Jason Thompson: There are obviously people in the comic industry who are able to make money off of putting their stuff online and then selling merchandise. But any number of successful webcomic artists who started out —
Shaenon Garrity: I'm not opposed to putting comics online for free, because I'm also a cartoonist, and I've been putting my own work online for free for years now. I do have a problem with putting stuff online that was created by somebody else without permission of the original creator.
Jason Thompson: Yes, it's not that having comics available online is bad. It's possible to imagine that at some point in the future that the majority of manga will be online. It will be available to read for free, or for some kind of payment; it's just not going to stay the same as what we have now.
The only thing that I can say for sure about that it's going to be a very different manga market. Right now, most manga is published in magazine-format in Japan. Each magazine has a certain character or style – like in Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan, there's this lumping together of these similar manga that are geared to a specific audience, a specific kind of reader.
I used to work with this webcomic magazine called Girlamatic.com. But what I found was the whole magazine format doesn't necessarily make much sense online. Why should you have to pay for a bunch of manga you don't like just to read the one manga you do? It's easier to just pinpoint the one thing you like and ignore the rest.
Like DC Comics — they had this Zuda online comics portal site that people got really excited about for a while, but even that wasn't successful enough for DC to continue with it. Meanwhile, there are still lots and lots of successful web comics by individual creators cropping up. Maybe they're not as extremely financially successful, but I'd be willing to bet that gradually, there will be more artists getting paid by publishing their comics this way.
IS THE MANGA PUBLISHERS' WAR AGAINST ONLINE PIRACY A NO-WIN SITUATION?
William Flanagan: So, I was wondering that if just about everybody on this panel was happy to see that some of the U.S. and Japanese publishers had combined forces to try to combat online piracy, because it's actually affecting our livelihoods.
Jake Forbes: I wanted to point out that One Manga, one of the biggest scanlation aggregator sites announced that they're pulling all their online manga content as of the end of July.
There's really no defense for taking somebody else's work, scanning it in and putting it up and especially if you're doing that for a profit, as the aggregator sites do. But I wrote a post for MangaBlog a few months ago titled "Dear Manga, You Are Broken". (NOTE: Forbes also wrote an additional essay, Dear Manga: A Postscript)
My issue with the way that a lot of the discussion around scanlations and piracy is focused is that it's focused largely on American adults who can afford other options. This is not a defense of scanlations, but a huge percentage of people who are out there doing this are minors that are really hard to track. They're the kind of reader who are really hard for publishers to monetize in a digital space.
There are people who are buying comics to read on their iPhones or their iPads, but these people tend to be adults who can afford to buy these devices and fill them with apps. Digital bookstores tend to cater toward people who know exactly which product that they want to read.
Scanlation sites offer a browsing experience that makes it really easy for users to find new titles, and it's easier to read titles in larger quantities. I think that there is a definite distinction between manga for book people and manga for people who just like lots of content.
When you just like lots of content, again, it's not an excuse – but scanlation sites have lots of content, and they have it for free. However, I think there is a definite difference between the people who say 'This is worth $10 to me and this is something I'll read it if it's what's in front of me.' Some of those 'I'll read it if it's in front of me' people can turn into paying customers if we give them a better product at a better price than what we're offering now.
So I think that there needs to be attention to the low end of the customer spectrum; the people who just want to read lots of stuff, and more attention paid to people who seriously love manga and want the best content and presentation that is possible.
I'm really excited that now there's are publishers that are offering some really amazing editions. Some of the stuff is coming out from the VIZ Signature imprint and some of the stuff being put out by Fantagraphics and the indie press publishers — they're the best looking printed books that manga's ever seen in the U.S. and now there's more of that.
So I would like to see some solutions come up for how to address the kids, the people who are just casual browsers, and also the international audience who falls through the cracks. Manga in English is consumed by people around the world, not just in the U.S. We can't just look at scanlations as an American problem. But how do you take advantage of that? It's an opportunity that's really in the Japanese companies' court now. I hope we get some exciting solutions there.
This transcript continues in Comic-Con 2010: Manga Translation Panel Part 2, as the panelists discuss fansubbing, the effects of online piracy on the manga business, and future prospects for Gundam in the U.S.