Thursday, February 24, 2011

Unpopular But Valid Opinions: I Am Pro-Manga Piracy

I keep hearing a lot about the manga industry and how piracy is "killing" it. And I think a lot about it. I have no choice but to think about it. It's a big part of the world I'm in. Hell, I'm only writing this blog post because the topic was brought up in my Business of Comics class last night.

I am on the unpopular (as far as the industry is concerned anyway) pro-side of manga being available for free on the internet along with available for purchase. I see it as a weird, skewed, scaled-up version of the free-content model of the webcomics industry.

Let me ramble my way through this and hopefully you will see my point...

Let me first present to you the webcomics business model as I understand/plan to use it. Webcomics GIVE AWAY the main body of their content for absolutely nothing. The actual comic is generally available for free, with no restrictions on viewing, to the entire internet. Essentially, creators are giving their product away to the whole world for free. They then make money off of sales of ad space, merchandise, and often PRINT VERSIONS OF THEIR COMIC.

Oh hey, doesn't that sound kind of familiar? Free content on the internet then being available for purchase in print form? Online scanlations --> Print manga.

Very rarely these days do I stand in a Borders (which, soon, I won't be able to do at all) or a Barnes & Noble, stare at the manga shelf, and buy five or six books. I do not pick up new series on a whim anymore! I cannot afford it! Manga is a bit expensive at $10-$12 a book, and I can't drop $50 to start five series, and end up only wanting to continue one of them. That is a waste of my money.

HOWEVER! I do stand in Borders or Barnes & Noble, stare at the manga shelf, and pick up the first volumes of series I read scanlations of online. Series that I have already invested myself in, know I enjoy, and want to be able to read ANY TIME, not just when I'm at a computer. Prime examples of this are "Bleach" and "Bakuman". Both of these are series I read free scanlations of first. As soon as I began reading scanlations of Bleach, I immediately went and bought hard copies. I wanted to be able to look closely at the artwork, and to be able to plow through pages without having to wait for them to load. But I knew it was already a story I enjoyed, and that buying it wouldn't be a waste of my money.

"Bakuman" is an even more perfect example. I, and by extension several friends, began reading scanlations before Viz decided to license the series and translate it for the US market. When we found out Viz had licensed it, we all marked the release date on our calendars. Within a week of release, several of us were at our local B&N, picking up volume 1, excited about when the next volume would be released for us to buy EVEN THOUGH WE COULD READ IT FREE ONLINE.

Scanlations are great to get into a series, and follow it beyond the current English releases. when you don't want to wait a month or two for the next full volume, you can read a few chapters online. Then, when a more reliable and accurate translation comes out on store shelves, often with extras that you won't get in scanlations (such as the rough draft pages between chapters in "Bakuman"), you can buy them.

Honestly, I'm so dependent on scanlations to "try out" manga at this point, that I worry without scanlations, I'll either miss out on series I would otherwise buy, or get BORED of series I like between releases. Again, I provide as an example "Afterschool Charisma".

"Afterschool Charisma" is a rare example of me picking up a title I know nothing about off a shelf at B&;N. I had seen it, joked about it, and the more I thought about the premise the more I thought maybe it would be interesting. But I didn't pick it up for MONTHS because I couldn't find scanlations online! Eventually, I was with my friend Philip, who works for B&N and offered his discount, so I picked it up.

This series is now my guilty pleasure. I adore it. But there are still no scanlations online. this would be less of a problem if it came out monthly, or even bi-monthly. But VIZ releases one volume of "Afterschool Charisma" once every six months. That is six months of me not reading Afterschool Charisma. Six months of me not psyching myself up for the next volume. In June, will I be as excited for Volume 3 as I was in January when I finished Volume 2? Yes, Viz makes the next volume available to read on their website, but their e-reader is abysmal and impossible to use. So I just don't read it on their site. So who knows if, in five months when Volume 3 is released, I'll remember to go pick it up.

There are also a lot of series that have large followings, but are never localized stateside. (See: "Hoshi no Samidare"/"The Lucifer & The Biscuit Hammer") These are series that I would buy in a heartbeat if they were brought to the US, but my only option is to read scanlations.

Manga publishers in the US are really just missing out on the opportunity to capitalize on this model. They need to make better, more accessible e-readers, make content available, and ENCOURAGE people to read their content online. Provide online versions of first volumes that they plan to publish in the future. Maybe even the first two volumes. Give people a chance to get into the story and to WANT to buy the print volumes. They need to pay attention to what's doing well on sites like MangaFox and MangaReader instead of trying to shut them down like they did with OneManga, and then go buy the licenses for those series and provide good translations that will be available at reliable times.

All of these things have been pushed on me as important in the webcomics business model because time has shown that they WORK. Having your content be good, accessible, reliably available is a key to success in the webcomics world. If you provide that, people will read, if they read they might enjoy it, if they enjoy it, they will be willing to support it.

Why can't this free-content model be applied to the manga industry as well?

The numbers show that interest in manga hasn't decreased. Fandoms are still alive, thriving, and growing. Sales have dipped because we're in a recession. We can't buy $50 worth of manga on a whim anymore. We can't risk $10 on something we're not sure if we'll commit to.

I know this is not true for 100% of manga fans. There are always a few people ruining it for everyone. But I am the FIRST to yell at the people who say "I won't buy it, I can just read it online." and the first to tell them to go support series that they love.

The long and short of it, Manga Industry (and book/music publishing industry in general), is that if you let us find what we want, let us commit ourselves to it, we'll still buy it. We just need to know what we want first. Instead of discouraging this, embrace it and find a way to use it to your advantage.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Open Letter to NJ Transit

Dear New Jersey Transit,

You need to get your shit together.

I hate to be so blunt and kind of mean about it, but it's what needs to be said. I'm 22, and I've been commuting from Bradley Beach/Asbury Park to New York Penn Station regularly for school for about a year and a half. I am a regular on the North Jersey Coast Line. I've used your trains for years before this, and will probably be stuck using them for years after I graduate to visit friends and do business. This is not a fact that I'm happy about.

Your mission statement, as taken from your website (and a poster in the Asbury Park train station) reads as follows:

Its mission is to provide safe, reliable, convenient and cost-effective transit service with a skilled team of employees, dedicated to our customers' needs and committed to excellence.

This is almost completely contrary to the experiences I've had using your service. Most of your conductors are incredibly nice, friendly, and willing to help customers as best they can. But your service is not reliable, convenient, or cost-effective. Maybe it was at one point, but it certainly isn't right now.

Let's start with "reliable and convenient". NJTransit, when my train gets stuck for more than half an hour twice in three weeks there is a serious problem. When a train has to be over-crowd itself taking on all of the passengers from another train, causing the passengers already on it to be cursed at and rather roughly shoved around instead of providing both sets of passengers with working trains, you cannot call your service "convenient".

When two weeks later, there is a problem with your tracks and passengers are left to wonder WHERE their train is going to go in order for us to get to our destination, you cannot call yourselves "reliable". Nor can you when I check your website and am SURPRISED that my line doesn't have any alerts on it.

Now let's move on to "cost-effective". This is my least favorite part of your mission statement, because I really really do not like being lied to. Your service has LONG since stopped being cost-effective.

Last year you made some changes to your ticket pricing and schedule. . .

How can increasing ticket price and reducing service possibly be cost-effective to your customers? A round-trip ticket from Bradley Beach or Asbury Park to New York Penn Station had previously been $20. This was affordable. Now? A round trip is $30. That's a $10 increase. That's $10 I'm not spending on comics (supporting my industry), art supplies (my job), or food (basic survival). This would be acceptable if there was an increase in trains, or if there was any kind of noticeable improvement to the services already being offered. But I've already made note of the fact that you have decreased the amount of trains running, and your rail system is full of problems causing delays.

I know the economy is in a bad state, and I know this winter was harsh. But you COULD be making a lot of money and are screwing things up for yourselves by making mass transit expensive, unreliable, and an all-around pain in the ass to use.

Get on the ball. Fix this. And do it soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trying to get attention for "Usarin".

Ohhhhhh man guys. I know it has been... Three months since I last updated this thing. I'm so sorry. I really am. And the worst part is that I can't promise I'll be reliably updating again in the near future. I'm graduating SVA in May, and after that I promise I will make a real effort to get of my ass and make "Rook Takes Queen" a priority again.

for all of you who have stuck around this long, you guys are troopers, and I love you all. I know you're out there, because this blog is still somehow getting like 300 hits a month without me even toughing it. And it's because of those 300 hits a month that I come to you tonight.

I have two very wonderful, insanely talented friends in Japan; Abe and Ruo, and the two of them do a doujinshi that they are publishing online...


It's a Vocaloid doijinshi about Miku, Rin, and Ren and their day to day lives with Usarin, a tiny version of Rin in a bunny costume. It is incredibly cute, and they have put up pages translated into English!

If you like Vocaloids, I am 100% sure you will enjoy it. Ruo and Abe are both big Vocaloid fans, and they are both mega-talented. If you're unfamiliar with Vocaloids (like me), it is still incredibly cute and totally enjoyable.

It just hit 500 views tonight, and I want to see that number shoot up like a rocket. They deserve all the attention in the world.