Earlier this week, I announced my “return” to manga commentary, and stated that I wanted to talk about something that may hit a little hard for some publishers – why TokyoPop’s acceleration of Gakuen Alice is a fairly ineffective gesture when it comes to retarding piracy.
For the purpose of developing a conversation with meaning, we will consider the noun “scanlation” to be equal to “licensed manga scans” which will eliminate that tricky grey area where people argue about whether or not it’s “right” to read scans of a non-licensed series. I’m sure that those who know me know my opinion on that slippery slope.
Publishers have been trying hard lately to put a stop to piracy. Objectively, every publisher has a mountain to “lose” from piracy. I put lose in quotations because we have no idea how much manga is not being purchased in lieu of free manga scans, and how much those free scans stimulate purchasing. What we do know is that scanlations are quicker, dirtier, and cheaper (as cheap as free) than an actual published book in the US, at least when it comes to getting the latest content of a series being published in Japan and then being translated and published in the US. Scanners can take a week to put out the latest chapter of a manga, where in the US, it might take years before the book actually has a licensing agreement and an actual copy on bookshelves.
This is a time difference that is too large to ignore. The Japanese Gakuen Alice, for example, is up to 20 Japanese volumes with the 21st coming out sometime in April. This means that right now, in Hana to Yume, volume 21 is being published on a weekly basis, and also, for that reason, it is being scanlated at this rate. TokyoPop, which is now at book ten, will have to do a lot of work to get the series up to the current Japanese volume. This is at presumably a high cost to publish, since you are either putting off other projects to put Gakuen Alice up quicker, or you’re pulling a Naruto/One Piece a la Viz and publishing two to three books per release period.
TokyoPop is not in the wrong here. Let me make that clear. They are trying to do something that promotes their intellectual property (if doesn’t protect it), and it’s a nice shot. Let’s be honest though, and think about things logically.
1. Increasing the rate of release on a “late” manga is not going to reduce the amount of piracy, or in fact, increase the amount of reads your book is receiving. I personally was put off by the Naruto/One Piece publishing waves due to financing, but let’s be even more blunt. TokyoPop, you are 11 volumes behind. Every pirate, or close enough to make the numbers irrelevant, has already gotten past where you are. You are not offering a service that can overcome the pirates. Speeding up a release, even to the point where you are publishing the tankoban at the same time as the Japanese company is still too late. They have already seen what you have to offer.
2. Free.99 is cheaper than 10.99. Pirates are not going (again, this is a generalization that I think we can uphold) pay money for content that they would normally get for no cost. It’s not that hard to see that piracy is cheap, and the places at which these leeches can feed are many and varied.
3. Even the speedier releases have continuity gaps – some of my favorite manga are releasing at a brisk clip, but still are behind the Japanese release. Dedication to a series can waver if the release intervals are toooo large, but let’s be honest – I’m going to buy the latest volume of 20th Century Boys if I have to wait until I’m 90 years old. I’ve devoted myself to the series. If you have a hardcore Gakuen Alice fan, this person is going to maintain their interest in the series regardless. The only way that anyone can directly combat piracy is by making it less convenient than the actual product – the Rin-Ne experiment from Viz Media’s Shonen Sunday is a prime example.
Woe is the publishing industry, right? Yes and no. These points are simple enough, but they lead to one big conclusion:
Publishers must find paying customers. This seems like a given, but we see publishers looking towards pirates as a way to increase their income. Let us be frank. Pirates are not going to buy manga. They’ve already made their decision to not buy it. Publishers need to look towards current customers and find out their wants, their needs, and supply material that reaches that demographic. It is unfeasible and unwise to do anything else. Focus on the community that will pay for your product, not the community that are “fans” of your product.
TokyoPop, you will not find more customers by increasing the rate of release of Gakuen Alice. Fans of the series will wait for it to release, and pirates aren’t going to pay for free content. You will, however, incur publishing expense both in terms of monetary cost and opportunity cost, with the net result being more copies of Gakuen Alice in the market than it can probably bear, and no diversion of all that piracy traffic. This is not an outcome you want or need. Be smart about publishing, and publish material and promote it in such a way that it excites your current customer base, not the pirates who steal your content.