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From Manga Scanlations to Comics on the iPad: Online Piracy Panel at Comic-Con

By August 11, 2010

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comiXology on the iPadWith the recent arrival of the iPad and the even more recent shutdown of several major scanlation sites, digital publishing and online piracy have been hot topics in the world of comics and manga publishing lately.

So at San Diego Comic-Con 2010, Techland editor Douglas Wolk assembled a group of comics publishing professionals, editors and bloggers to discuss the current state of affairs, for a Sunday morning panel titled "Techland Presents: Comics and Digital Piracy." ( You can read the entire transcript, both Part 1 and Part 2 now)

The panelists assembled that day included:

  • Douglas Wolk, Comics and music critic, and writer and editor for Techland
  • Jake T. Forbes, manga editor and author of Return to Labyrinth (TOKYOPOP)
  • David Steinberger, CEO of comiXology
  • Deb Aoki, Manga Editor for About.com

David Steinberger, Deb Aoki, Jake Forbes and Douglas WolkIn a world where almost any comics or manga title can be found online for free, and not always through legal channels, is the publishing industry offering viable alternatives that can compete with the fast, free and easy access to lots of comics content that fans enjoy now? The panelists also discussed emerging platforms for reading and buying comics online including websites, online-only manga magazines, digital 'rentals', and comics apps for the iPhone and iPad.

While attendance was light at that early Sunday morning panel, the conversation was lively, thought-provoking and opinionated. So with that in mind, I decided to transcribe the hour-long panel and Q&A session to make it more available to more people. But since it's a pretty long discussion, I broke it down into two parts:

Part 1 tackles these questions and topics:

  • Is the comics business facing the same situation (and making the same mistakes) as the music industry in their efforts to combat online piracy?
  • Techland logoCan legal online comics sites compete with torrents and scanlation sites that offer hundreds of stories and thousands of pages to read for free?

  • Manga scanlation aggregator sites are giving fans what they want, but at what price?

  • Are sites like comiXology draining sales from the direct market comic shops, or are they reaching new, different customers?
  • How regional licensing issues affect why you can/can't read some manga online, and what some companies are doing about it.
  • Will shutting down the comics and manga pirate sites boost sales in the publishing business, or will these efforts just result in alienating manga/comics' most devoted fans?

Part 2 dives deeper into the scanlation and online file sharing situation:

Hetalia Volume 1

  • Is it a "lost sale" if the people downloading/reading unauthorized comics content wouldn't have bought these books in the first place?
  • How does one figure out the actual impact of illegal downloads and pirated comics content to the publishing industries in Dollars/Yen/Euros? Has it really hurt, or does this sharing of unauthorized content actually provide some benefit to publishers and comics creators?
  • Should there be an open file format like MP3s for online comics? Steinberger explains what .CBRs and .CBZs are, and why some comics fans prefer them.
  • Forbes and I discuss scanlation "ethics" and excuses that fans make for mass consumption of scanlated manga. We also discuss what Hetalia can teach us about how fans use scanlations to discover and generate buzz about new titles.
  • Are there ways for publishers and scanlators to work together to cut production costs and bring more manga to more readers online?
  • Can there be a free, ad-supported channel for reading comics, like what Hulu does for TV shows?
  • When you can't "collect" or resell a digital comic book, what's the fair market price that fans will be willing to pay and still pay creators and publishers a fair rate?

Find out the answers or at least responses to these questions and much more in this 9-page transcript of this digital piracy and comics discussion from Comic-Con 2010.

After you're done reading, why not share what you think about what was discussed this panel? Have your say in the forums, or add your comments below.

Image credits: 2010 iconology, inc., Deb Aoki, Hidekaz Himaruya</p>


August 11, 2010 at 9:34 am
(1) Lissa says:

Thanks for taking the time to transcribe the whole panel – it was a great read. Excellent points made all around from people who really know their stuff (yourself included of course!).

August 11, 2010 at 11:44 pm
(2) Dan says:

A big thanks for this translation. A really informative discussion.

I’m a big Manga fan, but doesn’t read a lot because of the price.

It cost too much to read a manga. Take an example of Amazon price for Naruto’s volume. Each volume cost about 12$ CAN and there is 49 of them, so it’s more than 600$ to read Naruto. What if I want to read Bleach and One Piece too? Also, a volume take less than an hour to read, so it is a high $/hour ratio.

The same thing goes for Anime. 12 episodes cost 50$ CAN, and there is like 392 episodes, doing the math it brings the price to like 1500$ to watch Naruto! I know it’s less, but even at 800$, I think it’s still too much.

I’m not really sure that digital copy will correct that. At 2$ 22 pages, it would cost about 750$ to read One Piece.

Maybe something like Crunchyroll would work. I would be willing to pay a monthly fee (let’s say 20-40$) to access a online database.

That’s just my 2 cents.

See ya,


August 14, 2010 at 6:26 pm
(3) Sage says:

David: “22 pages on our app are $1.99 from Marvel and DC, and a lot are available for 99 cents for an issue.”

If you think people are going to pay that much for manga, you’re out of your mind. The prices have to be low enough to justify a blind read or the only series that will get read are those that were popular before the format. And if you think ~50 pages is enough to get me to spring good money for something that isn’t in a convenient format for me… You’re living in a dream world.

Deb: “Just because some college student can do it overnight and they do it for free doesn’t mean that this is how the world should work, just because you want it that way.”

Earlier it was said that an editor needs to work a 7-day week to release something “same-day.” Clearly, the processes that “pros” use are absurdly inefficient whilst the scanlators’ processes are cutting-edge.

Perhaps the professional industry should remove its collective head from the sand and take a look at how exactly scanlators do what they do. It would be a lot cheaper than hiring clueless consultants to fix what you’re doing.

One last thing, Deb and Jake: Purchasing manga provides value to consumers in more ways than one. Sure, some people buy it because that’s the only way they can consume content, but others also buy it BECAUSE they’ve already consumed the content.

August 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm
(4) Jake Forbes says:


It’s no secret that the ability to sample or fully access content can lead to sales. I don’t think Deb or I said anything to suggest as much — on the contrary, I posed that exact point in as many words. The thing is, it’s up to creators and publishers to make that choice. Scanlators are vigilantes, pure and simple. Regardless of the good intentions, publishing works that you have no rights to is illegal. I sympathize with the hugely inefficient system that keeps the authorized options for reading manga so slow and expensive, but that’s no justification. If your entertainment of choice happens to come from Japan, then it’s okay to say “I want it now, I want it free, and I want it anonymously”? It’s not fair that HBO costs so much or is time-delayed in other territories, so is it okay to torrent HBO shows? And movie theaters cost so damn much, and DVD releases take forever, so am I justified in torrenting new movie releases? In all of these cases, the onus is on the publisher to fix these problems and perceptions, but I don’t see how an honest person can justify someone taking control of someone else’s hard work and publishing it as they please.

Anyway, I’m confident the market will fix most of the issues that people use as justifications for scanlations over the next couple of years.

August 16, 2010 at 3:04 am
(5) Sage says:

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

I really do hope that the market fixes the problems people have with scanlations, but I don’t have much faith in markets considering they’re what have gotten us to this point. And I especially lack faith in Japanese companies who are utterly clueless about countries outside of their own.

If the “goal” here is to stop scanlations, that may pan out well for you. Assuming you’re able to provide a superior translation with uncensored content in a quicker time-frame than a scanlation group could, you won’t see much competition on that front.

But I do hope that you look at all the underlying reasons people use scanlations. Otherwise you’ll get what’s happening to Crunchyroll/Funimation/TheAnimeNetwork with rip groups becoming the new providers of “illegitimate” content.

And really, then will you have actually solved anything?

August 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm
(6) Jake Forbes says:

The goal should be to use technology to its fullest to make more manga available in better quality as close to a simultaneous release as possible. I share your frustration about the sluggishness of publishers to respond, but I think you’ll find a LOT more changes in the next year — so much is already happening with Yen, Viz, Digital Manga and Tokyopop all expanding their digital options and companies like Square-Enix handing digital distribution of the english versions of their work. Initial efforts do seem to be a bit steep (as you might have gathered from my comments in the panel transcript, I’m not bullish on current pricing options), but we’re so early in the process, I think it’s too early to be pessimistic about how things will play out.

Anyway, at this point, aside from Fullmetal Alchemist rewrites, I don’t work on licensed manga anymore, so I’m just playing armchair pundit. As a creator though, I think it’s crucial to tackle these problems NOW and not by threatening fans but by giving better options. At the same time, as a fan, if I don’t like the options that a given publisher offers, then I think the mature thing to do is support those publishers who have better options instead of just taking what I want for free. When you support those who do things “right” (whatever that means in your book), you’re affecting positive change.

August 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm
(7) BruceMcF says:

I think that the issue of formats and the issue of crowdsourcing translations ties together. A well designed, open download format that has the original art and the translated text overlays in parallel but distinct image filesn is one where the easiest way to do an alternate crowdsourced translation ~ or an additional language crowdsourced translation ~ would be to just produce the overlay.

Which makes it easier for the crowdsource translation to be distributed by donating it back to the publisher under T&C allowing free distribution. Those can be handed out as free downloads by the publishers because they only contain overlays.

A key element is having something in the original paid download that is superior to legacy scans, and from my experience with sampling some of the legit sites on a netbook ~ and imagining what effort people that browse the scanlation sites on smartphones are investing into their “free” manga! ~ one big upgrade would be embedded panel dimension and sequence data.

There is no need for any new graphics format here: the PNG format allows embedded database info in the key=data format. All that is required is that some vender of downloaded manga specify the keys and the data and provide a starter app that makes use of it. If the spec is open, others can write additional apps that are panel-aware, and once apps are available that are panel aware, there will be an incentive by other digital publishers to embed panel data in their original art.

And extended CBR/CBZ format would then be the original art, either with the official localization or untranslated with heavy watermarking of the Japanese lettering, and with subdirectories that contain the transparent overlays. With the panel info embedded in the underlaying art, 3rd party overlays only need to get the dimensions of the overlay right for everything to line up correctly.

August 23, 2010 at 8:30 pm
(8) m1hawkgsm says:

This comment is aimed at Forbes or any person involved in the professional aspect of the publishing industry for manga:

I am a member of One Manga forums, and I’ve followed this issue a bit closely, watching various commentaries from people like yourself (THANKS! Greatly helped us understand). I’ve seen quite a few initiatives (Viz, Square Enix, DMP, heck, even Bitway + Crunchyroll, and OpenManga to boot), and I’m glad digital is taking its turn into the industry. Like you, I am also hopeful the market will save itself.

Now I am wondering: A few moderators at the site mentioned that a few publishers (TokyoPop, for example) allowed OM to host manga scans for a while (and then off, and then on), to which OM kindly acceded. Some even said that the companies used the popularity of a said series to gauge what is marketable and what is not.

So now I ask, do any of you believe it possible to utilize the wide market reach of OneManga or any other aggragater site in favor of the publishers? Perhaps for unlicensed titles, or lease some titles or advertise, etc.?
All of you know that the site also removed material with no complaints, so that should indicate that OneManga has shown some respect to the industry, believe it or not.

I would also direct the question to scanlators themselves, can the industry make use of them? I recall somewhere reading that DMP or some other company is offering scanlators a chance to work for commission (though I don’t have a link, so don’t hold me for that one). Point: is there anything that can be done without obliterating the entire “piracy” system that, you have to admit, worked so well for the past years?

Also, what are your thoughts on OpenManga, the new site from the creators of MangaHelpers?

Thanks for any responses, I hope to find some insight from the pros!

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