Now that the dust has settled a little bit on our Velvet Kiss announcement, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write a little more about what led up to the decision and how it’s gonna affect things in the future. I’m giving only my own perspective here, but I’m also Velvet Kiss’ translator, so hopefully that counts for something.
Unsurprisingly, it’s gonna be rather self-indulgent and lengthy, so click through for the full post.
When we made the announcement, we received some surprisingly nice compliments as well as some pretty venomous barbs. That was about to be expected, I suppose. I think one of the big sources of negative feedback was people thinking that they were somehow losing years worth of future output from us. Surely I would have translated a lot more series, right?
I’ll tell you now that that isn’t the case. I haven’t really discussed it much with anybody or mentioned it in public, but I was planning on leaving scanlation this year. There’s a whole lot more to it than this, but to summarize, the novelty had worn off for me and the general feedback loop wasn’t giving the motivation it used to. Also, seeing our projects get spread around to the whole ecosystem of for-profit online readers made me feel like my own free effort was just being used to line someone else’s pockets. I wasn’t planning on making any big stink about it, so I figured that I’d silently retire by finishing my existing projects and not starting any new ones. I’d gotten myself on the hook for Kanojo de Ippai (more on that later) before I’d arrived at this decision, so that was going to be my last project.
Another big reason was that the central contradiction of scanlation was only getting more vexing. Having focused on a pair of authors that I’d built a lot of respect for, Harumi Chihiro and Manabe Joji, it became increasingly hard to ignore that if they were aware of my efforts, they probably disapproved of them. There’s a certain mindset among voracious pirated media consumers that the view of the creators is not worth taking into consideration, but in my opinion, anyone who holds that view is not someone who’s used to doing anything constructive. You can sneer these creators into another line of work if that’s really what you want, but there’s a reason that in general, the best of any form of modern media is done under a commercial system.
Then I saw the news that Velvet Kiss got licensed. It was quite a shock, to be honest, as we’d never even really entertained the possibility before. It wasn’t an issue we had to develop an opinion about about until that point. When we started this, nobody was touching English h-manga in the commercial world. There were a few stabs at it, but the companies were shriveled corpses long before the time we came on the scene. It felt like English licenses were about as likely to happen as lightning striking a unicorn picking a four-leaf clover out of its teeth.
So upon hearing the news, I thought “well, I hope they do a damn good job of it.” It should be fairly obvious at this point, but to say that I’m fond of Velvet Kiss would be an understatement. I really didn’t want to see its official release get bungled. Then I thought “Hell, wouldn’t it be a cool gig to actually produce the official English version and make certain that it doesn’t get messed up?” It seemed like the long shot of long shots, but Ziggy was actually thinking something similar. She brought up that she’d passed the editing/typesetting test for the Digital Manga Guild in the past but hadn’t had the time to actually work on any projects yet. It seemed like if any company was going to be receptive to at least talking to scanlators, it might be this one.
It was a bit of a nerve-wracking decision. Talking to an actual publisher, especially one who’s just licensed something you’re hosting for free, seemed pretty risky. They could have easily turned around and smashed us with a C&D threat. So we were pretty surprised to see how warmly they received us after we got in contact with them. They seemed to understand that scanlation is a response to a lack of effective licensing and distribution, and that it’s worth trying to leverage that enthusiasm to try and aid the legitimate market. I imagine that’s why they have the DMG. I didn’t ever think it would be so easy, but they were willing to start a partnership and let us loose on Velvet Kiss. I think it helped that we were already used to taking a painstaking approach to editing and translation in our previous projects.
As a translator, it felt really refreshing and reinvigorating that at least if I were going to a lot of hard work, it would be under the sanction of the author. I didn’t have to make the somewhat tortured assertion that by scanning and releasing their work for free, we were elevating the author’s stature in the world so there was no reason the author should be upset about it. It’s not even that the sentiment is inaccurate, as I’m sure the interest in our scanlations were a part of the reason why Harumi Chihiro’s series have been licensed. But what if scanlation wasn’t the only way to do that? What if there were a constructive way to involve the Japanese publisher and author so they were appreciative of it instead of disapproving?
That’s what this chance seemed like, and that’s why we decided to take it. I think a few people assume that because we’re scanlators, we’re in the whole Richard Stallman “nothing must ever cost money” boat, but that’s never been the case. To be quite frank, Harumi Chihiro wouldn’t be able to make these stories without a commercial system in place that compensates her financially so she can have the time to work on her craft. We like her stuff a lot and we want her to live well off the support she’s earned. What we hope to work towards is a situation where readers are enthusiastic to support her in the way that she would like them to, and at present, that’s the print manga system. At Project-H they’d be happy to sell this in electronic format as well, so a successful print run would help them to go back and negotiate for the (separate) digital distribution rights.
We had to keep things on the quiet while we worked on it for a few months. We knew that the official announcement would be a point of no return. Eventually it became an issue that if we were to announce that we were working on volumes 1 and 2 while volumes 3 and 4 were up on our site, it wouldn’t exactly show a lot of confidence in the product on our side. If the Japanese publisher found out, they’d probably be quite upset and it would likely sink the whole thing. That was right about the time that someone reported our Mediafire account and got it shut down, so we were sort of happy for the excuse and just never fixed it. We busted our tails to get the scanlated projects completed, since it looked like working on any potential licensed series would probably make the Japanese publishers a lot less likely to work with us. We could have just as easily said “bye bye Ring x Mama, bye bye scanlated Velvet Kiss” and just quit them immediately, but we wanted to make sure that what we started was completed well. We even ended up becoming our own competition in a sense, but we hope that will lead to a greater sense of faith in our persistence in the long run.
So what does the future hold? Ideally, a lot of great new series that you can buy in print (and hopefully digital as well). I really feel like having the perspective of working in scanlation will aid us in understanding what readers are looking for in the future. My personal opinion is that there’s a much huger audience for manga and h-manga than anyone realizes, and that it’s largely an issue of promotion and distribution to get people to read and pay for it. I think digital distribution is going to be a crucial part of it. If someone can make the equivalent of iTunes or Steam for manga, and execute it with the kind of no-nonsense competence that those two services are now famous for, it would transform the whole industry.
Like imagine if you came to our blog, and instead of having to go through a bunch of unreliable ad-choked download services and mess with rars and file organization, you just took a few credits out of an account and instantly got a high-quality chapter release translated into a variety of different languages. There’s a whole lot of people who already organize themselves and do it for free, and the cream of the crop is well capable of doing it to a commercial standard. They’ve already built well-established work processes and promotional networks on their own. Like us, I think a lot of groups would be happy to work under the support of the author. It’s not that the technology doesn’t exist, it’s that someone hasn’t assembled all the pieces together yet.
Now of course, that’s the pie-in-the-sky view and just a lot of hot air at this point. But I figure that it would be more exciting to work towards a goal like that and fail than shrug it off because it seems hard. A lot of big, successful ideas started off as nutty ambitions. I think if the industry does change, it’ll come from it adopting methods from scanlation, and that has the potential to be pretty interesting.
Soba-scans as a group is eager to keep releasing doujinshi, so be sure and check back for those regularly. There’s quite a few in various stages of completion right now. I pulled the trigger on announcing Kanojo de Ippai too early, and I know some people are disappointed that it won’t be a scanlated project. Believe me, I really really want to do it (I have about 140 pages of it translated) but it’s going to need to be as a licensed product. As I said in the last Gaiakitan post, we can’t hold series like this ransom by putting them out for free and then expect an author like Manabe Joji to sign off on an official version. The best way you can help this out is to let Project-H know directly that you’re interested in seeing it. Try tweeting them or sending them an e-mail saying that you enjoy Manabe Joji’s works and that you’ll pick them up if they’re available in English. We don’t know any more about how the actual negotiations function than you do, but illustrating a strong demand for his works will help Project-H make the case to the Japanese publisher. Project-H understands this slice of the industry more than the other manga publishers, but they need a little help to know who the best artists are and what’s generated the most interest in the scanlated world. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’ll take a few success stories to start seeing things move in the right direction with more licenses and digital distribution.
As I said before, these are strictly my own opinions, but if you’ve read any of our releases in the last few years you’ve probably read some of my yammering before. I think just about anybody will tell you that sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone to keep advancing in life. It’s a shift in how we do things, but we feel like it’s an exciting shift. We hope you’ll keep coming back for more good stuff in the future! See you next time!
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