#15. Marching toward "Manga on Web"
MANGA POVERTY #15
tl by danluffey
Marching toward "Manga on Web"
["Manga on Web" is a site where anyone can easily create an online book, release it to the public, and read or purchase other online books. Members can also send messages to each other and write blog posts.]
This is the explanation you'll see if you click on the "For First Time Users" link on the site.
"Manga on Web" is a service that allows members to purchase online books using points (online currency) that can be acquired through credit card or WebMoney payments.
Purchased online books can be viewed over and over again during their valid use periods. These online books are compatible with iPhones, (*1), iPads (*2), and iPods (*3), so they can even be viewed when you are not at home.
Anyone can upload their own digital data to the site without supervision, which includes photograph collections and novels.
*1: iPhone - Apple's smartphone, the first version of which was published in 2007 (and not released in Japan). It looks stylish and cool, and its design alone created a stir great enough to garner them great success. Total sales of the iPhone in 2011 were over 140,000,000 units. At one time, Apple dominated 40% of all market profit.
*2: iPad - Apple's tablet, which went on sale in May of 2010 in Japan. It looks like a bigger iPhone, with a 9.7 inch display screen that's perfect for reading e-books. In April of 2011, the iPad 2 was released, and in March of 2012, the 3G model went on sale.
"Manga on Web" had a surprisingly quiet opening. Because of the free two-month period after registration, however, we welcomed in a large number of mangaka who began posting their own works.
Unlike when I had first released my own works on "Sato Shuho on Web," we experienced no sudden rush of visitors, and not only that, but my own sales were gradually dropping. Perhaps our charm had worn off a bit.
Some of the new mangaka saw rising profits, but most of them only made several thousand yen. Obviously, they wouldn't be able to quit their day jobs, but at that rate, they wouldn't even be making enough to pay the 5000 yen for the Lite version of our service.
When the free two-month period ended, I saw many mangaka clean up shop and leave the site for good. We kept getting newcomers, but they many of them simply left when time was up, creating a problematic cycle.
*3: iPod Touch - Part of Apple's portable audio player series, it can connect to WiFi and access the internet in addition to playing music. As a mobile data terminal, it's convenient. It's almost identical to the iPhone in terms of design and function. The biggest difference is that it can't use SIM cards, which means no 3G.
A lot of people around me said "This is just a bunch of mangaka pretending to run an e-book store." The profit from my books kept us from getting into the red, but I couldn't say the same thing for the other mangaka. The critics weren't entirely wrong.
"After all that talk about how publishers are siphoning money from mangaka, look! He's collecting money from the other mangaka on his site," they also said.
System usage fees are necessary for system upkeep, and I didn't take a single coin of that money for myself. But I guess it didn't look that way from the outside.I tried a lot of different things to help everyone make money, such as starting partnerships with merchandise stores and other e-book sites, but I couldn't see any noteworthy results.
Meanwhile, the site's problems kept increasing. We were no longer able to manage the site as smoothly as we had been able to so far, and I even started having trouble with the system development company.
The one thing we all agreed on was that we needed to avoid mangaka leaving due to having to pay the system fees even though they weren't making a profit -- despite the fact that it'd be very difficult for anyone to make real profit in such a short time span.
The development company had been managing the servers, so I tried meeting with them and negotiating lower server rates in order to lighten the load the mangaka were feeling. Until the trouble was solved, though, they refused to negotiate with me, so I felt as if I had really hit a dead end. (Currently, all the trouble with the company has been solved, and we're getting along very well.)
The site bugs weren't being fixed. Mangaka weren't making money. Any sort of new development was impossible. We were being hit with a triple whammy.
So, I thought about what exactly it was that I could do to help things. In the end, I decided to make all chapters of "Give My Regards to Black Jack" free. I figured that causing a stir and getting more people to access the site was top priority.
If my own profit was my top priority, then releasing all my chapters for free would have been nothing more than a loss of profit. In terms of keeping the site alive, though, I believed that this was the only thing I could do. This wasn't the sort of huge corporation that could just keep spending money on advertisements.
The response I got from risking the fate of my site like this was immense. We immediately got articles on several news sites, giving us an explosive boost in page views and crashing our servers again. This time, not only could visitors no longer view the site, but we couldn't even log into the administration site, so we started getting a lot of complaints from the other mangaka, and some even left because of how long it took us to fix everything.
I thought I had been acting for the sake of the site, but again, most people came to see it as nothing more than another personal stunt. And once again, the site had fallen into a crisis.
I was cornered by complaints from both visitors to the site and the other mangaka. No matter what I ended up saying, it only seemed to sound like a cheap excuse.
But it wasn't all bad. I had definitely increased the site's notoriety, and the sales for the rest of my manga skyrocketed. For the first time, I earned a million yen of profit in one month.
Other mangaka's profit doubled, and in some cases even tripled. My free chapters of Give My Regards to Black Jack were viewed over 5 million times. My idea of abandoning profit had actually led me to greater profit.
One mangaka said to me: "What you're doing right now is fighting a war. When something new starts, you should be happy and excited about it. There's no author out there who'd willingly take part in a bloody war like this. Why don't you take it easy on yourself for once?"
His words made me think. It was true, not a single one of the mangaka on the site was helping to finance it. In that regard, maybe there really was no one taking part in my war but me. Still, I believed that the mangaka on my site were all doing their part to cut a new path for the future of manga.
bottom: Comics on the e-book market - In 2002, the e-book market was only worth a mere 10,000,000,000 yen. Since then, it's been rapidly expanding, and in 2009 it was worth 5,740,000,000,000,000 yen. However, 75% of that was dominated by comics aimed for cell phones. Now that e-book readers like the iPad and Kindle are evolving, we can expect another great expansion in the market. The true age of the e-book is about to begin.
Eventually, I came up with an answer for him. "Everyone's covered in blood when they're first born."
After this, the trouble with the system development company dissipated, and development continued. The free two-month period was done away with, and the Pro and Lite version plans were changed into a payment-based plan and a completely free membership plan.
People who only had a few uploads were now able to stay as free members for as long as they liked, while other users could now upload as much as they wanted for a much more affordable price of 300 yen a month.
After these changes, we gradually saw more and more mangaka join our site. The unfortunate cycle of mangaka coming and leaving finally came to an end, and we succeeded in increasing both our page view and member counts.
At long last, the site was up and running.
We strengthened our servers so that they were able to handle high levels of access, and made a lot of other enhancements to deal with various situations.
We continued renewing the site, and currently, Manga on Web boasts over 100 pro and amateur mangaka members, and approximately 20,000 normal members. We even started having events on our site, for example, the "Manuscript Prize," (*4) which we started in 2011. We evolve daily, and recently, full purchasing and downloading of various works has become possible.
Managing the site, however, is as difficult as it's always been. It may still be a small site in the process of truly maturing. Judging by what's happening so far, "Manga on Web" still hasn't risen to something capable of replacing paper publishing. The publishing industry may be shrinking, but it still lives on, and e-books haven't completely conquered it.
I believe that I succeeded in making a small change, though. And my experiment is continuing. No, that's incorrect. This experiment isn't mine anymore...it's a shared entity.
*4: Manuscript Prize - A manga contest I started on Manga on Web. We collect incomplete, original manuscripts and give 500,000 yen to the winner. The runner-ups get 300,000, and honorable mentions get 100,000.
I may no longer possess the right to choose whether or not this will continue.
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