It has been a year since I started reading manga of series I enjoyed. This mostly consists of Manga Time Kirara series in Japanese. To me, it’s a good way to practice my Japanese language skills without the time commitment compared to other mediums such as video games.
Of course, there is more I want to touch upon the manga reading experience besides what I covered already. It includes the debate over buying physical or digital formats and of course the whole piracy debate with manga.
When I started obtaining manga back in January 2018, I decided to buy some physical volumes from Amazon Japan. Compared to video games, which takes several weeks to several months to complete, I usually finish a volume in one week if I am not too lazy or a few weeks at worse. While reading a localized version would take even less time than reading it in Japanese, I chose to read it Japanese so I won’t let my studies go to waste. Either way, printed media tends to take less time since there is a definite end point. Not only that, I can complete it at my pace.
So, why did I decide to go physical at first. At that time, I didn’t really have a suitable tablet I can use as an e-reader. While the Surface Pro 2 is good with productivity stuff like Photoshop, taking notes and drawing, it’s too heavy to hold and the battery life leaves a lot to be desired. Also, I’m not going to read manga on a small iPhone screen either. A single physical volume of manga is lighter in comparison. It allows me to concentrate on the content while using my iPhone as an electronic dictionary when I need to.
There are also other advantages of buying physical manga. First, you can build up a physical collection of manga to possibly show off to people. Second, since the manga is physical, you can lend it to a friend or even sell it. Lastly, you can make your own digital copy by using a book scanner for personal use. Then, you can read them on your preferred device while retaining a physical copy in your collection.
Of course, there is a downside to physical copies. If you are reading non-localized manga, it can get really expensive. Believe it or not, books are considered bulk items, meaning that you have to pay more for shipping. Unless you buy multiple volumes or other items, it can become very expensive. Also, there is also the issue with space and storage. While manga volumes are small, once you amass a collection, you might find yourself running out of space. Also, if you improperly store them such as putting them near sunlight, you can damage the contents.
Thankfully, physical is not your only option. You can obtain legal copies of manga digitally. It’s not until the early 2010s that manga and other printed materials such as light novels started to move to digital. Sure, there was scanlations, but those are not legal (more on that later). Even so, eBooks in the 2000s were not feasible since you need to read them at your computer. In some cases, they are only available in print. It’s not that pleasant to read content at a computer for long periods of time. Also, mobile such as smartphones and personal digital assistants are either too primitive or difficult to use. In other words, they aren’t suitable for eBooks, until the early 2010s.
Thankfully, this changed with eBook readers and eventually tablet computers. I felt that tablets such as the iPad is a game changer since it finally made eBooks viable. In the past, dedicated eBook readers such as Amazon Kindle are locked into one ecosystem and can only show content in black and white. Tablet computers can access multiple eBook services and can display content with color, which is important for manga.
To me, eBooks became viable after I decided to jump ship from the Surface Pro to an iPad Pro. Compared to physical, it’s a lot cheaper and more convenient to buy and download eBooks of manga and read them on my iPad. I didn’t have to pay for shipping to obtain a volume of manga since it’s downloaded to your device. One big advantage is that you won’t lose your collection if your tablet becomes damaged or you lose it. You can always download it again at any time, even if you buy a new tablet or smart phone.
I have read half way of the Magia Record manga and I have to say that it’s a lot easier to read and lookup words. With physical copies, I have to bookmark when I come across a word that I don’t know, grab my smart phone and look it up. I can do the word lookup process on one screen. Technically, you can have your dictionary app in slide over view if you are using an iPad.
Of course, with digital, there are some drawbacks with eBooks. First is of course the digital right management. eBooks are usually tied to a service. If that said service goes out of business, you lose your whole collection. Second is of course reading content from a screen. Some people don’t find reading books off screens that comfortable, especially in direct sunlight. This is not an issue for me since I sit in front of computer screens for long periods of time.
Lastly, when people talk about digital, there is the issue of scanlations. It’s apparent that not every series will receive a localization, especially if it’s not popular. Compared to Anime, I feel that scanlations causes more damage to the manga industry for the fact that manga volumes cost a lot less than anime. Moreover, for some people, there is no incentive to buy after downloading illegal copies. As a result, the mangaka that work on the series will get hurt in the process. In some cases, he or she may not make enough money to sustain themselves. As a result, he or she might have to stop creating their series all together. Since most anime is based on manga or light novels, this can have a negative domino effect to Japanese pop culture.
According to an article from the Japan Times, annual sales of digital comics grew ¥171.1 billion yen (about $1.5 billion in US Dollars, $1 = ¥111) surpassing physical. However, the whole manga industry lost ¥50 billion yen ($450 million in US dollars) to piracy with ¥1.3 trillion yen lost to piracy in the United States.
While people argue that piracy is not stealing, the damages from lost sales, some in which goes back to the creator is troubling. To make things worse, current copyright law in Japan in regards to piracy only cover download music and videos, not image files. Of course, this figure does not take account someone who initially pirates a series and then buys it shortly afterwards. This will still count as a lost sale.
Sure, pirates will argue that scanlations help promote sale of related merchandise, this does not necessarily make it right. The creator only makes a small cut from licensed merchandise sales compared to selling their actual works. What makes me upset is of course people justifying pirating manga and the self-entitlement issue.
While there are some reasons I can understand why such as availability issues, lack of localization, and affordability. That is the publisher’s responsibility to solve this. However, if you can afford it and the series is available in your country, but you refuse to pay or use legal methods, this shows that you don’t have respect towards the creator who worked hard to create the series. In other words, you are treating their work like it’s worthless. These are the ones that are hurting the industry in my opinion.
That said, is the Japanese government efforts to block pirate websites is the right action to take? In my opinion, not really since for the fact that innocent sites that use excerpts as review, it’s a cat and mouse game. Once you shut down or block access to one pirate site, several more will pop up. Also, internet service providers blocking sites can lead to a negative precedent that can lead to censorship. This means that internet service providers can accidentally block websites that uses excerpts of manga for review purposes.
I think the main issue is that the manga industry hasn’t fully embraced digital manga besides eBooks. There are not many services as we seen with Anime that allows better accessibility to manga series. Sure, some publishers like Shueisha and recently Houbunsha started creating their own services to read manga they publish digitally for a monthly fee. While some of these services are available in Japan only, I think manga publishers are finally realizing that they need to embrace digital. This means creating services that allow access to their content library in exchange for a monthly fee.
To me, I think someone or a localization company needs to step up to the plate and negotiate with Japanese publishing companies for licensing rights. From there, create a service like we see with legal Anime streaming. Afterwards, hire a team of dedicated and professional translators to localize the content. If you make content more accessible through legal means, this is only when you can reduce the impact of piracy. Instead of people turning to scanlations, they will use the legal option instead, which will benefit the creator.
Overall, there is strengths and weaknesses to obtaining physical or digital copies of manga. It’s all up to your preferences and how you prefer reading printed material. Move over, people have to realize that pirating can cause a lot of damage, especially with manga since it’s this is usually the mangaka’s primary source of income. At the same time, manga publishers need a 21st century solution to make series that they publish more accessible digitally. This means tapping to the overseas market and creating a similar service like we see with legal streaming sites with anime.
With that, how do you prefer reading your manga or light novels? Do you enjoy reading them from a physical book or a tablet/smart phone? Also, feel free to share your opinions on scanlations and manga piracy in general? Do you think Japanese publishers need to do more to improve accessibility to their content? If so, how will you do it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. ¶