Without Technology, Life would be _______.

Just last week my laptop conked out on me and refused to budge no matter how hard I tried to tickle it awake. So for two whole days, I panicked. It was a lot like trying to function without a limb – or a very necessary extremity, like my right thumb.  It was a complete nightmare.  I was thrust into this analogue life where I was forced to do things like go to the library to use the computer (at half-hour intervals), hand write tweets in my notebook (that i’ve since misplaced and now, that no one will ever see), I cooked (more on that later), and I even learned to crochet.

Now that my computer is done playing dead, I feel like I’m being reunited with a much needed appendage – like my right thumb (how I’ve missed you!). A couple of things I learned from my couple of days without my laptop:

1. Living life is an impossible task without technology

2. I love staring at my screen

3. Crocheting is stupid

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write an entry about the iPad and manga and scanlations, but I haven’t yet found a way to pull them all together into one cohesive argument. Thankfully, Roland Kelts has pretty much covered all of these topics over at the Comics Journal.  Technology – and it’s failures – are once again, my gain.

In its first iteration the iPad is a performance enhanced e-reader.  But what Kelts presents is the potential that the iPad introduces for manga to go digital and legitimate.  Fredrik Schodt was telling me when I interviewed him earlier this year, that all it’s going to take is the right e-reader for manga, and books, hand-held books, will be wiped out.  And then manga will take on a new form, incorporating audio and motion.

Well, the iPad won’t read Flash, so technology’s still got some growth and developing to do – but so do publishers and distributors in this game.  As Brigid Alverson points out on Robot 6, there are a ton of apps for reading manga out there, and from the looks of it, the legit manga is too clunky, while the illegal stuff is too hard to say “no” to.

The interesting thing about all this, is that manga scanlation has grown and developed alongside the localized manga publishing markets (in the U.S., France, Italy, Mexico, etc.) for years now.  (Has it been a decade?  My gut tells me “yes,”  my journalistic instinct tells me “look it up.”)  At this point, we can yell and scream about how it’s illegal and how the creators lose out in this free and wide distribution model (and practice) or we can acknowledge that no matter what we do, manga scans, possibly even more than manga itself, isn’t going anywhere.  And the most publishers can do, possible in place of cease and desist letters, is to start developing new ways to get the legitimate work distributed.

At this point, the brand is known and proven.  (The “brand” being Chica Umino/Honey+Clover, Matsuri Hino/Vampire Knight, Tite Kubo/Bleach, etc.) so publishers would do better to expand upon the strength of that brand and offer an easier, more updated, added incentive approach to consuming – or even better, participating – in that brand and product.  (See Viz Media’s SigIkki website for ideas on developing a plan A).

Fredrik Schodt says that manga’s golden age in Japan is over, and Milton Griep’s whitepaper on iCv2 may be a clue that it’s on its way out here in the U.S., too.  But that’s measuring manga in *book* form.  Manga is more than books and I hope and encourage publishers to find out everything that it can be and is already.  Cuz I gotta say, any manga out there (even Rosario+Vampire which I hate)  sure as hell beats the pathetic writing and storytelling in Twilight, and it’s a helluva lot more fun than crocheting.

9 Comments »

  1. […] Kai-Ming Cha, left computerless for a few days, spends some time thinking about the iPad, the slump in manga sales, and the scanlation debate and decides that publishers need to think about new means of distribution, noting, “Manga is more than books.” […]

  2. […] Kai-Ming Cha, left computerless for a few days, spends some time thinking about the iPad, the slump in manga sales, and the scanlation debate and decides that publishers need to think about new means of distribution, noting, “Manga is more than books.” […]

  3. Chargone said

    anyone who says an e-reader, especially crappy ones which are all about giving the publishers absolute control over what you ‘bought’ from them rather than a better experience, is clueless. thing is, e-book readers, solve exactly One problem that books have: physical space taken up. in exchange they present you with the problems of power supply, screen glare, companies deciding you no longer own what you bought, inability to resell your items…. i’m sure there’s more.

    books replaced scrolls because they were Better. but you’ll notice that, surprise surprise, video phones (which have been possible and occasionally used for a Long time now) never replaced the traditional sound only model, despite being the same but better. side effect of solving a non-existant problem. likewise, home video never killed the movie theater (though the movie industry seems to be working hard at killing both). i’m not sure if my examples are good, but to actually Kill something as wide reaching as books, you have to make something that is as good in every way, better in some way, and has No Additional Downsides.

    e-books have a ridiculously long way to go to achieve that in comparison to books. step one would be getting companies to realise that the vast majority of the cost of the product they were selling was paper, ink, and shipping. if you’re now selling the same thing, minus All Of Those Costs, it needs to be a damn sight cheaper for your customers to buy. (many companies seem to be doing their level best to make e-books and online music purchases More Expensive for the consumer than the physical goods… this is moronic on a number of levels, not least of which is that a lot of customers Know they’re getting screwed, and are not happy with it.)

    economics aside, the one thing that i’ve always loved about manga, and anime, is that they actually seem capable of both telling a good story And having nice art. ok, admittedly, there are crap anime and manga to be had… but i’m still trying to figure out how rerunning spongebob for the ..gah, feels like at least 5 years now? 5th year straight is better than actually putting some decent anime on tv.

    though i was puzzled to come accross something marked ‘manga’ not too long ago, written by an American, drawn by an American, in American style, in standard American size… it was freaking Battlestar Galactica, for crying out loud! the Only thing it had in common with things usually labled manga was being in black and white. … that seemed relevant when i started.

    Manga might be about more than just books, but books are very much a large part of what it IS. i can’t think of a good analogy right now, sadly.

    back to the subject of price: in theory, i’m in no way averse to paying for such things. in practice, i never would. this isn’t to say i’d get it off a torrent or scanlation site (might happen that i end up reading a series that way, but not specifically to avoid paying for it). in reality, that money is going to go straight into physical product. it is simply far more significant to me that i get volume X of whatever series of actual books i’m collecting, manga or otherwise, than that i get random pile of bits number xyz. heck, the 1632 online magazine i may or may not have mentioned earlier (which was origionally also published in hard copy, but being a book publisher, not a magazine publisher, they couldn’t keep u p, stuff happened, blah blah blah), despite my absolute Love for the series, i’ve never bought it.

    i read fanfiction online a lot, scanlations, web comics… note how none of these cost money and i can walk away at any time. yet my pile of books, which i payed for, is so large that i had to sell half my library at one point simply due to lack of space to put them. (to be fair, i’ve only really got one room to put them in, not having my own house). the only reason i never bought Megatokyo merchandise, useless as most of it is, is that they wouldn’t take creditcards from outside the USA when i had money to spend on such things. i buy most of my books online these days because the bookshops here are so useless when it comes to thinks i actually care about. i Have been known to buy game expansions in digital format… but i’ll still pay the extra ~$30 (not sure if that’s USD or NZD…) to get a hardcopy shipped to me where possible, and i’ll pay the extra to go pick up the basic game from the shop if i can. (basically, i’ll buy game stuff online if it’s the only way to get it)

    i’m far from the only person who thinks like this, i’m sure.

    (fair disclaimer: i never bought Yen Plus because, once again, i live in NZ and it’s not available here. tyranny of distance :S. i’m still bemused that amazon america will happily sell consoles and games that Won’t Work Here to us, but amazon uk, who use the exact same product we do for such things, will not ship them here. not really directly related, i’ll admit, but the same kind of headache…)

    ok, i have no meaningful end. think that’s all i’ve got to say for now.

  4. Chargone,

    Thanks so much for visiting and for your response!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about books and technology and Dave Eggers’s question “Why does everything need to be on a screen?” so I will post that soon.

    I’m not sure that books or manga in physical form will disappear entirely, but I am concerned about publishers in Japan and their anxiety about how to treat their intellectual property. At this point, with the low birth-rate in Japan and flagging anthology and tankoubon sales, since the trend is to pay more attention to whatever handheld technology is well, held in hand (note: not books or magazines anymore) in order for manga to continue as a staple of popular culture, some sort of e-distribution must be addressed.

    Additionally, I’ve been thinking about online distribution (not necessarily e-readers) and wondering if having a wide variety of content available online would actually help publishers. Right now, with publishing and printing’s cost, it’s too risky to take a chance on anything less than Naruto. But there’s more than Naruto out there. What I would give for Viz Media to bring back Taiyo Matsumoto’s Blue Spring and No. 5.

    But would Taiyo Matsumoto sell in an online context in English? I think so. Not like Naruto, but quite possibly a solid midlist return. I’m thinking of curious readers in your home country, NZ, as well as OZ, Canada, Italy, Germany, France. Although, those countries may already have licenses to these properties since their readership and market is far more mature than that in the U.S.

    From what I gather from your comment, you’re taking in content/information in a variety of ways: books, magazines, scans, torrents. There is a lot A LOT of stuff out there, but when it comes down to it at the end of the day, people need to eat and creators need some sort of compensation for their love and sweat. Scans, bittorrent, piracy – it’s going nowhere. It’s here to stay. But that is exactly why the current climate is perfect for an affordable, legitimate, online alternative to make its way to the market.

    Thanks again for sharing and visit often!

  5. Chargone said

    actually, when it comes to manga, we just get whatever the american companies publish. our entire market in that area is, so far as i’ve ever been able to tell, amounts to ‘whatever we can import from america’. only physical shop that carries a decent selection is borders, and they’re horribly overpriced. there’s at least one NZ based online shop that’s pretty good, but even they’re stuck with the same publishers, and licenses, you see in the USA. (anime’s a little different around the edges, but the core’s the same.) of course, i can only really speak for my own experience in one city, but still. France and Germany, needing an entirely different language, are a different story.

    so far, the only attempts i’ve heard of to put manga online legally, lock out everyone outside of the USA/Canada. they only have the license for north America, and unlike books that actually means something. of course, what it actually meant was that, if they got it out earlier, the scaners just ripped off their online content to save themselves some work… the scanners still had a huge audience in all those people who got locked out, who the company was deliberately failing to supply. which is he exact same problem the music and movie industry keeps running into (though less on a geographical basis)

    a wide variety of content online will help publishers, but various experiments by webcomic authors and bands and such indicate that it’ll help, not by reducing the cost by cutting the physical goods out of the loop, but by drawing much more attention to the content, thus leading to more people wanting to Buy the physical content. most results i’ve seen indicate that online content is best used as advertising for physical product. just selling online content directly, generally speaking (video games are an exception for a whole Hoste of reasons, but the primary one is that they’re digital by nature in the first place and cannot be removed from that context, so far as i can tell) won’t get you very far. yes, a much higher proportion of your income is profit… but your income will tend to be much lower unless you’re also moving physical product.

    (side note: i actually don’t use torrents myself. not for any particular reason, really, just don’t. nearest i ever came was the WoW updater when i actually played that game😀 )

    i think manga, at least in English and around here, would do a lot better if we ever got more of the sort of thing aimed at older audiences… heck, i even got my Mother to read bunnydrop…
    in the states, the primary market for manga may be teenage girls. here, at least, that’s true only in as much as most of what is to be had is aimed at teenage girls. when i was in highschool, a Lot of guys read Oh, My Goddess at the library. there was a definite male audiance for that. Yotsuba, Azumanga Daioh, black lagoon…

    i’m not expressing this very well but it always seems like an awful lot of the problem is mis-targeting and high expectations. build a model around less sales of a given title all at once (lots of people are on a budget, and will happily buy your books, but don’t find out about a series until volume 7 and can’t buy as fast as they’re published, for example), expand the target audiance. actually Advertise to people other than those who already know about your stuff. get your books in shops people actually go into. (hint: for manga aimed at guys in their teens and early twenties, games shops are probably a better bet than bookshops, and around here at least, there’s exactly One comic book shop…. and at least 12 games shops…)

    ehh, always feels that way to me, anyway. don’t really know how on target this is. but step one has Got to be to realise that most of the potential audience is older than where at least the american publishers are currently aiming <_<

    as for manga in japan, i seem to remember reading something that amounted to 'they'd be a lot better off publishing things once a month than once a week'.

    heh. sorry, rambling. if i stick around you'll see this a lot.. somewhat thought out comments on whatever random spark gets triggered as i read, and whatever that triggers😀

    the above aside, i'm a lot less familiar with the realities of manga than i am video games, movies, newspapers, web comics, and music (despite not actually Caring about the music). *thinks* though it strikes me that a good step for at least the English publishers is to figure out what makes manga good, then look into finding people who can make things that have those traits… original English language stuff, rather than all translations all the time. some already do this a bit, of course. … whatever that factor is, that battlestar galacitac comic.. wasn't. *laughs*.

    … i meant to end this several paragraphs ago :S

  6. […] here to read the rest: Without Technology, Life would be ______. « boiled egg Share […]

  7. […] here to read the rest:  Without Technology, Life would be ______. « boiled egg Share […]

  8. […] original post here:  Without Technology, Life would be ______. « boiled egg Share […]

  9. […] that has always been read on screens; as scanlation sites surge and publishers start to push back, Kai-Ming Cha urges publishers to think creatively: "Manga is more than books and I hope and encourage publishers […]

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