manga bookshelf

Confessions of a Former Scan Junkie

I’m sure by now everyone has heard the news about Nick Simmons’ alleged (and meticulously documented) plagiarism in his fledgling comic, Incarnate. For those who haven’t, Deb Aoki has a collection of links and Twitter conversations here in her blog. As you’ll see from her post, discussion of plagiarism has segued into discussion of piracy. I was foolish enough to wade into the comments section yesterday evening, which turned out to be frustrating, exhausting, and really nothing else.

As I mentioned to someone later on Twitter, I was not nearly as anti-scanlation when I entered the conversation as I was when I left. In the end, the pro-scanlation crowd had turned me against them to the point where I not only could no longer see any merit in what they were saying, but was frankly disgusted by the idea of being part of the same fan community. I have some examples to share, but first, a confession:

I used to read scanlations–lots and lots of them. In fact, scanlations were my introduction to manga. I asked some friends online to share their favorite fandoms with me, and one of them ended up depositing scans for the entire run of Hikaru no Go in my lap. I fell in love and was hooked forever. After that point, I started buying manga but I still read scans. I had lots of justifications for it. Long series were enticing but daunting to purchase, and my library system sucked (for instance, if you’re interested in the classic shojo series Please Save My Earth, the entire Western MA library system offers volumes 1, 2, 3, and 19, spread over three different libraries). When faced with moments of guilt, I justified myself by saying I’d buy these series as soon as I could, or for series I already owned, I promised to buy new volumes as soon as they were available in English.

After a while I started reading only on sites that offered online reading, as opposed to downloading the scans to store on my own computer, as if that was somehow less odious. I wrote long blog posts, promoting all the series I loved best–encouraging fans to buy the official releases but still happy to provide links to scanlation sites behind closed doors. After all, that’s how I’d gotten into it, so it was okay to let them have a taste too, right? Just to promote the series, of course. I was doing a good deed, really. That’s actually what I thought. I even waded into a few online debates back then, not exactly defending scanlations, but suggesting that they might not be all bad… that they generated buzz for manga, and that had to be a good thing, right? Right??

Then, in December of 2008, a couple of fantastic women asked me to start writing manga reviews. Reviewing led to more serious blogging, and blogging led to Twitter, where I was suddenly able to engage much more directly with long-time bloggers, reviewers, journalists, and of course, publishers. In that circle, I became much more aware of the nature of the manga industry in North America than I’d ever been before.

I learned all about the difficulty of obtaining licenses, the expense of printing, the gambles, the losses, the unsold books, the huge layoffs, the dumped artists. I watched several publishers go completely (or nearly) under, taking licenses I cared about with them. I watched favorite titles get canceled or put on indefinite hiatus. And you know what? I realized I was wrong. All the endless downloading, sharing, reading, and squeeing? That stuff I thought was “creating a buzz” or “promoting the series” or whatever? It meant nothing. It supported no one. Because when I looked back at it, I realized that all those people I “promoted” the series to? Most of them never bought the books. And why would they, when I’d shown them where they could read it for free? There’s a reason why Banana Fish is the series I’ve most successfully pitched to other readers in terms of getting them to actually buy the books. Why? Because there are no scans.

Now, that story I just told is just to provide some background. I’m not going to get on my high horse here. I’m not innocent and I can’t pretend to be. I’m not even willing to say that no good has ever come out of scanlations, because from what I understand, there are times when it has. I’ve heard plenty of stories about publishers deciding to license series that were popularly read online, and probably some of those are true. I don’t think the world is a black-and-white place, and I’m certainly not prepared to say that I know the Truth about manga publishing (or anything else). Some fans, however, are using this loophole of universal ambiguity to justify any means of getting whatever they want whenever they want it and painting it as righteous, and frankly, it’s not helping their cause.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the comments to Deb’s post:

“If they can’t come up with ways to get customers to *want* to purchase things that *can’t* be copied online then they deserve to go bankrupt.”

“I read scanlations every week. You know why? Because the newest chapter won’t be available for several years in the USA. I don’t think you can accuse someone of piracy when the product is not available to buy.”

“The majority of people who pirate, would’ve never bought the product in the first place, if they wanted to, and/or could afford it, then they would buy it.”

(Regarding artists) “If they just wanted to make money, then they should probably look for another profession. If people like the work, then they will pay for it. Forcing someone to buy your art is a silly idea IMO … I’m not sure about you, but I for one hold artists to a different standard. IMO, true artists care more about spreading their art/ideas, rather than making money.”

“Borrowing from a friend/library to watch, and reading it online… It’s pretty much the same thing IMO … What difference does it make if someone decides to make a copy of it for themselves? If they were going to pay for it, then they would have done so in the first place.”

Seriously, these are your arguments? It’s not piracy if it’s unavailable for purchase in your language? Creating unlimited digital copies is the same thing as taking a book out from the library? True artists shouldn’t care about being paid for their work? If publishers can’t stop you from pirating their products, they deserve to go bankrupt? (That is an argument for DRM if I ever heard one, which kind of makes me sick.) There may be legitimate arguments to be made in favor of scanlations, but these are definitely not them. Arguments like these display an incredible sense of entitlement and no real understanding of the world (note: even “true artists” have to eat and pay their rent).

I have said some pretty idiotic things during my time in the manga blogosphere (no, really I have), and I know how easy it is to get so caught up in defending your point that you lose the thread of your own logic. I also know how hard it is to admit to being wrong. I’m not all that good at it myself. So I’m not going to condemn anyone based on one argument, despite the anger I felt in the heat of the moment. I urge you though, please, if you have ever made arguments like this, even just to yourself… seriously think about it. I’ve had to do a lot of this over the past couple of years and I’ve had to admit I was wrong, over and over again. Just… think about it. That’s all I ask.

Comments welcome. Though I’ll tell you now, if you’re coming over to defend the stuff about how artists shouldn’t care about being paid and so on, don’t.


ETA: For those of you making snide comments in various corners of the internet about me giving up scans after receiving free review copies… I guarantee I buy more manga than you do. I suspect most reviewers do. If you’re absolutely determined to discredit me, you’ll have to come up with something else.

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  1. All I can say is, “Bravo!”

  2. Great post. I guess in some of these people’s eyes, the ideal artist is a Poe or Van Gogh. Someone who earns nothing from their art, and dies penniless, unappreciated, and broken. Bonus points if they have no family or estate to fight for rights of ownership, either.

    • The comments about artists made me the most angry of all (as you may have gleaned from my pointless argument in Deb’s comments). Since I’ve spent most of my adult life making my living in the arts, I resent the argument that people who work in the arts should be happily destitute.

  3. I’m straddling that fence a little…. I think the people who are the most vocal and feel the most “entitled” are people who probably don’t buy much, if any, of the product themselves.
    Now let me be a devil’s advocate here for a minute. You’ve got fans who scan titles or fansub anime and spread it around everywhere. And you have companies offering previews of entire chapters or volumes of their books, or stream their series online. At that point, it’s the channel they’re using, but it leads to the same result. The only difference there is that the site hosting the copies legitimately via the publisher is probably generating ad revenue that goes to the publishers. But if someone watches a show on Crunchyroll, or if someone goes and downloads a torrent of the same thing from where ever, the end result is going to be the same. They’ll either buy it or they won’t buy it. A person who feels entitled to get something for free, if they lose the ability to do so, probably won’t bother with it beyond that. But a person who is going to buy it to begin with, will still buy it afterward.
    Does that make it right? Probably not. But even the publishers themselves have realized that people are more likely to purchase something they’ve seen or previewed than simply buying blind.

    Do artists deserve to get paid and supported for their work? Asbo-fucking-lutely. For the people who say “Can I be accused of pirating when it’s not available for me to buy” … they better be buying it when it IS available, or they have no right to say such a thing.

    “If they just wanted to make money, then they should probably look for another profession. If people like the work, then they will pay for it. Forcing someone to buy your art is a silly idea IMO … I’m not sure about you, but I for one hold artists to a different standard. IMO, true artists care more about spreading their art/ideas, rather than making money.”

    HAHAHA oh man, that’s hilarious. I’m sure many artists do care about spreading their stories and ideas, but they still have to eat. If they starve to death because “people shouldn’t have to buy it” then they can’t create anything more. Most artists are doing what they love, and hoping to survive on it so they don’t have to be distracted by something they don’t like. Anyway, no one is being forced to buy something they don’t like. That’s the way commerce works. You buy what you want, and you don’t buy what you don’t want. So obviously if you don’t like or don’t want the art, you won’t buy it; but if you do like it and do want it, then you should be buying it.

    And blah blah blah…..

    • Oh, I definitely believe in the power of previews. You know I cited Banana Fish as my most successful venture in getting people to buy the series… I don’t think I ever could have done it without having offered a few scanned pages in my post (which, btw, I’d take down if Viz asked, though I hope they won’t because it is what makes the post effective). I think a preview is a more effective tool for generating sales than giving the full series away for free, though.

      The other big difference between scanlations/fansubs and sites like SigIkki or Crunchyroll is that in the case of the latter, the series are licensed, so Japanese creators/publishers are already getting paid, regardless of whether further sales are generated. For fans who care about creators, that should mean a lot.

  4. Even “ethical” scanlation groups (groups that stop scanlating and remove their scanlations once a title is licensed) have a line where they become delusional about what they do. “If we didn’t scanlate it, someone else would. We make sure we do a really high-quality job, so the creator looks good and we encourage people to buy the original.”

    There’s a lot of ego that gets built up into that sort of thing – not in a bad way initially, but because they believe they are doing something good and important.

    I genuinely believe if all the mangaka asked people to stop, they’d all shift to that argument above.

    “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” taught me a lot about human nature – when we have delusions that are that important to us, we will remake our world, rather than admit we are deluded.

    • when we have delusions that are that important to us, we will remake our world, rather than admit we are deluded.

      Quite true. Even when you’re aware that’s what you’re doing, it’s hard to give it up.

    • I wasn’t familiar with “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” so I looked it up. The first link was to a fan of the book who, you guessed it, posted scans of the pages… sigh.

  5. I’ll state it here, as well.

    I’m not saying piracy is good nor do I support it. The whole time – and each of my comments are pointing at the same thing. Businesses needs to re-consider their business models because at this rate it will be VERY hard to fight piracy and win.

    By not adapting to a model that makes piracy redundant a lot of them(publishers) will go out of business. So by doing research, experimenting and changing their business models to what fans are wanting there can still be hope – since I’m sure none of you can disagree piracy is very wide spread and very hard to stop.

    If a publisher – artist – and copyright holders agree to a new business model and that one is exactly like how fans are going about it right now – then the things that are happening no longer become piracy. It becomes legal, and you then have a lot more support(allies) than you once did.

    • I’m not sure what business model accommodates giving stuff away for free. Web ad rates are low, and hotlinking and its successors will take care of any attempts to channel viewers to ads. I suggested in my post below a licensing platform, but I don’t see international cooperation on this coming together anytime soon.

  6. Great article. I doubt your ‘confessional’ will change minds right away, but it’s nice to know it happened at least *once*. Thanks, Melinda.

  7. My problem is I always give people too much credit. I really thought there were a lot of people out there trying to buy and support, so I was fine pretending things were fine. But lately the majority of people I find just give excuses, so I’m having a hard time pretending.

    I’ve never heard any of the truly “ethical” groups use the above excuse, though I’m sure it’s been said. I don’t really consider a group “ethical” if their main motive is “we do it for the fans (i.e. fame)!” and saying they’re making the author look good is merely an excuse to hide their inflated egos.

    What I’m most worried about is the fact that, yes, when a series gets licensed “ethical” groups will take them down, but the virus was already spread. It’s still too easy to find it, so nothing has changed. It might be ok as a preview if only a few chapters were released, but if it’s a completed scanned series? And worse, there’s always some other group popping up to finish the job. It still baffles me that people willingly, and without shame, do that…

    I don’t (entirely) blame people for not wanting to deal with importing manga if an asian store isn’t near them, especially since I’m not convinced with the “just learn Japanese” argument, myself. But SO MUCH is available to us now—you don’t even have to leave the computer to find dirt-cheap deals, seriously!

    I’m just plain tired of hearing the same pathetic excuses. I really felt that fandom was learning better than that. You’re really going to be that stingy? There are jobless people out there with full bookshelves of manga that grew over time. Don’t have the space? Donate them to the library! Spread the love and help its popularity grow into the mainstream with legit copies.

    • What I’m most worried about is the fact that, yes, when a series gets licensed “ethical” groups will take them down, but the virus was already spread.

      It’s very true that nothing is ever truly gone from the internet, no matter how hard you try. Frankly, that’s probably why I’d never even attempt to try to pretend I was never really into scanlations. There is too much proof! :)

      I’m just plain tired of hearing the same pathetic excuses.

      Agreed. As I tried to express in my post, I really don’t feel like I can say that everything about scanlations is wrong or that no good can ever come from them. What gets me is that the justifications people are putting forward suggest that they actually don’t care at all about the potential ramifications of what they’re doing, to the point of refusing to even acknowledge that there might be any ramifications. I’d have a lot more respect for them if they just admitted it was sketchy, even if they decided to keep doing it anyway.

  8. Ah, this is a great article; I think it really shines a spotlight on the mindset behind the problem.

    Putting on the Devil’s Advocate hat for a second, I’m of an opinion that not all people who participate in piracy would have supported the product in the first place and there is value in a preview to draw in new audience. Honestly though, I think most books lose more of an audience than they gain under the sort of scan justifications that are rampant in certain fan communities though. If it were properly ad-supported content with avid fans obliging themselves to support collection releases like Ikki or Sunday, then that should be fine. Otherwise, a thing is only truly as valuable as what someone is willing to pay or sacrifice for it. How much is free over broadband really worth to scan fans these days?

    The artists=poopy argument is ridiculous in the unstated assumption that it’s ok for someone -else- to profit from an artist’s work. The person solely responsible for their entertainment deserves nothing while a scan site is justified any money they might pull? That’s just despicable. I know the idea of some elite echelon profiting from the work of others has become dogma on nearly every level of the internet abyss, but that still doesn’t justify a lowly plebeian fan’s supposed ‘right’ to enjoy free content.

    • I’m of an opinion that not all people who participate in piracy would have supported the product in the first place and there is value in a preview to draw in new audience.

      I actually agree with this. I think it’s true—a whole bunch of people would never buy the product even if scanlations weren’t available. I just don’t think that works as justification. Especially if there are some who would. I think we probably agree all around here, actually. :)

      I know the idea of some elite echelon profiting from the work of others has become dogma on nearly every level of the internet abyss, but that still doesn’t justify a lowly plebeian fan’s supposed ‘right’ to enjoy free content.

      Interestingly, I think some fans like to position publishers as an “elite echelon” as well, and use that to justify piracy as a kind of righteous civic action, but that’s really not appropriately applied to this industry. Manga is a niche market, at least outside of Japan, and even the bigger publishers don’t qualify as “elite.” Even those that are subsidiaries of large American publishers still can’t survive without pulling their own weight, and it’s a struggle even in the best of times. Pretty much every person in the North American manga industry, from the top on down, is basically just a fan, even if they’ve figured out how to turn their fandom into livelihood. I enjoy sticking it to The Man as much as anyone but no matter how you look at it, there is no Man to stick it to. We’re just screwing ourselves if we use that as justification for a free-for-all. Nobody’s getting rich on manga.

      (off-topic, I know I owe you a reply over at The NANA Project, if in fact you are one and the same. I just gotta get my thinky brain on to do it, and the brain’s a bit taxed at the moment. :))

      • I really like what you had to say about the fans who make up the industry. Some people don’t understand the costs and effort behind localisation, printing, promotion, distribution and retail. That takes a lot of dedication that a few lines of HTML and some hosting space for a scan just doesn’t compare to.

        Unfortunately, this niche industry is also founded on and heavily entwined with fan translations, so there’s a greater tolerance of, if not outright reliance on, the scan scene as well as numerous stories of people ‘breaking into’ the industry through scanlation work.

        Realistically, the grey areas come into play because we can’t say either fans or publishers are, alone, to blame and neither side, individually, can come up with a solution. It’s great that fans are starting to talk about scans as something more than ‘free, as in beer’ lately, but the fan perspective can only be as effective as publishers relying on DRM in combating the problem.

        (re: OT – Ah, yes, that was me. I’m worried a few of my comments may have drifted into ‘caught up in defending your point that you lose the thread of your own logic.’ territory though, so be gentle if you load a full mental barrage, hee.)

  9. I agree with your article wholeheartedly, but I think most manga bloggers fail to embrace the gray, or to even talk about it. I get suspicious at times that this is precisely because they receive promotional manga and don’t want to rock the boat. It’s sort of self-censoring to say that to be a sophisticated anime/manga blogger or magazine writer, you have to swear off any value in scanlations.

    But perhaps I’m in a unique boat. I’d love to buy more manga than I already do, but most of the sort of things that draw my interest just aren’t available in English today. To stay educated about them, I have to read scans, even if I buy the Japanese volumes. At some point, you get tired of sending e-mails to your favorite manga publishers, asking them to license this or that.

    I’m glad that someone is scanlating Tough, because I own every out-of-print volume, and it was a butchered release that was canceled way too soon. I’m glad someone is scanlating The Guyver, because it’s awesome, out of print, and under-appreciated since the 90s OVA boom. I’m even glad scans of Sanctuary exist, because collecting the individual out of print issues is a daunting task to the audience that I want to read it, and some of the out-of-print volumes go for insanely high prices (I draw the line at around $75 a pop).

    Then again, I spent over $200 getting every issue of the canceled Raijin Comics anthology, and I’ve invested heavily into the awesome Tezuka revival that’s currently going on.

    If you’re an individual who’s championing for a certain manga to be available in English, after sending a few e-mails to Viz, DarkHorse, etc, you really aren’t able to do much else to raise awareness other than scanlating yourself. I’m trying to raise awareness of titles by reviewing them on my blog, but I’m a small voice between a blogosophere that is either vehemently pro-piracy and juvenile (which I’m not), or a blogosphere that refuses to discuss it because of their relationship with American publishing companies. It’s frustrating.

    What I think we need is a sort of Crunchyroll situation for manga, preferably run by the Japanese publishers themselves. Let us read it online for a fee or with ads, with an option to buy in print or for our mobile device of choice.

    P.S. I don’t support reading scans of things that are currently being published in English, unless you own the English volumes you’re reading. I’ve actually done that before, buying a volume of something and then reading only that volume on my computer.

    • I get suspicious at times that this is precisely because they receive promotional manga and don’t want to rock the boat. It’s sort of self-censoring to say that to be a sophisticated anime/manga blogger or magazine writer, you have to swear off any value in scanlations.

      I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong about this. Even when I first started reviewing (while still reading scanlations) I definitely stopped *talking* about them because I felt like it could damage my relationship with publishers. I suspect plenty of manga reviewers have their own personal policies about scanlations that they’d rather not discuss publicly. Even this post is a product of me examining my own ethics more than anything else, and I doubt I ever would have shared my thoughts if I hadn’t become outraged at a particular set of justifications. As I said to someone above, everyone involved in the manga industry (and that includes little reviewers like me) is really just a fan. I think we all struggle with drawing lines for ourselves when we transition from some kind of fan to another kind. That said, I think most manga reviewers, despite receiving promo copies of some volumes, probably spend more money on manga than most fans. The deeper in you get, the more you become aware that you really, *really* need to know your stuff to be an effective reviewer, and that means buying up and reading old series as well as anything newer you’re not being sent (and none of us gets sent everything or even close). I’ve personally spent countless dollars buying up back volumes of series when I get sent a newer volume for review.

      I agree there is a real conundrum around unlicensed series (especially those unlikely to ever be licensed, like St. Young Men, for instance, which is one of the scanlated series I clung to for a very long time—it is scanlated really well, too). I run into problems with out-of-print volumes of licensed series as well. When I urge readers to get into older shojo series like Please Save My Earth I know I’m sending them straight to scanlations, because some volumes are almost impossible to buy now. It’s definitely not black-and-white, and I hope I haven’t given the impression that I think it is. I just wish people were more thoughtful about their choices instead of throwing out blanket justifications that are, quite frankly, insulting to creators, publishers, and even other fans.

      What I think we need is a sort of Crunchyroll situation for manga, preferably run by the Japanese publishers themselves.

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this down the line. Honestly, I’ll be sad if it happens because I really don’t want to see manga in print die. I don’t even enjoy reading manga online. I like reading books. But I suspect the industry will move in that direction regardless of what I prefer. :)

  10. Being a manga reviewer myself I have to thank you for shining a light on the fact that we may receive free manga we still spend money to support our habits. I spend more on manga now than I did when I was just a reader.

    • Heh, no kidding. Also, I think people don’t think about the fact that the books we receive for review are not necessarily books we’re thrilled to own. Some are, sure, but some… well.

  11. Chargone says:

    I find myself generally agreeing withe the blog post, but the ‘library’ argument does hold Some water… I treat scans that way myself. right down to buying stuff when it’s available. I’ll go read stuff in the library, and they’ll be missing volumes, or it’ll be good, so i go buy it. Likewise scanlations, though they’re less likely to be missing volumes and more likely to just have really suspect translation on certain chapters. but the stuff i like goes straight onto my list of books that I’m going to buy, and the next time i get money to spend on books, (roughly 100NZ a month, or 5 volumes of Most things) some more get knocked back off the list again.

    they also have the same ‘someone, somewhere along the way, bought one copy, and now everyone who wants to and has access can read it’ thing going that the libraries do.

    artist definitely need to eat. the ‘should only care about spreading the art’ thing is utter bunk. that said, awareness is a big deal for all creative stuff.

    ““If they can’t come up with ways to get customers to *want* to purchase things that *can’t* be copied online then they deserve to go bankrupt.”” believe it or not, this argument, while horribly unfair to the artists and not exactly applicable in this context, is the actual business logic, looked at from a slightly different angle, that’s being pushed for musicians, movie studios, and such like. some of them embrace it, and use the copyable thing to move stuff that you can’t copy. use the copyable thing to draw attention, then give people what they want and Can’t copy to make the money. it’s basically glorified merchandising :D

    that said, it doesn’t actually justify anything. it’s more ‘you should do this to succeed’ than ‘if you don’t do this you deserve to fail’. not entirely applicable with scanlations, though possibly something for publishers to keep in mind.

    ‘“The majority of people who pirate, would’ve never bought the product in the first place, if they wanted to, and/or could afford it, then they would buy it.”’ an argument against bothering with DRM and other such crap, which just makes life worse for your legit customers, and a Brilliant one for busting the insane (and impossible in many cases) numbers the movie and music industry like to trot out. Not a legit justification for scanning or piracy in the first place, however.

    ““I read scanlations every week. You know why? Because the newest chapter won’t be available for several years in the USA. I don’t think you can accuse someone of piracy when the product is not available to buy.”” and if they think they’ve got it bad in the US with regards to this, how much more so places like New Zealand? at least now we have a couple of local online shops that handle this kind of thing. used to be we had a choice of amazon (let’s see… wait anywhere from three weeks to six months for the thing to show up by boat, or pay an extra 50+ US for shipping and get it within the week by airmail?) specialty comic shops (selection was crap) or somewhere like borders (yeeeah.. because we want to pay an additional 20% on everything to line, so far as i can tell, some American corporate exec’s pocket…)

    of course, most of This one is just a combination of the tyranny of distance and economy of scale.

    this one, i think, is actually one of the more logical arguments in favour of scanlation (though it gets beaten out by ‘it’s been out of print for years’). that said, it doesn’t do anything to help it’s Legitimacy.

    ehh, I’m not sure where i was going with this anymore. scanlations have their up and down sides. In my own case i happen to know every series i ever bought, i first encountered either as a scanlation or in the libraries. i know there are plenty of people who Wouldn’t then go buy them… but there’s got to be more than one like me too.

    on that note: take a look back and see how many authors or publishers, every now and then, try to take a shot at the libraries… often for exactly the same things that people complain about scanlators doing. it’s more similar than you’d think. yet no one reasonable objects to libraries. of course, scanlations are slightly more efficient, and i’ve encountered a couple of series that i ended up buying because they were good And the library was inefficient about providing them to me. it took both or me to buy them… though, to be fair, it also coincided with a significant increase in my disposable income and reduction in the number of games i wanted, so it might have nothing to do with efficiency at all

    umm, yeah, end of the day i agree with you for the most part, anyway. mostly just the libraries thing i took some issue with. (yeah, i read a LOT of books from the library too. don’t have to pay for them either.)
    I’m just going to stop there, or I’ll start repeating myself as one thought leads into another and loops back around (again) :)

    • Okay, I don’t have time to respond to everything here right now, but I *have* to respond about libraries. NO IT IS NOT THE SAME THING. A library buys a book and loans it out ONE PERSON AT A TIME. When one person finishes it, they have to give it back so someone else can read it. Scanlations offer unlimited digital copies available simultaneously. There is no limit to how many people can read it at once, and every person has the option to keep that copy for themselves, forever if they want to. These situations could not be more different, and I think it is kind of insanely obvious why creators, publishers, and basically everyone in the world might approve of one and not the other. One is tightly controlled and the other can’t possibly be. Digital copies can be reproduced over and over again, each a perfect copy of the other. The library is not taking one book and making thousands of perfect copies of it and tossing them out into the streets for people to take home and keep.

      Sorry if that came out a bit harsh, but the library comparison thing really gets under my skin.

      • Hear hear. Also, at a library, if a book is constantly being checked out, they may buy more copies, or other branches of the library may buy copies to stock. Checking a book out at a library is a valid way to support a creator, and besides, you get to read the actual book instead of reading it online, which is a plus as far as I’m concerned.

        • I know I keep ranting on the library thing, but that argument just really makes me nuts. Even from a user perspective, it should be clear they are not the same thing.

      • Chargone says:

        actually, if you pay attention to it, cash in hand to authors wise, it is pretty much the same thing. the only incentive for people to buy in either case is if they like it and want to support the artists continued effort to make more.

        the only functional difference from That point of view is that more people see it Faster from scans, and thus there’s a greater chance of them buying it earlier.

        the people who read the scans and don’t buy aren’t suddenly, magically, going to buy just because they have to go to the library to read the thing, after all. most of them simply won’t bother.

        these are lessons the music, game, and movie industries have been learning, painful, over and over again. painfully because they refuse to adapt to it and keep wasting resources trying to crush it. (and they keep trying much more moronic things than libraries)

        anyway, they’re certainly not the same thing, in a number of ways. from the ‘actaully getting money to the creators for the work done’ angle? it’s the difference between 1-4 sales and 20-200 people reading it who might then go buy it (at a library where the book is bought multiple times and quite popular), and 1 sale and 20-2000 people reading it who might then go buy it. (for scanlations). The odds of any given individual buying the book is identical in both cases.

        these are economic arguments i’ve been coming accross again and again and again in various things about music piracy, movie piracy, game piracy. and the companies keep jumping up and down making the same argument you are here (and occasionally taking swipes at librarys and library analogs too). and the willful disbelief in these numbers, and attempts to squash people’s access to the content keeps coming back to bite them in the arse in terms of wasted resources and lost reputation. meanwhile the artists who’ve taken advantage of the resulting awareness of their existence make more money. Well, the ones who’ art is any good and who actually pick business models that match their capability and audience, anyway.

        And if scanlations are ‘perfect copies’, then, seriously, point me at what the heck you’re reading. they’re rarely perfect.

        so, ethical rants aside, your ‘ethics’ is mostly based on ‘getting the artists money’, so far as i can tell in this context. and in this context, the libraries and the scanlations? the scanlation is a slightly bigger gamble, that’s all.

        oh yeah, as for the ‘buying more copies’ thing… I’d love to see your library. here, manga? one copy per volume. sometimes not even that. no replacements if it gets stolen, destroyed or damaged beyond what the library itself can fix, either. more popular novels manage maybe 4 copies between ~8 libraries in the system. things like harry potter at it’s most popular got in maybe 10 copies. after the initial demand dies down, all but one or two of those go straight on the second hand sale table, and that IS a lost sale if the book’s still being published.

        all that aside, scanlation, like music and movie piracy, mostly exists because it fills a gap where there is demand and legitimate sources aren’t providing. when legitimate sources fill that gap, both supply and demand for the less legitimate sources fall sharply, even if they don’t go away all togeather, unless the legitimate sources have so damaged their reputation trying to crush the less or illegitimate channels by other means prior to actually filling the gap themselves that people continue simply to spite them.

        the above is not a justification for anything. it’s just facts, in as much as i’ve been able to find and understand them.

        and in case anyone got lost? i know there’s a difference between a library and scanlations. the difference is huge. the difference is, however, in no way applicable to moral or financial arguments about the validity (or whatever) scanlations.

        there are a lot of arguments for scanlations that are utter bunk, and a lot against them that are valid (there are less, but still a fair number, in the other direction)

        I’m probably repeating myself again, so that can be the end of that. (though i do invite you to get hold of these guys one way or another. they study the business and economic aspect of this a lot, and know what they’re talking about (their main business is helping people, especially the creators and artists, work the whole thing to their advantage.) I’m fairly sure what I’m saying here is sound, but those guys actually know what they’re talking about.)

        as for the response being a bit harsh? ehh… not so much harsh. more ranty.

  12. themooninautumn says:

    What about another Crunchyroll-type situation run by American publishers to be sure their out of print and hard to find volumes are still available and making them money? An additional print-on-demand option could be quite lucrative, since this kind of printing technology has been making a splash (in theory) for several years now in the publishing industry (and with this whole Google Settlement thing, it’s even more visible). If this model is made affordable for publishers, I could see it working. Another idea is an e-book store full of out of print titles (saves on printing costs). I’m excited to see what effect all this e-reader development competition might have on the possibilities for future, legal access to out-of print titles. I am a strong believer in making sure customers can legally purchase your products somehow, especially if they come late to the table. :)

    • I think all the publishers are looking for solutions even as we speak. Some already offer paid options for reading books online, such as DMP and NETCOMICS, though I notice that hasn’t stopped people from just swiping them and putting them online wherever they want. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, but the “scanlations” for NETCOMICS manhwa Let Dai? Just frames stolen from NETCOMICS own online scans. I’d like to think that when legal, affordable options are presented, people will turn to them, but it’s hard to beat NETCOMICS’ 25 cents a chapter and still people pirate it.

      Hopefully publishers will come up with something else. Though as I said to someone above, I’ll actually be sad. I much prefer books in print.

  13. Copyright was not originally about protecting the rights of the artist. It was invented to keep the control of information/art in the hands of the state,church and business. It has been an effective method of control for those who can afford to persue legalities. Copyright has had a sunset of authors life plus 50 years but this was increased recently to 75 years to appease the evil Disney because M Mouse was about to go public domain. Now whilst the equipment to produce/duplicate music, books and film was expensive and specialised duplication/copyright infringement had to be on a large enough scale to make
    the operation financially viable.

    This also meant that any such venture was worth pursuing legally. Of course the common held view is of a shady character in a dingy warehouse pumping out dodgy DVD/CD/Armani. However because the pursuit of civil action against copyright infringement is expensive it is not unknown for some of the biggest corporations to attempt what appeqrs to be intentional copyright infringement because it is assumed they figure they’re too big to be sued eg.Microsoft vs PalTalk , Microsoft vs i4i and etc..
    Anyway with the invention and the widespread acceptance of computer technology has delivered the ability for
    the average person to be able to copy, distribute and/or share Films, Recordings, TV shows,Software,Magazines
    and books to their hearts content.
    That cat is out of the bag in a big way now and there’s no putting it back. Given the choice of free or pay %99 of people will opt for free. Those corporations that rely on a an impossible to enforce copyright law and a marketing strategy based on it are going the way of the Dodo. DRM is a lost road as there is one thing for sure, it doesn’t matter how good your
    DRM, it’s just another challenge for one of the many brilliant 13yo hackers out there in Internet land.
    The challenge is really up to the marketers to come up with a new way of earning from free distribution.

    For Movie/TV show producers there’s product placement. I’m wondering when the fist production house is going to bypass the broadcast/cable TV networks and release straight to free download and rely on imbeded advertising and product placement to pay for Film/TV production.

    Computer technology and the Internet have drastically changed the way IP is distributed and paid for or
    not. The huge multinational media companies are very scared and wont go quietly but their demise is inevitable. Changing technology means the waxing and waning of many businesses and jobs. Tell me how many Farriers do you know? As for copyright, it’s never been about the rights of the little guy so spare me the false ethics and righteous indignation.

    • Hi Mark. Honestly, it doesn’t matter at all what the original purpose of copyright was. Ethics and law are not necessarily the same thing, and if you’ll notice, I did not *once* mention “copyright” in my post. So spare *me* your pathetic justification for what is nothing more than selfish entitlement.

  14. Lilly Beth says:

    I’m 13 and have recently been “put” into a wheel chair for medical reason. In two years when I can legally work there is vary little for a wheel chair bound 15 year old to do. My local library doesn’t carry any Manga because it deems all of it to be pornagraphy. I understand there are people out there that will take advantage of the availability of scans but am I also needed to be made to feel like a bad guy because I can’t find another way to get one of the few things that make feel better? I would love to have the money to buy the Manga I read and I would also love to walk again and maybe one day I’ll be able to get to do both. But until then am I not allowed the one I know how to get and enjoy?

    I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have posted this. Its a bit emotional for me.

    • Hi Lilly Beth. Though you’re young, I hope you know that there is no need to seek my approval in order to determine what’s right for you to do in your unique situation. I’m a complete stranger, after all!

      Though in this post I’m certainly calling people out on some specific justifications for relying on scanlations, I’m not in a position to call anyone a bad guy. All I’m asking (hoping?) for is that people might think more deeply about their choices and take responsibility for making them, for better or worse.

      If you’re doing that, there’s no need for you to feel insecure about your choices no matter what anyone says.

    • Hi Lilly Beth :)

      You don’t know me and I’m not a respected blogger like Melinda here, but I can sort of relate to your situation. I’m older than you, but unable to work due to health problems. It’s already hard enough to manage to pay for doctors and medication (I rely heavily on my parents and assistance programs for those things), and buying manga is a luxury I simply can’t afford.

      When I was working and had money, I bought manga whenever I could. Now, I simply don’t have the money to buy all the manga I’d like to read, so I read scanlations instead.

      It’s easy to take offense or feel attacked personally when someone points out the “wrongness” of scanlations. But that’s only because we are, at our cores, good people who don’t want to do harm to others.

      Yet, while it’s true that the scanlation community DOES hurt publishers and creators, you and I aren’t hurting anyone with our activities. The bottom line is: If we weren’t reading scanlations, nothing would change.

      People with money, jobs, etc… If scanlations disappeared tomorrow, they would probably step away from their computer and buy a couple volumes of manga. You and I? If scanlations disappeared tomorrow, we’d still be too broke to buy manga, so the only thing that would change would be our levels of boredom! ;)

      A lot of people might see it as an excuse, a justification of “wrong” behavior… but I don’t care what other people think. I know in my heart that I would LOVE to be able to support the community and creators I get so much pleasure from. But I can’t. So who would benefit from me depriving myself of enjoyment from the things I love? No one. That’s who.

      So keep reading your scanlations… and don’t ever feel ashamed for it. You’re not hurting anybody.

  15. I just took a moment to read this, Melinda, and I think it’s a really great post. As a media professional in real life, I’ve always tried to stick to my guns when it comes to enjoying legal and legitimate media properties. But, it’s so hard when piracy is seen as okay by so many — from friends and family, it seems “everyone is doing it.”

    Regardless, I think you do a great job of crystallizing the argument that’s erupted from the whole “Incarnate” thing. And, for those that think we manga bloggers get all of our books for free, I only get select volumes from time to time. And, after I review them, I donate them to the local library if I don’t keep them (forcing me, of course, to purchase the whole series). I make no profit from my free copies and return the favor to the library system that not only drew me to reading voraciously, but has also provides me with a huge variety of manga to read and review for my blog.

    While there are many people who believe their only option is to read scanlations, I just ask that they think about the issue and, when possible, purchase legal formats. Here’s to hoping the manga industry can find a creative way to circumvent piracy, or at least continue to profit in the wake of its stranglehold on the industry.

  16. Lilly Beth says:

    I appreciate the reply and you are right I am young. As best as I can tell this is a money problem. I understand money or rather I understand not having any because of being young. I felt hurt not because I though I was being called a bad guy (I understand now that I’m not being called a bad guy) for not wanting to buy my manga but rather that I couldn’t. But rather then admit that I’m poor I made other justifications. I don’t know if I feel that being poor isn’t reason enough or if I feel that being poor is admittance of not being capable of doing/providing things for my self (which in my case could be a deeper frustration). But I think people feel offended because for many of us our justifications are the only thing between us and admitting to problems that we are ashamed would keep us from reading manga or participating in the community. I understand now that you are calling out the people who don’t want to pay even if they had the means.

    I’m sorry, I suppose this isn’t a conversation you intended.

  17. I’m guilty!

    I also spend way more than I should on manga. (Doubly guilty!)

    I noticed an OEL manga omnibus I’d waited for years to buy got scanned and posted recently – it was a second rate t/l of a manga from its second languages (too funny!) and the artist got it taken down pretty quickly.

    The title in question was on my to-buy list in part because the first chapter was posted for free, by the author. Seven Seas does this with a bunch of titles.

    I enjoy reading manga, and so I read scanlations. But I want the creators to thrive so they won’t disappear. It’s be great if I read Japanese, but I don’t.

    (By the way, to the “artists should starve” crowd, maybe we can answer “freeloaders should learn Japanese!”)

    I wonder how creators and original-language publishers could cooperate with global fans and second-language publishers to expedite licensing and distribution, maybe through new media (internet=low distribution cost barrier), with a reduced per-unit profit, but greater volume of units distributed.

    Tokyopop and Viz have online readers with some content, but their sites are awful at ecommerce. It’s hard to see the page, and hard to buy the book. And Tokyopop only sells through Amazon, which must cut a lot into profit.

    How’s iTunes as a model? Are we in the Napster stage of things? Will a few more years see a platform and licensing arrangement (perhaps with some of the scanlators brought “in from the cold” as legit providers)?

    I also work in publishing and am writing (OK, failing to finish) my own work, so I see this from a couple of perspectives.

    I sure hope it gets worked out so that I can indulge my manga habit and the creators (and the publishers who took a chance on them) can get their fair share.

    • (By the way, to the “artists should starve” crowd, maybe we can answer “freeloaders should learn Japanese!”)

      Heh, I think Deb actually said this, though it did not go over well.

      Quite a few of the pubs now offer a chapter preview for free. I suspect we’ll see more of that. I sincerely hope we don’t move towards an all-digital model, but I doubt I’ll have much to say about it. :D

      • Melinda – I think digital and paper may coexist for awhile. Then a technology will appear which will be cheap enough and flexible enough to replace paper, and the point will be moot.

        In the interim, a digital rights management regime (combining technological and legal impediments to theft with rapid and inexpensive distribution of content) might (!) be able to displace the piracy, reward the creators and publishers, and allow for us addicts to get our fix all at the same time.

        That’s about as good a solution as I could hope for. I think my 10 year old flat monitor actually does swivel, which would allow me to view tankoubon pages at full size.

        I think we may also see art formatted for smaller screens (the 1-koma: not my favorite option) as well as explorations of the limited-content-free, expanded-content-premium arrangement.

        (There’s somebody who does this… can’t remember his name… but puts his content out for free in some formats, for premium in others.)

        Oh, and I was about to buy (see? you’re having an effect already…) hardcopy of Umino Chika’s Sangatsu no Lion, even tho’ it’s printed in Japanese and scanlated in English, but the shipping cost was triple the item cost. Web distribution kind of cuts that down. A bit.

        Think I’ll save up.

  18. Melinda,
    This issue was settled for me years before I began reading manga because of my participation in another fan community. Shortly after becoming a Christian, I got into contemporary Christian music (Amy Grant, Petra, Stryper, etc). A friend had an extensive collection of albums and I was happily making cassette copies for myself. After a dozen or so tapes, my friend pointed out that Christian music is a very small market and the artists depend on records sales to make ends meet and to be able to continue making music. Well, I had already been to one concert and saw firsthand that Christian musicians weren’t living extravagant lifestyles, so what he said hit home hard. I was only about 19 and it was the first time I saw the direct impact my purchases had on people.

    I’ve taken that lesson with me throughout life. So when I became a manga fan in my 30’s there was no question that if I don’t buy it, I don’t read it. The only way I think that you can make scanlators understand the impact of their decisions is when they see directly the effect they are having on the artists who make manga. Also long as the artists are these mysterious people in another land, then scanlators won’t understand there are people actually being effected by their actions. Hopefully, manga artists and editors will begin speaking out to fans to bring a human face to these discussions.

    Keep up the great work and stay strong. You’re fighting the good fight and I’m still optimistic enough to believe that right wins out in the end regardless of how dire the odds against us are. So take comfort you’re not alone.

  19. Let me preface this by saying I really haven’t read much manga outside of Kazuo Koike (I got to this page after a long winding journey down the rabbit hole of reading up on the Nick Simmons fiasco), however, I see similarities between these scanlations and scans of American comics, which are pretty widely available on torrents.

    My question is – does manga have the same problem with speculation and collecting that almost killed the American comic book market?

    I find myself downloading a lot of scans of American comic books, but many of these are simply unavailable to the average person do to the value of said comics due to scarcity of many comics prior to the “Adamantium Age” (the pre-comics code EC Horror Comics that influenced the likes of Stephen King are a personal favorite of mine). There have been many reprints, graphic novels and digital collections in recent years of older Marvel comics that I’ve purchased, but there’s a lot of great stuff that just doesn’t exist. I don’t care about the value of the actual physical book itself because it’s the only one still left after 70 years, I’m only interested in the value of the story itself, hence me not having a problem buying a 4th or 5th printing.

    I was just wondering if this comes into play in manga as well. This is one of the more annoying aspects of reading American comic books that drives me to piracy… not so much a justification of it, but more a general sense of apathy to the whole bloody thing.

    • Hi Paco! That’s an interesting point about the American comic book market. As someone who really only reads manga, I’ve never thought about it much, though I do see people talking about the value of particular issues and such, and how scarce some are.

      Interestingly, though there is plenty of manga that is out-of-print in English, particularly middle volumes of older series (which makes it nearly impossible for new readers to get into them), the vast majority of the stuff that’s hard to get is also unavailable via scanlation. Older shojo series like Banana Fish and Basara have some volumes that are pretty hard to find, yet there also are no scans. I saw someone once selling volume 20 of Basara in Japanese along with hand-written translations, and they were asking a huge amount for it, simply because it’s hard to find a copy to read otherwise.

      There are some series to which your question definitely applies, though. One of my favorite older series is Saki Hiwatari’s Please Save My Earth, released by Viz in 21 volumes. At least one of those volumes is almost impossible to get (unless you can spend ridiculous amounts to some 3rd party Amazon seller) and several others are tricky. I know when I recommend that series, I’m basically sending people straight to scanlations, because that’s the only way most of them will ever get to read those volumes unless Viz someday decides to give the series VizBig treatment or something. So yeah, it can be an issue. Since most translated manga is not really that old, I’m sure there is much less out of print than what you see in American comics, though.

  20. I just think that this whole argument is part of the larger issue of entitlement. I see people every day acting as if they are entitled to that free download, to information, to books that are coming out late (“Where are they I want mine NOW”), to pictures of celebrities as long as they can take the picture from a public place, to good grades simply for showing up and turning in all the homework regardless of quality, etc., etc.

    There are always going to be people who feel like they are owed, that they have a right to everything everyone else has. It’s a world-wide disease.

    I’m a BL manga fan, and I would never have discovered it if I hadn’t finally broken down to read a few scanlations that had been recommended to me over and over again. And I was “broken down” not because of some moral high ground about stealing, but because I just didn’t have an interest in all that strange Japanese stuff.

    However, after that, I started to explore the English BL market and today I own about 97% of all the books marketed as BL manga (novels, not so much yet). I’ve also studied Japan and the culture, and have completely changed my mind about ignoring all things Japanese.

    That wouldn’t have happened without the scanlations. I wouldn’t have browsed the manga section. My friends and family even read manga then, tried to get me to look at it, and I ignored them. But since then, I’ve certainly done more than my part to support the Industry.

    My point is: I think there are people who are like us, who are motivated to buy even when “free” material is readily available, and then there are the entitled people of the world. Personally, I deeply resent being labeled a thief for having read a scanlation (and yes, that was also said by a prominent Tweeter, with many others agreeing).

    Scanlations have some purpose, yes. They also do some damage. There’s a lot of grey in many other arenas, but I think entitled people push the grey envelope further into the black every day. My ultimate wish is that there could be more objectivity when discussing things like this.

    Thank you for being one of the objective ones.

    love, lore

    • Hi lore, thanks for coming by! It’s a complicated issue, definitely, and I think trying to make an argument that scanlations are either all bad or all good is pretty pointless and requires some denial of reality. I also really appreciate anyone who makes their personal decisions about scanlations thoughtfully, so thanks for that too!

      Just a note on the Twitter conversation… I think most of the folks on Twitter who have drawn a really hard line on the subject are mainly doing so out of frustration. I know many of them personally, and I know their real feelings on the issue aren’t necessarily as harsh as they may appear to be right now. I mention this only because I can understand their frustration. I felt the same way reading some of the particular justifications I mentioned in my post. It’s enough to sour anyone’s views.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful input!

  21. Wow, that took a lot of guts to write up. Very inspiring.

    I would like to say though, that the argument of the next volume/chapter won’t be available for the next several years IS a pretty valid argument. I mean, it takes months until the next volume is available, and that’s really hard to wait for when you want to know what’s going to happen next.

    I have a friend who reads the scans online, but when the next volume beomes available in the US, she buys it. Another thing I’d like to point out, scans are usually a LOT more accurate then what Viz puts out in terms of the way characters address each other, etc.

    For instance, there’s no equivalency for the term “nii-sama” in English, and so Viz usually has the character address his/her brother by their first name. Also, in Japan, they generally refer to each other by last name, not first, and Viz has everyone calling each other by their first name. They also leave out honorifics. Maybe I’m just picky, but if the company is careful to publish the manga in it’s “original” form (meaning that you have to read it from right to left, as opposed to the Wester left to right), then it should not leave out other things the artist had meant to convey through his/her work, which include the respect/humility one character shows to the other etc.

    At least, those are two reasons that people prefer to read scans online, as opposed to waiting to buy the actual books.

    • You know, I keep hearing how much more accurate scans are, but my personal experience (and maybe it was just the series I was reading) has been the opposite. Maybe more “accurate” in terms of keeping Japanese honorifics intact, but so many of them are just *barely* English. I used to read xxxHolic online for the reason you cite here earlier (impatience) but the English writing was just so *bad*. And not accurate either. There is at least one version of the scans that has Yuuko telling Watanuki that Himawari *is* his angel of good luck. If you read the series, I’m sure you know just how incorrect that is.

      No translation can ever be perfect. English and Japanese are too different for that to be possible. Both super-literal translations and strong adaptations have their pros and cons. I tend to prefer the latter, if I have to choose. The only way to get a truly authentic experience is to learn Japanese and read it that way.

  22. What, no one brought up “I DL/stream/read online because they have to PROVE they’re worth obeying the law for?”

  23. wynnter says:

    First, I’m no pro or con of scanslation.

    I’m not too big fan of scans, but if that’s the means that get me to read the series that I’m following? or to read other titles that never get translated to language that I know, then what other way is there?

    There’re several titles I bought that the next series taking forever to get published (in english), how should I know if they still continue or if they cancelled it?

    anyway, just my justification of (when I do) reading scans.

  24. As an occasional reader of scanlations I am torn by guilt and sometimes regret. I import Japanese tankoban despite little knowledge of the language, and minor fears of prosecution after the Handley case (though nothing I import is especially graphic), and I of course buy the English releases when titles get licensed, but I don’t particularly feel it excuses that I indulge in the first place. Yet I continue to do so.

    I try to draw a line, though, as lore said, between the people who do buy the books, and those who steal and don’t contribute anything financially to this genre they purport to love.

    I think the best we can do, even as hypocritical as we remain by continuing to indulge in scanlations, is to set a better example. To draw a very distinct line between “acceptable,” or rather non-damaging (or at least lesser-damaging), scanlation consumption practices and abominable acts like scanning the English volumes and putting them up on MangaFox, or refusing to buy the English books when they come out because they’ve been “edited” or whatever ridiculous excuse people come up with.

    A few years ago, in response to Geneon’s annoucement that they were ceasing North American distribution, I started a little anti-piracy group. It eventually floundered and never really got off the ground, but the thing I decided for sure, was that I would never again watch a fansub (even as I hadn’t particularly indulged in watching them prior to this). It’s hard, though. When all your friends and fellow fandom followers are talking about the latest episode of Junjo Romantica and you haven’t seen it, do you tell them why you haven’t seen it? Would it really prompt even one of them to stop watching it as well? Or would it more likely result in your ostricization from the group? Your other option, then, is to sit there quietly and let the conversation pass, feeling bitter temptation that your moral high-ground won’t allow you to indulge yourself. But what does this accomplish, really? Is it really “setting a better example?” It seems to me, as lore pointed out, that there are people who are going to steal it whether you don’t or not. The only real difference between them and us is that we also buy the product and they don’t.

    So, I pick my battles. When I see some girl on a particular scan-sharing LJ talk about how disappointed she is that such-and-such a title is licensed so she “can’t read it,” I quietly and calmly look at her profile, determine the town on Long Island she lives in, go to and search for that book’s availability in that town, and then post to her that, no, she really can read it, all she needs is a ride to Borders. She doesn’t even have to buy it (God forbid) because they don’t stop kids from sitting in the aisles and reading manga in the store.

    And when someone scoffs at me on the particular BL mangaka LJ community that I moderate about how, no, I can really just get such-and-such Drama CD for free on such-and-such a scanlation/download community, I can open my mouth and explain how it’s not a joke if I want to support the mangaka I love and import the thing myself.

    Is it going to change that girl’s mind about wanting stuff for free or feelign entitled to it? Probably not. Is it going to guilt-trip a couple others into maybe taking a drive over to Borders instead of encouraging her resentment? Maybe so. Is the problem of scanlations going to persist despite this effort? Most definitely. We walk a fine line. Knowing where we fit into the fandom, and knowing what kind of people we are for making the choices we do is the important thing, I think. I can only hope that, eventually, it will make us all better people.

    • So, I pick my battles. When I see some girl on a particular scan-sharing LJ talk about how disappointed she is that such-and-such a title is licensed so she “can’t read it,”

      Aw, wow, that would make me nuts. Good on you for responding calmly in that kind of situation!

      I’m sure someone will take offense to me saying this, but seriously, I think the whole fan culture on LJ encourages thoughtless piracy, and I specifically say “thoughtless” because in my view, that’s the real problem.

      People have been pirating forever, and they probably always will. But the overwhelming attitude in LJ fandom is one of complete indifference to consequence. I’m not asking or expecting people to stop reading scanlations out of guilt. But I wish there was even the tiniest hint that fans were aware that they might be damaging the artists they squee over by doing so. I keep hearing justifications, but with very little acknowledgement of that.

      I’m certainly not going to tell people what to do, but man, if you’re gonna do it, at least own it and everything that entails, including the potentially negative ramifications of your actions.


      Thanks for commenting here. :)

      • I was calm about it, but it’s not as if the response from the other end was any less indignant that someone might have a problem with someone else wanting something for free that they can legally buy in English (or Japanese in the case of the other instance I mentioned). And you’re right. LJ fan culture silently endorses the type of irresponsible abuses of scanlations that have devolved into the very problem we’re seeing now. People don’t bat an eyelash when the scanlation circles say, “reading this scan is not an alternative to buying the book,” or even what five years ago was considered a basic courtesy: not distributing scans of licensed titles. They just don’t care anymore, or maybe they never did, that the English licensing companies even exist.

        But I don’t see attitudes changing all that much in the coming years. Not unless eManga, and I would say it would need to be DMP that tried it for it to work, started offering Netcomics type per-chapter rentals of currently serializing manga series in Japan. Netcomics has successfully tried it with a few doujinshi/manwha titles in the past, but I think on a larger scale, particularly with some of the bigger BL manga magazines (like BeBoy Gold) would cut way into the BL scanlation distribution in English. I think most scanlators themselves (the people who are paying to import the mangas to begin with) are generally (not always) the more honorable people, and if legal channels existed, they would be less likely to continue to scan titles. It wouldn’t even need to be “simultaneous” releases, since scanlators, even the fast ones, take a couple of months most of the time to catch up to current releases. The trick would be, though, in convincing the Japanese licensors that it would be a profitable idea.

  25. The people who think that it’s all right to scanlate or read scanlations so long as it isn’t licenced in their own country aren’t any more ethical than the people who persist in scanlating/reading even after the work is licenced in their own country.

    Before scanlations began to spread, people were reading manga with translated notes that would accompany their personal copy of the original Japanese book. Naturally, reading a translation note is not exactly the most-pleasant of experiences, which is why people started toying with things like scanlations.

    While you are in possession of these vandalised digital copies, you’re obligated to buy the original Japanese books. Saying that you’re justified in reading scanlations while not purchasing the Japanese book just because it isn’t localised in your country is a poor excuse, and it’s an even poorer excuse to believe that scanlation groups who drop a series after it is licensed are somehow “ethical”.

    Moving on to the fansub community briefly, it’s gotten to the point that anime appearing on TV in Japan are uploaded almost immediately online. Whoever is uploading those anime fansubs is really no different than the person who is uploading the localised anime appearing in your local area. Yet, why is it all right for a resident living in Japan to upload these animes online that the “ethical” fansub groups use to translate, and yet it is “unethical” to continue fansubbing a series after it is licenced, or upload rips of the localised version?

    It’s really just one huge double-standard. It really does not make any sense at all.

    While it is still illegal in some countries, the only “ethical” position is to own the work in its original language so you can justify having unauthorised digital copies of it. Though, if it is available in your country, you can purchase those to ethically justify having unauthorised digital copies, as well. I think the only position that is about as ethical is downloading digital copies if the work is out of print since you can’t quite support the creator buying it used; nevertheless, you probably should look into any new works by the original creator that are in print to ethically justify this!

    As far as my limited experience with the actual scanlators, even the ones who scanlate series that are licenced in the United States, they support the creators by purchasing their work for the most part. Though, my experience has only been with 1st and 2nd generation scanlators. I don’t have much experience with these 3rd generation scanlators who reside on sites like mangahelpers. I think it’s more fair to judge a scanlator as unethical depending on whether or not the scanlator is buying the books. Not on a silly matter like dropping it because it became licensed.

    However, considering that the scanlator is essentially sharing these scan with total strangers, I think the scanlators are obligated to try and make it as easy as possible for any leechers downloading their release to have enough information about the series so the leecher can import it, since it seems a lot of people are discovering manga from scanlation sites than by more legitimate channels, which is a real shame considering that the community is so full of people who will quickly indoctrinate them with that silly idea that it’s somehow ethical to read things for free without importing it just because it isn’t licensed in their country.

    As for my manga and light novel purchasing habits, I generally purchase around 20-30 mangas or light novels every 2-3 months. Really don’t know if that’s enough to help save the manga industry. Especially since I consider my appetite for this hobby to be rather small in comparison to some of the scanlation translators I have spoken with.

    Sorry for the rant.

  26. Hi Melinda! I really love this article and it helped inspire my own reaction piece. I wanted to pass it along:

  27. Well, looking around, it looks like you have removed all of my troll comments. And now you’ve implemented an approval process for comments since, perhaps due to my trolling. Touche. I suppose this means I’ll have to reach into my tactics of last resort – a serious essay in response.

    Now to preface this, I’ve read over your essay – a few times, in fact. I’ve read over all the comments up to this point, reading over your responses (and yes, trolling in reply to them, even). I’ve read related links, taking both sides of the issue. In short, I’ve tried to examine the issue in some depth to actually come up with what I hope is at least an intelligent response.

    I suppose the first thing I should say is that, I too, am an artist – or more specifically, someone who has aspirations. I’m not much of an artist in the more traditional sense, which leads me to settle either for asking for help, or to become an artist with the written word. Furthermore, the anime fandom and anime world are the whole reason I have had this aspiration, as it has opened my eyes and exposed me to an artistic medium that has been so expressive with ideas and sentiments I have rarely seen in Western works, printed, illustrated or animated. I mention this specifically because, yes, I understand where artists are coming from. I understand that artists create work as a desire to get paid – or, if nothing else, being paid allows artists to continue their works.

    I am also not justifying scanlations either. And in the interests of full disclosure and intellectual honesty, yes, I’ve read scanlations too (I’ll get back to that one, too). So yes, I do realize how important rights management is, how important making money is, and how the issue of piracy effects this. So no, I’m not trying to counter your arguments by saying that we should allow free-for-all scanlations to persists. That is not the point of this response.

    What is the point is that, to put it bluntly, I think your essay is rather lacking, even outright lame. You respond to the more emotional appeals of scanlation justifications, but much of that response is in turn emotional appeal. The logical bases and other facts aren’t addressed. I’ll address the logical bases, facts, concerns, and solutions on the scanlation side of the problem (so perhaps I’m backpeddling on my previous claim that I’m not trying to justify scanlations – perhaps I’ll say I’m playing “Devil’s Advocate” here as a few of your responders already have). I’d like to see what you have to supply for the other side.
    I suppose the first place I should start is to talk about my own history with scanlations – and by extension the history of scanlations and anime/manga fandom. Many people were introduced to the anime fandom in the first place through scanlation groups. I myself wasn’t one of them, but until I started reading scanlations my interest in the fandom and culture was limited in scope and exposure. It was pretty much whatever Adult Swim happened to be showing at the time, which included a lot of interesting programs (Cowboy Bebop Trigun) but, as I said, my exposure was limited. I had no idea what kind of world lay out there amongst the whole anime fandom, the whole anime culture It took a while to even bother to venture out into it, and a big part of it was the scanlation subculture. As I slowly entered into more and more online groups, various titles began being thrown about – Bleach, One Piece, Naruto etc. Most of these either were already being shown in their anime form on the Adult Swim or general Cartoon Network blocks or eventually will be, but a lot of the titles being thrown about – BLAME!, ARIA etc – were much more obscure. Their animes weren’t being aired over basic cable, weren’t subbed yet or even didn’t exist in any form. As a part of even just looking them up, I was exposed to scanlations. Much of it was a result of being directly linked to scanlations when I asked friends about it. As I said before, it opened up a whole new world to me, to see the full range of artistic expression that the medium had to offer.
    Many people get their whole first exposure into this world through scanlations. It exposes many more titles that otherwise would just continue to languish into obscurity in this part of the world. It exposes people to the types of genres that are much more powerful in expression to the typical fair that they’re used to, or exposes fans of a particular genre to the whole scope of what’s available. So yes, there is a lot of exposure to be had through scanlations.
    In fact, in many cases this is the total amount of exposure they’ll ever experience. I of course refer to the large selection of manga titles that will never be licensed in the United States. Among them is a relatively obscure, quaint little work called Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou It happens to be amongst my most favorite manga. And scanlations are the only way it’ll ever come to this country.
    Scanlations will probably be the only way American fans can experience Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Image credit MyAnimeList’s Café Alpha
    In fact many of my favorite titles will never see the light of day here – Kabu no Isaki among them, by the same artist as Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Hard-working, dedicated scanlation groups are the only means I or anyone have to be able to view these wonderful works (and I whole-heartedly hope you’re inspired to read them, too, or at least read the Wikipedia article). Yes, I said hard-working and dedicated. They too grapple with the moral implications, or at least the particular scanlation groups that translate these particular titles, and they make no pretenses about the author being obligated to do and present his works for free, for total public consumption. But they also do it out of genuine love – yes, I said love. They’re legitimately trying to spread interest and appreciation for a manga-ka obscure even in his own country, to spread the joy and expression he shares through the magic of a pen and ink, or, failing that, at least keeping that expression alive amongst a group of dedicated enthusiasts.
    Kabu no Isaki, by the same artist as Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, is another title that will likely only be reads by Americans through scanlations. Image credit Wikipedia
    There are some works that will never be sent here no matter their potential earning power. Kodomo no Jikan almost made it here as Nymphlets (a bone-headed title if there ever was one) but was effectively put under a voluntary ban by the U.S. manga publishing industry for its controversial content and themes pertaining to “lolicon-love.” Given the, shall we say, esoteric nature of certain Japanese cultural works, we can and should expect this to be a somewhat regular occurance.
    Kodomo no Jikan is virtual contraband as far as the American publishing industry is concerned due to its controversial nature. Perhaps in this light, it’s ironic that it can only be viewed in the United States through scanlation groups
    Yes, I am aware that you said that scanlation groups do some good. This is an example. Ideally, of course, these scanlation groups would just stop there, helping to spread the word of a talented manga-ka very expressive in his or her thoughts and storytelling, and all the manga sales would increase sharply and manga sales would be as mainstream as superhero comics are here. In an ideal world Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou would be licensed, experience huge sales and made into a major motion picture starring Kiera Knightly, Adrian Broody and directed by Jerry Brockheimer (did I just suggest that for a mono no aware piece? I guess I just did!)
    But as you pointed out, this is not an ideal world. There are many scanlations of even popular and very commonly available manga. Scanlations of Bleach are far more timely than their licensed counterparts. So beyond giving works that have no hope of getting licenses exposure, I can’t offer much of a defense of justification. But to simply point fingers at the fandom and yell stop reading scanlations! isn’t much of a help either, and perhaps even as much of a disservice.
    In fact this was brought up in one of the replies of Deb’s posts, which you even responded to: “If they can’t come up with ways to get customers to *want* to purchase things that *can’t* be copied online then they deserve to go bankrupt.” You simply write it off as a flimsy justification for scanlation, but I see it as the harsh reality we now live in.
    I opened up this essay with the statement that I consider myself an artist, or at least a wannabee artist hoping to aspire to the same level as his favorite manga-ka in some form. But I’m also, perhaps even first and foremost, a capitalist – or at least that’s what I was raised to believe in. I’m old enough to remember the Cold War, and I was raised by a guy who was paid a few bucks to go sit on what was then the East-West German border in a thin armored shell on tracks. Whether I like to admit to it or not, my political leanings, economic understandings and core idealology are very much rooted in the ultra-capitalist, “greed is good” conservative Reaganomics of the era.
    The fact of the matter is, “If they can’t come up with ways to get customers to *want* to purchase things that *can’t* be copied online then they deserve to go bankrupt.”
    That is one way DVD producers are using to combat piracy. There are many ways, all of which are valid, but I’ll get to that later. You can get a person interested in a product – or accept that they’ve gotten interested in it through piracy, previews, or what have you. You can then build in that interest by offering products that they can’t download, or at least through providing and entertaining the fandom to build that interest and that desire to actively support the product rather than to become a casual fan.
    Actually, there’s a very good video on, where else, but Youtube, that talks about this very subject It’s definitely something worth watching, particularly as it pertains to this very subject. Of course you probably disagree with it, but once again, there are ways around piracy.
    as he says in the video, “Look at this beautiful package. Can I download all this? No, I can’t. That’s fucking retarded.” Image Credit CommercialsIHate
    To provide another quote, “that’s what happens if your product is good enough.”
    Whether we like it or not, piracy is becoming a fact of life. Some industry and mediums are even doing something about it.
    I’m not the only one who’s crying for a better product. CBR has a very good albeit short essay on this subject as well, straight from a Twitter of the former Go! Comi manga publishing house’s creative director In short, she says publishers must adapt Her bullet-points, as ripped straight from CBR, are 1. (1) Make a story available world-wide simultaneously in all major languages. (2) In a digital format. (3) With perks for pre-orders. (4) And goodies that digital pirates can’t reproduce. (And yes, that’s possible. Goodies they can’t compete with, like author chats.) (5) Rip off business model 4 pirate sites & one-up them. They offer a Wii raffle for a subscription to a d/l site, u offer author-signed Wii. Use the assets YOU have that pirates CAN’T have to compete with free. She concludes with the following food-for-thought: My dream pub company is multimedia + print + Etsy + Cafepress + Goodreads + Facebook + fan community. Is that too much to ask? *bats eyes*×300.jpg
    Go! Comi’s former Creative Director, who had published works such as Cy-Believers, told CBR in a recent article about how the manga industry must adapt to combat pirates by offering superior product. Image credit CBR.
    Speaking of YouTube, actually, right at this very moment as I’m writing this, I’m listening to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face On YouTube, for free. Legally, the official Lady Gaga music video, on her and Sony’s shared official YouTube Channel Vevo. Here I’ll even link it for you
    It took the music industry a while to figure this out, but actually beating the pirates to the punch and putting it up for free themselves is turning out to be a pretty good tactic. Just look at all the exposure Lady Gaga’s gotten in two years, going from a virtual unknown to even the culturally ignorant pundits on Fox News being unable to ignore her. People love her or hate her; there’s no in-between. If you know the name Lady Gaga, you have an opinion of her. Just look at all the events she’s performed at, her live ticket sales, and her chart sales which seem little effected by piracy. Even blogs about dogs talk about her.
    Lady Gaga’s image has exploded in part due to music videos provided for free on YouTube, straight from the music producers themselves. Image credit Dog Blog with Dr Caroline
    In fact, going back to the music industry example, it seems that all that ballyhoo about piracy killing the music industry has been greatly overblown all along The only people who pirate the stuff are people who wouldn’t buy it anyway. It’s a slightly different story for manga, however – but it’s one with more troubling implications than just piracy alone.
    Perhaps this is only because I don’t hang out around the comic book circles all that much – I prefer to stay within the manga fandom, and most of my exposure of good old traditional American comics is either through the local paper or through Linkara’s excellent Atop the Fourth Wall column on That Guy With The Glasses (I sure do a surprising amount of name-dropping here, do I?) So perhaps comic book scanlations are just as big of a problem as they are for manga, and I just don’t realize that. Perhaps the recent sale of Marvel to Disney is a consequence of that. But, as far as I know, comics don’t have the same problem as manga does. In fact – and I may be mistaken – but I am under the impression that a big problem of comics is that people just aren’t reading them period, or at least not in the numbers the big comic studios like Marvel and D.C. would like to see. I’ve heard all sorts of things about this – backlash from the big TPB (that’d be trade paper back) trend of the 90s, Joe Quesada screwing up Marvel with, amongst other things, the truly infamous One More Day debacle behind Spider-Man, and so forth. But, once again, the studios have found ways to adapt around those problems, or at least trying to. And the results are wonderous! We’re getting big-budget movies (and, just in case you’re wondering, apparently piracy doesn’t have much of an effect for movies either, greater exposure for lesser known franchises (even Watchmen and Kick-Ass got massive media exposure for their respective movie launches) and a big push to bring quality to the actual print storylines.
    The traditional comics industry in America has faced its own challenges, and have answered the call in their own way. Are there lessons the manga publishing industry can take home as well? Image credit Wikipedia
    But, yes, what are the lessons the manga industry can bring home from their more “traditional” counter-parts? The “Traditional” market at least has the advantage of having direct communication between artists, directors and publishers. Unfortunately, the manga industry doesn’t have that luxury. In fact, some have even argued that the manga industry as it exists in this country is more or less an afterthought.
    And perhaps that’s the biggest issue here. Maybe the manga and anime industry here just isn’t big enough.
    Anime News Network’s Brian Hanson fields questions about this sticky subject from time to time and I have found his opinions interesting and, for the purposes of this essay, invaluable In the example I just linked to, he mentions that Bandai’s expected sales of The Meloncoly of Haruhi Suzumiya have been disappointed, though still strong. It could even be argued that piracy has only trumped up what publishing companies expect for sales, an argument Brian seems to make. It’s true that Haruhi has become an outright icon in the manga and anime culture, and much of it is the hype that has been spread around by, yes, scanlators and subbers. But perhaps the real consequence of piracy is the excessive hype and consequent expectations that works are expected to perform in this country? After all, as I previously linked to, most people who pirate music weren’t likely to have bought it in the first place. And in the anime and manga fandom, many of the fans who do pirate still buy the merch, as Brian explains in another Answerman column Once again, it’s worth reading what he has to say, as he does have thoughts on the “gray” area within anime and manga piracy.
    So if sales expectations are too high regardless of piracy, just how big is the anime and manga industry in America anyway? I believe the simple answer is that it’s just not big enough and never would be. It’ll never be as big as the aforementioned comics industry, and also aforementioned, even they are experiencing a lot of trouble right now. In fact that so many manga publishers even manage to stay afloat in this economy is amazing. As a capitalist, I recognize that, no matter how good a product is, sometimes the market just can’t support it, even if all of your fans are buying everything you have to offer. The Duesenberg brothers’ car company had struggling moments even at the height of 20s consumerism. Betamax also had its dedicated group of hardcore fans. But there just weren’t enough of them to keep the products moving. At this point, it’s also worth noting that manga and anime sales in this country pale in comparison as they do in their own “domestic” market. The Japanese anime and manga studios recognize this, which is why few series are made with an international taste in mind, and even fewer still with an eye at major American sales. Most of the “tailor-made” American anime and manga is just that – tailor-made, including being made in these shores by the “traditional” American comic studios. Are they really manga at that point, or just comic books done in a manga style?
    The market just wasn’t enough for the great Duesenberg, as the company began to falter even at the height of the Roaring 20s. Image credit Wikipedia
    I’d really like to see how much money a Japanese manga-ka sees from the American market, even a big-time in this market one like Tite Kubo. Is it enough to even make him care about this market, even if piracy wasn’t a problem? We do seem to forget, at times, that we are in effect enjoying someone else’s product – and I don’t mean an artist who is sharing his work in exchange for money. We’re taking a big endeavor or enjoy a product that, at least when we start out, is culturally alien to us, and the artists’ first intents were always for his or her domestic audience to enjoy primarily. It’s a nice side benefit that even we can enjoy such esoteric works like K-On! and Lucky Star, but it’s another realization we have to make – it’s highly doubtful your favorite manga-ka gets much money from these shores or even cares about the market you live in, let alone for you.
    It’s a rather fortunate coincidence that Americans and Japanese alike can enjoy esoteric slice-of-life manga like K-On! But works like these are made for Japanese audiences and a Japanese cultural understanding first and foremost. Image credit Wikipedia
    Anime and manga, whether we like to admit it or not, will always be a niche market. I think a lot of the financial problems experienced today in the industry is a failure to realize that, and to try and make it mainstream by publishing everything and anything they think will have appeal. And as Brian Hanson can tell you, it’s just not working out that way. So the real problem might not be piracy, but that there just aren’t enough fans to go around.
    So yet another solution, perhaps the best solution even, but undoubtedly the most painful solution is to just ride through the contractions and see who survives, and in accordance to Darwin, who does survive shall be the fittest. This also means a lot of potential titles lost to American audiences – unless of course they get picked up by scanlators. Perhaps for you it’s not a pretty thought, given the substance of your essay. I’m not saying I like it either; frankly I would much rather see Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou get picked up for a license myself.
    But, as I said, pointing blame at scanlators, as justified a position it is and as unjustified as they may be, isn’t exactly helping the industry either. It’s little more than pointing a finger at a group of people who are unlikely to listen and do anything about it anyway.
    And yes, copyright and digital rights management is a way to tackle the piracy challenge. In fact it’s a legitimate way. Even ignoring the legal costs, piracy has always been a problem, and it’s a problem best tackled proactively. Just ask your local Gucci or Armani retailer – even non-creative, more tangible products have had these problems, and yes, they too have had to go out and adapt.
    So if the manga industry truly wants to survive, it can look at it from that perspective: either adapt, or contract. And even if they adapt to the best of their ability, contraction is still a clear possibility. It’s simply up to the whims of Adam Smith’s proverbial invisible hand – for its invisibility is something nobody can detect, nobody can reign in, can assert no control over.
    All we can do is mitigate, work together and hope for the best. And working together will indeed go far; it’s how the anime and manga culture and communities got built in the first place. And keep in mind that scanlators are not trying to destroy this wonderful thing we have going here; I probably don’t need to tell you, but, they, too, want to help out in any way they can, to help their fellow fan. In fact, perhaps as a community, we can keep manga and anime coming to our shores, and perhaps bring in some of the more obscure yet more wonderous titles here too. A good place to start is here; some of the suggestions are less serious than others, but it can’t be argued that going to cons and just enjoying in the community spirit helps. And who knows? Maybe we can make it work. Maybe we can get Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou made into a big-budget production and let its author know that he’s got a dedicated fandom here, too.
    Or maybe not. But then again, they also said Watchmen was unfilmable.

    • I’m cool with you coming here to have your say. (Though seriously, this entry is several months old now, and really, if you have *this much* to say, you should probably get your own blog. Then you could call me lame all you want and nobody could say boo about it. Also, it’d be a lot more readable in blog format.) But I’ll warn you now that if you start trolling again, that’s it.

  28. Kamen Ryter. says:

    Cho. this kinda pissed me off slightly. i could see if scanlation groups got paid for what they do, but the majority don’t. scanlating is not easy. rarely fun. and takes alot of your free time. i understand the argument. thats all fine and dandy if you have any expendable income. id love to buy manga everyday, cds everyday, books and movies everyday. but i cant. plus, when you buy stuff you’re going on the assumption that is good. im sorry, but id rather know somthing is good before i buy it. the average person does not have to cash to throw around. and the library thing? ugghh. it is the SAME. if not crazy simmilar, as scanlation. its just faster, reaches more people, and without fines. and the artist hardly ever cares, the company cares. because the company may be losing money. which trickles down to the artist. but the artist’s usualy just go, “meh. at least that means people like it.” and go back to work. because regardless. they do it because they wanna. love it, and couldn’t think about doing anything else. you dont become an artist because it pays well. theres a reason why starving is always attatched to the word Artist. being an artist is horible for your social life, as well as your health. most of them dont throw temper tantrums over trival stuff. i think my major issue with this post is the bashing of scanlation groups who work hard, cleaning type setting re drawing, translating, and trying to meet dead lines all for free. and most of them go out of their way, sometimes paying for copies of the volume to be shipped over. i digress tho. along the line, someone payed for it, and once you buy somthing, you can do whatever you want with it. as long as you arent an ass and make money off of it. if i buy a movie and wanna share it with my brother his friend our cousins, our godsisters boyfriends cousins. we CAN. because we bought it. its the same thing just on a larger scale. if the people shopping it around aren’t making money off of it, theres no problem. at all. zilch. nada. none. read me right. none. people like you make me wanna break into a store and steal somthing so at least then i can earn my scoldings. and at least gain the badass image that people who steal. jeez, said stealing manga. like people are criminals. trust me when i say, you know nothing of crime. wait until you get get robbed. you’ll change your tune so fast your voice’ll crack. LOL@ stealing. i know people that just would rob you blind, and as well take shit that they dont even neeed. like a toothbrush or your left sock. and come over the next day, and be like “damnnn. what happened?” so sure in ethicsland. its horrible to read scans. but in reality? its kinda like..ugh nvm. i remembered the final chapter of FMA just got released. so peace.

    • Dude, go look up the international copyright laws of 1976 — what scanlators are doing isn’t remotely equivalent to loaning your buddy a legitimately purchased copy of a CD or book. The big aggregator sites are making money off of artists by posting pirated versions of the originals, then charging companies a fee to post advertising on their sites. Some of the material they’re posting doesn’t even qualify as scanlations; many sites have simply posted scanned copies of the licensed English version, which is also a major infringement of copyright.

      Your casual dismissal of the impact this has on artists suggests to me that you don’t know any. I do — my boyfriend is a composer and musician, and I can assure you he isn’t nearly as sanguine about piracy as you are. He’d like to make money off of his symphony, just as Takehiko Inoue would like to make money off of Real and Slam Dunk. Same goes for my friend who works in the comics industry; when folks post scanned versions of her work without her permission, that’s revenue that gets diverted into someone else’s pocket.

      • Kamen Ryter (Nigō) says:

        Well kudos to your boyfriend. (not that anyone cares really. jeez.)
        if it hurts him that much, perhaps he should just quit and get a normal job. eh? but he won’t because im pretty sure he does what he does regardless because he loves it and not just to make a buck. no one gets in any sort of art related bussiness because it pays well. people who emphasize on the latter are not artists, but people who like to think they are. but we could argue this back and forth, because we ovb come from the two opposite schools of thought on the matter. i believe that as long as some one enjoys it, and it reaches someone somewhere, be it through downloading or being sold in a store, then my work has been completed. and hey if i make money on the way thats just the icing on the cake. because that is what art is.

        as far as the websites go, i doubt you’ve been to many. and if you have you ovb don’t know how ads on a website work. 1st the ads are basically spam ads that most people won’t even bother to click. and since you get money per click (couple cents) that translates into not alot of money.

        2nd. any money they do get is used to keep the site afloat and update it.

        3rdly scanslation groups who get donations use that little bit of money, to purchase raws that can’t be found online, (i.e the weekly magazine from japan or korea, china wherever) and various other expenses. hardly any money is pocketed. you would’ve known this had you thought a bit and done some basic math. they are just breaking even. which means money made = 0

        finaly yes some. SOME. do scanslate the english versions. but 99 percent of them do not, the ones that are updated regularly are not the english versions. simply because the english versions are neither liscensed in north america, or that up to date. with ongoing publication in the home country.

        i tend to dismiss stuff like my friend, this&that because frankly its the internet. we’ve all got “friends.”

        basically what im tying to say is, scanslators work HARD. dog hours with no pay, for the general public. we’ve all benifited from them so frankly we’ve got not nothing to say against them. espicially the OP.
        this article is just an A-1 guilt trip, perp’d by someone who works for the industry. kinda like those DONT STEAL MOVIES things in the theatres, and sounds slightly of someone who’s joined a cult and has claimed to have seen the error of her sinful ways… right before downing the Kool aid. so yeah i may burn in hell for “stealing” art but at least i knew how FMA ended waay before you fools. PEACE.

        • Okay, y’know, I’ve mostly just been ignoring new comments here, since people are just repeating the same arguments, over and over, but “works for the industry”???

          It what universe does being a critic equal working for the industry? That’s seriously insane. Do you even read my blog? I really think you don’t.

          • I shouldn’t have responded to the trolling, Melinda — sorry ’bout that. I love the fact that this @#$%))!*!! is suggesting that I made up my “boyfriend” just to refute his points. Kind of amusing, considering where I work, and how many professional musicians and composers I know!

            I think the thing that really steamed my buns, however, is his blithe dismissal of the charge that many sites were actually posting a mixture of scanlations and scans. 99% fan translations? Give me a break. I’ve seen scans of everything from Maximum Ride to Four Shojo Stories, with no apologies for the blatant theft.

            • I think that sometimes people who exist online only as pseudonyms forget that a bunch of us out here actually *know* each other. After all, I’ve met your boyfriend.

              I was also seething pretty hard at the dismissal of the aggregator sites being for-profit. I mean, seriously. I run ads on my site. I don’t make a lot of money, but my daily page views are a tiny fraction of what they see over at those sites. If I had that kind of traffic, I’d be doing very, very well. As I’m sure they are.

              • Kamen Ryter (Bui Surī) says:

                LOL. My my my.
                and people wonder why i refuse to “grow up” or “act like an adult”.
                if this is what i have to look forward too, im gonna milk my childhood for all its worth.
                seriously, not bothering to read a reply and going so far as too get angry over it?

                wether or not i read your blog regularly is of little consequence as it has nothing to do with this argument. i didn’t agree with your claims. so i wrote a reply, someone in turn replied.
                i replied back. this is how these things work. Trolling? nah. maybe a few quips, some sharp wit and a few jokes? perhaps.

                im not saying you made your boyfriend up. think before you furiously mash your keyboard. i said we all have “friends” on the internet. so theres no way of knowing for sure. meaning its not a viable argument. and what your boyfriend or friends go through has nothing to do with anything. its an example not leading up to a point not the point itself. and like i said i dont care, im not their shrink.

                and jesus. read please. yes, they get traffic. yes they have ads. but the average person with an relatively normal IQ level won’t click on them why? because the general consensus is that they are potentialy harmful to your computer, 2nd. they are not intresting, and 3rdly they are ANNOYING. so whatever idiots are left over to click barely make the site enough money to keep going. basic math, honey. basic math.

                note how i said the ones that are updated regularly? the big five? (if you dont know what im refering too, then wow.. nvm. another day.) oh, this just came to me. but i’ve noticed alot of the big sites suspending certain manga liscenced in the U.S. Hellsing was one of them, until they were told differently. (we may be “thieves”, but there is still honor among us i guess. ;P)

                Maximum ride? thats a GRAPHIC NOVEL. not manga. it may be drawn in manga form like the artemis fowl ones. but its not manga. frankly i really dont care what happens to it, because it sucks. another american fail at tying to cash in on the manga boom. (personal oppion nothing more.)

                anyway my main beef was with the bashing of scanslators, not scanners. scanslation groups, those who scan, clean typeset and translate from a variety of languages. for free. basically, the same junk that the companies like viz and darkhorse do, only in most cases better, and without pay.

                i just think its stupid to condemn somthing that you yourself have benifited on.
                i mean as the saying goes he who is without sin, cast the first stone. i think this article is just serving its purpose to feed your guilt over a ideal, that you didnt live up too. thats all. that being said im one of the majority of people who if they’re really feeling somthing, will go out and buy it. a perfect example is my ipod. out of the 500 songs on it, 200 are payed for. those 200 songs were songs that really jived with me.
                the rest of the tunes that i didnt pay for, are just songs that are catchy, with no real meaning, or not carried by itunes. same with manga. ill read manga online, and put it on my either, “this is entertaining, but not worth 11 dollars”, or my “shit this is good, buy it when you have the money.” lists. in any media that can be purchased, it usally, follows the rule: “some are worth the money, most are not.”
                so will i pay for anything that is not worth my money? No. will i buy manga just to feed an ideal to make me feel better about myself and possibly better then others, no. in respect to your boyfriend, if his music is good, ill buy it. if its meh? then ill download it. and possibly play around, chop, and remix it for fun if i have the time.
                these veiws stink of an older generation sprouting nonsense about things they know very little of or at least not as much as they’d like to belive all oppinions backed by strong feelings. though its better then most so i guess beggers can’t be choosers.
                ahh. toodles. some monsters are attacking the city so im off.

                • You’re so arrogant for someone who is being an ass at someone else’s blog. My comment about you not reading my blog is, in fact, relevant to your accusation of my being “in the industry.” If you read my blog, you would certainly realize what an idiotic argument that is.

                  And you make money on ads whether people click on them or not. With traffic like those sites get, you’re making money on page views. Even *I* make money on page views and I have relatively little traffic.

                  Your views stink of entitlement and an ignorance of the real world that suggests you’ve never had to pay a bill in your life. Good luck.

                  • Kamen Ryter (Burakku) says:

                    hmmm. i was refering to the main argument. but i’ll concede that point because it does have some truth to it.
                    gotta say, that you’re this mad over the fact that i totally dissagree with you post, is kinda ironic. i mean a critic, being steamed over some critism? (mull it over. have a laugh.)from what i can see your blog is quite enjoyable. (even if may iderectly give me ideas of what manga scans to read next. :P)
                    chill out. im sure life is gonna give you some more pressing things to get pissed about. after all you’re an adult and thats some tough shit.

                    however, like most adults you assume that every kid “has it easy” i can honestly assure you i would trade lives with you in a minute. because i have had to pay bills, and know the consequences of not having the money. i can allmost certainly garrauntee, that at age 17 you didn hop from store to store on winter nights just to keep warm. i bet you’ve never had to fill up your day with things to keep your mind off how hungry you are and how long since your last meal was. or swallow your pride with welfare checks, handouts and missions. so don’t preach to me. ever. i’ve seen more then a kid should ever have to see about life and the real world. and learned the hard way that no one cares. so its up to you to deal with your problems. i also doubt you live in a place where getting shot stabbed or mugged isn’t somthing that you watch on cops.

                    your veiws stink of a sheltered and comfortable life. sure my life isn’t nearly as sad as a country song, but i can tell ya, its gotta be a couple notes shy if it isn’t. and i think thats what really made me respond. in an ideal world. we all would have money, (an i belive i have stated this before,) to buy the volumes, but most of us don’t. its easy to sit in an ivory tower and assume things about other peoples lives hunny. walkn a mile takes some (perverbial/metaphorical) balls.
                    arrogant? people are on the fence on this one. there are those like you who don’t know me and assume from my writing style that im some pompus british dude laughing at the little people. and there are those who know me, and of the hours i spent reading and writing in the libary or the times i was grounded from the library and books. and made to go outside. (yes. books.) or how i taught myself to read by memorizing the order of the words of the bedtime stories my moms used to read and using that as sort of a cypher. so it doesnt seem much of a stretch to them.

                    an Ass? i feel a long line of ex’s calling my name. Hell, i think i’m feeling nostalgic. i suppose they were right, not in the tradition “look at me” sense, but just the “you can’t help but seek to destroy arguments you don’t belive in.” sense. or devil’s advocate to be short.
                    i can’t help it. im not mad, your OP doesnt even offend me. (a minor annoyance here and there, but im only human) i just don’t belive in it. and although i’m at odds with your beliefs you got the right to say it. same on my end. but i love to debate. you learn more about yourself, and other people. its beautiful. and my responses are long because i love to write. to quote DMC: “Bring it on. i Love this! this is what i live for, im absolutely crazy about it!” we’re just to different people with different views. aint life grand? life is boring surrounded by peeps who agree with every thing you say. to quote the Joker: “im nothing without you, you complete me.” every superhero needs a villan and vice versa. so lets rock baby. relax and enjoy the ride. :D

                    ps. this junk about my life isn’t meant to be any sort of pissing contest. (my life sux more den yawrs!-i win) frankly im glad that you probably didnt have to experince what i went through. or anyone else for that matter. its simply there to awnser your assumptions and provide insight. (hey, you asked for it lady.) PEACE!

                    • Kamen Ryter (Burakku) says:

                      oh im sorry. about the ads.
                      trust me. i know, i work with ads. or my desk is across from the guy who makes them. i update websites regulary. (a bitch but someones gotta do it.) so im well aware of ads and how they work. the legit ads from companies? yeah. they pay you. regardless. and more then 1cent.

                      the ones im talking about. and im sure you know, are the annoying popups and those stupid little games. as well as other spam. those are by click. and because everyone hates them no one in their right mind clicks them. hell. people hardly click your ads i assume. and im sure you dont have anything stupid.

                      so in the by-click places. traffic is not the only factor. it helps. i mean if 1 in a gazillion clicks and you’ve got a couple gazzilion as opposed to half a gazillion peeps on your site, then yeah.

                      man it just makes you sound slightly bitter. sure they may not put out original content like essays and reviews, put they still have to update, write code, program the site, moniter forums as well. people dont just snap their fingers and bam- a well oiled mangascan website pops up. one that takes no work whatsoever. so im sure their working just as hard if not harder. i mean don’t hate just because their sites are cooler. turn it in to a competion. to make your site better then theirs. trust me- its alot more fun, then writing annoyed essays and having to deal with peeps like me.

                    • Can I make a suggestion? The reason that Melinda and I have been taking you to task is your tone. No one here disagrees that scans are attractive, or that manga publishers should pretend that print is the future of the industry. All we’ve tried to point out is that the biggest scanlation sites profit off of other people’s hard work — that of the artists, to be sure, but also of scanlation groups. The biggest sites are just aggregators, providing a place for scanlation groups to post their material while collecting revenue from advertisements. If their behavior was ethical or legal, don’t you think that the big scan aggregators would be based here in the US and not in China, where piracy laws are considerably laxer?

                      As for your arguments about artists… no one goes into the field expecting to make big bucks, but like lawyers, doctors, consultants, teachers, nurses, architects, etc., artists would like to be paid for the work they produce. (And, I might add, they go through years of expensive schooling, just like lawyers, doctors, etc.) The notion that anyone creates “art for art’s sake” is appealing, but ignores the fact that most art is created on commission from a sponsor, for a particular venue where the composer/artist will profit from paying attendees, or with some other kind of financial subsidy (e.g. an advance from a publisher, a grant from the NEA). Commerce and art are deeply intertwined. To say, “The artist should be grateful I care and not complain if he isn’t profiting from my interest,” ignores the fact that laws have existed for over 100 years to guarantee that creators have the ability to distribute and profit from their hard work, whether it’s practical or artistic. I agree that copyright laws need to be revised to reflect the realities of the digital age, but please recognize that being a manga artist is a grueling, unglamorous job for which the artist deserves to be paid.

  29. Welp, I stumbled across this while reading about the whole Simmons thing.. and I have a few comments.. not that I think you’ll support all my comments.. but it’s food for thought anyways.

    I was also introduced to manga via scanlations.. I thought all that existed was Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z.. both of which I couldn’t stand. I had/have hundreds of dollars worth of hentai anime because I didn’t realize there was anything better.. until a friend opened my eyes to scanlations and fansubs.

    Within a year of doing so, I had become so absorbed in the community that I was fansubbing and scanlating in all of my free time. I was becoming good friends with people who worked for VIZ, Funimation, DMP, Dr. Masters, DramaQueen, etc. all the labels that sold the series that I loved/love and enjoy. When able, I bought the books of the series that I adored the most. To this day, I spend between $200-$500 a month on manga/anime in some form or another.

    I know I am in the minority.

    I am also still an avid scanlator. I stopped fansubbing due to some of the same reasons you stopped reading scanlations.. however, I still download fansubs. Most of the time and this is a complaint I have voiced to my friends that work for said companies, it is due to the fact that the “official” translations suck.

    Yep, I said it.

    On top of which, only about 10% of the anime produced with English VA’s are worth listening to. I remember being appalled and disgusted one night when I was making a midnight snack and had AdultSwim on.. Bleach had been airing when I went into the kitchen.. and I was listening with disgust at the horrible voices they had chosen for the characters.. however, I realized about 20mins later, that while I was still hearing the same voices, the dialogue didn’t sound anything like that of Bleach.. so I ran into my living room and found that Code Geass was now on.. and that MOST of the VA’s for Bleach, ALSO were the VA’s for Code Geass. My jaw hit the floor and I died even more inside.. because unlike Japanese seiyuu, English VA’s don’t seem to take any pride in Voice ACTING.. they just read the script.. without trying to make the character sound anywhere near original. Meh. That’s my small rant about anime and the english versions. I have opinions about the translations as well.. and yes, I do understand Japanese, so I know that’s so not what was originally said.. but what can I do? The companies are trying to mimic the way the characters mouths are moving, with english words. So I usually let it go.. a little. However, have you ever watched in english, with the subtitles? A lot of the time, what is said on the screen, isn’t what is written in the subtitled translation. And again, if you understand Japanese and watch with the Japanese voicing and subtitles.. you become even more appalled, because the translation that is attached to these DVDs isn’t even what they’re saying 30% of the time. On top of which, the way the subtitles are displayed on the screen.. you can’t tell me you like it.. it hurts my eyes. Bright yellow with horrible font. Blech. And as I find myself saying again and again.. that’s a whole other ball of wax.

    English versions of the manga can be even worse. They change panels, translations and even change names to suit what they think the english audience will “like better” somehow. This isn’t to say I don’t still support the companies.. I do.. my walls are lined with manga from all the series/companies that I love and support.. I just end up so disappointed sometimes. This lead me to supporting the companies in Japan. I can somewhat read (not completely, but mostly.. too many kanji to memorize) Japanese, so I began ordering the books straight from Japan. So in some cases, I have complete collections both in Japanese and in English.. which lead me to assisting a friend of mine on a panel of censorship of manga in the US.. however, that would be a whole other tangent.. so many balls of wax out there, eh? :P

    As I said above, I still scanlate. However, due to my involvement in the production of manga in the US, I no longer work on anything that could be licensed by a company here. Besides which, I have completely fallen in love with the fan based stories (doujinshi) that is produced both in Japan and the US. Being able to enjoy my favorite characters in situations that the original artists don’t draw due to publishers nix’ing it, or because it might not be accepted well by the fans.. it’s so much more enjoyable for me. (and yes, most of this is BL in nature, so I completely understand why it isn’t in the original.. but some of it isn’t BL.. so yeah.) I like to keep my group small to some degree, and yes, I can say without a doubt that for everything I scanlate, at least 1 in every 30 people that download the scanlation, also buys the doujinshi. How do I know this? Because they tell me about it. It’s highly possible there are even more. And it’s also possible that the percentage is off.. due to people who disregard my plea of not posting downloads else where.. but of the registered downloads, I am confident in my percentage. If anything, my group is comprised of people who also buy what we scanlate. Even if it’s only us.. at least we all can enjoy what is truly being said.. as not everyone in my scanlation family can read Japanese.. hell, even I can’t read it completely fluently.

    If I could convince artists in Japan to produce their doujinshi in english, I’d probably stop scanlating doujinshi as well.. just because I’m a firm believer in supporting by buying the english version. This doesn’t always mean I buy directly from the publishers.. but again.. that’s a whole other ball of wax.

    My ending comment.. I really enjoyed reading your blog.. but I just wanted to point out that there are people out there that DO buy the scanlations they read, or the fansubs they watch. Again, I know I’m in the minority, but we do exist. It might be that I would never have bought/read/watched Bleach, were it not for my friend in Canada who turned me on to fansubs.. we’ll never know for sure, but I’m very grateful to him.. for now I work in the industry, enjoy scanlating it on the side and I can read various perceived translations.. instead of only that which is provided by the US companies. I do think that scanlations and fansubs have their place.. and I do believe that they are abused and under-appreciated by a lot of people.. but there is a small percentage of us who wouldn’t exist in the community if it weren’t for those avenues. (yourself included.. and I’m glad you’re here. ^_^ )

    • I think just the fact that you’re thinking about why you scanlate and what that really means puts you ahead of most. I’m certainly in no position to judge you.

      A lot of people have been reading this post (or, more accurately, *not* reading it) and coming to the conclusion that I’m condemning anyone who reads/makes scanlations. When really, my issue is with the fact that so many seem to put no thought into the ramifications of what they’re doing and when they’re called on it, make seriously repulsive arguments to justify themselves. All I am crying out for is some thought. :) So thank you for that.


  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mbeasi: New blog post: Confessions of a Former Scan Junkie

  2. […] up a selection of Twitter and blog posts at, where there's a lengthy comments thread; Melinda Beasi recounts her own history as a scanlation "junkie"; and Matt Blind weighs in. [Robot 6] From Ghost […]

  3. […] Jump to Comments There’s been a lot of debate going on lately about plagiarism, piracy and scanlations in the manga world. No doubt you’ve heard of the recent trouble Nick Simmons has gotten […]

  4. […] the posts I’ve linked to so far (Another good example of this is in @mbeasi’s “Confessions of a Former Scan Junkie“) you’ll see that…discussion, gets pretty […]

  5. […] already had my say about scanlations, so I won’t bore you all with more, except perhaps to point out that in my daily Google […]

  6. […] is no doubt that the climate on this issue is tense. Manga Bookshelf bloggers have occasionally weighed in on the subject (and I, for one, have little interest in pursuing the argument further). But what […]

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