Publishers Threaten Manga Scanlation Sites

I just realized I never covered last month’s “news” that publishers don’t like manga scan sites. These sites — of which the best-known are OneManga and MangaFox, but searching “free manga” on Google will turn up many more — post large numbers of manga pages to read online for free. They’re often called “scanlation” sites, after the original purpose of translating manga not yet available in English based on cleaned-up scans of the Japanese pages, but they frequently post scanned pages of manga licensed and published in English, too. From the article about publisher action:

An international coalition of Japanese and American-based manga publishers have joined together to combat what they call the “rampant and growing problem” of scanlations, the practice of posting scanned and translated editions of Japanese comics online without permission of the copyright holders. The group is threatening legal action against 30 scanlation sites.

Since manga sales aren’t as high as they used to be — a statement true of most industries, especially entertainment ones, in a recession that has yet to let go its hold — manga industry companies can no longer afford to turn a blind eye:

Many manga publishers and retailers who used to believe that scanlations actually attracted new readers, now blame the sales decline on the rise of giant for-profit scanlation sites that have allowed a new generation of fans to grow up reading manga for free online.

It’s a convenient source of blame that allows publishers to ignore the general economic slowdown, any publisher-specific issues (perhaps your current series aren’t as desirable, or fans are reacting to rising prices), or other factors that may also affect sales negatively. And yes, some customers with less spending money (because they’re poor or young) prefer “free” to “$10 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, one that otherwise wasn’t available in English. I think there is a significant distinction to be made between “I can’t get it legally in my language” and “I don’t want to pay for what I can get free”.)

The international anti-scan effort includes all major publishers: “such major Japanese houses as Kodansha, Shogakukan, and Shueisha” and “U.S.-based manga publishers Vertical, Viz Media, Tokyopop, and Yen Press, the manga/graphic novel imprint of the Hachette Book Group.” According to a spokesperson, “It is our sincere hope that 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.” They will also report sites to law enforcement groups. However, strangely, “the group has yet to file any lawsuits and has declined to name specific scanlators”. Do they not want to tip off the sites they are targeting before they sue? Or was this announcement intended as a scare effort, to try and make sites shut down out of fear without any actual legal action? Can some of these sites even be effectively prosecuted? Lawsuits have failed to shut down the Pirate Bay, although companies have been trying for years, due to international complications and differing laws in different countries. And suing sites fans love may cause a backlash.

Note that not all manga publishers are against scanlation sites. Dark Horse (whose manga sales went up this year) and Digital Manga (who wants to hire scanlators for no up-front pay, just back-end profits, in a speculative venture), for example, don’t blame them for sales difficulties. Vertical and Yen Press, in contrast, are very anti-online manga. So I’m curious — now, a month later, what is the actual effect? (Bearing in mind, of course, that the HTML Comics shutdown was reportedly in the works for a year or more before the site was actually taken down.)

While some popular sites took down titles, those changes in many cases were misleading or temporary. As the link says, “removals are likely to be largely cosmetic as visitors and fans continue to be able to access series via RSS subscriptions or mobile phone applications. Observers have also noticed that since pulling the titles, a few of the illegal scans have gone back up on the aggregator sites.” So the chapters are gone, unless you know the trick to get to them, or the removal was to look like sites were playing along while the news was hot. In one case I found, doesn’t have the work but similar site does, and OneManga will kindly tell you that. What’s the difference? Who knows. That domain may be registered in a more pirate-friendly country or under different (at least on paper) ownership.

Former aggregator Manga Helpers did remove all infringing material, instead publishing text translations and attempted to launch a release platform site called OpenManga.

I’ve also found it interesting to note how some of the discussion has revolved around “it was different then”. Old-style scanlation groups, who took down translations if series were licensed, are considered fan-based, while the big aggregator sites are bad because they’re in it for money (ad revenue). Some former scanlators have even been hired by U.S. publishers for their translation skills. And knowing what American fans are talking about can give publishers an idea of what to pursue for upcoming licenses. Many of those scanlation groups, who do the original translating, have requested their works be removed from the aggregators. The problem there is, once something’s on the internet, it may be there forever, regardless of what the original poster does or wants.

Jake Forbes speculates that growing international approaches and technology might eliminate the middleman, that is, the American licensed publisher. The comments to that post include the interesting factoid that manga cafes are hated in Japan. Lissa Pattillo has summed up many of the arguments for and against scanlations in this “quit doing it!” post while Kimi-chan breaks down different audience types. My favorite:

… the too dim to look in a bookstore type. Yes, seriously, there are actual conversations posted by teens who have been caught by surprise at the long list of titles being removed from sites such as MangaFox, AnimeA, and now Mangatoshokan after a cease and desist order from the likes of Viz Media. Not shock at how much pirated material was out there, but, wait for it… “Wow, a lot of stuff suddenly got licensed!” Hello?!

… anyone who actually BUYS manga would know many of the titles have been licensed for YEARS. These kids “like” manga, but let’s face it, they are not on the otaku wavelength as 1. they don’t look to buy it 2. obviously don’t follow manga/anime news to keep informed 3. never been to a con, or they would have seen the licensed editions, and so on. One REALLY wants to introduce these kids to the amazing concept of a BOOKSTORE where you look for stuff you might like to read, and then… BUY IT!

So will anything change? It hasn’t for now. That may change if actual legal action is taken. Let’s end on this NPR blog summation post, just because they indicate the general uncertainty of the market at this point and say nice things about my site.

25 Responses to “Publishers Threaten Manga Scanlation Sites”

  1. Sean G Says:

    Vertical, I know, were especially angry at Mangafox, who don’t just post scanlated series but commit outright piracy. They posted Black Jack on their site, but it was a straight xerox of the just-released volume by Vertical. Some other Mangafox series are the same – Gatcha Gacha, a Tokyopop series, is not only pirated there, but still has the Tokyopop logos and bar codes!

    Mangafox has always annoyed me more than Onemanga, as they are willing to allow this straight theft. At least the guys posting Naruto chapters are actually getting fans to translate the work.

  2. Teriya Says:

    At least the problem with One and 1000Manga can be explained. They had to, after someone OneManga had previous trouble with tipped their advertisement services off that their ads appear on sites featuring material not conforming to their terms, remove the offending material. They circumvented that by offering the content on a different domain. So these sites did not do it because of some copyright issues, they even regularly withdraw translated scans when copyright holders contact them to do it.
    As for the problem itself, I very much agree with this blog post:

  3. Johanna Says:

    Erica has some good analysis in the post you link, but there’s a fundamental contradiction under it — she says “it’s not in a company’s best interest” to do it, but the kind of solution she proposes can’t be done without lots of active creator support, and they are unlikely to go against the companies whose support allows them to profit from their work. What she proposes is as revolutionary as when seven hot artists broke from Marvel to create Image, and that requires enough popularity that it can’t be driven out of the US, anyway, because fan manga love here isn’t oriented enough towards creators. (I know she wants to focus on how to do it instead of hearing reasons it can’t be done, but that seems foolhardy. If you don’t identify the problems with the idea, how do you solve them?)

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  5. ScrumYummy Says:

    You sparked my curiosity about OneManga’s ownership/location, so I did some searching and as far as I can tell, 1000manga and OneManga are both hosted on the same server in the United States. They seem to have a connection with this other site, (found this out on a whois wiki, maybe it’s wrong?), which is also hosted on the same server, owned by a group of Malaysians who run a series of websites that are hosted in the US.

    So, question. If the website is hosted in the US but run by people overseas, is it still reasonable to attempt legal repercussions? (This is, of course, assuming that I’m right about my assumptions above.)

  6. Erica Friedman Says:

    Like you, many people seem to think that my solution is pitting manga artists against their companies. I’m not sure why. Nowhere do I mention that this has to be behind the company’s back, or while they aren’t looking. It’s not uncommon for Japanese artists to hold the copyright on their work. Most of them don’t want to have anything to do with negotiation, and I don’t blame them, but some already publish their work online on their own.

    There’s no reason to think that this can’t be *another* method to distribute manga. I certainly don’t advocate for it to be the *only* way. If I have an agent to try and get me an acting gig, does that mean I can’t possibly speak to people on my own behalf? No, obviously, I’m expected to hit the boards myself. Think of a publisher as an agent, handling the print/publishing and negotiation/rights/licensing pieces, handling quality control and distribution of books, while a community like I propose is somewhere creators can talk to people directly, do feasibility studies based on popularity of a story in a particular language.

    Either/or seems so limited – why not envision both?

  7. Johanna Says:

    Erica, I don’t think “artists vs. companies” is inherent in your solution — I think it’s inherent in how publishers behave when they feel threatened. And your suggestion, like Jake Forbes’, is geared to disintermediate those companies, so I’m sure they would not be pleased with any artist who allowed their works into such a system. As to why not both: because publishers wouldn’t go along with it. Lots of them are used to thinking “either/or”. I’m not the one you have to convince otherwise; they are.

    ScrumYummy, judging from my limited reading, and bearing in mind that I’m not a lawyer, it would depend on the hosting company’s policies, I think. Some lawsuits have tried to seize domains from companies that merely operate in the US, regardless of location. You may find this article on that subject interesting:

  8. Jake Forbes Says:

    To clarify, I wasn’t advocating a break between manga-ka and publishers either. Take away the publishers and you can still have komiket, but the steady stream of polished serials is an industry that requires a huge amount of publisher involvement. That said, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for Japanese publishers to embrace some variation of open source localization. Ignoring all markets outside of Japan, if manga’s future involves most or all new work being available in Japanese in a digital version (how could it not in a few years?), then all it takes is free translation software to make that one edition accessible in dozens of languages. Translation software isn’t going to match the quality of a Fred Schodt or Annus Itchii, but it is enough for readers who just want to find out what happens, plus it would allow for translations of 100% of work from Japan, instead of the 1% that comes over legitimately now. By embracing open-source localization, publishers/creators could allow the community to improve on the free and likely crappy software-translated editions without the publisher or creators having to get involved. Of course there’d still be a market for printed books, and for that you’d still need traditional publishers in the local markets. I don’t see digital advances like the model I propose affecting the art manga market, but it would definitely push publishers like Tpop and Yen to justify why a 400-500yen book should cost $12.

    There’s still the question of how best to monetize this, but there too, it seems like Japanese publishers bypassing localization publishers in the digital space is for the best, as less middlemen need pay checks.

  9. Manga Therapy Says:

    What do you think of the OpenManga project? Will it be successful by any chance? With TokyoPop going the digital manga route, when will the publishers start taking notice?

  10. Jake Forbes Says:

    OpenManga is a great start — it remains to be seen if they have the business savvy to get the level of partnership their vision requires.

    If Tokyopop had maintained the licensor relationships necessary to do what Viz is doing now with Rin-Ne and Sig Ikki, or if they’d nurtured more creators as long term partners, then perhaps Tokyopop would be a driving force in the digital space. As it is, the company’s reliance on its handful of homegrown titles, coupled with the company’s insistence on pushing their brand over their creators, has made them pretty irrelevant at this point in the digital space as not too many people want what they have (digitally) and not enough talent want to create for them. I feel bad for the company, as Tokyopop’s mind was ahead of the curve, but now they seem stuck in “me too!” mode for all things digital.

  11. Manga Therapy Says:

    It would be nice to know some names of artists/publishers that OpenManga are working with, so we could get a good idea of which players are really up for this.

    I like OpenManga’s emphasis on mobile marketing. That area is booming.

    I don’t know what to say about Tokyopop right now. I hope that “America’s Greatest Otaku” tour works out for them, though I don’t know how much it will really help manga sales in general. As you said, brand > creators.

  12. Johanna Says:

    The Tokyopop tour is a great example of creative, unexpected thinking, but it seems to be targeting those who already know about them. How does someone intrigued by this idea find out more about the actual books?

  13. Ernesto Says:

    As the average reader, I do admit that reading Manga online for freehas it’s pros and cons.
    For me, I recently became picky and so there are a few good series out there that have yet to reach the states nor ever get the chance. (e.i. Onani Master Kurosawa)
    However, because of how convinient free online manga is. I can see before hand wwhat manga is worth reading and once I go to the store, I don’t feel like digging through the aisles just to get a book that’ll last me an hour, especially if I don’t like it.

    But I realized that it’s simply a stigma from the convinience of online manga that makes it difficult to not take the 12 dollar manga that I enjoyed for granted. If Scott Pilgrim was scanlated online, I’d probably, wouldn’t be as grateful owning the volumes as I would now. So while I hate to say this, I’m backing up the publisher’s decision.

  14. Hsifeng Says:

    Jake Forbes Says:

    “…if manga’s future involves most or all new work being available in Japanese in a digital version (how could it not in a few years?), then all it takes is free translation software to make that one edition accessible in dozens of languages…”

    Doesn’t that software require text for input, instead of being able to translate words displayed as part of the picture in an image file? Last time I bought a digital comic, every page of the .pdf had an image file and no text (if I used the Adobe Acrobat search function to look for a word, I’d get no results no matter how often some character said that word in a speech balloon or wherever).

    Ernesto Says:

    “…If Scott Pilgrim was scanlated online, I’d probably, wouldn’t be as grateful owning the volumes as I would now…”

    You’re literate in English. Scott Pilgrim was originally released in English. Why would you want a scanlation, or any other translation, of it when you can read the original?

  15. Aaron Says:

    Everyone who thinks that they can just ignore this and think it will just blow over and they’ll be able to go back to reading manga on the internet like they usually do are wrong. I am not supporting piracy BUT I have always needed to read manga on the internet, not because it is not available in our country, but because I refuse to pay almost $25 for a volume of manga that has been translated into English, that is only a measly 5 chapters. It is just outrageous what publishers are charging for manga translated into other languages.I know that scanlating is stealing copyrighted material, but most of these scanlators are on a for profit basis because they know that money can be made, and they plan to take advantage of this.
    An idea that could happen is scanlators working directly for the publishers translating for free, but then again who can be bothered translating and cleaning for hours on end to end up with no form of gratitude.

    Sorry guys but I think this is the end.

  16. Caine Says:

    I agree with Aaron on this.

    I mean, when i first started reading manga, i bought a copy of Hellsing. And you know what, it was the best manga-comic i ever read, so i always bought a fresh copy. However, everytime i did this, I heard the painful scream of my wallet and bankaccount as i had to pay 10-15$ for every papercover copy.

    And then theres the release frequency, which i for now about… by the end of mankind, as i see it. Never, they never update, because the translators that do it as a job are not motivated enought to do mangaseries, they are probably more intrested in Harry Potter, or Wallander, or Stephen King. They just dont care… I will concede, and say that i live in Sweden. You’ll understand my problem later.

    And when i started reading naruto, it was onemanga, yes onemanga, that let me read it, cause look at it. 500 chapter, and only 5-10 chapters per book, thats 50 books or more, for a series that is mostly rubbish to read.

    Yes i know, some like it better, but i dont, its mostly stalemate situations, for like a whole book and then it starts all over again. I will not buy a comic series that repeats itself every book, so it will never happen.

    And then we come to the biggest slice of the pie, whats available in bookstores. As i said earlier, i live in Sweden, a place that has had a steady and heavy decline in major bookstores the past few years, and the closest decent bookstore is about 50 miles away, and the biggest collection of manga they have is… Ranma, and dragonball… thats often it. They are, how many years old now? i don’t want series from the stone age, i want new series, Airgear, Princess Resurrection, One piece, Fairy tale, id even go for dokuhime, i mean my favorite Kurohime, will never come to my country. I want captivating series, you know, fun story’s that makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me feel like there is still good in the world.

    I use(d) Onemanga to find new series that i like, because if i didn’t, i would have missed everything cool and funny. I don’t like the publishers taking away that ability, the ability to find a series you like, and then, in reality, saying “We are stopping this because its free, and therefor, we can’t make any money from ripping you of at the bookstore”

    Has all sensibility disappeared because of greed? Sure, the creators are human just like us, they need money to survive. A corporation that leeches of the creations of those people is not human, its, its… horrifying to think we are entering an age where nothing we do is allowed, except what the big corporation conglomerates say is legal, cause otherwise you’ll get a letter of legal pursuit stating “we’ll throw the police after you, and then sue you into slave labor if you don’t do as we say”

    What happened to that beautiful world i was born into? Was it all a dream, or has the nightmare just begun…

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  18. Manga Therapy Says:

    “A corporation that leeches of the creations of those people is not human.”

    So, if scanlators leech off the creations of creators, they’re human?

  19. Lost In Profit Margins Says:

    Well if you goto Japan or Asia in general you can see the reading rack squatters. Imagine a guy holded up at a Seven-Eleven gas station in the States reading a magazine cover to cover adn just standing around. Someone would go “LOITERING!!” or “VAGRANCY!!” without a hesitation. However, much of asia has manga and magazines viewed and read openly in convenience sotres and bookshops weekly. Those that are bought are often pawwed through waiting for train or local transportation to come. Often, it can be see that one that bulkly collection of weekly manga has been ingested the native usually 3 out of 10 seem to just throw it in the recycle bin. Then someone else picks it out of the recycle bin and reads it. How to offset the loss of trash picking or passing around the comic among friends which is more “eco-friendly”?

    What about the shelves and shelves of Manga stored in Net bar, comic cafes, and book rental clubs around Japan? It would be impossible to have a good internet cafe without shelves and shelves of Manga. Yes they are not allowing for scan upon scan of their book but they are allowing the natives to view that material for a fraction of the cost. ¥100-¥300 an hour is small cost when most places have a discount slip and varied levels of access. How to account this loss which a core part of Asian culture like Korean game cafes?

    In the past two decades haven’t the large rental companies seen a large decline in the athe amount of video rentals. Blockbusters and Movie Gallery didn’t lose a social needed and just decide to go bankrupt and lose sales. People stopped renting movies so much and just use the cheaper alternative such as NetFlix or wait for the $1 DVD sale.

    People want a cheaper and more accessible alternative. When do yuo see people running to Chinatown to buy comics in Chinese or Charterhouse books being flooded with requests for Viz comis novels. If the publishers maybe offered more access to their product in English they would see people have a greater interest. Not many people will sit down with a translator or a fan translation and read along with the original comic. It is hiliraious fun to hear friends take up characters, do voiceovers, and add in the sound effects as people read along with some of the comics together. Metropolis and publications over English Manga and many have the access imported or US sold manga. So why not buy it and support it? Oh the matter of personal choice and need to horrid it all like reading 2000 hours of manga fills in something other time wasting and escapism.

    A teen would blow the pocket money on it…. A true fan would buy it to help out the industry…. a fansub/translator would just translate for friends or those interested in understanding….so who is it really that the publishers should be going after the host, the viewer, or the untapped markets in their own country?

    That mean people who let their friends read the real copies of Viz Comics with layover transparencies of the script are doing bad…. look at the facts, people been passing around books and rag magazines for centuries. Manga survives this slump or die out. American comies have had to throw out names like ULTIMATE DARK AVENGER PLATINUM CLASS ORIGINAL LIMITED EDITION ONE RUN COLLECTION to get scant sales. IMO, most comics just suck nowadays away and dont have a substantial plot. Let the industry suck all the marvel IPR for movies and in 3 to 5 years you will still see less sales in US and Japan over this. Maybe we could use the manga to clog the oil spill then… be green and all. Man, I’m gonna go curl up with LEGALLY purchased and owned for over a decade Ranma 1/2 and ROTK… need some laughs, this shit is whack

  20. Phoebe Says:

    I sympathize with mangakas they deserve what they should get for their hard work. However I can’t help but love free online manga. Sometrimes if you’re too young your parents won’t let you walk to the nearest (but far) shop you know of that sells manga. Not only can you not buy it or less your parents drive you there but there isn’t that great of the stock. You’d find it hard to read manga without free online manga…

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