Anime News Network has an article about Viz Media having to restructure and layoff some employees in this difficult economy.  In the comments to that story, of course, someone has to drag out the dead horse of piracy.  Every economic problem that a manga or anime company has is not always related back to piracy.  Can we get over this please?

This is a tough economy right now, and things aren’t going to be getting any better any time soon.  Don’t fool yourself.  If Google, the giant of the online world has to lay off people, then you know this is a widespread problem.  And Viz, despite it’s hugely popular properties is not immune to it.  In fact, it may be hit harder than other companies.

Look at Viz’s releases and schedule.  They are about the only company that has several titles that come out every other month.  When money gets tight, you start looking for places to cut corners, and let’s be honest, manga is a luxury item.  If you have to cut down your manga order, you’re going to go for the titles you like most, and that’s not always going to fall in Viz’s favor.

This economy will weed out the men from the boys, both in companies and in titles.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the “C-listers” start to get longer releases times, if not disappear completely.  Viz night not be able to afford Saint Seiya or Detective Conan, since Naruto and Bleach will have to cover themselves more.

Piracy and/or scanalations are not the cause of Viz’s problems here.  It’s people (me included), having to make choices about what they can continue to afford to buy, and what they truly want to keep reading.  Titles that people bought just for fun aren’t going to be making it onto ordering/shopping lists.  It’s just going to be those that they absolutely, positively have to have.  And it might be surprising to see that alot of Viz titles don’t always make it on the have to list.

Sometimes a rose is just a rose, and a drop in sales is a drop in sales, and not because of piracy.

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20 Comments for this entry

  • Heather Ward says:

    I too, think that Viz’s decision to restucture is more from the Global economy rather than piracy. Piracy does have an affect upon the manga market, unfortunately conclusive numbers concerning manga scanlations vs manga purchases do not exist like the numbers seen with anime DVD sales. Viz is in the wonderful position to continue to offer lots of manga titles at affordable prices, maybe even introduce a seinen focus manga anthology again, like PULP in 2010. 2009 will be a tough year for the US manga market. If we take a cue from the Japanese recession of the 90s, which lasted almost a decade, it was the Otaku that continued to spend their money that kept some of Japan afloat. Spending money does keep people employed, but tough times also brings about changes, maybe changes in delivery, size, or even quality. Personally manga and anime are my vices and I support them ALOT, too much according to my husband, but heaven forbid if OMG or Tenchi gets cut, as he puts it. I look forward to the numbers for 2009 at the beginning of 2010. Viz will be on top, but will the sales be slumping or maintaining.

  • The biggest problem, and the one that places like ANN don’t seem to get, is that the idea that everyone who looks at a scanalation would run out and buy the manga if the scanalation wasn’t available is ludicrous. Many, perhaps most people who go for scanalations wouldn’t buy the manga regardless. People who are pirating aren’t potential customers, they’re people who want to read and be done with it, they don’t care about the product that Viz or Tokyopop is putting out in the least. That’s the same issue that the RIAA and MPAA can’t get through their thick heads, they just assume that people who pirate would otherwise buy and that’s simply not the case. If all piracy just magically vanished today, Viz wouldn’t make much, if any more money than they’re already making, you’d just have more people going off to find other things to do with their time.

  • Simon Jones says:

    Framing this argument merely as publisher fixation on whether each download is a sale lost presents a biased misrepresentation of the issue of online piracy… that argument only gets trotted out in court. Publishers are more concerned with the potential devaluation of content in general, and this is something real. (How many people think all news [or porn] ought to be free?)

    This is in all likelihood an irreversible course. Ultimately, it may even be the best course. The problem is that by and large, content publishers have not bridged the chasm of profitability between the free model and traditional media publishing. Until then, there’s going to be a world of hurt for content producers, and even consumers.

  • Heather Ward says:

    Brian you said exactly what I have been thinking for years. I was a voracious reader in High School, even started a reading club and it was the library that helped me read so many books I could never afford. Unfortunately libraries can not keep up with the shear number of titles and series the manga boom has created.

    Hopefully a bridge can be made between free and traditional formats, but if the anime industry is any indication copyright protection is slipping away quickly from the owners. I do hope the experiment currently happening will help, if only for the top action titles, which have always been the money makers.

  • Simon, that’s not really the problem. This is especially prevalent in downloadable subtitled anime, but many, perhaps most anime viewers don’t want to go out and buy a DVD, they don’t want to collect a show, they want to see it once, right after it comes out in Japan and never again. Since the legitimate licensees don’t provide that service, they go where they have to go to get it. If the legitimate licensees provided high-speed, high-quality streaming subtitled anime a week after it aired in Japan for $1 an episode, they’d make money off of it. They can still release the DVDs with extras down the road for the die-hard viewers and collectors. They just don’t want to do that because they’re so tied into the DVD-only model that anything else scares them.

    The same is true of manga. How long after it’s published in Japan do most legitimate translations come out in the U.S.? Years? Why wouldn’t people read scanalations, they don’t have a legitimate alternative and by the time it finally comes out in America… they’ve read it all!

    The content producers need to produce content that the content consumers want to buy. Right now they’re not. When you don’t make the product people want to buy, how much can you complain when people don’t buy your stuff?

  • I think you’re wrong Brian :D

    A lot of fans who read scanlations do become buyers of the manga when it’s licensed. Yes a large chunk of fandom dont care, but’s it’s wrong to paint us all with that brush.

    I’ve read scanlations for yeats, and will keep reading them. Yet i also buy my manga as well. Almost everyone i know of is the same, whether it’s anime or manga.

    However several factors come into play when it comes to moving from scanlations to bought.

    The time it’s taken to be released. If you’ve had to wait 6 or 7 years then chances are you’re not going to be interested in that series anymore.

    The quality of the release. This was a big bone of mine with Viz for a long time, and to a smaller degree tday. They do horrific rewrites and over-westernise their releases.

    Reading a volume with ‘dude’ or ‘babe’ in every other scentence isn’t my idea of fun, and deffinatly not worth buying. Viz’s shonen line up used to be horrendous for this.

    Granted they’re changing, but once people lose respect for a lable, they wont be back any time soon.

    Tokyopop are learning this the hard way right now.

    When you cancel series after series, bare few volumes after it starts, people become wary about starting new ones. Why would they want to waste their cash on a series they have no idea if it’ll be finished.

    With the economy the way it is now this goes to all new levels, with manga buying going to all time lows. Which would you go for, a new series released that may be cancelled after 3 volumes, or scanlations that are almost finished the entire series?

    It’s a no brainer IMO

  • The problem is, you’re largely talking about people who didn’t know a manga or anime title even existed before it showed up on the Barnes & Noble shelf or aired on Cartoon Network. Take, just as an example, Bleach. The last aired episode of Bleach in Japan is around 208. I have no idea how many episodes have actually been translated in the U.S. and shown on Cartoon Network since TV.com lists the Japanese releases with no obvious differentiation for U.S. airings, but let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that they’ve aired 75 episodes. For people who are just getting into Bleach as it shows on American TV, no problem, they’re starting fresh with #1. For those who have been following the show since it aired in Japan though, they’ve already seen the first 133 episodes when it first airs in the U.S., what could conceivably bring them to want to sit around for what will be *YEARS* until the U.S. airings catch up to where they stopped when they can simply continue to download fansubbed episodes that come out a week after the Japanese airing?

    There are plenty of manga and anime series that aren’t even licensed in the U.S. until their Japanese runs are long since finished. Are you expecting people to sit around and hope that someday, someone might actually license a title, then actually put it out? Lots of titles simply vanish mid-stream and are never completed, both Viz and Tokyopop are cancelling titles left and right these days. Are we expecting fans of these series to shrug their shoulders and move on? I don’t think so.

    The only place where I agree that scanalation readers may become purchasers is:

    1) If the manga comes out in a similar timeframe in the U.S. and in Japan.
    2) If the reader wants to collect the series at all, not simply read the stories and move on.
    3) If the translation is well done, uncensored and unmolested.
    4) If the translation comes out at a reasonable pace and a reasonable price.

    There’s a lot of manga out there that has no shot in hell of ever getting purchased, to be honest. Take Angel Heart, for example. I’ve been downloading the scanalations for Lori for a while and it’s never been licenced, nor will it likely ever be licensed. However, assuming it was, since she’s already got the first 100+ volumes as scanalations, what is going to make her go out and buy the same stories all over again that she’s already read?

    I certainly wouldn’t do it. I agree it’s a no-brainer, but the biggest issue here is the failure of American companies like Viz and Tokyopop to adequately supply their potential audience with a good product in a timely manner, then they act surprised people are going elsewhere to get the product. That doesn’t surprise me at all.

  • Tiamat: I do agree with you on some things. I have dropped some Viz titles solely based their translations/lack of authenticity. Detective Conan and Inuyasha are top on that list. And reading Tokyopop’s “translation” of Groove Adventure Rave was just painful. And, like you, I have purchased manga that I have read scans for. Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo being the most recent example.

    The point of my post though, was that scanalations/piracy is not the source of Viz’s (or Tokyopop’s by extension) problem. Manga buying has been going down **compared to 2007’s numbers**. That was the peek. I don’t believe that scanalations, and/or reading manga for free is the big problem. It’s over saturation, and like the housing and financial markets, manga is having a shake out. And no one is immune. Not even the Giants.

  • Heather Ward says:

    I think we can ALL agree that Japan produces a copious amount of manga that the American publishers could never catch up with even if they tried. The true manga boom hit America in 2002, only 7 years ago and in that time publishers have made some mistakes, taken risks and surprised many with their success, but that does not negate or give people the right to not pay for manga that is licensed in America. Tokyopop as you pointed out has struggled with various mistakes, but have managed to rebound and put out some amazing products. Loosing a large company like TP would be terrible for the American manga market. The shear volume of manga that is now available in America lets EVERYONE find something they can like and support, unfortunately very few scanlate readers do so. VIZ is currently experimenting with Naruto, which I hope will be very successful. It’s really too bad this manga boom finally arrived with the advent of scanlatations and not when I was buying Ranma 1/2 at 32 pages each month, otherwise I think there would be more manga fans empathic to the current state of affairs, instead of so many supporting illegal scanlators.

  • Sorry Heather, but I disagree. Simply because someone threw some money at a license doesn’t buy my financial support. They need to put out a product that I want to buy at a price I’m willing to pay. Lori and I were talking about the disaster that Tokyopop made Rave Master into. They editted, censored and westernized it until it was no longer the manga that came out in Japan. As far as I’m concerned, if you want me to buy your product, do a good translation from the Japanese and release it entirely uncut, uneditted, unwesternized, unmolested and yes, I’ll probably buy it. I want to receive the Japanese story, not what some pinhead in an office at Tokyopop or Viz thinks I ought to receive. If you cannot do that, you have not earned my dollar for your sub-standard product, period. That means don’t change the names (Detective Conan/Saint Seiya manga and anime), don’t censor the content (pretty much anything 4kids did), don’t alter the language, don’t change a single thing, just provide a translation and leave it be.

    Otherwise, I’ll go straight to the source. It’s amazing that these companies don’t recognize that one of the major attractions of manga and anime is that they are not westernized in their style or ideals. They turn around and change all the things that attract a great many fans to the media in the first place and then can’t figure out why more aren’t buying it.

  • Heather Ward says:

    I think there are only a handful* of those atrocious products Brian compared to the 500+ different titles available to the American public. I could barely get through one volume of Rave Master myself, but I think it was more the blandness of the story and translation that turned me away. I was trying to point out that there is plenty of product out there to support depending on your tastes. I do think fans have a right to get a proper translation and fans of a particular title have the right to petition a company to fix their translation. Negima was one of the titles slated to get some editing, but fans let Del Rey know and Del Rey listened. For me I wish there was a title I could say I did not pick up because of “sub-standard” product, but there is just too much out there that I do like and is of an outstanding quality.

    *I do not penalize companies for name changes/spelling differences, otherwise I would not have the wonderful series Miracle Girls, Detective Conan, Fushigi Yuugi, or Saint Seiya in my library. Content and translation editing do annoy me, but seem to happen very infrequently.

  • Gob Bluth says:

    Fantastic discussion and one I had to jump in on considering I’ve worked with many anime/ manga companies over the years in an entertainment capacity. 1st of all, Brian is DEAD RIGHT! There are so many issues with these American companies I don’t know where to begin..but let me be clear and 100% honest as someone who knows the industry intimately. 1st and foremost, what’s happening to Viz and Tokyopop is what’s happening to Starbucks, Blockbuster and Circuit City…a group of idiots who grew TOO FAT, TOO FAST and assumed that the gravy train would just keep on coming. What I mean is that, Viz for awhile was hiring like crazy, talking about building brand new offices, throwing wildly elaborate booths at trade shows and the whole time, all I could think was– You’re not Disney! Your books are not translated well when you hire some Japanese American soccer mom to invoke her own Americanisms into a Japanese text (because “she knows what her kids like”) and somehow expect for the average hardcore anime/manga fan to want it. YES, the products are atrocious but they are atrocious because these companies delude themselves into being something their not. Viz is a glorified way station for manga. NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS! They do not make the manga. They do not make the anime…they simply handle the in-between to getting it from Japan to my local american B&N store..and therein lies the problems. These companies begin to think they are more than that. They begin to think they are this super corporation. Starbucks wants to compete with Best Buy. Circuit City thinks they are the Lexus of Electronic stores. And Viz thinks they are an entertainment superpower. They hire like crazy, spend copious money to impress other companies, they begin paying ridiculous salaries and employing people who are ‘experts’ in a field rather than just doing what they do and planning on all facets of the competition to their core business. I mean, the scanlation thing has been going on for YEARS! This didn’t just happen. Viz has known about it and instead of worrying less about trying to look like a powerful company that owns nothing (ala Funimation–another sad case of a man and company trying to be bigger than what they truly were and having to get sold on the penny to a video distributor).

    Brian hits the nail on the head–Viz needs to release the manga timely and unmolested. The scanlations won’t stop and I think their will be legal arguments eventually to speak to this since the notion is that I as consumer have the right to purchase the work or seek the work in the format as it was intended by the creator and not by the views of a nitwit in a corner office whose kids think Naruto is a blond haired white kid. Likewise, piracy on the net does one thing and one thing well (ala what Blockbuster missed about Netflix and digital video almost ten years ago now)—piracy provides good customer service. Something these companies are too busy ignoring themselves to understand why people expect something free. I buy manga and anime even after I’ve witnessed it for free but I do it only out of respect for those creators who work touched me and I only know about this because I ‘sampled’ it thanks to the power of timely delivery (near simultaneous with original japanese release/ airing/ publication), perfect translations (in some cases going above and beyond by explaining the historical significance of some cultural gestures/ actions and lastly, because it’s convenient. Convenient doesn’t mean free per se but it does mean, the value has merit. In other words, my $7.99 for a Viz book gets awfully expensive when I see their out of date website, non-curse words in Naruto (even though the ninjas in the book kill characters left and right), delayed release schedule, silly licensing (I can’t shonen jump’s DS game because Viz thought they could make more money by licensing out each manga individually but I can get all of the hip hop hats and shoes I want) and overexposed company plans (Viz is trying to make a Monster american remake?–Why not let the creator broker that deal and you just get more manga published equal distant to the Japanese release?).

    I think Viz and American manga are in trouble from bad practices and because scanlations and subbed content are doing their job for them. Keep in mind, Viz could do all of these things tomorrow..charge advertising for websites, professional scanlations with no edits and so on and they could do it for SJ content right out of Japan asap. Why don’t they do it..cuz what would the editor of the US mag need to get paid for if he’s just translating words as written by the japanese creator? What would the Bleach product manager do if they were just working to bring the anime/ manga out on time here?

    I think nothing says Viz problems’ better than the fact that One Piece is one of the most read scanlations and most downloaded anime and yet Viz and Funimation can’t get their heads around bringing the product out efficiently without making it complicated by bringing their vast company resources into the mix. 3 or 4 college aged hackers bring the anime and manga of One Piece to millions every week, without fail making no profit and these “LEGIT” companies can’t replicate that? Says it all.

  • While you’re certainly welcome not to mind name-changes and the like, I absolutely do. I don’t want *ANYTHING* changed, if they’re willing to change the names, they’re willing to change anything and unless you know the content of the original manga, for all you know they could be changing things.

    The fact is, we now have really good evidence for companies like Viz making money just by doing things the right way. Now that they’re releasing episodes of Naruto right after the Japanese release, fansubs have virtually vanished. You can pay to get your Naruto fix right away or wait a week and get it for free and exactly what I predicted would happen is happening. The same is going to be true of scanalations. If Viz and Tokyopop would put up individual chapters online for a small fee, then collect them into volumes for later sale, they’d eliminate the need for scanalations, assuming they do a good job on the translations, of course. But I consider names to be a part of the translation and if, for whatever reason, they choose not to follow what the manga-ka has written, then why would I want to read it? That’s why we don’t buy titles like Detective Conan, simply because of the names. This shouldn’t be a problem, Viz has an in with Shonen Jump, etc. and wouldn’t have a problem getting pre-print copies of stories, if they were actually printing anywhere near when these things were coming out in Japan, so they really have no excuses for not making it available in a timely manner.

    But I guess then they’d actually have to point the finger where it belongs, straight in the mirror, when they go looking for blame for their financial failures. They’re not earning the financial support of many American fans, they want to pretend it’s all someone else’s fault, but it’s not. It’s theirs.

  • Heather Ward says:

    One piece is one of those titles that annoyed ALOT of fans with the changes 4kids made to the anime and VIZ for the changes made in the manga. Those changes and the huge influx of informed fans have made this title difficult to sell. Naruto and Bleach have done really well for VIZ, but One Piece does not. Instead it got caught in the perfect storm of disgruntal fans and crazy wide-eyed youthful fans that much decide do I pick up Naruto, Bleach OR One Piece. VIZ and now Funmation cannot jump to the current story point, because of the financial investment made with One Piece. Scanlators just invest their time and passion for a title and the internet has created the perfect distribution for disposible entertainment. I think if Funmation follows VIZ with their Naruto policy it could help. And I think VIZ could experiment with an online scanlation subscription service for their SJ line-up. Unfortunately I am not too sure Japanese publishers are prepared to allow VIZ to do this or that Funmation has the rights to current OP episodes.

  • Heather Ward says:

    Ouch, sorry for the misspelling in that last post.

  • The Japanese need to sell their product and it isn’t like they have a lot of alternatives or options. If American companies simply spell out faster distribution, etc. as a condition of their licensing dollars, the Japanese will accept it. The problem is, Viz, etc. don’t even try, they’re all supremely convinced that anything that hasn’t already been done a million times is destined to fail, they’re shocked when… wow… something new actually WORKED! They, and their fanboy contingent, would rather just point at piracy as the enemy, rather than working to make piracy a moot point, which they can very easily do, they just don’t want to make the effort.

    Heck, I wish the Japanese would just put out their own manga online in English for subscription and entirely by-pass the American distribution model. They’d make more money, it would go back to the actual producers of the manga itself and we wouldn’t have to listen to all the incessant piracy whining we get at American anime cons.

  • Heather Ward says:

    Actually that probably would be a problem or not. Toei tried to offer just subtitled anime for Slam Dunk and Air Master, unfortunately the translations were too literal for the most part. 4 vols in and everything was cancelled. There is a huge chance they would do the same thing with manga. I do honestly think we are moving toward the plan to have legit scanlations online. What did not work 5 to 6 years ago for ComicsOne, could be a serious possiblity in less than 2 years, if not by the end of this year, especially if the Japanese can agree to it.

  • I’m sure they can actually find or hire someone who can do decent translations in Japan. Heck, I’m sure there are lots of fansubbers out there right now that would jump at the chance to work for a Japanese company. Just because they did it badly once doesn’t mean they’ll do it badly every time.

  • They don’t really need to go that far, just join up with BOOST TV. That was the best thing Gonzo ever did with their 3 fansubs, signing up with BOOST.

    The worst they ever did was dropping them and taking on crunchy.

    The thing i liked a bout BBOOST’s releases were that i was getting my anime a few hours after it aird in japan and the subs were very good. Sure it lacked the fancy kareoke that seems to be the standard these days, but TBH i never watch the op/ed of a show after the first time.

    More companies should follow suit and sign up with BOOST. Crunchy blows since they limit which countries can access the vids and no, its not the japanese licensor slapping the restriction, its crunchy)

  • That’s not necessarily a bad idea, I can see a major business opportunity for the company that wants to offer this kind of service for television shows the world over. Why limit it to Japanese shows? Offer Japanese, Korean, Chinese, French… you name it, subtitled in various languages for a small fee, say $1 an episode, and you’ll make a mint!

    Of course, no one will ever do it because it makes sense.

    Gonzo’s problem isn’t that they backed the wrong horse, Gonzo’s problem is that Gonzo sucks, but that’s another story.

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