Thursday, May 18, 2017

You're Not Helping: Why some fan-based "marketing" is actually not that.

It's still piracy, even under that egalitarian labeling you've put all over it.

You otaku should pay way more attention to them than you do.

At The Japan Society in New York on Wednesday, May 17 2017,  there was a buzz in the air; Manga Manga Manga.  How does it come to exist in English speaking markets, what does the future hold, and all that jazz.  From e-book/digital distribution platforms, to content that appeals to international audiences, and a weird look at the activity that is page layout, this was a picnic of forward looking optimism of English translated manga publishers (sans Vertical, because their scheduled staff member has taken a position at another company just a few days earlier, so they couldn't participate),  Well of course it was, you are not going to hear companies badmouth their own industry.  But over that picnic was a cloud of resentful tepidness that will steer the industry more than most people know, and the people who do know, will not care to admit.  It was the black flag of Piracy.


After the stage lights were off, after the general milling around that happens at the end of these types of things, getting myself into the hushed whispers of people in the know wasn't hard, and it painted quite a picture. 

Within anime/manga fandom there seems to be this notion that if someone translates and then makes available any IP on their own time using their own resources, then it's OK so long as they're not "earning a profit" on it... (just donate to my Pateron "squee").   The thing is, that's just not correct.  I've mentioned it before regarding anime, and now it's time to mention it about Manga.  Scanlations are indeed theft.  No, not theft of inventory, but theft of a license.  Scanlators go out and do what a licensee intends to do, but scanlators don't pay for a license and for some reason don't think they should have to.  Why?  What makes you so special?  Why should you get to do something that other people have tried to invest their money and time in so they can create a business that employs people and actually licenses IP through proper legal channels?  Here are some of the BS answers that I've heard before:

-I'm just making it available for other people, since I'm not profiting from it, I'm not stealing.
Really numb-nuts?  If you rob a bank and get away with $20,000 but the operation cost you $25,000 do you think you still didn't steal anything just because it was a net loss for you?   What you are stealing is revenue that the licensor has to count on to recoup their own costs.

Stick to the plan.

-It's really helping more than hurting.  We're giving the title exposure and that will make it more popular!
Yeah, so you just design our website for us, but we won't pay you, but you will totally benefit from the "exposure" right?  What you're doing is actually hurting these artists, writers, publishing staff, and other employees the most.  You are making these titles available for free to the people who are most likely to buy them in a legally published form.  But now that they have unlicensed versions they aren't going to buy them just to have a second copy.  ...way to go guys.

-I only use them for review purposes, so it helps with "brand awareness" and will generate sales.
What, just because you don't disclose your source for where you got a scanlation means none of your readers will straight up look up where to find it?  (Yeah Anime News Network, I'm looking at you).   This is actually the worst argument of all.  Again, it's something I've mentioned before with AMVs although this time unlike being helpful, it is indeed detrimental.  That is because publishing companies see this stuff.  They see their own title, out there, being reviewed, in (poorly translated) English, and know it's not from a release they created.  You are just rubbing it in their face that scanlations not only exist, but you are now generating web traffic revenue off of something that was stolen from them.

I am sure there are many other arguments that try to paint the scanlators and their accessory helpers in an innocent light, but there is one fact that is indelible;  They are all doing something that they literally have no right to do. They did not license the rights, someone else did, and they are not only stealing from that someone else, but from the entire artistic staff that spend their lunch break, stayed late, missed their mom's birthday, or maybe worked themselves to death (this is Japan) who made sure that said issue of One Piece, Monster Musume, Dragon Maid, Vinland Saga, or anything else, made it in on time.  All that work, and no salary from the international markets that are consuming it at a ravenous pace?  That's enough to make you wanna jump in front of the Yamanote.

There's a Light ...Again.

Manga publishers are actually the last licensees of Japanese pop-culture to experience the bootleg hoards.   This is because paperless-publishing is new development.  The first industry segment to have to deal with this was actually the home media market.  VHS was easy as all kinds of fuck to copy and yes a genlock was needed but there never seemed to be that much of a shortage of fansubs out there.  DVD hits and not only does the entire VHS business go kablam, but now anyone and their idiot friend who just finished Japanese 201 in undergrad thought they could subtitle anything and send it out there on them interwebs (and they did).  And you could argue that anime as a watchable commodity is still something that goes on, yet most of the companies that made it that way are no longer around for failing to capitalize on future developments (CPM,. AD Vision, Anime Villiage, hell even Manga Entertainment might as well be on that list). Before that, it was music that suffered the backlash against bootleggers, with "real" fans refusing to buy SM (Son Mei) CDs of their favorite anime music, although this was back before the recession and when having a job meant you could buy things other than food and payments to your student loan.

So now it's printed media's turn.  Will we see a decimated landscape of former Titans of the industry before the new adopters create and support something like "Crunchy-Scroll" know, something like an unlimited library of licensed and translated manga from a multitude of labels made available to subscribers for a set monthly fee (maybe with a few premium one-shots sold digitally for a little extra a la cart?  Yes, yes we will.  Because if history has taught us anything it is that companies that have found a big cash cow are really slow to change and that goes doubly so for Japanese companies. Their strategic planning moves at a glacial pace and their implementation is always a day late and a dollar short.  This will lead to regression and insular strategies that ignore international markets and as such, may end up producing nothing but titles that resonate exclusively with a Japanese audience.

Human psychology says that there will always be bootlegging idiots who think their not stealing by creating scanlations, but they totally are.  What the industry needs to do is be open to third parties that maintain digital subscription services which are ubiquitous to the point where it's actually easier for 90% of the fanbase to just get their manga fix from that source than it is to download it from a bunch of people who's translation skills aren't strong enough for them to get a job professionally doing it, and so they make scanlations to try and be cool.

After some "off the record" talking with people at this past event I don't think a single company has any plans to do so.  Don't fear the reaper kids.  Or the pirates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that this falls on deaf ears, I'm no saint myself but I kinda get that piracy makes stuff worst in anime. But, trying to explain piracy to anime fandom is just impossible. The Galapagos syndrome will only get worst, unless some more money can come in. We'll see if netflix incursion into anime will yield some results.