Lamenting, lauding, and otherwise considering the loss of One Manga

The sphere’s abuzz with news of the impending closure of One Manga, one of the more prominent English-language manga scan sites, and my personal favorite. But of course the sphere never buzzes at a single pitch.

The reactions of those I’m following on Twitter have thus far proven predictably varied:

OneManga’s shuttering up too. Not sure if there’s any big sites left. I wonder what’ll happen. (canon_chan/CCY)

I don’t read scanlated Manga on the web but this made me sad T_T (UntoldHero)

Whoa, One Manga capitulates… damn (Kabitzin)

So Onemanga is dying…Mangafox/Toshokan then? (seinime)

Here’s hoping you come back legal One Manga, cheers. (chrisbzay)

Hahahhahaha YeS ! no more OneManga ! hahahaha Fuck yeah ! Fuck you onemanga, Fuck you ! Greatest way to start the day ! :D And now to hope that all the motherf*king online readers all fucking die and Never come back ! Learn 2 irc (Kurotsuki)

As for me — well, I’m with those who feel a little upset at how things have turned out. And not just because I have only a few more days now to catch up on some of my manga-reading, inconvenient as that is.

Yes, I resort to illicit fan-translated manga from time to time. I also put money into the industry, when I can…

…so, please, try to resist the urge to denounce me as a pirate or cancer or something.

Recently SDS offered an account relevant to the kind of fan I am:

I once told someone that I pretty much only buy DVDs of things with which I’m already familiar, to which he simply responded, “Why would you buy something you’ve already seen?”

Whereas I saw my ownership of DVDs as a testament of sorts to the shows I felt were good and enjoyable enough for me to have them in my collection, the other person saw DVDs simply as a way to try new things out. In the end, we agreed to disagree. [SDS, "Enter Animefan"]

(For a nice dialogue on the commercial aspects of fandom, see also the posts that led up to the one quoted, one by SDS and another by Omo.)

A purchase of anime or manga means something more to me than the acquisition of story data — it’s a modification of my physical collection, a statement about the kinds of things I like and would want to lend out to friends. And, besides that, money is hard to come by when you’re a graduate student, and with none of my anime-viewing friends nearby, how am I supposed to expose myself to things that I may later buy? And, hell, that’s not to mention that some things just aren’t available in the United States, nor will they ever be.

This is why the online piracy trade is so critical to that thing we do — and, I’d say, to the industry itself. I’m not going to say that online presentation and distribution represent the future of anime and manga, much as that seems a logical outcome, but I will speculate that legal and illegal distribution channels have achieved a kind of balance with one another, and things like the closure of a manga scan site represent shifts in this balance that could affect both sides.

Simply put, a decrease in the number of channels through which budding fans can, easily and at no cost, acquire the fix required of early fandom probably results in a loss of potential consumers somewhere later on. Where would the industry be without those who entered into the fandom, as I did, thanks to the illicit availability of Evangelion, Trigun, Love Hina, and (yes, even) Naruto — a body of fans who aren’t teenagers anymore, who can now afford to pour money into their hobbies? (For me this extends into related industries. My HDTV, Blu-Ray player, and external hard drive all owe their places on my desks and shelves to my having happened upon fansubs on Kazaa and Limewire, back in the day.)

I’m referring here to the process of a fan-via-piracy going legit, so to speak, which of course won’t always happen. But we’ll always have piracy, and I wonder whether, ultimately, the profit doesn’t outweigh the cost. Perhaps filesharing hasn’t been around long enough for us to know.

Mind you, none of this should be construed as an excuse. Watching or reading a licensed franchise illegally deprives the U.S. industry of needed money (assuming, of course, that you’re a U.S. consumer). But my point is that this in itself renders illegal viewing neither morally contemptible nor harmful to the industry in the long run. An illegal download now may mean a fan with a day job five years from now, a fan who may remember that show of five years prior with the kind of fondness that empties bank accounts.

Consider me and Aria, for example.

While not my single favorite franchise, the Aria anime is easily my favorite 52 episodes of animation. I’ve bought all of Aria that’s available in the U.S. — that’s four DVD box sets and seven volumes of manga. I’ve recommended and re-recommended the show. And I’ve blogged about it — here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

But would I have done all that if not for CrystalNova’s fan subtitles? Absolutely not — in fact, it’s Aria that made me a slice of life fan to begin with; it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I’d ever enjoy the thing if I hadn’t seen it for myself.

Maybe the fan translation business acts in some ways similar to how TV broadcasting of anime works in Japan — it’s our basic way of sampling things without having to pay for them — but I won’t go that far. All I mean to say here is that the closure of One Manga could, in fact, be a big deal relative to the U.S. industry as a whole, particularly if similar closures follow. We can only hope that, when the balance of power rights itself, neither the industry nor its consumers suffer terribly for it.

Of course, I’ve handily taken advantage of the situation to express the kinds of views I usually withhold, and so perhaps I’ve misrepresented the scale of things. There remain plenty of other means by which to acquire fan-translated manga. But when things happen as in the case of One Manga, one has to wonder.

Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. I think the publishers should’ve picked up on the scanlation trend years ago and realized that online was the way to go. Instead, look at how bad things have become.

    I wrote about this and how publishers lack a “reactionary business” mindset. You can read it at: http://www.mangatherapy.com/post/846045104/end-of-onemanga.

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  23 July 2010

      Yeah, I wonder how the insertion of subscription-based sites will change the legal/illegal balance. I don’t know that Crunchyroll has been around long enough for us to see its impact; really, it represents the start of things.

      But the thing is, it isn’t about business models. There’s no business model that will convince everyone ever that they should pay for something they could just as easily (or more easily) get for free. In fact, I tend to think that, as long as the internet is what it is, there will always be piracy. I’m not saying that we should throw out all our laws governing such things, but art distribution industries really aren’t going to come back from the mire they’re in until they start to accommodate for the fact that people buy art differently than they used to.

      I think Viz’s publishing Bokurano online for a short period of time represents a move in the right direction. It’s not the kind of thing you can really get a feel for by simply flipping through the first volume in a store, but it is the kind of thing that resonates deeply with a certain kind of reader, the kind of reader who may well buy it as it releases in bookstores for the purpose of re-reading it and lending it out. And, as an added bonus, those fans didn’t have to spend upwards of $110 to become fans in the first place. Unadulterated engagement with the product (we could call it more pure aesthetic engagement, maybe) leads to voluntary compensation of the artists we like — this seems like the future of art to me, given how cheap computer data is as a medium, but maybe I say that because I just like the idea.

      Huh; this comment got too long -.-

      Reply
  2. Yeah, there’s something that’s got to be said for how subs have gotten me into stuff like ARIA because if it wasn’t for that, my life would be just too empty without that ray of sunshine.

    I’m not much of a manga consumer, so my opinion might not mean much, but I’d like to ponder over whether the entry-point for manga is as high compared to anime? To me, getting knee-deep into anime involves sitting through 20 minutes of an episode at the bare minimum whereas with manga, you can just head over to your local bookstore and flip through it, and in doing so, get a good feel for the manga before making the purchasing decision. I’d argue that exploring one volume of a manga is less time-intensive than an anime episode at any rate.

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  23 July 2010

      You bring up a good point, insofar as manga really are just lined up on the shelf for the potential buyer’s perusal. And I guess there exist those readers who will sit in a bookstore for hours upon hours reading the entirety of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle or something. Manga may well have a lower entry point — I can say, too, that when it comes to manga, I’m a little more of a traditional consumer than with anime; I’ll buy things that I’ve never read but which I’m fairly certain I’ll like.

      So, eh, maybe I’m proselytizing a little. But, like I said in the reply above, I still think that things like Viz’s online IKKI represent steps (albeit small steps) in the right direction.

      Reply
  3. Chardna

     /  23 July 2010

    I prefer to read manga in it’s physical form (something about just the sound of turning the pages man, exhilarating), but because I read fast and my laptop is kinda slow on a good day it gets kinda frustrating to have to wait to click for the next two pages which I could have been well past by then…depending how well I liked the artwork that is, if I really like it I’ll trail my eyes over the pages taking it in and looking at all the details that I can.

    but places like OneManga, MangaFox, MangaShare,etc etc are how I learned about new manga. I would see or hear about a new manga and it was usually on OneManga so I would check it out for a few chapters to see if I liked it or not, more then often I fell in love with whatever I was reading while other times scoffing and clicking the CLOSE TAB.

    I actually don’t really like that some people ONLY read manga/Graphic Novels online instead of purchasing them nowadays, and more then often the Scanlations Translations (heh I rhymed) are off by however much. OneManga, to me, is like Shonen Jump Yen Press and Shojo Beat. it showed me previews and chapters of Manga I might be interested in.

    therefore it saddens me that I won’t be able to go onto OneManga anymore when it goes down. I still have a list of manga that I have been meaning to look into through OneManga and my Local Bookstore has the tiniest Manga/Graphic Novel section…and are expensive (I shop online), but I suppose as the message said “all good things must come to an end”

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  23 July 2010

      There’s another thing — I’m lucky enough to have access to stores with fair manga selections, but that’s not true of everyone.

      I think you have it right in that fan-translated things serve as an entryway, and that purchases may well follow — or at least that’s how I think of it. I mean, reading something all the way through online may well result in the purchase of a different manga, something related thematically or in terms of who wrote/drew it. And maybe I’m a little too optimistic about it, but I doubt that most people who read manga online pretty much exclusively do so for lack of the desire to support artists they like. For most — well, for some of them, anyway, it’s only a matter of time until they start spending.

      And I also like books. It took me a while to get used to the idea of e-readers, even.

      Reply
  4. I’m in a similar boat to Pontifus’, though likely my collection of dvds etc is far smaller..but the point is the same: my purchases wouldn’t have increased in the absence of scanlations, if anything they would have decreased because i wouldn’t have spent the bucks on something i didn’t know i would like..etc.

    Also, what about scanlations of stuff that will NEVER be officially translated? That’s the bulk of what I read. The justice of the world indicates that if a manga will never be translated it is far better for fans to be able to read them in scanlation than for the work not to be enjoyed at all.

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  23 July 2010

      I totally agree re: things that aren’t translated and may never be. In fact, I suspect that, in some cases, it’s the loyalty generated by fan translations that gets some franchises licensed in the first place. It becomes feasible to license strange, idiosyncratic things as long as there’s a market ready and waiting to receive the product.

      Reply
  5. and things like the closure of a manga scan site represent shifts in this balance that could affect both sides.

    This.

    If we strip all this away and realize that a business protected by copyright is a form of monopoly, the shutdown of large (in viewership), aggregated scanlation sites just means taking back what ought to be legally theirs.

    But if the copyright monopoly ultimately protects the publisher-author relationship, that some third party can erect a site that has received so much success (in popularity) that legit operations would never get even close suggests that as the publishing industry transits into new media, some healthy competition might be necessary to get that fossil of an industry in gear to actually make something that the people want.

    As iterated by many others elsewhere, the real problem about onemanga shutting down is that no legit alternative exists. It’s one thing to call onemanga pirates who profits on the hard work of others, but in reality they are just reaping where no one has sown. That market is entirely unaddressed by the industry. There is no legal alternative to online manga in an increasingly online, increasingly international world. At least for now. And is the biggest shame about it.

    Reply
    • Pontifus

       /  23 July 2010

      Definitely; I don’t know that I have much to add. I just wonder when these production/distribution industries will realize that reinforcing the print model (which, while not outmoded yet, certainly won’t last forever) by throwing their money and lawyers around simply will not work. It’s not as if the consumers they’re shafting in the process can’t see that their efforts are costing them far more than the money they save by reinforcing copyright.

      But I guess the lawyers are getting a pretty good deal out of the whole thing, if no one else.

      Really, though, I don’t think the power struggle of industry vs. pirates will change until the advent of a free and legal source of what’s presently pirated — that is, piracy has to become the less desirable option for the consumer — but I’m certainly not equipped to figure out the logistics of such a thing.

      Reply

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