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Interview: Hikaru Sasahara of Digital Manga Publishing

DMP's CEO Reveals His 'Revolutionary' Plans for Digital Manga Guild

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Hikaru Sasahara

Hikaru Sasahara

© Deb Aoki

On the eve of Yaoi-Con 2010, North America's largest boys love fan gathering, Digital Manga Publishing, one of the top U.S. publishers of boys love/yaoi manga revealed more details about a project that they had been dropping hints about for months: Digital Manga Guild.

Much of the scanlated manga that's available on the web today is translated, lettered, edited and posted by fans who do the work on a volunteer-basis (albeit usually without the permission of the Japanese publishers or manga creators). Digital Manga Guild seeks to tap into this fan community's talents, and channel it toward legitimate ways of collaborating with Japanese publishers and creators to make more manga available to more readers worldwide.

How? Well, that's the million dollar question. According to DMP President Hikaru Sasahara, the basic business principle of Digital Manga Guild is "we're all in it together." By "we," he means the fan translators/editors/letterers, the Japanese publishing companies and DMP. By "together," he means that all parties concerned agree to forgo receiving money up front for their content/translation or editing work and share the revenue after the books are published and sold to readers via DMP's eManga website or as printed editions.

Digital Manga Guild's website (http://www.digitalmangaguild.com) went live in late October 2010. While it didn't offer every little detail about how this system would work, it did post a form for interested fans to apply to offer their talents as editors, translators and letterers for this project, either as individuals or as teams/groups.

At Yaoi-Con, Sasahara spoke directly with fans and explained his reasons for launching Digital Manga Guild at DMP's Saturday morning panel. I also spoke with him later that afternoon to find out a few more details about this project. Sasahara expressed his frustrations with a dysfunctional licensing system that is, in his opinion, crippling the industry while keeping thousands of Japanese manga titles from being read by fans all over the world. So what is he hoping to accomplish with Digital Manga Guild? Nothing less than start a revolution that will shake up the manga business, hopefully for the better.

INTRODUCING DIGITAL MANGA GUILD TO YAOI-CON FANS

Hikaru Sasahara: I'm the President and CEO of Digital Manga Publishing. I started this company in 1996. As you may know, we're a small publisher based in Los Angeles with less than 20 people on our staff. We're not the kind of company that does things the usual way. We're always looking to do something new and avant-garde, and break the conventional wisdom of this business.

For example, we recently made an agreement to work together with one of our competitors, TokyoPop, to offer their boys love manga on our eManga.com manga rental website. The reason why we did that is to bring as many titles as possible to you. With Digital Manga Guild, this may be our most avant-garde, unconventional and maybe revolutionary project yet.

I don't care about conventional methods of business, where we'd try to do everything by ourselves. This is a very big project. I'll need your help. I want to bring you more than just 100, or 200 titles a year. I want to make thousands of manga available for you, the fans to read online.

Right now, I can't do that. Due to the current licensing system, we can only release 8-12 titles a month. That's because we have to pay a minimum guarantee up front for every title we license, which can be several thousand dollars per title. As you can see, this means that cash flow is a really big problem, because (the Japanese publishers/licensors) ask for this money up front before we even publish the books. On top of that, we have to pay the translator, the editor, and the letterer after they complete their work, so all this money is tied up before we can even sell a single book. This is a system that I want to break.

With Digital Manga Guild, I'm talking about making thousands of titles available. This is the only way we can make this happen. It will take three of us to make it happen.

One is you, the fans. We are looking for hundreds of localizers. You could be our translator, letterer or editor because you know the content very well, and you love the product.

Two is the Japanese publishers. Out of 30 companies that I have approached, six companies have verbally agreed to come though. Each company has potentially 1,000 titles that they can make available to us.

Three is DMP. We are the managing company that will work with the localizers and the publishers. We're going keep an eye on the quality of the finished product. We all agree to get paid via revenue share when the books are read online, or sold as print editions. We all share in the revenue. The publishers that I have talked to who have agreed to this arrangement are willing to do this instead of requiring minimum upfront guarantee (payment).

This is a system we're trying to implement as soon as possible. We're talking about more than 5,000 boys love titles that have been published and accumulated over the last 20-30 years. Some are older titles, but yaoi isn't like food — it doesn't go bad. (laughs)

I want you to log into digitalmangaguild.com. You can team up w/ friends and join us. You'll get the benefit of reading as many titles as you like, and you'll get paid when the revenue comes in. Our website will tell you the percentage. (NOTE: Actually it doesn't, or at least not when I checked. This may change since the website promises to post more details soon.)

We're rebuilding the BL industry as a team. This is an enormous, epoch-making change. I want to change the industry. I want you to bring everything, including doujinshi to America. I hope you'll help me do that.

SHOW ME THE MONEY: A FRANK TALK WITH HIKARU SASAHARA

Q: What made you decide to launch Digital Manga Guild?

Hikaru Sasahara: This is not a new business plan. I came up with this idea a little over two years ago. I only started talking to 25 small to medium sized publishers this year. Out of those 25 publishers, already six have verbally agreed to come forth to be a part of this. I was actually shocked (laughs) and surprised that they came forward to do this with us. It's very encouraging.

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