Following 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 thought-provoking statements around the web in the last couple of days.
Simon Jones makes a jaded argument that says that publishers shouldn’t pay attention to getting digital rights from authors because the success stories in the online space started by ignoring the laws around such things. (I do believe this is an excellent example of exaggeration to the extreme to make a point.)
If you want to “publish” scanlations, do it. Start an aggregation site. No one’s going to sue you. Japanese companies will invest in you. Stay out of print, because that, for some unfathomable reason, is still covered by copyright law.
David Welsh takes the more positive view of asking readers to give examples of points that might convince creators to do more with digital distribution.
What argument (preferably diplomatic) would you make to a manga-ka to convince them of the benefits of more timely, less immediately profitable, digital delivery of their work? The obvious one is that it’s already happening without their participation or consent, and they might as well control it to whatever degree possible, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject.
But the big, bazooka-sized post is by Jake Forbes, who writes an open letter with sections for just about everyone. In his opinion, Japanese publishers ought to be thinking about simultaneous translation and providing lots more material online
Transitioning from print-only to a hybrid print and digital world isn’t easy, and there’s going to be some hiccups and belt-tightening along the way. Either empower your licensors as partners or bring localization management in-house as a serious endeavor.
But the real tough news is aimed at American manga publishers, who are quickly reaching a point where they need to justify their existence.
Why do we need you? Seriously. There’s not a lot of sympathy for the industry, because frankly, you guys aren’t doing much to earn it. … To stay up-to-date with just the biggest hits, the cost is astronomical: Naruto: $400; Fruits Basket: $250; Vampire Knight: $90; Negima: $300. No wonder more people are reading your books on the bookstore floors than buying them—your value sucks. …
[A]re your editions that much better than what the free (albeit, unauthorized) scanlations offer? Sometimes, sure, but you hardly make quality a selling point. You are supposed to be the PROS, right? And yet you treat your unique creative staff (translators, adaptors, production artists) as interchangeable cogs in the machine.
Fans have their own dressing-down coming as well:
I do think something has changed in fandom over the past 10 years. It happened slowly and without malice, but this change has turned fandom’s relationship with the industry from a symbiotic one to a harmful, parasitic one. … What changed was fandom’s concept of ownership, and the product itself is only part of that equation. … the joy of being a part of a subculture is that we can decide for ourselves what’s cool and what’s crap. …
But here’s the thing—freedom to discuss copyrighted works is not the same thing as freedom to access them. Today’s fandom, empowered by torrents and scanlations and a glut of legit licensed content, takes unfettered access for granted. We think that we’re entitled to watch and read it all.
I don’t know that I agree with him on that point. I’m sure there are toxic fans out there, but the reasonable ones I know of don’t feel entitled. They’re not owners, they’re just consumers. Frankly, I’m not sure where he’s going at the end here, although I share his hope that there will be more legal alternatives in the future. And I strongly support his call for more young artists to try making their own stories.