The recent press release regarding the manga coalition, which saw a slew of companies finally banding together to battle the evil that is manga aggregator sites, was met with the excepted amount of drama, assumption and protest. While the number of fans cheering the decision and understanding the positive implications of it came out in healthy force, the nay-sayers remained as always the prevalently loudest.
With the resulting week or so of virtual fandom butt-hurt across various forums and sites, I was finally compelled to finish my rough manifesto of why so many of those arguments are completely nutso. Some are sympathizable, many are wildly shared and all have been corrected a hundred times long before I decided to step into the ring of legality and logic. But, to try and take the edge off that voice in my head that constantly screams ‘do they even know what the heck they’re talking about?!’, I’ve conglomerated my brain-responses to hundreds of people’s emotionally-charged internet responses into one post of fairly-frank, honest and thus likely offensive-to-those-who-take-it-all-as-personally responses to those statements you never meant to be taken as a question.
And here we go…
“It’s not available in my language!”
If all you want is to be able to read the manga in your language (which is completely understandable), then wouldn’t you use scanlations only after owning the original Japanese version? If not, then news flash, you’re not reading the scanlation for the translation – you’re reading it for the manga itself because it’s free, not because it happens to be in your language. Can’t afford to buy the original Japanese version? Then skip ahead to the “I can’t afford it!” panel. But let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, what if you have the original book and can’t understand it or you’re looking for it out of curiousity and it’s not licensed to be released where you are?
Solution (Part One): Finding Japanese manga isn’t as tricky as one may think, nor as expensive. Not as easy as finding English translated manga, sure, but it’s out there and there’s a lot of it. Manga is predominantly sold on the cheap in Japan, especially for older series, and your real issue is the shipping itself if coming directly from Japan. Looking for cheaper alternatives? There are a few Kinokunyia bookstores scattered around the states with it in healthy-stock or check out English-language sites such as Akadot Retail or JList for Japanese manga with more localized shipping options. You can even ask your local comic book retailer as they have distribution abilities to get you some original-language titles as well. And don’t forget sites like eBay (note: always be careful shopping online with sites like eBay though!) and places like conventions, which can often have little treasure troves of books in a variety of languages.
Solution (Part Two): Supporting the stories you want to see published in your language is the tried and true way to take steps towards making it happen. Publishers want to license what you want to buy – happy customers are buying customers after all and the days of blind-bulk licensing is behind us as the market leveled out from its initial surge. Publishers are always asking what readers want licensed and those who request the most feverently are often the most rewarded (look at Digital Manga’s recent boys’ love license announcements for example). Already series out by a creator you’d like to see more from? Buy it, love it, share it! The best way to get more is to show you want what they’ve already gotten for you.
“I can’t afford it!”
…Then you don’t get it. Life lesson time – this is how the world works. Want a car? Want a PS3? Can’t afford them? Then you don’t get them. But you can save for them! And manga at $8.99 a full book? Not exactly a huge investment. Manga is a business. The creators and those who publish it need to make a living – they have families, homes, food and health to pay for same as you. You say you need your money for other stuff (and yes, food and living very important), well so they do.
Solution: There’re lots of ways to read manga for free that’s legal and completely supportive of the creators. Companies are doing all they can without bankrupting themselves and artists right now to give readers what they want and they know free stuff is one of them. Viz Media’s Shonen Sunday and SigIkki websites offer lots of series to read including some simultaneously with Japanese releases. Digital Manga’s emanga.com website offers free previews of it series which it sells for pennies a chapter and it’s the same for NetComics. Not to mention a few new projects on the horizon we’ll be hearing about shortly.
Not enough? Try out your local library. Don’t have the titles you want? Ask them! Libraries want books that they know people want to read but they’ll never know if people don’t tell them. Don’t wait for the maybe-day they’ll get the books you want, suggest and ask, you may be surprised how many (and how quickly) your requests are put into motion!
And don’t forget the financial survival tactic of sharing with friends. Whether it’s borrowing a copy of their book(s), pooling your money for a new copy of Shonen Jump to share, going splits on a new volume of manga you both love or combining orders to get that free shipping on RightStuf, your good friends can quickly become your manga reading and collecting best friends!
Also buying manga makes manga cheaper (an important fact I was reminded of by @ABCBTom), and I don’t just mean the buy x get x sort of deals us collectors love to hate (poor bookshelf space!). The more people buy the books, the cheaper the books will become. Shonen Jump titles such as Naruto and Bleach are perfect examples, consistently cheaper than more niche titles such as Viz Signature, Dark Horse’s books or boys’ love. Why? Because they sell more and consistently. It’s a simple matter of affordability – the more books a company gets printed, the less they’re charged by the printer (the power of bulk buying!), but they can’t buy a lot if they won’t sell a lot. So the more people buy, the cheaper books will become – now that’s a great reward!
“But I need to know what happens now!”
You don’t (patience is a virtue) but we’ll pretend you do. And yeah, spoilers suck but even if we had just the books to go on as they were released, there’d still be spoilers. It’s an unfortunate fact of pop-culture life (and we boo on you spoiler-people!).
Solution: Utilize the simul-posting already available, let companies know which series you’d like to have simul-posted. Buy the books as soon as they come out if you can, show the demand is there to have it now! If you put off until an entire series is done in book form, not only do you deprive the companies of the money they need to finish printing it but also don’t do much to show you want it OMG-now.
Viz Media is already doing the simul-posting with Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne series and that’s just the start. More of this is coming but it’s a long process getting the okay from the Japanese creators and companies, many of whom are uncomfortable putting anything online because of the theft that already exists. Hard to blame them for worrying it could only make things worse. Do whatever you can to promote what’s happening now and embrace that which comes, the manga-world is changing and we’ll all need to adapt along with it to get us all where we want to be including down the road to simultaneous releases.
“Well it’s not like I’m paying the scanlators for it!”
Maybe not directly but do you know how much money scanlation aggregator sites make off the ads on their pages that you visit? A lot and I mean a lot. Judging from recent numbers (Not-so-fun-fact: A certain big manga aggregator sites is one of the most visited in the world), it’d likely be safe to say that they’re making more money off of you than even the creators themselves – in many cases stealing not only from creators and publishers, but even scanlators themselves. The thieves of thieves certainly aren’t Robin Hoods, that’s for sure.
Solution: The manga companies are already tackling the biggest issue head-on – taking down the sites that are making money off of these illegal scanlations; making money off of you, whether it comes directly from your wallet or not. Help them! Stop being a tool to these individuals out to use you and the work you love for their own gain; they are not manga fans looking to share, they are profiteers looking to gain money for your time directly at the manga creators’ expense. If you’re reading scanlations, at least stick to the little guys who are actually sharing lesser-known works to select crowds and not mass-sharing pages for proceeds.
“Scanlations are free advertising!”
It’s true, scanlations are fantastic advertising. They’re what many publishers use to gauge good licenses and popularity; they are what drums up real excitement for books when they’re licensed. Scanlations are strong tools for marketing that come free for publishers and creators. However, the benefit of promoting content to a group who by all majority-proven isn’t interested in actually paying for content, you have to see how the benefit falls flat. It’s like playing a trailer before a movie that you’re already watching (and worse one you’ve stolen as with scanlations) – what is it going to accomplish? For those who actually purchase the books when they’re published in their language are the only real audience to these advertising benefits but, as covered in the next point, scanlations aren’t advertising to the millions of others – they’re just illicit alternatives to the real deal.
Solution: How can scanlations really be decent advertising? Many scanlators claim they’re in it for the love of the medium and supporting the companies and creators past distributing their work without permission could go a long way. How about ads for companies on their websites? Heavy promotion to actually buy the book before and after it’s licensed? Scanlators should also set-up reading online instead of offering downloads, keeping the reading more regulated and the sharing minimal. Scanlators should work with companies, not as vigilantes or shadowy figures and the same goes for readers as well.
“Well I pay for the books after I read the scanlations!”
And that makes you awesome. Really, it does. Unfortunately you are the minority – the extreme minority. When you see a book has sold maybe a couple hundred hard copies but the illegal versions online have been downloaded over 2 million times, it becomes pretty evident who’s not doing what. If everyone bought the books after they read them illegally then WOW – what an industry we would have. And, if publishers knew their readers had this kind of morality, then you can bet that free legal distribution would already be light years ahead of where it is now. Heck, going back to the point about buying the Japanese editions, if everyone who read scanlations was doing this when English books weren’t licensed then scanlations wouldn’t be an issue at all because they would just be translation-share, not book theft.
Solution: Promote these decisions and acts of goodness! Share your books with friends, get excited – you own the book, its proudly, prettily and legally yours. You’re doing something that makes the actual creator happy and helps see to it that more of their books end up on bookshelves as well. Someday you’ll be able to skip the illegal copy step altogether as companies gain further permissions to offer digital copies themselves (Fun-fact: Being allowed to post series a company has licensed online is a whole other contract, cost and set of permissions from the Japanese creators. This is one of the main reasons you don’t see it being done more yet), but in the meantime, if you’re buying the books then keep being a damn proud minority.
“Scanlators work really hard on what they do and don’t get paid for it!”
Yes, in many cases true. But… what does that change? It’s admirable, sure, there’s some talented folk out there but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re doing something illegal. They are stealing from the creators. If they were only doing what they did to practice their skills, have a translated copy for themselves that’d be fine. In many cases the original scanlator has bought the original so them making a version in their language for themself, no problem! But it doesn’t end there – they distribute and they distribute to thousands, if not millions, of readers who will now have no need to go out and buy the copy for themselves. Hard work does not make something okay. I’m sure robbing a bank isn’t easy but we don’t cheer them on (you know, as a fun but still poignantly similar example).
Solution: Scanlators should put their powers of skill towards the forces of good. Apply for jobs to work with actual companies, create your own work and promote something you own. Digital Manga is also working towards the launch of a service that’s looking to bring aboard experienced scanlators in a way that’ll see everyone involved get paid for their work while still offering fans the stories they want to read. Exciting stuff in the works!
“But official translations are wrong! I like scanlations better!”
Translators who create scanlations are no different than those who translate professional (past of course professionals being paid for it, doing it legally and having potentially more education). Translations, especially when going from a language from Japanese, is very a tricky and subjective art form. Like any art form, it will also be viewed by different people in different ways who want different things. Some prefer a literal translation over smooth dialogue, others want a clean reading experience that keeps true to the original but doesn’t need to stick word for word (something that in many instances simply isn’t possible).
More often than not what readers see as ‘incorrect’ translating on behalf of licensing companies, is because it differs from the scanlation they read first. People have a tendency to take what they see/read/hear first as fact, with anything following it being an argument or alternative. In translation, this is simply not the case. Just because you read the scanlation first, doesn’t mean it’s the right or accurate version. That isn’t to say all legally translated work is perfect but the same can most definitely be said for scanlations as well. (Fun fact: Manga-ka and Japanese license holders have more input in translation than most may think – often times changes in things such as names is a different request from the original owners of the story, not the English companies)
Solution: Learn to read Japanese. Not as easy as we’d like sure, but you can’t go proclaiming which translation is ‘right’ when you yourself can’t understand the original. Simple solution is fundamentally simple?
“This is just publishers wanting money! What about what the creators want?!”
Eye-opener: the creators don’t want you stealing their stuff either. Why does this seem like a such prevalent thought among anti-anti-piracy people? You’re sucking away their livelihood, disrespecting their work and not showing love so much as you’re using their stories like disposal worth-nothings. Talk about depressing for them! When publishers make moves to protect their copyrights, it’s as much to the creators benefit as theirs. And for money? Yeah, sure, publishers need money so they can pay everyone who made the work. Paying the creator, and then paying the company which is then split among the workers who helped bring the manga to buyers’ hands.
Solution: A lot of people’s misconceptions about creator’s rights, opinions, and perhaps what makes it so easy for people to outright steal from the creators they claim to respect, is likely due to a lack of human-face the creators have. Not many creators come across the sea and the bulk of reader ‘interaction’ with them is the author notes in books. While occasionally they refer to the English-speaking crowd (for example), they’re still really just a one-way street of communication. Translated communication via publishers from creators could help give a real face to these theft issues and offer a whole new side of manga-enjoyment for fans. It’d be a big eye-opener for a lot of the dangerously entitled fans out there who don’t realize how many manga creators don’t even want any more of their works released in English because of the disrespect shown with scanlations.
“But charging money for manga is just mean! Companies don’t care about my feelings at all! We’re being punished!”
(Note: Yes, this is actually a repeated argument.) Feeling ‘bad’ about having something you stole taken away isn’t a reason, a justification or anything that people should have to read you trying to use as a reason to keep getting what you want when you want it for nothing in return. Sorry folks, in this instance you’re just being whiny. And punished? No, by having something taken away that you never should’ve been stealing in the first place does not mean you’re being punished. You just feel like you are – because that’s really what this all comes down to is how people are feeling, which often gets in the way of those logical brain thoughts. And while we can understand your emotions run wild, the cursing, repetition and ‘well you’re wrong because it doesn’t make sense because I feel bad and that’s bad’ logic does not fly.
Solution: Grow up? Maturity-speaking of course. I know needing to spend money on stuff you want can be icky and sometimes you won’t be able to afford what you want. That’s part of life. Earning the money to get the things you want is also a part of life. If you want manga, games, whatever then earn it. Just wanting makes you selfish, not entitled. And companies do care about your feelings. I mean, really, how much good is it going to do a company to do ‘everything you hate’? Sometimes they need to make hard choices and sometimes you’re not going to like it but the ball is always in the consumer’s court. Buy, promote, suggest – they change based on what you, their hopeful consumer, does or doesn’t do. They want you to be happy, they want to provide you with the things that make you happy, they want you to be their happy customer – but you know what? Happiness is a two way street. You give and you get. So give! Then get! And remember that publishers have the original creator and their workers to support, not just your wanton hands.
Some final thoughts to my thoughts: Are scanlations evil? At their core of intent, no – in their execution, absolutely yes. There’s a need for them, or something in place of them, but it’s all manga fans responsibility to support manga in its legal form and really prove that scanlations, that free manga, can be a support to the industry – not a precursor to the failure of it.
Going to go actively avoid forums and give my brain a rest now (and then read some manga – naturally!)
Image above copyright to Seimu Yoshizaki/Viz Media from “Kingyo Used Books“