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.
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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.