site could include ads which generate revenue to pay the creators for their work and include a link to amazon to allow easy access to ways to buy the legal printed versions which includes even the less well known manga where creators can handle their own publication and printing and put them online to sell which could help promote sales for manga and popularity for less well known manga. But I feel that this awesome method will not be adopted any time soon as if adopted the site would have to non-profitable where all profits from ads must go to creators which would make the site a non-profitable online library So that it would be able to compete with sites like mangafox. This means that the site will not make any money which defeats the purpose which publishers are striving to achieve “earn more money by forcing people to buy their printings by removing the free source.”. However I believe that creators would be fine with this site as it’s the same as the library and they earn what they deserve directly. But unfortunately publishers who have the capability and resources to make this happen will not do it as they do not profit from it. As shown by their declination of mangahelper’s suggestion of a similar non-profitable site.

  65. Online commic suporter Says:

    Everybody here isn’t thinking about the rest of the world. It seems like you people only think that manga’s are being read in the US or in Japan. The whole world reads or likes manga’s but it’s not always available in every country. I’m from Belgium (nobody here probably knows where it is)and I know how difficult it is sometimes to find manga’s. We can find a limited offer in our own language (we have 2 languages)and also a limited offer in english but we have to preorder stuff and then wait weeks before we receive it. I bought Shaman king up to volume 24, but I just got sick of it because of the long waiting. If I order it online I have to pay even extra for shipping costs, especially if it has to be shipper from a foreign country! Look, I’m an artist too, I have a deviantart page, a draw almost everyday and I extremely respect the mangaka or artist(s talent. But what do I have to do then, do not read any manga’s anymore? I sometime buy manga’s when it seems interesting just to have them. But reading it online is so much easier, I can do it where I want and when I want, I don’t have to spend extra effort, time and money to find the volumes I need (and believe me, in a country like mine, it’s not always easy) and I still get my daily addiction needs. Believe me if they would make a download base with easy acces (like marvelcomics)where you pay montly a certain amount (not to much either) I think lot’s of people would seek it up. If the quality is better, you just download it once on your pc and always easy acces to read it again without internet, and you know you’re not doing something illegal, I would and lot’s of people would certainly do it. But you’d have to admit, internet is amost everywhere but manga’s aren’t. Easier acces is what they have to do, it’s their obligation to us!! We are the readers, we also buy their manga’s or comics, why do we have an obligation to them if they do not put any effort in this?

    Also: some people here are complaining about the translation from japanese to english. If it takes several months or even years to translate it to english, how long do you think it would take before it gets translated to dutch? Hmmmm indeed, if I have to follow that pace, I would still be at the episodes where Naruto is a child instead of a village hero.

  66. 9a. Copyright, Scanlation, and the Ethics of Unfettered Reading | What is Manga? Says:

    […] copyright law (which falls under tort, i.e. civil law) and criminal law.  Johanna Draper Carlson, in a blog from a few years ago, tries to equate scanlation practices with not obeying the speed limit, in an effort to explain if […]

  67. Dodgy Des (The Con Man) Says:

    I read Manga chapters online. Why, you ask? Because if I wait for the books to be released over here in the UK, I’d be waiting months, sometimes more. So I certainly feel for the people in other Countries.
    I still however buy the Manga I love when it comes out over here, providing I have the money. The Artists and Creators of these different kinds of Manga have spent all this time creating such wonderful drawings with amazing stories that I feel they should get something from it.
    Don’t worry. There will be no spoilers ahead.
    Let’s take the Manga Vampire Knight. Over here are 16 Volumes (I have 15). And in those total 16 Volumes I believe there are roughly 73 Chapters. In total however, I believe there is like 90 or something Chapters. If I don’t read this online I would have to wait until November this year (about 7 months) just to read the next 5 Chapters or so. Also, there are many forums on the Internet which are discussions about the latest Chapter. If I waited until all the books are out over here, read it all, then go to the discussion page, there will probably be comments from months ago and some forums may even be dead. It’ll just feel like I’ve left it too long to read and I wasn’t keeping in time with it like everyone else.
    Also, when a Manga artist finishes a Chapter and releases it in Japan, it usually always gets put straight up on the Internet and translated immediately. When I read it, it just simply feels nice to be able to read it as soon as it’s released and not have to wait 6 to 12 months. Though, as I said, I will still buy them whenever they come out over here, just to support the Manga Artists and other involved.

  68. Mopao Says:


    I see this is an old post but since I am having a hard time now reading my manga with a clear mind I would like to raise a question to you guys.
    “Piracy” in manga is very specific I think, because this is not really linked with any philosophy/any vision of the society, nor money. Let’s say in most cases.
    It is clearly linked with a deficiency of the market. “I want my manga now, don’t want to wait” “it doesn’t exist in my language” etc…
    I am sure that some people are taking advantage of it: big manga sites have ads, maybe some teams earn money, etc… And this is difficult for an outsider to have the right behaviour, to know who is who and to be sure not to allow some fake people to make money thanks to the free work of others.
    I am wondering why the scanslation sites are not going to Japan to get some licences of manga? Why don’t they organize themselves within a big association, share their resources and get access to licences at a higher level?
    The internet allow now the creation of new business models, and in particular in the book industry I would imagine that there is plenty of rooms for new models.
    I tried to find in US sites the process you have to go through to get your licences, but actually I have the impression that as long as you make a deal with the Japanese publishers then you are fine. And you can make any kind of deal. Maybe some US publishers have negotiated exclusive rights with the Japanese publishers? Even so, this would work for past manga, not for future manga. And I can see a big economic interest for the Japanese publishers to make this kind of deal with good scanslation groups. As I can see many kind of attractive deal that a team can make with the Japanese publishers.
    Do you know of any barrier, either legal, political or anything that would prevent a smart, organized team from doing a deal in Japan?

  69. Johanna Says:

    Yes — the company would probably say no. The owner doesn’t have to grant permission to anyone who asks for a license. Or the owner might ask for more money than a startup group might be able to pay. They’d have to have a way to raise funds first, and if that way was selling ads against illegal scanlations, publishers might not want to work with them no matter how much money they offered.

    And if these scanlation sites are making money without paying out any license fees, why would they want to lose some of that by paying the publishers? They clearly don’t care about legalities or ethical business behavior.

    Some manga-ka, by the way, don’t want their works offered digitally, so they won’t say yes to a license no matter what.

  70. Mopao Says:

    Thanks a lot Johanna for your answer!
    Actually I don’t see it that way. Scanlations represent an illimitate, highly skilled (ie: usually :)) and cheap labor force. It represents the access also to a very large communauty, with its own codes, with people that know each other, that are also potential clients of various products.
    There are plenty of ways to negotiate the terms of a licence I think (if there is no big legal barrier that is to say). I had the impression that you can make an attractive deal with the Japanese publishers. You can postpone the first payment of the licence (that’s for you to ease your start), or pay a fixed amount for example (appropriate I think for the donation approach), you can pay in something else than money, you can combine many aspects actually. The numbers at stake, as far as I understand, are very small (manga represents a 150M USD market only!), and the japanese idustry is looking new ways to grow, so it seems to me, given the high numbers of people that are active in the scanslation world, and their profile, that it may not be a big challenge to increase their returns if you do it with the scanslation community. And you improve your image, you increase the relationship between the US and Japanese manga communauties, etc…
    Now for sure, I don’t speak about the manga-ka that don’t want their works on line. Also I talk about the team, which are supposely composed of passionated, skilled people. Some would love I think to have their works recognized by the artists. Some of them by the way already end up in the industry, as translators, etc… The big aggregator websites are I think an issue, and the question you have raised is true for them – well, I believe, but here also I couldn’t get information so far about the way these sites are managed. A big association that would unify several teams would be also an interesting animal for the Japanese publishers I believe.
    Well, again, this is a view from someone who is not from the “inside”, and I would never dare to say that what i’m saying is a reality nor something new. I would like just to understand better this strange situation.

  71. Johanna Says:

    You asked for reasons, I gave some possibilities, and now you’re hand-waving them away. Which is a lovely way to operate so long as we’re not trying to talk about actual business deals. :)

  72. Mopao Says:

    Hum… sorry if there is any misunderstanding, my English is not so good. I really want to discuss freely this topic so please don’t ever think I don’t take your opinion into account. I am so glad to exchange on this subject.
    I thought I gave you several answers to your possibilities (because, from a pure financial point of views, these are manageable barriers), while going into more details in the analysis, but ok… So let’s be more “down to earth” then. Do you know if any team has tried to make a deal with a publisher, and if this is a yes why it has failed (if it has failed)? Is it only for a pure financial reason? Also do you know if there was any attempt to unify the scanslation teams and propose a global deal to the publishers?

  73. Johanna Says:

    I don’t have any contact with scanlation teams, so no, I don’t know if any have approached publishers (with the exception of the Digital Manga Guild, which you should read up on, since that’s a publisher involving fan translators in a profit-sharing setup). As for your last question, I can’t imagine ALL scanlation teams and ALL publishers somehow managing to work together. A number of the publishers that put out English translations already have their own digital release programs, so there’s no incentive for them to do so.

  74. Mopao Says:

    Many thanks for this example (Digital Manga Guild), this is exactly what I was talking about, although i) I think you should use existing teams in order to “absorb” the pirates and ii) when you go to the website “emanga”, I can see that we are far from having an innovative businesss model. You have to buy each book, there is no “subscription” system, so almost nobody can afford it. I find also the site a bit formal and not oriented towards building a community, which is I think a fondamental element in manga.
    Concerning the incentives for the US publishers, I would imagine that the first one is competition. I think your article is very clear, there is little you can do against it, so why not trying to “legalize” them in a way or another.
    I found a paper that gives I think an interesting example: although
    But here the deal is made with the pirates, whereas there is also the possibility to make a deal with the publishers while the publishers would make a deal with the teams.

  75. Johanna Says:

    If companies make money from selling access to individual titles, there’s no incentive for them to offer readers more (a subscription system) for less (one monthly fee). Plus, with the shutdown of JManga, I suspect it might be a while before anyone else tries that model. It’s very difficult for publishers to compete with illegal scanlations, which can offer all the most popular series together, regardless of which publisher they come from, at no cost, since they don’t bother paying anyone for the rights.

  76. Mopao Says:

    Thanks again for the time you are taking for your answers. Is it fine to continue like this on your post or should I drop you an email? I still have some technical questions, if you don’t mind to help a profane like me. Anyway JManga is a very good example also indeed. I can see three problems in their business model: i) this was presented as an alternative of piracy, whereas I think you should try to “legalize” the piracy and use their communities to support your initiative (“pirates” should have incentives to go legal and not necessarely a financial one). ii) they tried big from the very beginning, which may have been financially risky depending on the terms and conditions of the licences and iii) pricing. I tried to look at the number of visitors on an aggregator pirate website: 3.7M/months. Intersting to see also their countries of origin. It seems to me that there is still room for an initiative like JManga but maybe differently structured. How many individual titles are sold today in the US, compared with what you can earn through a subscription system? Do you have some numbers, maybe from other industries? I think manga, like music, is very well adapted to this subscription system, because there are so many titles and you read them so fast also. As far as I understand, this is now the trend (monthly fee) in the online music industry.

  77. Johanna Says:

    I think very many publishers (and a number of potential customers) will have big problems with the idea of “legitimizing” the pirates. I know it somehow worked for Crunchyroll, but many people don’t like the idea of rewarding people for their criminal activity or letting them “get away with it”.

    What incentives do pirates have to go legal, in your opinion? Even when Viz launched a same-day release system, they complained that it wasn’t good enough. So it’s not price (since they’d have to pay something instead of the nothing they pay now), it’s not timeliness (since that isn’t enough for them), and it’s not legitimacy (since they clearly don’t care about that).

    As for the comparison of the music industry, there have been a number of articles recently about how the publishers don’t like Pandora, etc. because they aren’t getting the financial income they expect. Other industries likely won’t see this as a trend they want to follow. They also resent (for another comparison) Netflix for “devaluing” their product.

    I know fans would love an “all you can read” system for cheap, but publishers won’t make the money they want from it, so there’s no compelling reason for them to do so. It’s also very difficult, in such a system, to compensate the artists accurately. Should they all get the same amount, even if one of the titles is the immensely popular One Piece and the other is something obscure? Or should they be compensated proportionately to traffic, or based on actual views? It needs a whole ‘nother level of accounting and tracking.

  78. Mopao Says:

    Many thanks again for your answer.
    Your first remark is so true. However, I see here more of a communication issue than a real long term barrier. Although I don’t have for sure your knowledge about the comic industry, I saw this problem in other sectors and solutions were found in the end.
    For your second point, I see three types of pirates:
    – people that are trying to make money out of the scans, especially the big aggregator websites. I saw on the internet some information (that I could not verify so far) about the owner of one of these sites… very scary, this is like a mafia with different branches (on line games, manga, music…). These sites use the work of the teams actually, they have no internal competences.
    – people who are willing to have a positive impact on the industry as a whole and are real fans of manga. Many teams are like that actually. They claim they don’t earn money through their activities. They even issue on line magazines, etc…
    – small teams that are like the second type but are doing this for fun, without a real vision/mission
    You can reward the second type with the recognition of their work and a special status in the industry (invitation to forum, discussion with authors…). As far as I am trying to understand their attitude, I can imagine that they wouldn’t have a problem to restrain their scope and split the projects they get among them.
    These teams could be your best allies in fighting the other pirates. Actually they are already doing it, but when an outlaw is fighting another outlaw, this is not very credible. I would clearly advocate for prosecuting in parallel these aggregator websites, like MangaFox, to close them.
    Now for your last point I can see there is obviously a financial challenge. Since this last matter is more of my area of expertise (I work in the energy field), this is something I would love to look at in details.
    The fact that the key manga market is Japan, in the Japanese language, simplify a lot the problem of the returns for the Japanese publishers in the US I think. May I say that the 2013 results in the US cannot be poorer? What would you expect for the future when you are already not making money and your market results are declining?
    Are you sure that this subscription scheme is hopeless? I would not be surprised that in the next months/years, after the recovering from the chock of the end of JManga (I agree with you this is not good for the business mood), several other attempts would appear again, maybe at a smaller scale, before finding the right business model…
    I agree with you this would have clearly other internal implications for the industry. But don’t you think we are at the beginning of the learning curve? Usually business innovation takes time, until a new comer in the market is coming with the appropriate new model and then all the others are running after him… see FREE the operator in France. For example, concerning the problem you have raised of the artist compensation, I would imagine that you can use the charts (either from your site, from the US or from Japan) to proportionally reward the authors.




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