Reading Scanlations Does not Lead to Manga Licensing

I’m about to say some things most of you don’t expect me to say considering my activities with Crimson Flower. But I feel the need to express my opinion on the matter of scanlations and licensing to give readers a different perspective on what manga scanlation can and cannot do.

First and foremost, mangaka, the Japanese publishers, and the non-Japanese manga publishers are businesses, and businesses exist to make money. Manga licensors respond to money. You reading scanlations does not generate money for the mangaka, the Japanese manga publishers, or the non-Japanese manga publishers. Case closed. People who exclusively read scanlations do not represent a pool of potential buyers. Popular excuses for reading scanlations and not purchasing include:

  • I don’t have money to buy licensed manga.
  • I refuse to buy licensed manga because I believe in piracy.
  • I refuse to buy licensed manga because licensed manga sucks in comparison to scanlation.
  • I refuse to buy licensed manga because I’m sticking it to the man.
  • Manga super consumers buy enough manga to make up for me not purchasing.

Either way, there is no money to be spent within this pool of manga readers, so there is no reason to appeal to these readers. Granted there are manga super consumers who are involved in scanlation like myself, but regardless of scanlation, we will buy manga.

People like to think that the non-Japanese publishers don’t know what will sell without looking at scanlation rankings. Again, going back to the first point I made, you reading scanlations does not generate money, and again, going back to the second point I made, people who read licensed manga exclusively in scanlation have no interest in buying licensed manga. In other words, a very large number times zero is still zero. And those that do buy, usually buy the first volume out of obligation and do not support the entire series. I’m not going to say that the publishers don’t look at scanlation rankings, but from what I gather from social media, the rankings have no or very little impact on licensing decisions.

All of that said, how can we as manga fans get our favorite manga licensed? Since publishers only respond to money, they have to mostly rely on sales history. This means future manga licenses are usually safe bets based on the past. From my observations, the manga series that usually get licensed are:

  • Series that are extremely successful in Japan
  • Award winning series in Japan
  • Series with anime tie-ins
  • Series by mangaka who have already been past publishing successes
  • Series that are similar to past publishing successes
  • Series from genres that have been past publishing successes
  • Outside of shounen, series that are relatively short (less that 15 volumes or so).

With this in mind, what should you do to get the manga you like licensed?

  • Buy licensed manga by your favorite mangaka. For instance, if you want to increase the chance that “Bread and Butter” will get licensed, then buy “Sand Chronicles”.
  • If your favorite mangaka is not published, then contribute to its popularity in the Japanese markets by purchasing the Japanese version.
  • Buy licensed manga that has a similar story to the manga you want licensed. For instance, if you want “Akagami no Shirayukihime” or “Akatsuki no Yona” licensed, then buy series like “Dawn of the Arcana”, the “Fushigi Yuugi” series, and “The Story of Saiunkoku”.
  • Buy licensed series in your favorite genre if you want more licensing investment in your favorite genre.

You need to show the publishers that there is money to be made from the manga you want licensed. The only way to get that message to them is to establish a purchasing history and not a history of reading manga for free.

So then in light of all of this, what can scanlation do? Scanlation can:

  • Generate general manga awareness
  • Provide translations of manga series and oneshots that have no commercial viability and therefore will never get licensed outside of Japan
  • Complete the translation of abandoned licensed manga
  • Provide a perspective about what types of manga are currently popular amongst manga readers.

Granted, none of any of these things that scanlation can do directly leads to improving the manga business, which is why I believe that scanlation should be considered a fan hobby that does not involve providing translations of licensed works or generating revenue for the scanlation groups.

In conclusion, do not delude yourself into thinking the views your scanlation reading generates benefits the manga business and influences licensing decisions. You are reading scanlations for your own benefit. If you are reading scanlations of licensed manga instead of purchasing, then you are directly hurting the manga business. If you are reading scanlations from a manga aggregator, then you generating money for criminals, who are also hurting the scanlator hobbyists who using their free time to translate manga. If you want more manga licensed, then buy manga. It’s that simple.

11 comments

  • Thanks for a great summary of the problem with scanlations as I’m tired of the same old arguments used in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

  • thanks for this post! i agree with most of it. i’ve seen a publisher say not to support scanlation/stop reading them entirely (i can understand if it’s licensed stuff) because there’s plenty of options provided by legal publishers now. while this is true, i think there are some (or many out there) series that will never get licensed “Provide translations of manga series and oneshots that have no commercial viability and therefore will never get licensed outside of Japan” or stuff that won’t ever be available for free digitally by legal means in english.

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    • Uh, no. I do not believe scanlation should provide a free alternative for licensed manga. That’s the complete opposite of everything I wrote. Manga is a business. The goal of a business is to make money. Interrupting that business means harm and less manga. The entire point of this is the manga readers need to buy manga.

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      • I didn’t mean that. I meant that I get where publishers are coming from when they say not to read scanlations for stuff that’s been licensed, that we should buy the official license and support them and the mangakas. I mean that scanlations are good when it’s for stuff that’ll never be licensed. I never said scanlations are an alternative to licensed manga.

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  • Great post, agree with everything you said. Your tips on how to encourage more manga to be licensed are spot-on and I wish more people would take important advice like this to heart. Fans need to understand the position of creators and publishers, and know that to encourage licensing of more manga overseas we have to put our money where our mouth is and give our financial support to the industry in ways such as you suggested above.

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  • THANK YOU!!! I’m so tire of ppl saying one excuse after the other. I buy what I read. Now yes that costs money, but I have a job. If you don’t have one, ask for Christmas, your bday, instead of $ ask for a manga, etc. I used to read scans but stopped after reading a similar article expressing these same points.

    I found Kamisama through scans and the moment I heard it was getting licensed, I stopped. I bought every new release. And I spread the word. I even bought a copy for my friend who can’t afford manga.

    I bought all the available copies of Ao Haru Ride and then the English Strobe Edge. I asked for most of the volumes for Christmas since I’m not rich. I supported similar slice of life/shoujo series like Lovely Complex. All this in the hopes that Ao Haru is recognized. It has an anime, it’s sold well, it’s received a live action film. Now we just have to leave it to other people to raise the profit for this genre of manga. And we’ll most likely get it.

    And even if it never happens, just know that your purchases help. A ton. Shojo Beat constantly is spewing this advice on their twitter, tumblr, etc.

    Akatsuki no Yona was licenesed not due to scanlation success. It was due to a large profit in fantasy shojo manga.

    So please buy what you can afford. Don’t just steal from the artist and then ask for a series you’ll never truly support. Because really, $ is the only way you can vote, support, and keep manga being licensed.

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  • I have bought and continue to buy TONS of licensed manga. THis way we will continue to get the good stuff out of Japan….. also it’s easier to carry a manga with me if I suspect I’ll be waiting than my computer or a larger book.

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  • I agree! But the publishing industry itself does not make it easy at all for people to get manga.
    There are many countries in which manga do not get licenced – no matter how popular they might be in Japan or globally. That means that you cant buy manga legally in those countries even if its a digital copy in another language. To my understanding (and i may be wrong on this) most manga get licenced for the US and Canada. That excludes a large part of the world, that does indeed read from scanlations because there is no other option.

    I myself have this very issue and I find it extremely frustrating. I do buy manga, but I have to get an American friend to buy them for me. (Which I am lucky to have, apparently)

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    • (Sorry forgot to add)
      So basically, the publishing industry cant complain on why people flock and stick to the easy access manga when they dont provide a viable alternative, to all.

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