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#13. Sato Shuho on Web is open. But is it making money?


tl by danluffey

Sato Shuho on Web is open. But is it making money?

Sato Shuho on Web, the website that opened in February of 2009, was my answer to the unreasonable nature of the manga industry, as well as the shrinking problem paper culture was facing.
Mangaka shouldn't be slaves to the system. Perhaps by setting up this site, what I truly hoped to achieve was freedom.
All pre-opening production cost approximately 5 million yen. And once the site was online, I'd have to pay monthly management costs.
Paying the site staff labor costs, maintenance costs, credit card payment costs, viewer usage costs, and monthly running costs would require at least 300,000 more yen monthly.
Would we really be able to get all that back?
I could feel myself shiver at the magnitude of risk involved with this new adventure. A quiet excitement enveloped me, but I knew that I would need more than zeal to get through this.
To reiterate, when I first opened the site, there were no online comics, no shop, and no payment system.

I wasn't able to prepare the digital comics or functionality necessary to sell my products by the time the site opened. We lacked what most official mangaka web pages featured, and had hardly any unique content aside from a bunch of illustrations and an original manga.
Needless to say, the site didn't really make any waves.
The original profile manga I drew for the site -- the manga that appeared at the beginning of this book ・lit the first flame. As more and more people on the internet began to read it, the number of users on the site rapidly increased, overloading our servers in no time.
As we went through complaints procedures and hurriedly built a new server, I slowly began to feel like this might actually work. As we worked to build an e-book shop on the site, we also called out to a wide range of mangaka and invited them to join.

Even by the time we finished building the shop, we still didn't have a wide enough selection for it. I only had 35 volumes of published manga, which left our product lineup sorely lacking content. When I thought about what we would truly need to make profit, the answer that kept coming to me was "quantity." We needed to gather a bunch of mangaka, encourage them to release their works, and make the site bigger.
I wanted a site where readers could read a wide variety of manga. In the end, variety would increase our readership, which would ultimately result in more readers for my manga as well.
I needed to completely revamp the site and then call in other mangaka. Only necessary maintenance costs would be removed from the profits, and everything else would go to the mangaka. I also wanted to implement a free blog service in conjunction with the manga viewing service.
First, though, I needed to gather the mangaka. And so, in order to once again bring my delusions into reality, I took action.

Now that Sato Shuho on Web was a real site, my interests had already shifted elsewhere. As I had more meetings with the system development company, I prepared this letter to send out to mangaka. It's a bit long, but it's a good explanation of the ideas I had at the time (*1), so please give it a read.

Dear all manga producers (*2) -

[1] About the online comics system

As I explain how our online comic system will work, please take a look at the pages of the profile manga on my site and use them as an example. We are using a special page viewer on this site to try and emulate the feeling of flipping manga pages as closely as possible. We feel that this viewer plays a vital role in our system.

*1: Looking at the actual webpage as you read the beginning of this letter may help you understand it better.
*2: I like using the term "manufacturer" for myself, but for all other mangaka I use the normal character for "producer."

All members who complete the free registration on our site will be able to purchase online manga and read it on the site.
You'll notice that our online viewer is designed to look like a ring-bound notebook. The rings in the center have been altered, however, in order to present spread pages in the best manner possible. We are also planning to make other additions to the viewer, such as bookmark (*3) and zoom functionality.
In my case, I've set the prices of my manga at 10 yen for old chapters between 20~24 pages, and 30 yen for new chapters. Personally, I categorize new chapters as ones that are being released for the first time online, or are currently being serialized. They can be still be considered "new" until 6 months after they're published in a tankoubon volume.
*3: Bookmark - Adding a bookmark with one click allows a user to immediately jump back to a certain page, or return to the book later without losing their place.

On this site, 1 point = 1 yen. Readers can purchase however many points they want, at a minimum of 300 points per purchase due to credit card purchase limits. We will accept credit card and e-money payments for point purchases.
To reiterate, one old chapter of mine will cost 10 points, and one new chapter of mine will cost 30 points. Registered mangaka will be able to set their own chapter prices as they wish. We're also considering implementing a feature that allows readers to read sample portions for free. If this is implemented, mangaka will be allowed to freely set how much of a manga they wish to use as a free sample.

After buying a manga/work on the site, readers will be able to view it any number of times they want within a period of one year. Please note, our website is not a "download" but a "viewing service." On our site, readers purchase not "download" rights, but "viewing" rights.

[2] About our site system

We want our site to become a big, free mall where different mangaka can come and set up their own shops. Currently, the site I run, "Sato Shuho on Web," is only one part of that mall.
First, we'd like to have all interested mangaka fill out registration with their personal information or their company's information, then scan their own manga and upload the digital data to our servers.

In order to change the paper media into digital data, it is necessary to be in an environment where you can freely use a computer and a scanner.
There is no limit on the amount of pages for a registered work, but with the server space in mind, we will set a maximum upload limit for newly-registered users only. (Ex: Several tankoubon volumes)
Newly-uploaded manga will be temporarily placed into our "newly-registrated" corner and released for purchase to all readers. (At this point, it may be a good idea to start advertising the manga on your own site or blog.)
After a two-month period in the "newly-registrated" corner, mangaka who've earned a profit from chapter purchases, as well as mangaka who have not made a profit yet but still wish to promote their work will be required to pay "system usage fees."

Paying these fees will allow mangaka to set up their own independent pages on the site. These personal pages will allow journals and bulletin boards to be created, just like the current features on "Sato Shuho on Web."
We'll create the basic frames for these sites on our end and allow mangaka to customize them with their own images. Those who are familiar with the various types of blog services that are currently available should be able to imagine what our service will be like. We also plan to create special pages for amateur mangaka as well as mangaka with works that have page counts of equal to one or two tankoubon volumes.
After the two-month "newly-registered" term, users will be able to choose whether or not they wish to start paying the system use fees. If paid, users will receive their own personal pages.

[3] Registration and System Fees

As explained in the previous section, registration as a "newly-registered" user is free.

These two "newly-registered" months are completely free. All system maintenance fees that are incurred during this period will be covered by Sato Manga Works.
After that period, whether or not a mangaka earns profit or not, they will be given the option of paying "system usage fees" in exchange for gaining their own personal pages. These fees encompass all costs necessary to maintain the site, including viewer usage costs, site maintenance fees, security measures to prevent illegal copying, server fees, and site and server administration costs.
I will not take any money from these fees for myself.
The points paid by users will be converted back into real money. After a percentage is paid to the point system payment provider, the rest will be sent directly to the mangaka.
I'm very sorry to say this, but currently, we have no idea of how much the "system usage fees" will actually cost.

We estimate that in additional to an initial one-time only fee, we will require users to pay anywhere from several thousand yen to a maximum of 60,000 yen per month. We will categorize payments into different levels of service, as "Pro" and "Lite" versions and allow mangaka to choose the level that fits their needs best.

[4] Service Start Date

We are currently busy building the site so that we can begin service within this year. This concludes the system overview.
If you have any questions or find something that you feel should be corrected, please contact us. We will strive to answer you as quickly as possible. Thank you very much.
Sato Manga Works Ltd. CEO - Sato Shuho

Looking it over now, it seems really slipshod and unpolished, but it was what I brought with me when I went out to garner interest from other mangaka.
I was advertising my business now.
Over the course of the process, I met with around twenty mangaka, from amateurs to veterans. I can remember myself running around in the midst of summer, overcome with stress and sweat. The businessman life really didn't suit me.
I received a wide range of replies from the mangaka I met with. The initial fees and monthly fees that could rise to a maximum of 60,000 yen were a sticking point for most. They had all contacted me themselves, so they all saw the meaning in what I was trying to do...up to a point. "But will it make money?" was always the question we ended up with.
And I still wasn't confident enough to give them all a hearty "Yes!"


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