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#11. Those books are the publisher's products, not yours.


tl by danluffey

Those books are the publisher's products, not yours.
bottom: I can't take this anymore!

The answer I received was a very cold one.
"Those books are the publisher's products, not yours."
Surrounded by the three of them in that tiny Ginza coffee shop, I was truly speechless.
"Not mine? But I drew them," I instantly shot back. The three of them exchanged looks, but they said nothing.
Then, the editor-in-chief opened his mouth. "They belong to us, though. Legally."
The new editor then gave his own reply. "That's right. The proprietary rights belong to us."
At first, I wasn't sure I understood what he was saying. "But my name's written in big characters on the front cover. 'Sato Shuho.' And I drew everything that's inside. I've also reserved 100% of the copyrights, so no matter how you look at it, they're mine...right?!"
My voice was getting hysterical. The editors started to look a bit troubled, and resigned themselves to stare at the cloud of cigarette smoke floating near the ceiling.

"If you were to, for example, Sato-san, buy your own book at the bookstore, then yes, it would belong to you. Because at that moment, Sato-san, you paid money to purchase proprietary rights to that book. Until you purchase it, however, that book in the bookstore belongs to the publishing company. This is the same for all consumers. Their payments give them proprietary rights to the book, while the copyrights to the contents remain the property of the author. The consumer hasn't purchased the copyrights, and is not allowed to turn the book into an anime or a drama, or basically use it for anything other than their own personal entertainment. Thus, the tankoubon volumes do not belong to you. As you said, Sato-san, the rights you own are the copyrights, and not the proprietary rights. Therefore, we may not sell our products to you at a discounted price, even if you are the author."
And so, it didn't take long for my idea about selling my tankoubon volumes on my brand-new site to go swirling down the toilet.
bottom: Then whose books are they...?

Here's a summary of what the publishers told me:
*The tankoubon volumes are the publisher's products, and therefore belong to the publisher.
*Mangaka are merely assisting publishers in creating a product, and the end product (book) does not belong to the mangaka.
*Therefore, mangaka cannot purchase the products at their original price.
*Mangaka are also not allowed to make deals directly with publishers.
*However, since they did take part in the authoring process, they can buy the books at 80% of the list price, a special discount that is available to every company employee.
*If the mangaka wishes to purchase the books at a lower price than that, they must go through an intermediary or an e-bookstore.
*If the mangaka decides to go through an intermediary or e-bookstore to make the purchase, they must ensure that they will purchase a monthly average of over two million yen in books.
*Two million yen a month is too small for large intermediaries, so this limits the mangaka to small to medium-sized intermediaries. Unfortunately, intermediaries of this size lack the manpower to deliver books exactly as they're ordered.
*This means that if a mangaka decides to order 10,000 of his own books one month, he may only be able to get a hold of a hundred or so in the necessary time frame.

At the end of our meeting, the editor-in-chief said this: "You're free to sell books online if you wish, but don't come crying to us when bookstores stop selling your books."
After telling me over and over again that the books weren't mine, he went and called them "your books" at the end. It was so unfair.
"What do you mean by that? The bookstores will refuse to stock the shelves with them?" As I asked this question, the publishers started exchanging glances again.
"I doubt anyone would go that far. But they may start stocking them in places that are harder to find...like in the corner, or not putting them in stacks out in the front. They're people too, you know."
bottom: Comic magazine profit structure - Even if a comic magazine's profit is in the red, selling tankoubon volumes of the magazine's serialized contents can put them back in the black. This is the structure that comic magazines have run on for a while now. The reason why comic magazines keep getting canceled is because the number of volumes sold keeps dropping, and many magazines are finding themselves unable to stay out of the red anymore.

"But the books are your products, aren't they? Isn't that a problem for YOU, then? If that's the case, then I'll just sell them all myself! The old system isn't really working anymore, so how about assisting me on this new business venture?"
I was met with silence again. Then, the editor-in-chief opened his mouth. "You know...even without manga, as long as our company continues to exist, we'll keep getting paid."
As we left the coffee shop, the editor-in-chief said "I'm disappearing here," and vanished into the night streets of Ginza.
The other two editors also walked off in their own directions. I hardly ever come to Ginza, and the last trains had already left the station, so I went stumbling aimlessly down the road, unsure even of where I should go to get a taxi.
Finally, after finding a taxi stop and getting into a car, it hit me. I felt so pathetic, yet somehow I felt so sad that I couldn't even cry. I couldn't even begin to count the number of times they'd treated me like a child.
When I reached my house, my taxi fare was around 9,000 yen. When I pulled the 10,000 yen note out from my wallet, I said something to the taxi driver that I'd never ever said in my entire life.

"Keep the change."
But that only amplified the void within.
After a few days, I approached my wife. "I want to give online comics a shot, even if it's unprofitable. what do you say?"
She gave me a pretty cool response. "Sure, why not? You've been so well-behaved lately anyway."
It sounded so natural, like she really didn't mind. Her motherly nature teaches me just how destructive motherly nature can be. I only ever do what she allows me to.
Now that I think about it, I was unemployed when we got married. After "Umizaru" finished its serialization, and before "Give My Regards to Black Jack" started, there as a period of eight months where I was simply paying my three staff members, despite the fact that I had no job.

The majority of mangaka hire staff members when they start a serialization and then part ways with them when it ends. The mangaka are only doing it to protect themselves, so I guess it's understandable, but thinking about it from the staff members' points of view, having the fate of your entire livelihood in the hands of a mangaka must make for an even more unstable life than the mangaka's.
I felt that since I had hired these people, I was responsible for them, and that firing people out of my own convenience was the wrong thing to do. Mangaka and manga staff are taking an equally large gamble with their lives. A gamble that only one out of every 100 people win at, and one that sometimes doesn't even pay out well to the winners.
I just wanted to merge my ideals with my work. Only four years ago was I able to pass a credit card review. Many times, I had real estate agents refuse to lend me space "because I was a mangaka." But I like manga.
After a few more days passed, I got an idea. "I'll open up my online comics payment system to all mangaka and people who want to become mangaka."

If I did that, then starting my own online comics service as an individual and turning it into a business would become extremely difficult. But if there was no way for me to do it myself, then maybe I could make it a possibility with a little help from other people.
"I'll publicize the system, and I won't take any money from people who take part in it."
I didn't want to become a middleman. If the number of members increased, then the readers would increase as well, and the sales of my manga would probably go up too. There was no telling how much it would cost to create and keep the site up, though. The one thing I was sure of was that it would surely cost many times more than the upkeep for a personal site. And so, I was faced with a question: was I ready to use up every last coin of my savings?
I was about to step out on yet another journey.


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