Hikaru Sasahara: Today, a lot of (publishing) companies in Japan are suffering because their sales are declining, due to the economy. It's also hard for smaller companies to keep up with the larger publishing companies. Sales in the domestic (Japanese) market are going down, so now these companies are looking at the global market. Timing-wise, this is perfect for us. Once these companies see that we have more companies signed up with us, and that we have a lot of localizers / translators signed up to do this work, I think more publishers will come on board.
Q: Can you reveal the names of the six companies have said that they want to participate?
Hikaru Sasahara: I can't say right now, but I can tell you that they mostly publish boys love manga, along with some mainstream type manga as well. They are all small to medium sized companies. One is a very well-known company in the yaoi manga industry.
It's all win-win for everyone involved: for the content providers, the localizers and us, the managing company. Digital Manga will be acting as the online distributor, and the managing entity for this concept. What we need now are localizers, who can do the translation and the lettering and editing, and the publishers who will let us work with their content. We can also deal directly with the (comics) creators themselves, if they want to release their work through us too, such as their doujinshi or other works.
(While we were talking a group of three fans walked by and called out to Sasahara, to express their interest in participating in Digital Manga Guild.)
Passerby: Hey, I heard about your translation project, and I just wanted to say, I'm definitely going to sign up for this. I like the idea! I live in this little town and you can't buy any of these kind of books there. I was looking at being an editor. Do I have to be fluent in Japanese?
Hikaru Sasahara: No, not at all. You can work on editing the translated copy. And you can do this on your free-time, between work or school. It doesn't have to be a full-time job. You could form a small group with your friends, where someone can do the lettering, another person can do the translations, and you can do the editing. You can sign up as an individual, or as a group.
(The three young women promise to sign up for Digital Manga Guild, and we continue our conversation. Sasahara laughs when I jokingly ask if he asked those girls to say that in front of me.)
BREAKING A DYSFUNCTIONAL SYSTEM TO REMAKE THE MANGA BIZ?
Q: So how will you be able to ensure that the translations that you get from the fans who sign up to do this work will be good quality translations?
Hikaru Sasahara: People who apply to be a part of Digital Manga Guild will be asked to take a test, to show us their work. The exact details about how we'll handle managing the quality of the translations are confidential at this point, but I can say that it'll be like a competition. So for example, for a given title that is translated, a few will do it, and their work will be rated by readers and our editorial staff for the quality of their work. The better the work they do, the more work that they'll get.
Q: How can the translators and publishers be certain that they're being paid a fair amount and be sure that the sales figures reported are accurate?
Hikaru Sasahara: We are going to be absolutely transparent about our accounting here. Translators who work on various books will be able to see a report of their sales when they log on to their account page online. We'll share more details about how this will all work when we've got everything set up.
Q: When will you fully roll this program out?
Hikaru Sasahara: The Digital Manga Guild site is up and running. I just asked my staff to put up a video of me explaining the concept, but I'm too old! (laughs) I'm 60, you know! I talk too much. I want to make it a little shorter. I get more excited and feel alive when I see the audience reacting to what I'm saying than just talking to a camera! (Note: You can view Sasahara's video message to fans at the Digital Manga Guild website)
Q: How has the reaction been from the fan community so far?
Hikaru Sasahara: Very positive. After this morning's panel, I had a lot of people come up to me at our booth and say 'How can I get involved?'
This (manga publishing/licensing) system has been established for over 30, 40 years now. Someone needs to change it, and it's going to be me! (laughs) I know that there will be people who'll get mad at me for this. They'll say 'You broke the system, that's why we don't get paid up front now!' But I just say to that, 'F*ck you.'
I'm really pissed at how the system is now. People have just been taking it, they just stay quiet about how screwed up it is, because they're afraid of being kicked out of the publishing society. But I won't be kicked out. I have allies, supporters who like my style.
The old style of doing business only benefits the larger companies. It doesn’t work for the small or medium-sized companies who are struggling now. I want to help myself, and help other companies like mine who are suffering under the limitations of this old system. Big companies and their bureaucracies, their hierarchies, they control the system. That's all bullshit to me. Somebody has to break it to make it better.