Starting Wednesday, major publishing firm Kodansha Ltd. will make new manga installments digitally available in English worldwide on the same day they’re released in Japan.
Kodansha hopes the business decision will help curb the increasing threat to its overseas sales posed by bilingual anime fans known as “scanlators” who translate content and make it widely available.
In collaboration with Crunchyroll, a popular U.S.-based website that streams Japanese anime, the simultaneous release project will use the site’s platform to release new installments for 12 popular Kodansha series, including the smash-hit “Shingeki no Kyojin” (“Attack on Titan”), “Fairy Tail” and “Uchu Kyodai” (“Space Brothers”).
The service will be made available in a total of about 170 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, as well as most countries in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa.
It will not include countries where the manga business is already well-established in the local language, such as China, Germany, France and Japan.
A monthly subscription will cost $4.99. In return, subscribers will have access to new installments in the 12 series concurrently with their Japan release in such Kodansha publications as Weekly Shonen Magazine and Weekly Morning.
According to media reports, the number of Crunchyroll’s premium subscribers stood at 200,000 as of March.
Kodansha hopes the tie-up will help it tap into the site’s already solid fan base and hopefully better combat the growing presence of fans who translate original anime or manga into their own language for the sake of their fellow fans, often free of charge.
Kodansha has traditionally disseminated English versions of its manga series through printed comic books, but fans overseas usually have to wait “three to 12 months” to get hold of them after their Japan release, said Kodansha senior manager Tatsuya Morimoto.
This frustration has prompted impatient manga fans to chase quicker translations. The work of scanlators is distributed online “the same day as the official release, sometimes even a few days earlier than that,” Morimoto said.
How they manage to do it largely remains a mystery, but many experts believe manga are being pilfered somewhere in the distribution process and scanned. The process of illegally scanning and then translating manga is known as “scanlation.”
Scanlation may have become a “major black business” because site operators offering the content could be taking in sizable profiting from advertising on their websites, according to Yuko Ogawa, Kodansha’s licensing manager.
Who these operators are remains a mystery, she said. According to data provided by online trend watcher ICv2, the manga market in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at around $200 million, then steadily decreased to $105 million in 2011. Though attributing the fall partly to manga becoming old hat, Morimoto said the rise of scanlation is responsible for a 40 to 50 percent decrease in manga-related revenue worldwide.
Noting that popular scanlation sites are often rife with pop-up ads and slow download speeds, Morimoto stressed that the tie-up with Crunchyroll will allow fans a more comfortable and stable reading experience.
Likewise, Matthew Thorn, a professor specializing in manga at Kyoto Seika University, stressed the key to success for Kodansha is ensuring that its translations are better than those of scanlators.
Mostly young, scanlators are savvy when it comes to harnessing cyberspace, but their relative inexperience sometimes makes their translations oblivious to important details, he said.