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Digital Manga Guild: Revolution or Folly?

Digital Manga Publishing has formally announced its new fan/publisher hybrid program, the Digital Manga Guild. According to a newsletter sent out this weekend, DMP expects to be able to offer “thousands more” manga through the new program, which will rely on fan translators, editors, and letterers to revolutionize its production of digital manga in English.

At the Guild’s new website, fans can apply to sign on as translators, editors/adapters, or letterers by providing online samples of their previous work. There is no up-front payment, but DMP promises compensation when actual sales are made. Though the arrangement may sound sketchy, this section of the company’s informational material is somewhat heartening for prospective participants:

However, no party — Digital Manga, Inc., the Japanese publishers, or you (the localizers) — will get paid until a sales transaction is made. That means, we are all in this together!

Though it’s too early to speculate on the program’s success, the BL fanbase, in particular, seems like the ideal community in which to try out something of this kind. BL fans tend to be consistent manga buyers, always looking for the latest in their genre, while also maintaining a dedicated scanlation community that focuses largely on unlicensed material. By offering potential income and a stamp of legitimacy (along with reasonably-priced digital manga) can DMP succeed in bringing scanlators and readers fully into the fold?

Many are sure to have an opinion on the subject, including professional translators and editors who currently struggle to make a living in their field. And, as Brigid Alverson points out in her Robot 6 write-up, scanlators are already questioning DMP’s motivations. Is this a pioneering moment or an industry trainwreck waiting to happen?

What do you think, readers?

Update 2/1/2011: Check it out.

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  1. I don’t know what to think of it quite yet, but I applied as a letterer anyway :D If nothing else, I’m just curious to see what kinds of titles they’ll be working with—will they stick to BL, or expand to other types of series as well? DMP does publish Itazura na Kiss…

    • I think I’ve just been assuming it would mainly be BL, but I’m interested too! Also, I’ll be very interested to hear how the process works out for people who apply.

  2. it seems like an inventive way for Scanlators to go legit and hopefully it will help out DMP some but this could also fail miserably becuese this is pretty untested but I hope it works out who knows could result in some older titles finally getting put out or some more obscure titles getting more exposure. But it all waits to be seen what will happen just call me cautiously optimistic

  3. In theory, this is an awesome idea. I’ve actually expected this to happen sooner or later. I’ve been translating lots of things, but what worries me is that DMG is asking for previous examples. I doubt (smart) people would outright confess to borderline illegal activity; especially publishers. Publishers who have blamed the scanlation community for decline in manga sales. And will they quality check final work? From what I’ve seen in officially published manga, the scanlation community (at least, the high-quality groups) is more advanced and generally faster than official manga. Without proper screening, the quality might actually drop.

    • Yes, I’m very worried about reading low quality translations. I consider it low quality when a non-pro is hired, but then again, we may be surprised.

  4. This sounds like a great way to merge with the scanlators who need to go out of business. I think the CEO of Digital Manga is very forward thinking: he is taking something that plagues the sales of manga, and turning it into sales! I’m absolutely excited at the prospect of more new manga, but I’m equally worried about the low quality translations taking over the stage of professional ones. Even if they are fan translations, there will still be a professional editor, right? And since applicants are screened, we should actually be getting people who know Japanese (right?).

    And if DMP actually saves money on translating and lettering, is that really enough to allow more books in print? As with everything I purchase, it comes down to licenses. I would hate a fan group to be messing around with Hinako Takanaga and well-established artists. And what about the reaction of pro translators and letterers? Do they appreciate being replaced by unprofessionals? What about the manga-ka? Would they like hearing fans are translating their work AND getting royalties from it?

    • Oliver, just so you know (and this is coming from an amatuer editor who took the test [yes, you need to take a test]), the screening seems pretty solid. Any translators or typesetters that tried to get in have to produce high quality work from scans of quality they would recive in the actual job. If they didn’t know Japanese as translators, they have no chance, as the pages would be compared to the same pages done by pros (to my understanding).

      And it’s not like they randomly pluck a fan group out of the air to translate. I kind of take offence that you think our (reffering to fan groups and scanlation teams) standard of quality does not meet the rest of the industry. If you believe that, you probably haven’t read many fan translations in your time.

      As a dedicated manga fan, I like to read manga as soon as they are announced; I hate to say, scanlations are the easiest way, since I had one occasion where it took over a year for an official translation was released… But I was suprised myself at how high quality some scans are, visually and translation wise.
      In my opinion, the scanlation in question was more correctly translated and professional then the legal translation (which I brought anyway).

      “Would they like hearing fans are translating their work AND getting royalties from it?”
      …Isn’t that what professional translators are technically doing? Who, by the way, wouldn’t be being replaced, and are probably joining the guild anyway. c: Okay. Rant over~

      • …For an editor, I really didn’t read this over well.
        *…since I had one occasion where it took over a year for an official translation to be released

        There. All fixed.

  5. My gut reaction to this DMG business is extreme skepticism. To me, it sounds like they’re trying to harvest labor from a group of non-professionals who’ll probably be thrilled to go legit, who probably don’t have a concept of what their labor is actually worth in the professional world. For DMG to offer a percentage of sales instead of a flat fee seems… a bit sketchy.

    I don’t know what kind of rates they are offering, but they can’t be very big. (Someone correct me if I’m way off.) Let’s say, for example, a translator gets a 2% cut of the sales of a digital book they sell for $5. If the book sells 2000 copies, the translator has made $200 (before taxes). For the time and labor spent translating 200 pages (about the length of an average manga), less than $200 seems like a really terrible deal. Worse is, if the manga sells only 200, the translator makes $20. $20 dollars for a 200-page book is criminal.

    And for the company to say “We’re all in this together”, is disingenuous. The individuals at the company, I presume are not taking a percentage cut. They have a regular paycheck that isn’t dependent on sales. I understand that the company is still taking a risk and investing money into these properties, but it just seems to me like it’s a way to cut costs dramatically at the expense of the freelance worker. If a book doesn’t sell, DMG has essentially just gotten people to work on the book for free. If they are going to hire workers in a professional capacity, they should be paying them professional rates.

    • I could not agree more! I’m a professional translator working on manga (including BL) and my first reaction to the DMG announcement was eyebrows almost jumping off of my face. It seems entirely disingenuous. Freelance translators don’t have that paycheque to fall back on, and translating a book is a lot of work, a lot of hours lost on maybe-someday income, hours better spent on an actual job that pays you for your work. I wouldn’t be surprised if the professionals DM has been working with thus far will opt out, leaving only the non-pro fans to do the translations.

    • That’s just it. If the book doesn’t sell well, then the publisher won’t lose too much money whereas they would have if they had paid professional rates. Seems like a perfectly sound business decision even if it screws over the poor legit scanlators. That’s basically what a business is with the bottom line and all. It does sound like cheap labour that might result in low pay for the scanlators, but at a time when there’s only TWO major BL companies where there used to five or more, I’ll take it.

    • And for the company to say “We’re all in this together”, is disingenuous. The individuals at the company, I presume are not taking a percentage cut. They have a regular paycheck that isn’t dependent on sales.

      Your points are well-taken, but I think there might be some confusion here. DMP and *employees* of DMP are not the same thing. Sure, the company’s employees get a paycheck (just like we all do at our jobs). But they don’t own DMP. They don’t get a cut of DMP’s profits. If they worked on commission, that would be one thing, but I highly doubt they do. Sure, they don’t get paid less if these titles don’t take off, but they don’t get paid more if they do, either.

      • Right, right. DMP the entity is not the same as employees of DMP. That’s why I thought it was disingenuous. They use “we” (“We’re all in this together”), implicitly aligning DMP (the entity) with the freelance workers, saying they are equally at risk, because neither party gets paid of nothing sells. But they’re not the same; the stakes are different. If an entity doesn’t get paid, it doesn’t have the same immediate repercussions as an individual worker not getting paid. If a title doesn’t sell, the entity doesn’t make any money, but it has other incomes from other products and can continue to pay its in-house workers. But on the other hand, the five or six freelance workers that don’t get paid maybe can’t pay their bills that month. I think the risk is much too great for a freelance worker to justify taking a job with them. I’m just hoping that whoever does take these jobs understands how much they are risking before they get involved.

        • I still think you’re missing my point. Let’s look at it from the other side. DMP will have to pay their office workers for any work they do on the titles regardless of whether they sell. You’ve said this yourself. That’s the company’s risk. They are spending money on the properties with no promise of return. The freelancers, also, risk losing the time they’ve put in if no sales are made. The mutual risk is genuine. It’s up to freelancers to determine whether they are willing or able take on that risk, based on their current income and time commitments. DMP has already spent time and money developing other titles in order to build a foundation solid enough to shoulder their end of the risk. And as they anxiously await potential sales, both DMP and the freelancers must rely on existing income to survive (which, in DMP’s case, includes paying their staff). I, too, am interested in knowing more about things like percentages and so on, and any smart freelancer will ask those questions before agreeing to do the work. But DMP isn’t lying about their own risk. And any freelancer who is relying on spec work to pay their bills is incredibly, incredibly foolish, since nobody, including DMP, knows if these titles will sell. That’s the point. Anyone who signs up for this should already have other income, just as DMP does. Professional freelancers should already know this. And scanlators (I think, by far, the group DMP is expecting to attract with this program) are, presumably, already doing work just like this without being paid anything at all, so they are already supporting themselves by other means as well.

  6. I am actually quite excited with this news, that way scanlations can finally see the light of day.. I am a huge bl reader… so while I doubt my niche of bl-readings would make it over.. there are lots of gems in bl that definitely needs to be introduced.. that is way more than the current print publishers are bringing it out with.

  7. To scanlators out there who work for free, here’s your chance to know that you might FINALLY get something out of it, besides just, “Thank you’s”<3

  8. My inclination is to say that it’s a great thing, so long as its limited to those less-popular works which weren’t getting published anyway. After all, if it wasn’t going to get published, none of the professional translators was going to get paid for it anyway. I certainly hope the DMG translators get more than 2% though.

    I wrote a lot more about the relationship between adjunct college professors and part-time manga translators on my blog, should anyone be interested. It seems like a lot of the negatives of adjunctification don’t necessarily apply to DMG, perhaps because of the lack of human interaction in translating?

  9. I think the fact that the Japanese parties get no upfront payment guarantees that this will only apply to obscure titles. Well-known artists are unlikely to accept such terms. Since this will probably only bring out works that otherwise would have been unlicensed, I don’t think it’s a direct threat to the employment of professional translators (indirectly … I don’t know).

  10. arglefargle says:

    I don’t like this revenue share thing they’re doing. Basically, we do all the work, get paid with the scraps off their table, and they get to sit on their asses and enjoy the income.

    What exactly do we suppose they’re investing? It can’t be much—it’s a win-win for both DGM and the Japanese companies. If it doesn’t take off, they didn’t have to pay anybody to translate, edit, lay out, print, bind, transport, market, package, and sell their product. And they’ll have all the legal rights to your work, not you. Basically, they’ll have gotten the brunt of the work done for free. Oh sure, they’ll have to pay a guy to maintain the website, but they usually pay those guys chips anyways. And of course, if it does take off, they get to sit back and enjoy the sales without lifting a finger.

    Frankly, I’ll take the thank-yous and see DGM off with a nice **** you very much. And if there’re other translators out there that’re willing to work that hard for so little money, they should go get a job and a self-esteem help group. Maybe then, they’ll see they’re worth more than the pay of a Mexican factory worker.

  11. I don’t like this but I think it’s going to take time before it bites them in the ass. I think a lot of translators will be excited by the prospect of being paid and “legit” but I can’t imagine this would pay all that much. I took a look at their FAQ section and it seems like there are a lot of kinks they still need to iron out on this. For example, tests for potential applicants (instead of submitting samples of work) and they don’t how much of a cut each person would get off the sales. I doubt it would be that much considering all the work that goes into a scanlation. I have to admit though it’s a shrewd business plan. Outsource the work at little risk and cost to your business. I wonder what is involved in their contract. As far as if a person by joining Digital Manga Guild is banned from scanlating outside of their projects, what happens if you don’t hit a deadline etc. What is the amount of time before you actually see money. Are sales based on a year? Within a few months of release?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a lot of people sign up to work with them and then within a few months we start hearing about complaints about this idea. I’m really interested in see how this goes. It would be great of more of my fave BL manga were on the market. However, this just feels like exploitative.

    • On their forums they address some issues and questions that have been brought up—they’re working on a standard test to give applicants, and from what I’ve read they appear to have no interest in whether someone wishes to continue scanlating independently—that’s your own choice. They’ve also put up a FAQ (in the forum) and admin starlightmuse seems to be actively answering questions with as much information as is currently available.

      I’m a working freelance manga letterer, so my “preregistration” was partly out of curiousity with how this all would work—it may not be something I can commit to in the end (faced with two deadlines, I would obviously prioritize work I get paid up front for). But if I’ve got extra time available, I could see myself giving it a try. The forum admin has confirmed that the projects will start out with a BL focus, which isn’t so much my thing, but if this takes off and they can add more types of manga (as it sounds like they hope to), I’d be very interested.

      There’s a brief video presentation up on the main Guild site now from Digital Manga President Hikaru Sasahara. It doesn’t give a whole lot more specific information (for that there’s the forum), but it’s nice as a somewhat personal outreach to the audience. Maybe I am a little bit naïve or idealistic, but I think the Guild is a project that he, and DMP, care about and would really like to make work. We’ll see!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melinda Beasi and pigmin, iseetoon. iseetoon said: RT @mbeasi: New Blog Post: Digital Manga Guild: Revolution or Folly? […]

  2. […] There are some excellent concerns brought out in comments at Manga Bookshelf, about whether this is a fair deal and why or why not fans may want to participate. Similar Posts: […]

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