Thursday, April 12, 2012

A rant on leeches

Back when I first started reviewing manga on this blog, the biggest problem I faced was the question of what to talk about first. There was simply this big flood of titles that I was reading, and many of them were calling for my attention at one time. A lot of them were being fan scanilated on Manga Fox, making it easy to go through several volumes at a time to develop a better understanding of the settings and characters for each of them for the write-ups. More recently, either I've become pickier, or I've just found all the things that I want to read. Either way, there have been fewer titles worth reviewing. I still want to write up the reviews of the remaining Zetsubo Sensei books, and maybe grab some more stuff from Book-Off, but that will have to wait until my foot heals so I can stand over the scanner. Which brings me back to Manga Fox.

One of the things that has always puzzled me was Manga Fox's willingness to host scans of books already licensed in the U.S. market. Titles like One Piece, Naruto and Bleach are obviously popular in the U.S., and Viz, the rights holder, is notorious for being years behind the release dates of the Japanese chapters.. So, yeah, it's an obvious temptation for people to want to read the latest chapters as they come out. Additionally, U.S. commercial translations feel overpriced, since a $5 book in Japan is $10-$11 in the U.S., but with uglier cover art. Companies like Viz are shooting themselves in the foot with their marketing strategies, especially when the economy is weak. But, Manga Fox's culpability goes further, when we look at titles like Aventura, where the scans are coming straight from the English translations from Del Rey. This is a clear case of copyright violation no matter how you look at it, and it's just a matter of time before the lawyers get involved. At least in the case of the Crunchyroll host site, the administrators were able to make the transition from pirates to legally-licensed distributors. Manga Fox may not be quite so successful.

About a month ago, Viz's lawyers finally stepped in and dropped the hammer on Manga Fox, demanding that everything Viz owned be blocked on MF's servers. This has caused an interesting reaction from visitors to the site. Most readers of scanilated manga are referred to as leeches, for their willingness to read the fan translations without making donations or otherwise assisting in the scanilation process. Leeches are notable for two main traits - being selfish, and being stupid. First, they want scanned chapters NOW without paying for them. Second, they'll howl at the fan translators about mistakes or delays in releases without understanding what's actually going on behind the scenes to do the actual work.

The reason for going into all this is that the second Manga Fox stopped hosting One Piece, Naruto and Bleach, the leeches started screaming about how greedy Manga Fox is, and how they'll never come back again, as if it's something that MF had a choice in, versus Viz's lawyers using strongarm tactics. Given that the leeches are downloading fan scans for free to begin with, the question is why any of them would think their absence from Manga Fox would be noticed if they left.

But, there's a secondary effect coming into play. Fewer unlicensed manga chapters are being uploaded to MF now. Either the fan scanilator groups are moving to a different host site, the number of groups is dwindling, or the existing groups are finding it harder to get members or raw scans from Japan. Regardless of the reasons, it's getting harder for me to find titles that I want to review. It may be coming time to move on from MF and focus only on writing up manga that I'm willing to buy at full price new when it comes out (and there's almost nothing that I want to buy new, anymore).

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On a side note, I'm still reading webcomics on the GoComics site. GC has a policy of introducing at least one new strip to their site every couple of weeks. I'll sample the first few day's worth of each one just to get a feel for it, and inevitably I'll check out the reader comments. Funny enough, even GoComics has its idiot leeches. Invariably, someone will come in and leave a comment about how horrible a particular new artist is, and how they'll never come back to read that new strip again. As if anyone - GoComics, other readers, or the artist - would care if the leech reads the strip for free or not. I don't really know the payback strategy for artists on GoComics, if it's based on the number of people that subscribe to the strip (which for free user accounts doesn't mean money going from the reader to the artist directly) or if it's a matter of comment count. Most obviously, artists get money from book sales and newspaper syndication contracts, but many webcomics don't have paper books out nor do they appear in newspapers. So, having a leech come in and threaten to stop reading the strip for free is just stupid. The most ridiculous example was a couple of weeks ago when GoComics announced they were starting up the release of the comics that Kliban had published in Playboy during the 70's and 80's. These are often subtle, understated single-panel statements that are more thought-provoking than laugh out-loud funny. Of course, a few leeches immediately derided the strips for underimpressing them and announced they were never coming back. If they were trying to hurt Kliban's feelings, they failed. Kliban's been dead for 20 years.

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