#14. You may laugh, but I'm really trying to change the world here.
MANGA POVERTY #14
tl by danluffey
You may laugh, but I'm really trying to change the world here.
In September of 2009, seven months after "Sato Shuho on Web" opened, the online comic payment service was finally up and running.
It was the time of reckoning. Would we make money?
At the time, the internet was swirling with criticism toward what I was doing.
"There's this idiot mangaka out there shouting things like 'paper culture is dead' and trying to make his own e-book site to sell his manga. Where does he think he'd be if it wasn't for the publishers? Seriously, some people...why would you bite the hand that feeds you?"
I also received long e-mails from people who were apparently "editors currently employed at publishing companies," and I was even criticized by fellow mangaka on their blogs.
A mangaka friend of mine told me that among the editors, I had become the target of a lot of criticism. In short, "Sato Shuho" had been identified as a security risk by the publishing industry. Not only had I criticized the existing publishing industry system, but I was trying to create an entirely new one. It goes without saying that I had been prepared for this, but I was a little disappointed to see my fellow mangaka attack me as well.
Honestly, watching them try and defend the publishers like that actually made me feel a bit sorry for them. Unable to adapt to the changing times, the publishing industry was like a boat made of mud sinking in the sea, left with no other defense than to assert their vested interests. And there those mangaka were, clinging desperately to the boat and trying to protect it even though the water was already up to their knees. It was a pathetic sight.
It's true that mangaka are connected to publishers, but if anything, they're closer to being freelancers. If they don't produce a product that sells, they're thrown away. It's just another wretched popularity contest. And even if a manga does start to sell, it's only thanks to the publishers and the bookstores.
I acknowledge that. And I'm thankful. But I think it's going too far to make myself feel like I'm forever indebted to them. No one should be required to, at the very least.
If you truly believe that mangaka should feel indebted to the publishers for making manga sell, then doesn't it also make it their fault if manga doesn't sell? If publishers were going to take responsibility for a manga not selling, then I would understand the logic. But come on. Only telling me that I need to feel obligated after something sells? You call that fair?
bottom: Bookstores are disappearing rapidly all over the country! - Due to the publishing slump, Japan's bookstore count has shrunk by 30% in the past 10 years. While supermarkets and suburban, large bookstores increase, smaller bookstores that depended on the locals for business are slowly being pushed into extinction. And now, with the advent of online bookstores and e-books, these local bookstores are going to be faced with even harder times.
So, to answer the whole "Why are you biting the hand that feeds you?" question, I really think that mangaka is looking at publishers and authors from too similar a viewpoint. They're hardly in the same category. Publishers are business partners, and ideally, mangaka and publishers should stand on an equal level.
Now, to get back on topic, on the initial day that the online comics payment system was activated, I found myself glaring at the administration screen. If I screwed up here, I would become a laughingstock. I would also betray everyone who was expecting something great from me.
Soon, I watched as the first reader purchased an online comic. Then there were two more. And the numbers just kept increasing. A few hours later, our profit had reached 10,000 yen, and in the first day, we made a whopping 100,000.
It was a huge success. In that first month, we made over 800,000 yen. After all that time, my effort and faith had begun to bear fruit. If we could take in 800,000 monthly with my contents alone, then how much would 10-20 additional mangaka make us?
With my spirits lifted, I went to meet with the mangaka again that summer to let them know how the site was doing. At this rate, even if we did have to require 60,000 yen payments from the mangaka each month, they would easily earn enough profit to make up for it.
Of course, making the fees as cheap as possible could only help us, so I went to do a little research on the upkeep costs for similar e-book sites. After negotiating with the system development company, I was successful in lowering the monthly system usage fee from 60,000 yen to 25,000 yen.
With that, I decided to implement a Lite version of the service for 5000 yen a month as well as a Pro version for 25,000 yen a month.
All that was left now was to hurry with the development. The current site title, "Sato Shuho on Web" was too personalized, so I also needed to think of a new name.
For better or worse, the "Sato Shuho on Web" title had made its rounds and taken root in people's heads, so I wanted a similar-sounding title to switch in. I came up with "Manga on Web" (*1).
I started work immediately, hoping to open the site within the near. I also hired new web staff. It all looked like it was going smoothly, until we hit yet another pothole. In December, right before we were supposed to open the new site, the development company reported that they were behind schedule on their work. We tried putting our heads together to see if there was any way we could still open the new site within the year, but it seemed to be impossible.
I knew that they were working their hardest on developing the new site, so I tried not to be too unreasonable. After all, I owed them a lot for extending their hands to me when I had frustrated myself thinking about how to create my own website.
After delivering my apologizes to the necessary entities, we announced that the site would be opening in the new year.
However, even after the new year had arrived, we still had yet to see any light at the end of the tunnel. We changed plans once again and aimed for a grand opening in February, but that soon changed to March.
*1: [Manga on Web]
During that period, I repeatedly apologized to the mangaka who were involved, but kept feeling like they were gradually starting to lose faith in me.
The day we opened the site was supposed to coincide with the arrival of our newly-hired Web staff. However, when that day reared its head, the site was yet unfinished. I received a report from the company stating that opening the site in March would be difficult, but I told them I couldn't wait any longer. "How about an opening date of March 30, then?" he replied.
On that day, I made the following tweet:
"Today we received new web staff. You may laugh, but I'm really trying to change the world here."
I was serious.
I was seriously trying to challenge the system we had come to know as "publishing" and change it for good. I also wanted to show the world that mangaka are brave enough to arm themselves with weapons, and that the imminent danger we faced could end up destroying all manga as we knew it.
I know I'm repeating myself, but I love manga like nothing else. I couldn't take the idea of losing it all. And it also pissed me off that no one else was standing up to do anything.
But at the same time, I knew that people saw me as a little boy crying wolf. My powerlessness frustrated me yet again.
When the flood came after Noah built his ark, did he breathe a sigh of relief?
"At least I won't be a liar now."
On March 30, 2010, "Manga on Web" opened. It had more holes in its framework than swiss cheese, but it was open.
I had expected over 20 mangaka to join my site when it opened, but in the end, only a few pro mangaka, several semi-pros, and some amateurs ended up joining.
Then, the site was plagued by numerous severe bugs. The system developers had been so hurried that they had delivered everything without testing it enough.
And so, we found ourselves buried up to our necks in bugs that hadn't been fixed.
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