WIPO Article About Manga Piracy Describes Publishers' Failure To Meet Demand In Graphic Detail
from the why-not-sell-them-what-they-want? dept
Somehow you rather expect the head of the WIPO to come out with a statement on the potential benefits of patenting the World Wide Web. But you probably don’t look to the WIPO website to carry stuff like this:
Like most comics, manga (roughly translated as “whimsical pictures”) is rooted in sequential art – a narrative made up of images and presented in sequence. The earliest examples of Japanese sequential art are thought to date from the 12th century Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga animal scrolls.
The term “manga” is believed to have been first used by the renowned 16th [sic] century woodblock print (ukiyo-e) artist, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
That’s taken from an article called “The Manga phenomenon” published in the September 2011 edition of the “WIPO Magazine” (who knew that such a thing existed?) But why exactly has WIPO developed this sudden interest in manga? You probably guessed this was coming:
Manga continues to enjoy a broad global appeal but the industry is suffering acutely from the scourge of piracy.
Here’s the WIPO article’s explanation of what happened:
When it was first launched internationally, manga occupied a niche market in many countries. However, it soon captured the imagination of readers around the world, spawning an enthusiastic international fan base that became increasingly frustrated by the inability to access the same content as their Japanese counterparts. The need to translate manga from Japanese meant there were inevitable delays in their international release. Moreover, many titles were never released internationally because they were deemed inappropriate for specific markets, were unsuccessful in Japan, or were only published locally by independent publishers.
The Internet offered fans a wonderful solution. Many learned Japanese, acquired the original manga, then scanned, translated, edited and posted them on the Internet for free downloading. Alas, what began as a practice driven by enthusiastic fans has become a serious blight on the industry. So-called scanlation – the act of scanning, translating and posting manga on the Internet – is, in fact, striking at the heart of manga and threatening its very existence.
Unauthorized scans or “raws” are typically generated by individuals who scan books into electronic format, a practice known as jisui, which translates as “to cook for one?s self.” With the uptake of e-book readers and computer tablets, jisui has become a fully-fledged business with the emergence of popular scanlation aggregator websites hosting thousands of manga episodes and making them available free of charge. Those who do scanlation rake in profits through advertising on their own websites and also earn points which can be turned into cash for each download made from an aggregator website.
This shows that publishers were doing such a poor job meeting the demand for manga outside Japan that it drove some fans to go to the trouble of learning Japanese, acquiring the original manga, scanning them, translating them, editing and then posting them on the Internet. That sounds like an incredible business opportunity for manga publishers to “rake in profits through advertising on their own websites,” instead of letting others profit. But unauthorized sites were left unchallenged, and flourished as a result:
Scanlation groups, of which there are now well over a thousand, are perpetuating a highly corrosive form of piracy that is threatening the industry, causing global manga sales to plummet and forcing publishers to lay off staff. From 2007 to 2009, for example, U.S. manga sales fell by 30 percent forcing a leading publisher to lay off 40 percent of its workforce.
What exactly were the manga publishers doing to staunch these losses overseas during the last four years? Absolutely nothing – they only started trying to capture all that lost revenue this year:
But major manga publishers are fighting back by reaching out to manga fans in new ways. This year, Kadokawa Group Publishing Co. Ltd. (Kadokawa) simultaneously released a large number of popular titles in key Asian markets. Companies like Tezuka Productions are making available legal, electronic English-language versions of popular manga for tablet computers and, earlier this year the Japan Book Publishers Association launched a series of initiatives to clamp down on unauthorized scanlation activities.
The question has to be: if it was clear that the scanlation groups were “raking in” profits from online manga, why weren’t the publishers offering authorized copies to meet this huge demand back in 2007?
This is a classic tale of old-style media companies refusing to seize the opportunities offered by the Internet’s “wonderful solution” to foreign distribution. Instead, the manga publishers assumed their customers would passively wait until some far-off day when authorized versions were finally made available. And they seem to regard it as extraordinary that, being denied manga through official channels, those fans should be driven by their passion to find other ways to obtain the latest productions of the art form they loved so much.
Of course, the WIPO article is silent on this massive failure by the publishers; instead, it falls back on the tired old rhetoric that piracy is “killing” manga:
Rampant manga piracy is making it increasingly difficult for manga artists (mangaka) to earn a living from their work. Many rely on royalty payments to survive. These are modest at the best of times, especially for new artists, and are generally insufficient for most to make ends meet. Of Japan?s estimated 3,000 professional mangaka, only around 10 percent earn enough to be able to devote all of their time and energy to their art. The simple truth is that if manga artists cannot earn a living from their art, there will be no manga.
The simple truth is that manga artists could have earned much more from their art had manga publishers not been too lazy to consider changing their old business models, and had started selling international customers online products they were clearly desperate to buy.