Shonen Jump’s ultimatum to readers to stop uploading its manga online or face legal consequences is in response to publishers’ deeply held fears about a loss of control over their mangaka and a collapse in magazine sales, say commentators.
Illicit online distribution is claimed to have a disastrous effect on sales, but one of the most popularly pirated titles, One Piece, recently set a national sales record with is 57th volume, selling 3,000,000 copies in its first edition alone. In total it is said to have sold 185,000,000 copies. Sales of magazines meanwhile have steadily declined.
The overseas popularity of titles like Naruto, Haruhi, and Lucky Star is also said to have to have been based largely on illicit online distribution – certainly Kadokawa and company never marketed them at all overseas.
Some consider the real reason for Shueisha’s anger at illegal scans to be quite different to what the publisher would have fans believe – one journalist claims that the real fear of publishers is actually digital distribution as a whole, and the disruption it threatens to the manga industry’s traditional control over mangaka.
He points out that the main earner for mangaka is not serialised magazine sales but sales of the compiled volumes, or tankobon, much as it is sales of the DVD over TV broadcasts in the world of anime.
With illegal uploads sales are indeed impacted, so some mangaka have responded by simply publishing the serialisation on their homepage and relying on tankobon sales – a growing proportion are said to not to care if the serialisation takes place online, as ultimately it serves only as an advertisement for the tankobon.
“So the publishers are increasingly having trouble tying mangaka to their magazines. For example, were an Internet company come along and buy up the manuscripts, and then publish them online as a ‘web magazine,’ it’s possible the entire structure of the manga industry would be changed.”
Publishers, especially Japan’s giant publishing houses, deeply fear disruptions to their established way of doing things, but with new technology change is inevitable.
Online distribution, far from “wounding” mangaka as Shueisha claims, may actually free them from the control of traditional publishers – in the process destroying paper sales, which may be what publishers fear the most.