Manganovel’s alternative reality

In this week’s PWCW, Ed Chavez unwraps the new service Manganovel. The Toshiba-owned site allows readers to download manga and upload their own translations. At the always NSFW Icarus Blog, publisher Simon Jones comments:

[Manganovel] promises to one day grind the bones of print manga publishers into powder, mix them with the puréed hearts of professional translators and the severed fingers of touch-up artists, to make a frozen almond tofu dessert OF PURE EVIL!

The site is basically trying to monetize something that is already happening on the web: Fans scan in Japanese manga and supply their own translations. Manganovel makes it easy by providing downloads of the Japanese volumes and what looks like a fairly easy interface for inserting translated text. This cuts out a lot of the steps traditional scanlators have to go through: taking the books apart, scanning them in, retouching, etc. On the other hand, scanlation on the web has a social aspect; it’s often done by small groups who have very distinct personalities, their own language and in-jokes, etc., while Manganovel is more impersonal. What it does offer is… more manga: Translators earn credits that they can use to purchase manga from the site.

Let me stop right here and comment from the point of view of a professional who expects to get paid for her work: This looks like exploitation to me. Of course, if you genuinely enjoy translating things, perhaps doing it for a few dollars’ credit is OK, but there’s a flip side as well: You get what you pay for, and I doubt that consistently good translation quality is going to be a hallmark of the Manganovel site.

The other potential problem that I see is that Manganovel requires readers to download their (Windows-only) proprietary manga viewer, even to view the free samples, which will put off a lot of potential customers. There’s plenty of manga available on the web, for free or for a moderate price, that can be read without going through all those steps.

Unlike the eminently easy-to-use Netcomics, Manganovel apparently allows you to keep the comics you download. That was a contentious point for Marvel readers when the Marvel digital comics site was unveiled: $60 a year, and you don’t get to keep the comics? I’m not sure keeping the downloads is such a big deal to manga readers, though; if we like the online version, we generally buy the book. Does this work? Seven Seas appears to be making money this way, and they let you read their webcomics for free. On the other hand, Gentosha’s attempt to market a downloadable manga magazine seems to have slipped into oblivion, despite including titles like Gravitation in the mix.

Bottom line: I’m watching Manganovel with interest, and I may take it for a test drive if they ever open it up to Mac users, but I don’t Simon and the rest of the publishing world need to lose much sleep over it.

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One thought on “Manganovel’s alternative reality

  1. I’m watching Manganovel with interest, and I may take it for a test drive if they ever open it up to Mac users, but I don’t Simon and the rest of the publishing world need to lose much sleep over it.

    Hmm, you know I felt the same way before I talked to the Manganovel peeps. Not really about the Mac thing, because the mac market globally is irrelevant. Though MN might have to change their tone if they want to get their software on an iTouch/iPhone. The real concern here is not MN but what MN is saying about licensors. And that is… They don’t want to license as much unless they get more control, more markets and distribution becomes easier for them.

    They seem to want to get books out faster (because they know fans want it that way. That’s a plus.
    They don’t mind if prices are lower as long as they get most of the money. That’s a plus. (Though I wouldn’t pay as much for an eManga as I would a Japanese tankobon which is MN’s current system).
    And they want to get into more countries. Plus, plus plus!
    Quality is not a concern. I asked this and basically was told the community will mainly check itself. There will be moderators… But right now even they don’t have a great grasp on English. Don’t know what they will do if tagalog, hangul and castillian are available! The reason – scanlation translations are inconsistent. That community like you noted has its own quirks (like they kill titles if interest is down just like Dark Horse does).
    Presentation isnt that big a deal. Sounds strange when France, Spain and Taiwan get dust jackets but these markets are older. The US was raised on a different standard, and as I have noticed Asian pubs working here (Aurora being an example) have subpar quality initially. What works in Japan or Korea changes for some reason (hello peeps want 100% manga). Broccoli avoided this by keeping their quality high, but that’s because at its core the western production team wanted Japanese quality. On the other hand, NETCOMICS started with questionable quality and are trying hard to shake that image off.
    Then there is brand recognition. Del Rey has a little Kodansha on the back of their books. Dark Horse’s horror from Bunkasha has that company’s logo on their books. DMP will do the same with their Shinshokan, Taiyo and Oakla comics. Ohzora has its own imprint. And there is at least one more group coming in from Japan soon. Pubs do have reason to worry. Because in theory it would be easier to deal with another Japanese pub than an American pub. Dont think Icarus will have to worry but maybe TP, Yen Press or DrMaster might.

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