Manga is sort of the original webcomic, as scanlations were the only way fans could get their fix before manga went mainstream. Now that American companies are publishing manga by the truckload, you would think that scanlation would have fallen by the wayside, but you would be wrong. Only a tiny fraction of manga has been translated, and the demand remains high for the quirky titles that will never be licensed here. Also, some people are cheap and prefer to get their Naruto fix for free.
Fansubs are the anime equivalent of scanlations, and the anime companies have made the occasional threatening gesture toward fansubbers, copyright enforcement has been pretty desultory. But that may change: Blogger Giapet notes that the Japanese government has asked U.S. authorities to step in to stop illegal anime downloads. Giapet adds,
In the request they note that asking us to stop hasnâ€™t yielded much by way of results, and that an international lawsuit would probably be cost-prohibitive.
Iâ€™m kind of inclined to see this move as yet another attempt by the Japanese government to take control of anime and manga as it becomes sort of the countryâ€™s â€œofficialâ€ cultural export. So, did the government go over the heads of the Japanese production companies? Or are they in on it?
There’s a lot of anime stuff, but it’s worth reading the comments to see Giapet’s argument about why Japanese companies would bother to enforce their copyright overseas. I’m watching this to see if the effort extends to manga as well.
Meanwhile, a new site called Manganovel is taking a different tack: It offers legal scanlation. Like other online manga services, they offer a mix of free and paid content. The wrinkle is that readers can earn credits toward purchases by translating manga into their own language, which certainly cuts the overhead for the publishers. Unfortunately, the first step is to download their manga reader, which is an .exe file, so I don’t think it will work on my Mac. I’ll report back if I can get it working.
(I’m tempted to think of this as exploitative, but as most scanlators are working for free right now, perhaps it’s an improvement.)
It’s not clear how much of a problem scanlation is for the publishers, although Giapet does a good job of explaining why anime companies care about fansubs. But conventional wisdom is that there is a boatload of money waiting for the person who figures out how to do iTunes for comics, so it’s interesting to watch these experiments. With its huge stable of titles, foolproof web interface, and nicely produced print editions, Netcomics seems to be doing quite well. It’s possible Manganovel can beat them with its lower production costs, but I dunno about their proprietary comics reader.