Anime Expo 2011
Digital Manga Industry Panel

by Carlo Santos,

Digital Manga Publishing's panel at Anime Expo 2011 focused mainly on the Digital Manga Guild, a plan to bring "thousands of untapped manga resources to the U.S. audience." Through the Guild, several Japanese manga publishers are partnering with DMP and an online community of localizers who will complete the process.

The DMG website serves as the primary hub, through which interested participants can sign up, take a test, and then be placed on a localization team. There are three different tests for each of the roles on a localization team: translators, editors and letterers/retouchers.

DMP president Hikaru Sasahara then presented an overview of how the Digital Manga Guild model would benefit manga readers. In his study, Sasahara showed that DMP could produce only 60 titles a year under a traditional, non-crowdsourced system. There was also a typical lag time of about two years between the licensing agreement and the actual release of the finished product. But by partnering with Japanese publishers through the Digital Manga Guild system (with over 1300 members already registered), over 500 titles per year can be made available with a lead time of just 6 months. Through this system, Sasahara explained, "You won't have to go to the bookstore and pay $12.95 for just one tankobon. That's way too much."

According to Sasahara, over 20 publishers in Tokyo are involved, encompassing a range of yaoi, shonen, shojo, and even how-to-draw titles. Even out-of-print titles in Japan will be made available. The end product is made available through a "digital bookstore" through which these titles can be downloaded for prices starting at $4.99 per volume. Sasahara also added that physical books would be printed from 20 to 30 top-selling titles (based on digital sales).

Production Manager Fred Lui continued the presentation by explaining the workflow for Guild releases. In the case of out-of-print titles, where only physical copies are available, there is an extra preliminary step where the pages would be scanned and digitized. After this, the Guild would begin localization work and adapt the manga into English and other languages. This is then made available digitally through as well as other e-reading devices including the Kindle, Nook, iPad, Android, and PSP.

As far as revenue, Sasahara clarified that "nobody makes money until the title sells." He also presented a graph for the Guild's revenue sharing model: the localization team would take about 12% of a title's earnings, either shared between the three members of a team or the entire share going to an individual if one works as translator, editor and letter. The localizer(s) would also be guaranteed to earn royalties for the next 5 years for a given title. The earnings for DMP and the original Japanese publisher would be larger in scale, but with both of those companies having a higher count of employees, it would in fact be a lower income per person than the localization team or individual.

Localizers will, of course, be expected to work on multiple titles in order to earn a reasonable amount. Titles would be assigned randomly to different localization groups. In addition, localizers would be credited for each release and will have the opportunity for other manga publishers to contact them for more localization work. It would be, in Sasahara's words, "a place to promote your 'company' or your presence."

The Guild already has over 20 titles available through the digital store. Other non-Guild downloads are also available on the site including original DMP series Moon and Blood, by Wedding Peach creator Nao Yazawa. Purchases can be made through DMP "points" (US$1 = 100 points), but this system will eventually be phased out in favor of direct sales in dollars.

Sasahara noted that, while yaoi is currently the company's focus, it is expected that the profits from this area will be re-invested into other genres, giving the company opportunity to expand.

Digital Manga has also recently announced a partnership with IDW Publishing which will give readers a chance to explore franchise-based American comics such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, Dragon Age, True Blood, and others. This provides plenty of options for readers of different tastes.

The panel was then opened up to a brief question-and-answer session with the audience. One particular concern was about making digital products available to libraries; the company is already working on that avenue of distribution. There may also be package deals where readers can purchase both digital and physical copies. However, there are no plans for hardcover releases since those would be too costly to produce. Yaoi novels are also being considered for the digital distribution plan and may be released on e-reader platforms like the Kindle and Nook.

The issue of competing with the scanlation community was also brought up; what Digital Manga hopes to do is to make these products more accessible (i.e., using digital storefronts) to users than having to go specifically through scanlation websites.

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