Digital Manga Guild: Smells like Exploitation!

So, at AX I ended up sitting in on the Digital Manga Guild‘s panel explaining their “revolutionary” new approach to translating manga. On some level it’s actually a pretty clever idea, but the way they’re executing it is straight up exploitation of the (what appears to be mainly) teenagers they rope into working for them for free. Alright, so I guess I should explain their concept first: Basically DMP struck some deal with a group of Japanese publishers to get the (US) digital distribution rights to over 9000 manga with no upfront guarantee required. Then DMP utilizes what are effectively scanlation groups to translate the manga and puts it up for sale on it’s digital distribution website. You might be wondering how anyone makes any money here: it’s split four ways, I don’t remember the exact percentages for DMP and the Japanese publisher cabal, but it’s 12% for the “localization team” (a translator, editor and typesetter––though all three roles don’t have to be filled by different people, groups of 1 and 2 are possible) 2 larger chunks in the 30-something% range for each DMP and the publishers and then whatever’s left over to an unspecified miscellaneous category.

It seems like it could potentially be a good idea: DMP is able to bring over more titles because there’s 0 initial investment required and almost no financial risk to them, Japanese publishers get into the digital game state-side, theoretically curbing piracy and young scanlators (mostly teenagers and people in their early 20s) get to go legit and earn a little extra income. Win-win-win, right?

Yeah not so much.

Putting aside for a moment obvious issues like DMP having a totally unproven and, as far as I know, pretty much completely unheard of digital distribution platform, the sheer volume of titles (chosen with no respect to quality),  the niche genre they’re coming from and the fact that localization teams get no choice in titles––the numbers just don’t make very much sense at all on their own.

The Numbers

For this exercise, let’s assume one person is fulfilling all three roles in the localization team. And let’s say that it takes one full week of work (40 hours) to fully localize (translate, edit and typeset) one tankobon. The US federal minimum wage as of June 24, 2009 is $7.25/hr. That’s $290.00 for 40 hours of work. $290.00 to fully localize one tankobon.

While DMP hasn’t officially set a price per book, the example they gave in the presentation was about $5.00. So let’s run with that for now:

12% of $5.00 is $0.60.
As per above we’re assuming localizing one tankobon should be worth at least $290.00 in labor.
At 12% of $5.00 ($0.60) it would require 484 sales just to reach $290.00.

If we assume that books will be priced higher (highly unlikely scenario), closer to print prices, let’s say $10.00 it doesn’t look much better:

12% of $10.00 is $1.20.
At this rate, $290 = 242 sales.

While I can’t seem to find any hard data on volume sales for anything but the major jump releases, just take a look at this ranking chart and look at where DMP’s titles sit, even in the BL category. Basically their only title that’s selling really well is the Finder series and nothing near that level is going to be in the Guild project.

And again, keep in mind that if there are multiple people working together on each project, they have to split that 12% amongst themselves. It’s really not very much at all.

[EDIT] Just remembered this so I thought I’d add it:

To put the value of the labor that goes into localizing manga into perspective here, according to people I know who’ve done some work for J-Manga, they pay (or at least were paying at the time, a few months ago) $2.00/page for typesetting alone (not even including cleaning). If we assume the average tankobon is ~200 pages that’s $400.00 right there just for typesetting.

The Other Stuff

So, if that’s not convincing on its own, let’s look at the Other Stuff.

  1. DMP’s digital distribution platform is completely new and unproven. The digital comics industry is tiny enough as it is and DMP’s properties make up a minuscule fraction of the (still contracting) market as a whole. And with any new venture there’s a question of whether it’ll even last at all. This profit sharing scheme is really only viable for the localizers on the long term AND assuming the thing takes off. I don’t think any of  the pay-per-volume digital manga sites have proven themselves yet, let alone one for adult BL titles.
  2. DMG’s license library is extremely nichey. It’s predominantly BL, which, aside from being a niche market to begin with, presents further issues in that, being largely 18+ in nature the potential market is further limited by age restrictions (most people buying manga in the US are middle-teenagers to begin with).
  3. It’s all quantity over quality. These are high-volume licenses. The titles were not really chosen at all, let alone chosen based on some criteria that might ensure that there was at least SOME interest in the title beyond “it’s BL.” The willingness of Japanese publishers to hand over the rights to these titles with no upfront guarantee doesn’t really inspire confidence in their quality.
  4. And to make matters worse “localization teams” get no choice in titles, yet are effectively competing against each other for sales. Of course DMG claims that it assigns titles randomly out of the desire to be “fair” to all teams.
  5. Additionally, the massive volume of titles creates a near instant over saturation of the already small market. What chance do the localizers have to make any kind of sales numbers when there are literally hundreds of titles to go through? It’s not like a single team is going to be capable of pumping out more than a small fraction of the titles on the site at a given time and, again, with no choice of titles they have literally no means to develop any kind of “brand” within the DMG scheme or any competitive advantage.
  6. DMP puts pretty much 0 work (time/money) into each title and consequently has taken on no risk on a per-title basis. They have no particular interest in making sure a given title is successful since they’re effectively getting people to work for free on something which may never have even had the potential to turn a profit. But it doesn’t really matter to DMP (or the Japanese publishers really) since NEITHER company has anything on the line here. Do they care about over saturation and under exposure for each group? Nope. DMP gets paid for EVERY volume that sells, despite putting, again, ZERO work into each individual title. While the localizers only get paid IF their titles sell––titles that they have no choice in and no control over in terms of how they’re presented/marketed/etc. Effectively the localizers have no opportunity to better their chances of turning a profit.

The Other Other Stuff

For the record, I’m not a lawyer, but most of this shit is pretty obvious. Whether any of these points are “standard” for contracts of this nature is entirely beside the point here too. As far as I can tell the agreement isn’t confidential, no where on it does it say “do not reproduce” or not to share with outside parties or that it’s confidential, so here’s hoping I won’t get sued! (For the record you have to pass at least one of their tests to get access to the agreement.)

Take a look at some segments of their agreement (so I don’t have to put it after each quote, emphasis, if any, is my own):

Publisher shall pay to Localizer the agreed upon percentage (on Schedule A) of Net Sales generated from digital sales, across all platforms, for all Works Localized by the group and distributed by the Publisher. Publisher shall promptly calculate sales from each term of January 1 through June 30, and July 1 through December 31, and shall submit to each member of the Localizing group such report no later than sixty (60) days from the end of each term respectively.

Publisher shall remit payment by check in US dollars within ninety (90) days of the end of each six month period, provided however, that the Publisher shall not be required to make such payments to the Localizer until the aggregate of such payments exceed one hundred US dollars ($100.00). Payment medium subject to change with prior written notification.

Basically, you only get paid twice a year and they can take up to two months to calculate your sales data and up to three months to pay you––so you could end up not seeing a penny for 9 months assuming your book even does enough sales to get paid (that’s at least 167 sales per tankobon at $5/ea). So say you don’t make it to $100.00 in the first 6 months––you’ll be waiting a year and a quarter––15 months––before you see ONE CENT of any money you may or may not have made.

This of course, all assumes DMG will even last that long.

Publisher shall remit to the Localizing group as a whole twelve percent (12%) of Net Sales, for Works in which all three functions of Localization (1.Translating, 2.Editing, 3.Lettering) have been performed by the Localizers. Publisher reserves the right to change this percentage for subsequently assigned Works, given technological advances and changes in distribution fees incurred by the Publisher.

Yeah, so they can just arbitrarily change that 12%. It’s clearly worded to make it sound like they might increase it, but let’s be real, that’s not going to happen. On the plus side the wording implies that they only have the right to do this on a per-works basis and can’t arbitrarily change it on something already published (I’m sure there’s a loophole in there somewhere).

The Publisher reserves the right to set pricing across all digital platforms at its sole discretion. The Publisher may change pricing without notice, as it sees fit for marketing and sales purposes, exercising good faith and business judgment.

So, it’s entirely out of the localizer’s hands how much a volume sells for. Great. You don’t even have a price established for a given work (even if it’s by the company) so there’s something to base profit expectations on since they can change the price without notice. They could even feasibly change the price to $0 should it seem like good “business judgment.” (Assuming the absolute worst this could probably be finagled to make it impossible for a group to hit the $100 payout mark.)

Publisher may be required to suspend distribution of Works indefinitely, at any time upon the request of the Japanese Licensor. Should a Work be suspended indefinitely, any remaining accumulated revenue shares shall be paid within thirty (30) days of the suspension date. No payment consideration shall be given to any party for potential sales or lost revenue shares due to the suspension of distribution.

On the, let’s face it far from unlikely, chance that the Japanese licensor decides to pull a license, you’re pretty much screwed out of all the work you did, even if it was pulled by no fault of yours. Like, say, DMG’s shiny new website has a security flaw and someone “hacks” the site and publishes everything on it causing the Japanese licensors to do what they are want to do and pull all rights to everything––you’re shit out of luck.

It is expressly understood and agreed by the parties hereto that they do not intend this Agreement to be construed in any manner as the formation of an employment relationship, partnership or joint venture.

Nice. Must be a way to get out of minimum wage restrictions/etc.

Publisher is under no obligation to provide assignments to the Localizer.

Yet another way they can screw localizers out of both work and exposure (and consequently any potential money).

Neither Publisher, subsequent Licensees, nor Publisher Licensor is obligated to use or publish the Work or cause the Work to be used or published by a third party.

….

Execution of this Agreement does not obligate the Publisher to use the Localized Works. Publisher reserves the right to remove content previously published, across all platforms, at its sole discretion.

Aand they don’t even have to publish the work they gave you to localize. Fabulous. You could put in 40 hours translating, editing and typesetting (cleaning’s included in that btw, honestly I think that 40 hour estimate might be a little light considering how much shit they expect you to edit) and they could just not even put it up for sale. Cost to DMP: $0.00! Cost to localizer: 40 hours of work! (hint: the loser is the localizer)

Publisher reserves the right to terminate this Agreement within 30 days of written notice. Reason(s) for termination may include, but is not limited to, any of the following:
1.    Localizer exceeds the time frame in which to complete the Work.
2.    Localizer submits Work that is deemed by the Publisher to be below company standards.
3.    Localizer is unresponsive to Publisher contact for more than 30 days.
4.    Localizer cannot meet the requests of the Publisher.
5.    And any other unforeseen problems which may arise.

….

Should a member of the Localizing team choose to leave the Digital Manga Guild, the exiting Localizer must submit a notice to the Publisher in writing no later than sixty (60) days prior to the Date of Exit. Publisher will continue to remit the agreed upon revenue share percentage of Net Sales for completed works for four (4) years after the date of distribution. All subsequent payments shall be forfeited by the exiting Localizer and transferred to the Publisher.
Should the Publisher choose to terminate the Agreement, Publisher shall report sales for the final six (6) month period of January to June, or July to December within sixty (60) days of the end of the reporting period, and remit any remaining payment within ninety (90) days.

Ok, I’m not an expert on contract law but this sounds a whole lot like: 1) DMP can terminate the agreement for any reason within 30 days written notice (not terribly problematic in and of itself). But from the sounds of that last paragraph it seems like the localizer only gets paid for the last 6-mo period if DMP’s the one to terminate (you get 4 years of payments if you terminate, but then again, with the whole arbitrary pricing thing they could easily drop the price of any properties with groups that have quit to something so low that they still take in some money but would make it near impossible to require payout).

Publisher reserves the right to hire an outside freelancer to replace any Localized (Edited, Lettered, or Translated) portion of the Work that does not meet the company quality standards. Localizer shall not receive any revenue share for submitted Localized Works that do not meet quality standards.
In the event that the Publisher pays an outside freelancer to Localize a portion of the submitted Work due to poor quality, the fees paid to the freelancer will be deducted from the accumulated group revenue share balance, prior to any payment distributions to Localizers.

AWESOME. So if even some minor aspect of the localized work submitted doesn’t meet their “standards” they can bring someone else in to fix it and then publish it (even if it’s 99% your work) and NOT HAVE TO PAY YOU A CENT! And to add insult to injury they’ll deduct any fees incurred to “fix” your work from any payment you may be getting from other projects! Hilarious.

Publisher reserves the right to publish a Print edition of the Work, at its sole discretion. Localizer will be notified in writing (Schedule A) prior to the Print production taking place. Publisher shall remit 5% of Net Sales to each Localizing group for Works published in hard-copy Print form.

Wait a second guys, I thought in you little presentation you said that the localizers would own 12% of the property regardless of medium (like even if it got turned into a movie you’d own 12% of the property). I guess that was bullshit too. lol

In Conclusion

The DMG is an unabashed scam. It’s designed to exploit young people who want to do work they actually care about. There’s nothing even remotely “fair” about any of this. Honestly this reeks of the same sort of bullshit TokyoPop pulled on its OEM people. Why is this industry, supposedly comprised mostly of fans who care about this media and the community around it, so hell bent on shitting the very people supporting them?

The sad thing is, I think the basic idea behind the DMG isn’t a bad one, but the localization team––which takes on all of the cost and risk in this venture with no guarantee of profit or even any means to improve their chances of profiting––needs a bigger share of the profit more in proportion to the amount of work they put in along with some way to be competitive. They also need some guarantee that they’re not wasting their time for nothing––how about some sales figures and some minimum payment (you know, like how Amazon ensures that they pay x amount of the cost to them even when they heavily discount products or even give them away for free) to protect the localization teams.

In this scheme, they’re basically expected to work for nothing more than the satisfaction of having worked on something. I’m sure DMP thinks that’s good enough since scanlators do this shit for free all the time so even the pittance this system affords them is something, right? Wrong. Fans translate shit for free for other fans, to share something they love with other people. The DMG cuts most of that out (especially when localizers can’t even chose their titles).

tl;dr i c wut u did there DMP, it’s not cool.

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33 comments
  1. the witch of theatregoing said:

    Thanks for talking about this – I was actually considering applying for them. Now, not so much. <3

  2. 40 hours to translate, edit and typeset a tankobon is just not going to happen, at least if you want decent quality.

    Let’s assume a tankobon has 150-200 pages. Depending on the amount of text and overall difficulty, a speedy translator can maybe translate a tankobon in 6-12 hours. I’m not sure exactly what level of editing they want, but if you have to redraw and replace SFX, that alone can take an hour or two per page. If you just typeset the actual text, a 40 page chapter usually takes 2-5 hours depending on the amount. If you add SFX typesetting to that… we’re talking hours more with positioning, font choices and styling.

    Let’s say 9 hours to translate, around 15-20 hours to typeset… This would leave 10-16 hours for cleaning/editing if done by one person.

    You have to be insanely fast and cut corners wherever you can to pull it off. Totally not cool, neither to those who do the work, nor to those who buy the final product.

    • Yeah, I mean, I figured it was a lowball estimate but I needed something to calculate off of. Either way the profit share scheme is really unfair.

      • Indeed. I just ran your example through my head because it feels like so so so much work in such a short time for a single person.

        Also, most scanlators scanlate because they like the manga they’re working on. DMG basically makes them work for almost free on stuff they can’t even choose. A job like that isn’t very motivating.

        • Yeah, that’s the thing. If you could pick titles you liked from the library I think it’d eliminate most of the issues (since in theory getting to work on/read stuff you like is some kind of small compensation)––hell, people would probably happily do this for them for free (even knowing DMG would reap all the profit) if they got to pick their titles. But nope. I think their fear is that if they do that, the first groups to come will pick all the “good” titles and then no one else would want to do any of the ones that are left, which imo is an indication of the quality of their library.

          • Karin said:

            How they explain it is that you get a set of manga and you get to choose from them which you want to do. Of course you have to be in a group and all of you have to agree. If you go to the guild site, the President of DMG actually goes into a bit of detail about it as well as it’s posted after you register an account on how it all works out. I mean all in all it’s not so bad. 1) Your helping to distribute it legitimately 2)The Authors are actually benefiting from it (which is always a code for us scanlators) 3) For some scans groups, the time limit is actually a bit longer. I’ve seen the test and lets just say, even though they did purposely jack up the pages, it’s far easier then working from jacked up raws.

  3. I doubt DMG are promising minimum wages, or putting themselves in a position where minimum wage laws are applicable. The status of the scanlation group is likely going to be that of contractors, meaning they just get paid by the job done. Whether they take 10 hours or 40 hours or 400 hours is then not legally DMG’s problem.

    As to the uneven control and wages – while that’s all quite possibly unfair by our modern concepts of fair trade, I would suggest that it is an unfairness inherent in the system. I would hesitate to use the term “scam” as that implies there is something irregular about it. For example, pretty much every grad school works this way too – paying less than a fair wage (based on how much education someone has had), because the workers love doing the work. There’s no guarantee people get higher degrees at the end of all this low-wage drudgery, either. Stories abound of people working 5 years in a lab at well below minimum wage who were kicked out without getting a PhD, or forced to research the same topics as other students (thereby making more progress for the lab while ensuring only one in the group would succeed and get a higher degree.)

    In short – this is how the system rolls. DMG aren’t the anomaly. We are the anomaly for thinking one-sided contracts are unusual and believing in the ideal of fairness.

    • >I doubt DMG are promising minimum wages, or putting themselves in a position where minimum wage laws are applicable. The status of the scanlation group is likely going to be that of contractors, meaning they just get paid by the job done. Whether they take 10 hours or 40 hours or 400 hours is then not legally DMG’s problem.

      I was just using minimum wage to illustrate the point that working for DMG makes very little sense for the amount of work you’d have to put in. I don’t actually think they’re obligated to pay you that (they clearly aren’t from the pay out scheme and the wording of the contract). Basically the point I was making was that working x hours on a DMG project will not even net you what you could have made at a minimum wage job. It’s unsustainable.

      I don’t really think this is anomalous so much as rather exploitive. Just because it’s standard operating procedure doesn’t make it right. I call it a scam because they’re misrepresenting themselves publicly.
      It’s all “hey we’re friends and gonna share the profit and everyone wins!” when it’s really just a way to rope people into doing work for them for free while they reap all the profit with near 0 risk.

  4. Geeze, there does seem to be an awful lot of stuff wrong there, really curious to see how it’ll all play out now.

  5. I actually signed up for it thinking it might be worth a shot but after I read their policies there, it’s pretty suspicious. I always felt that they were merely just hoarding titles to get scanlators out of the way but really, after reading your article, I’m just even more PO’ed about DMP. Gah. >:(

  6. omo said:

    Commenting as promised~

    I think Good Haro outlays a lot of great business reasons why this deal is shady for scanlators trying to make a buck. But there are two key points here:
    1. you’re paid on royalty. This is drastically different than a lot of translation contracts out there, which pays a straight-up fee (per page or something) for the project. Which means if a title does sell very well, you can make a lot of money. If it sells nothing at all, you won’t make any money.
    2. you have no information on how well these titles sell. I think GH’s point on DMG’s access to titles and quality of title should be stressed here. Aspiring scanlators trying to get work from DMG should do their homework and see what the circulation numbers are for some of these BL stuff, both in the US (amazon is a good start, they rank stuff) and in Japan.

    Personally I think the worst part of the deal is having no choice on which title to work on. That by itself is a no-go and goes against the spirit of fan scanlation–which in large part is the process of highlighting which manga series is worth reading out of the sea of manga out there in the first place.

    As for the contract, there are a lot of clauses that are naturally “scam” ish but it’s kind of just how it goes.
    3. Payout on $100 is actually the same as Google’s original contract for their adword advertisers (sites that host ads). Of course in that case you deal with an established and high profile company, versus some upstart here. So sustainability is a concern.
    4. But combined with point #2 up there, it is possible that the total output from one scanlation “project” can net you less than the payout sum. I suppose this is where a “pooling” strategy is advisable where you make a localizing group with a lot of people and get a lot of work in, so consistent payout is possible at least to the group, if someone is able to manage the group’s payout again to the individual members.
    5. Changing the % by publisher is probably something done to protect themselves if a work is a runaway hit. this is kind of a crappy thing but doesn’t make it a scan. Just crappy. And TBH it’s better that it’s stated upfront so localization teams have the right expectation going in. Same with the 5% on print deal. It’s more disclosure than something you ought to expect to augment your incoming stream.
    6. Changing the sales price without notice is something everyone puts in their contracts. I mean, if they don’t, it would be PITA to run sales and things like that for DMG’s retail operation. This you put up with because because retailers gonna retail. I mean, if DMG gave out a 10% off coupon or something, they’re kind of obliged to sell some stuff with 10% off. While you can say you still deserve your 100% share of 7% it’s kind of a douche thing, since sales generally are done to promote the growth of a title in the long run. This only gets dicey when they start with free promos (see all the gripe regarding the Amazon android app store for example).
    7. The termination stuff is SOP butt-covering. From reading it, actually it tells me DMP wants to play fair and only fire people for cause. Contractors grip about their clients all the time for this kind of thing anyways, so it is a buyer-beware thing. Again, the best advice is to do research before signing up. Look at some DMP’s BL crap and see what quality they’re really gunning for. If it’s anything like any other US-released manga out there today (sry don’t read bl) they aren’t looking for very much.

    From a contrat-drafting-caz-lawyers-gonna-law…perspective, it’s rarely going to read friendly to the translator. DMP is putting in some money for all this–getting licenses, doing the footwork, setting up the internet portal and the backend, doing accounting and payroll for just scanlators from god-knows-where. So they still have a stake in this. The localization team (I keep calling them scanlator, because that’s what they are amirite), from what I can tell, doesn’t need to put in any stake besides actually doing their work. Is it misleading, I don’t know, I wasn’t at the AX panel and I don’t know their exact sales pitch. But it seems that it at least allows for some possibilities.

    Comparing it to minimum wages is a pretty good analogy because regardless of what, it seems you ain’t gonna make much money out of it. It may not be as accurate in that you don’t compare salaried employees with contractors, even if both could be paid by hour. Obviously you aren’t if you are contracted on the basis of a 7%-per-SKU basis.

    Lastly, just because you agree to this contract and get on board, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it. DMP can refuse to pay you but you’re welcomed to walk away also. If you happy to become some superstar scanlator for DMG and want to revise the terms here, you can hire a lawyer too.

    • omo said:

      over 9000 typos. this is what i get for commenting before my first cup of coffee.

  7. Julie said:

    I’d like to know where you got the “digital distribution rights to over 9000 manga” datum; the DMG has announced rights to 500 or so titles. I suspect you may have them confused with Comixology, which boasts of 9000 comics titles.

    While I agree that the DMG is unlikely to be a substantial source of income for most of the teams, I don’t think it’s as blatantly unfair as you seem to think. The contracts sound like boilerplate, and the thing about being paid biannually a couple of months after the reported period is a pretty standard way of handling book royalties. (At least the teams don’t have to deal with royalties held back against returns.)

    “DMP having a totally unproven and, as far as I know, pretty much completely unheard of digital distribution platform”

    At the moment, they are releasing the DMG titles on their eManga platform, which has been up and running for several years now and, while by no means perfect, is at least reasonable for a browser-based online reader. Personally I’m more interested in the possibility of ebook releases (Kindle et al), since I don’t like reading manga in a browser; DMP has suggested that they will release at least some of the DMG books for Kindle and other platforms, but in that case they will have to give a cut to the platform’s owner.

    “DMG’s license library is extremely nichey. It’s predominantly BL, which, aside from being a niche market to begin with, presents further issues in that, being largely 18+ in nature the potential market is further limited by age restrictions (most people buying manga in the US are middle-teenagers to begin with).”

    But 1) BL readers already seem to be older than the average manga reader, and 2) selling online manga to adults has the great advantage that not only do they have more money to spend, they’re likely to have a credit card to spend it with, which kids generally don’t. Websites can’t take cash.

    Furthermore, BL has a devoted readership of “heavy users”; like romance novels, BL readers tend to go through a lot of content quickly, so a system offering a relatively inexpensive read-it-and-forget-it experience is well suited to that niche.

    The BL market also seems more open to buying ebook manga than the general manga reader. Digital Manga’s Kindle releases of their BL titles are consistently among the top-selling Kindle manga (although this is now harder to assess since Amazon has marked many of their titles as mature, with the effect that they are not included in category lists; you have to look at the titles one by one and check their ranking), and this also seems to be true for B&N’s Nook: although B&N does not have a separate category for manga or comics for their ebooks, right now DMP’s BL titles make up 22 of the top 100 bestselling hits for the search “manga” in Nook books on the B&N website.

    Can the BL market be saturated? Almost certainly. But there does seem to be demand for more content than is currently feasible to publish in print, and for less-popular titles that probably couldn’t make break-even in print. Print BL seems to be able to sell a few thousand copies even for the middling titles, so I don’t think it’s that unlikely that a digital release could rack up 500 sales. Remember that ebooks can (theoretically) stay in print forever.

    • The over 9000 thing was a joke. I understand that most of the contract is pretty standard, but the thing is, most people who sign contracts like this don’t bother to a) read it or b) do the math about the amount of money they could be making.

      As for the analysis of the BL market in the US. I dunno, maybe you’re right, but I just don’t see it happening. Even if they’re the heaviest users a fraction of an already shrinking market it doesn’t seem terribly promising. Then again, if the potential market is there and the release rate is as slow as it seems to be, then maybe there is some potential for the localizers to actually make some money. I’m not really sure if it’s that the BL market is more open to buying ebooks so much as it seems like Japanese publishers are more likely to relinquish digital rights to BL manga in the first place. And with the read-and-forget attitude, I think more people are much more inclined to pirate than buying it considering how easy that is with BL.

      >Print BL seems to be able to sell a few thousand copies even for the middling titles
      Can you give me a source on that? I can’t find circulation numbers for anything outside of SJ titles in the US.

  8. omo said:

    BL is consumed similarly as romance, and there is a sizable buyer base.

    2000 per takubon at $9 would be over a thousand dollars! But this is closer to a best case scenario for top titles and I doubt that’s the batting average. So until people know what that is, it’s kind of an exercise of shooting in the dark.

    • >there is a sizable buyer base

      Is there any data to support that though or is this all anecdotal? Of all the people I know that buy manga almost none of them bother with BL (outside of major series that aren’t expressly pornographic) precisely because of how disposable it is. I know how unreliable personal anecdotes are and all, but I’ve been in this scene for like 15 years and it doesn’t really jive with what I’ve seen (again, far from infallible, but without any data what else do we have to go on?).

      • Kitty said:

        You don’t know the right people.

        I’ve been into the manga/anime thing as long as you have and I didn’t know any BL readers until I got a quick-cash job at Borders.

        My store was dominated by co-workers who drool over BL but lift their noses at manga in general. I initially thought I’d have something in common (adults reading manga) but nope! I found the experience pretty astonishing and very illuminating!

        The BL crowd isn’t a proper subset of the general manga crowd. It’s a different group which seems to overlap only a little bit.

        Of the people I worked with, only a few were former manga readers who outgrew general manga (perhaps they were cliqued out since general manga fandom shuns BL). The rest had been introduced by friends or co-workers.

        I think it makes predicting the potential success for this venture tough. I don’t read BL and I don’t know how many BL scanlation groups are active so I don’t know how many potential localization groups are out there. General manga groups won’t sign up for this project just for the sake of doing maybe-paid scanlation work when they’d have to do BL.

        Pay-wise this seems about as worthy as spending hours making cheap crafts to (not)sell on Etsy. DMG needs to get people who have the necessary skills AND are passionate about BL in general. I think finding localization teams may be tougher than getting readers. I wouldn’t expect a lot of group competition.

        My personal anecdote on BL sales is that my co-workers kept special ordering titles we didn’t automatically carry, they’d get few sales, then my co-workers would refuse to “find” any BL titles on the monthly pull-down lists to open up shelf space. BL wasn’t a seller at my store and my co-workers were almost the only customers for it. It leads me to believe there is a lot of passion involved in the business but it might not be entirely groundless. BL readers are a small niche but seem very dedicated and there are many who didn’t get into it through general manga and so are unfamiliar with the scanlation thing. DMG probably doesn’t need to put out great quality to get sales from the niche but the niche is limited to begin with and has very little expansion room.

        Geez, came here for the penguins and ended with an essay on BL. Thanks for the penguins, I’ll stick to them next time.

        • I don’t read BL and I don’t know how many BL scanlation groups are active so I don’t know how many potential localization groups are out there. General manga groups won’t sign up for this project just for the sake of doing maybe-paid scanlation work when they’d have to do BL.

          BL/yaoi scanlation scene took a major blow about a year ago when Libre began actively dealing out C&D orders. Now I have no idea if DMG carries any of Libre’s titles, but if they do then ironically Libre took out the potential localizers with the C&D’s while preparing for licencing.

  9. Hmmm…There needs to be a digital comics platform, where you can buy comic issues (or tankoubon). And then you can buy “overlays” which change the text to your language. And anyone who has Photoshop and the translation skills can make overlays.

  10. “according to people I know who’ve done some work for J-Manga, they pay (or at least were paying at the time, a few months ago) $2.00/page for typesetting alone (not even including cleaning). If we assume the average tankobon is ~200 pages that’s $400.00 right there just for typesetting”

    This is very interesting! Perhaps that’s why their manga is a little pricey for a digital version? Also, do you know how to get into the manga publishing business? Or know about a website that talks about it? DMG always seemed a little bit iffy to me so thanks for helping clarify things~

  11. Old Ant said:

    For me, the most offending paragraph is this:

    “Publisher shall remit to the Localizing group as a whole twelve percent (12%) of Net Sales”

    This isn’t a percentage of cover price. This is a percentage of what is left over after all other parties have deducted whatever “production costs” they deem is applicable to the work.

    Hollywood is famous for producing movie contracts that call for a percentage of net profits, when those who know the business already know that on paper, no Hollywood movie (even top-grossing films) ever makes a net profit. To make any money on such a contract, it has to be “gross profit.”

    Or in this case, gross receipts from sales. Otherwise the localizers could wind up seeing no money at all.

    I’ll give odds the localizers will see some small bits of money trickling in. (No money when the localizers expect it will dry up the talent pool very quickly.) But it won’t be a fair percentage of cover price. I look forward to about a year from now when the localizers actually get their checks to find out what they made.

    • Damn, I knew I should have double checked that. I always get net and gross mixed up. Thank you for pointing that out.

      Honestly, when I initially ran the numbers I thought 12% seemed oddly high if they were expecting any significant sales of the product––it’d be too big of a cut if there is actually a market where thousands of copies of each release are likely to be purchased (this is one of the main reasons I’m so suspicious of the size of the BL market in the US).

  12. commentator said:

    While it’s true the contract could be a lot better, it’s not an atypical freelance contract. There’s a lot of risk involved for all parties, even if it looks like DMP is just sitting back and reaping rewards to you. It’s been mentioned a little bit here, but I do have to point out that you’re not familiar with the BL market at all. True BL fans are very dedicated and loyal. If you’re going to go niche, then BL ain’t a bad market. Sure they don’t hit the top of the lists like other mainstream titles, but BL fans do support the genre. Women do have a lot of buying power — isn’t there a reason why romance novels sell so well? Just like BL, it consists of mainly female and older fans who can afford their hobby, unlike the teens who sit around reading manga for free at bookstores. You do have a point in certain ways, but your article would have more strength if you were more informed in your research before yelling “Fire!”. Keep in mind there’s a reason why DMP is still around and Tokyopop isn’t.

    • I’m not familiar with the BL market at all? I think you should be a little more careful before making statements like that. Did you even look at the ranking data I linked? If the BL market is so strong and healthy why are all of DMP’s minor titles (i.e. not the Finder series) in triple digit positions? You’re kidding yourself if you think the quality of the titles in the license pool they have for the DMG project is anywhere near the quality or name recognition of their profitable print titles.

      No, I don’t have hard sales numbers for the BL market, but it’s pretty damn clear that it’s small. If the BL market is so big, show me some numbers. Regardless of how loyal and obsessive BL fans might be (and I think you are seriously underestimating how large the ~16 yr-old component of the BL scene is) if it’s a tiny market to begin with it doesn’t necessarily mean much.

      My point here is that it requires very little for DMP to make a profit off these titles while it requires a great deal more sales for the people doing the majority of the work to even break even (remember, labor is a cost) while there is little to no incentive on DMP’s part to make sure that individual titles are particularly profitable (since they profit off all releases, whether 500 titles all sell two copies each or if one title sells 1000 copies it’s the same to them, but the latter scenario means 0 money for the localizers).

  13. HachiRoku said:

    I was really excited about this. I took the tests and passed, but after seeing the contract; I decided it’s not for me. I was actually a little angry, and felt a bit insulted. Unless the sales for these are through the roof, then I really don’t see any of the localizers seeing anything worth the effort. I mean 12% is really not that much, especially for groups that have over 6 people. Then there’s the wait period.

    And this sort of work is not easy either (if striving for quality). Even unofficial “scanlations” can take hours upon hours depending on the project. I know there were some talk from people making this their main source of income in the forum. I hope they didn’t quit their jobs just yet.

    I guess we’ll see where and how it will go. As for me, I’ll stick to buying the originals. I like the way they look on my bookshelves.

  14. arusiasotto said:

    Interesting read.

  15. c said:

    Just gonna throw this out here. I have worked for them mainly because I wanted the Editor title on my resume. However, it was a harrowing experience I would never wish to repeat.

    It was loads of hours just to do one book to their standards and it always seemed like they had someone comparing our translations with someone who was maybe reading both on their end? Strange, given if they had time to do that, obviously there had to be time to do this the right way the first time.

    We had 6 people in our group, so our profits were even less in the end. Each of the 2 times I got paid were nearly a year in between. This last one… I’ve been waiting since mid-2013 and still have not seen a penny… oh and not to mention, they have stopped sending me emails in regards to how much profit our books are making. Last one I saw was back in mid-2013.

    They don’t reply to emails for months at a time. They won’t verify my employment there at all. I’ve had to fight for tax documentation every single time.

    Basically… it’s a nightmare.

    Oh, and the icing on the cake? They took all editor/translator/typesetter info off the books on the preview or summary area of the books. So to even prove I worked on it, someone has to buy the whole book. And let me tell you, a future employer is not going to buy a BL book to prove that I worked there.

    Overall, avoid it. It’s not worth the hassle, even for the resume.

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