“Free” Manga, the Coalition, and the Manga Consumer

Lights! Camera! Cosplay!

I’m not a big manga fan — especially when compared to friends who are doing dissertations on the subject for their post-graduate studies. I am a casual fan at best, with a small collection of less than 200 volumes all dedicated to a single genre: BL.

However, with the recent slew of closures of “free” manga sites and online distribution channels by a coalition of Japanese publishers and their overseas licensees, I couldn’t help but be alarmed by the entire situation. Yes — the legal copyright owners of the uploaded manga have every right to pursue their claims, but the situation is starting to feel like a witch hunt instead of a proper intervention.

The publishers coalition have declared that free sites are the sole reason that sales of manga have plummeted for a second year in a row. They claim that manga fans — instead of purchasing their books, read manga for free online. The coalition also claims that free manga sites are earning advertising revenues, charging subscriptions, and soliciting donations from their readers — effectively stealing revenue from the mangaka and their publishers.

While these statements are true, I as a manga consumer feel that they are only half-right, and that the coalition is unfairly heaping the blame for their loss of sales on the free manga sites.

First of all, accusing these free distribution channels as the only reason sales of manga have slowed down of the past two years is a load of bull. It’s not just the manga industry that suffered from a contraction over the past twenty-four to thirty-six months, everybody suffered! It was called a global economic slowdown for a reason — it’s not as if they were the only victim.

Likewise, no thanks to the economic slump, disposable incomes from their target markets have also shrunk. People who used to purchase manga have either cut down on their purchases or left off buying manga altogether. No matter how big of a manga fan you are, would you rather spend your money on this month’s rent or on a new stack of manga? The choice is quite obvious.

For manga fans who choose to continue buying books, “free” manga sites and scanlation channels are the best places to preview titles before purchasing them. Quite frankly, my collection was built on titles that I first read for free via the Internet, and then purchased later from online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. As far as I’m concerned, the free sites actually help the manga publishing industry by making a customer out of me — which is the opposite of what the coalition is crying foul over.

Let’s imagine for a second that the coalition succeeded in removing all of the sites in their hit list, but did not provide their consumers with viable alternatives to test out their products (re: read previews). Would you continue purchasing manga without having a good idea about its contents? Of course not — especially not with the way overseas licensees have been selecting bad titles over good ones just because the license fees were cheap (yet another good reason to preview manga before purchase).

Lastly, if the publishers were concerned that their mangaka were not being paid and that their overhead expenses were not reimbursed, it’s their own fault for being stupid enough not to figure out a way to monetize the online distribution of manga. If they themselves used the money-making tools used by the free sites to maintain their own online operations, they would not need to put together a coalition in the first place.

Long story, short: yes, the coalition has every right to demand the shutdown of free manga sites. No, free manga sites are not the only reason the entire industry of making comics is suffering. Yes, free manga sites are also generating sales for manga. And no, it is not their fault they are quicker on the uptake for monetizing online distribution than official licensees.

Feel free to rage in the comments.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. nagi-chan says:

    I sometimes hate licensed English manga because they have crappy translations. They forget to center their translation in the Japanese context. I love scanlations because they take into account the cultural context of the Japanese, and though sometimes they lack grammar check, they still have the right feeling when it comes to translating the script.

    I wouldn’t mind buying licensed manga (my sister buys them a lot, and she sometimes buys both the original Japanese and the translated one) as long as they get better translators to do a better job.


  2. ah yes, “localizations” — i still haven’t gotten over the rage i felt when i read the TOKYOPOP (TOKYO-POOP) version of INITIAL D >.>


  3. kaoko says:

    May I just point out that publishers haven’t been forthcoming with releases either! Both the US licensees who have a tendency to be slow or come up with crappy translation and the Japanese publishers who revoke / refuse to renew licenses that leave me with unfinished series on my bookshelf!

    I AM THROWING MY MONEY AT YOU, please clean up your act, instead of solely putting the blame on the scanlation industry which should be credited with popularizing manga.

    eUn laNg P0wh, Teh.


  4. kenryoku says:

    Very well said. Not a big manga fan myself but the thought of not being able to peek on what’s happening to Nodame via OneManga saddens me a lot.


  5. May I just point out that publishers havenโ€™t been forthcoming with releases either! Both the US licensees who have a tendency to be slow or come up with crappy translation and the Japanese publishers who revoke / refuse to renew licenses that leave me with unfinished series on my bookshelf!

    THIS. i am also anal enough to want the same edition for a particular series i am collecting. if for example the americen licensee loses the rights and i’ve already started collecting it, i might discontinue my collection even if a british or a singapoeran operation picks it up where it left off. i can’t stand to look at the mismatched cover art and book sizes! >.>

    eUn laNg P0wh, Teh.

    z@L@m@t p0wh jeJeJeJ3~~~

    Very well said. Not a big manga fan myself but the thought of not being able to peek on whatโ€™s happening to Nodame via OneManga saddens me a lot.

    yeah it’s sad that the publishers are too narrow-minded about the situation with the free sites. as long as they’re happy they don’t seem to care that their would-be customers are given the short end of the stick :/


  6. amhuirnin says:

    thanks for giving us license to rage ms roch….LOL

    they’re antagonizing the fans, the ones whose wallets they want to sink their hands into. pano na talaga yung mga walang access sa current chapters? do they expect us to actually wait for the licensed ones to catch up sa Japan release? kiber na sila sa mga tao who needs to continuously go through special orders just to get chapters issued months, even years ago? Kyoko would probably be married to Ren in a Japan issue by the time the Valentine’s day arc starts sa viz media. that’s just…..cruel >.< and what about hana to akuma! its not even licensed yet and i now have no means to read it as i dont read Japanese (cue avalanche of tears)

    also, the publishers profit directly from scanlators di naman in the sense that these groups do buy the manga from Japan in order for them to have material to scanlate; what money the groups get from donations goes to this and maintaining their sites which serves as free promotion for the manga ergo free advertising for the publishers; its not like, they go upload a chapter while chanting "down with the publishers!lets take them to the cleaners!!!".
    more so, what with said promotion being more effective in reaching the fans, you'd think the ungrateful wretches ermm publishers would at least nod in acknowledgment of this. onemanga is even open to tie-ups with the coalition but the latter of course, appears not willing to compromise..

    pardon, i took the raging part too seriously ๐Ÿ˜›


  7. One thing indeed: They are selfish trolls.


  8. the_bumper_car says:

    There’s also the fact that, well, US translations tend to strip out most of the Japanese cultural context and swap it for US-centric pop culture references, because companies believe in two things 1) USA is the center of the world and 2) US readers are stupid and dumb and won’t read anything that isn’t sufficiently US-centric.

    This is dumb because 1) Hello, it’s MANGA from JAPAN. It’s rooted in Japanese context! 2) If you think we won’t get something, at least give us footnotes to translate or give us context, don’t strip away this opportunity to expand our minds.

    This is way dumber than the way they change European book titles to titles “more acceptable” for US audiences. (Harry Potter and Philosopher’s => Sorcerer’s Stone; Let the Right One In => Let Me In; Northern Lights => The Golden Compass).


  9. Suzanne says:

    Without the Japanese context for the manga, the story loses it’s flavor. The scanlators provide this context! Argh. It draws in the non-Nihongo speaking groups, popularizing a series. How many good titles have been popularized this way?


  10. lol raging is healthy, @amhuirnin ๐Ÿ˜€

    @the_bumper_car and @suzanne i share the same sentiments. part of the reason i love manga is because it offers you a glimpse of what life is/could be like in japan (especially with the slice-of-life series).

    localizing a series just messes up the entire dynamic of the manga especially ones that are deeply rooted in the japanese context.

    no thanks to hollywood, we’re already bombarded enough with dogma about the american dream. the US licensees should just let manga keep its japanese flavor even if the translations are tailored for a non-japanese market.


  11. Jon says:

    Technology has caught up with the manga industry. Their problems are the same as any book publisher out there. But they should also look at other factors why manga sales are plummeting: They now have to compete with other media out there (TV, radio, video games, and the Internet); that too many titles released will result to a saturation point, or in Filipino “pagkasawa,” for manga readers; crappy “official” translations that greatly disregard the essence of their stories; or extending the life successful manga titles through repetitious plots or themes or “trying to milk the cash cow dry.” They should not all blame it to “scanlations.” Maybe it is time they adapt to the changing times or they will meet the same fate as our own komiks industry.


  12. Gwuinivyre says:

    I think that if certain American companies want people to buy more manga *cough tokyopop* then perhaps you should stop your habit of translating a series and then just stopping after a couple volumes because your sales for that title are down. That is my biggest pet peeve. I’m sure other factors go into it as well… but still… I dont personally read the scanlations… but I have read a few due to cancellations of some of my favorite series.


    1. “[TOKYO POP]… should stop your habit of translating a series and then just stopping after a couple volumes because your sales for that title are down.”

      OMG SO TRUE — and not just TP, a whole slew of other overseas licencees >.>


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