Digital Manga Guild Launches; Free Fan Labor, Pay on Profits

As briefly mentioned earlier this summer, Digital Manga has launched the Digital Manga Guild, their bid to get fans to work for them for no money upfront.

The plan, actually, is that everyone will work for free. Fans will translate scanned works, and everyone, including Digital Manga and the original Japanese property owner, gets paid based on sales. They’re also looking for editors/rewriters and letterers, same system. As posted:

With the changing tide of the economy and the high cost and slow pace of producing print editions of your favorite manga, Digital Manga, Inc. has moved forward into this new digital venture to localize and produce manga online! Digital Manga has made agreements with six major Japanese publishers to provide content to our online platform, planned for a 2011 launch. Hundreds of untranslated titles will need to be adapted to the rest of the speaking world.

… Once a title is completed, it will be digitally distributed through our platform for purchase. … By becoming a member, you will be offering services to Digital Manga, Inc, and will be eligible to join our revenue share program. Members who work on specific titles will receive a revenue percentage from all future sales of that book. This means you get to share in our profits. However, no party — Digital Manga, Inc., the Japanese publishers, or you (the localizers) — will get paid until a sales transaction is made. That means, we are all in this together!

Join today to become one of the pioneers in revolutionizing the way we make manga. Pre-registration is open, and Digital Manga, Inc. will contact members to provide further details.

The biggest question open still is, what’s the percentage? How much will a translator get, and how much is DMP keeping for itself? I also wonder just how the revenue will come in. They’re likely using their existing digital store, but I’d want to know what sales of an average volume are like, and how little of that I’d be getting, before I signed up.

Instead, they seem to be hoping that those already doing this for free will jump at the chance for the potential of income under the theory that something (plus official recognition) is better than nothing. Registrants are asked to provide an email address and links to sample work. I would have thought that they also would have wanted an age statement (to guarantee that the respondent is able to enter into a contract), but perhaps that comes later, with the other missing information.

At their forum, they’re taking questions and promising an upcoming FAQ. I do hope that this doesn’t indicate a general decline in the perceived value of translators — I know they’ve had a hard few years in terms of getting work at a reasonable rate to support themselves.

Update: There are some excellent concerns brought out in comments at Manga Bookshelf, about whether this is a fair deal and why or why not fans may want to participate.

14 Comments

  1. It’s hard to swallow the hype about this being a revolution when so little information is available upfront.

    As a fan, the biggest question for me is more fundamental than revenue. I just want to know if fans who have worked on scanlations are actually welcome. Digital Manga has been at pains to avoid using the dirty word ‘scanlation.’ Many in the manga industry have openly stated their loathing for fans who scanlate. It’s difficult to believe that DM are now welcoming such fans with open arms, especially when the industry hold these same fans responsible for reducing the market value of manga to zero.

    Hence the current suspicion in the Guild forum about offering samples of work. After all, what fan in their right mind is going to admit to scanlating – a breach of copyright and a criminal offence in some countries – to a publisher?

    That underlying suspicion of publishers and their motives may be a bigger hurdle for fans to overcome than the issue of revenue share, which will probably be fairly meager anyway.

  2. Excellent point, and a stumbling block that I hope will be addressed.

  3. This is interesting, I’m very curious to see how this unfolds. I’m afraid I can’t be a translator myself, but if I like their business model I might be a customer.

  4. arglefargle

    I don’t like this revenue share thing they’re doing. Basically, we do all the work, get paid with the scraps off their table, and they get to sit on their asses and enjoy the income.

    What exactly do we suppose they’re investing? It can’t be much–it’s a win-win for both DGM and the Japanese companies. If it doesn’t take off, they didn’t have to pay anybody to translate, edit, lay out, print, bind, transport, market, package, and sell their product. And they’ll have all the legal rights to your work, not you. Basically, they’ll have gotten the brunt of the work done for free. Oh sure, they’ll have to pay a guy to maintain the website, but they usually pay those guys chips anyways. And of course, if it does take off, they get to sit back and enjoy the sales without lifting a finger.

    Frankly, I’ll take the thank-yous and see DGM off with a nice **** you very much. And if there’re other translators out there that’re willing to work that hard for so little money, they should go get a job and a self-esteem help group. Maybe then, they’ll see they’re worth more than the pay of a Mexican factory worker.

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