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 purÃ©ed 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.