From Publisher's Weekly via Anime News Network, it looks like the US and Japanese manga publishers are uniting to take down the scanlation sites out in the world as they've now threatened legal action against some thirty sites. "The effort brings together the 36 member Japanese Digital Comic Association—which includes such major Japanese houses as Kodansha, Shogakukan and Shueisha—as well as manga publisher Square Enix, the Tuttle-Mori Agency and U.S.-based manga publishers Vertical Inc, Viz Media, Tokyopop and Yen Press, the manga/graphic novel imprint of the Hachette Book Group." according to Publisher's Weekly.
Things have changed in the last decade, as noted in the piece, where they talk about how a blind eye was once turned to all of this (and similar issues on the anime side) back when access to such materials was nearly impossible as there weren't any companies bringing the works over outside of some heavily edited and flipped editions. But with the ability to so easily port material online while there are numerous companies bringing out official translated editions around the world, companies are taking a harsher look at it. Or rather, because there's less revenue to be had all of a sudden, they're striking out at the easy and obvious targets.
Scanlation and fansub sites have grown far more professional over the years and they can often make quite a lot of money. The same has been happening in he US comic book market with a well known case occurring recently where a group of publishers got together to take down a particular site that was raking in a fair bit of cash and was even trying to wrangle a real legitimate distribution deal from the publishers. It's not unknown for the darkside (yet bright and colorful and easily accessible) sites to try and go legit, with the most famous of them in this community being what Crunchyroll managed to pull off after a few years of work and PR.
According to a spokesman in the Publishers Weekly article, they're also citing the increased presence of scanlations showing up on smartphones and other devices where the apps themselves are entirely legitimate but they're being used solely for scanlated material.
“Go back 2 years and track these sites and you’ll find an inverse relationship between the rise of traffic on these scanlation sites and the decline in U.S. manga sales,” said Kurt Hassler, publishing director of Yen Press and a former graphic novel and manga buyer for Borders Books and Music. Hassler points out that early fan-driven scanlation sites were aimed at making manga available overseas at a time when English translations of manga were rare. Indeed these fan scanlators would remove their online translations when the books were licensed for the English-language market.That’s no longer the case, said Hassler. “These sites are run as businesses and include direct scans of licensed English-language manga editions. Some even include our copyright notices. We don’t want to have to do this but publishers are now focused on this problem.”
So now the Japanese and US companies will work to threaten the sites that are working the illegal side of the market and if that doesn't work, they'll maybe possibly follow through on the legal action side. This comes at a time when you have had CMX Manga thrown under the bus (though it appears that's more because DC Comics simply didn't want to deal with something they didn't understand anymore), we've seen Go! Comi disappear without a trace and we've seen Viz Media drop some 40% of its staff in order to streamline (some likely necessary, some likely to hurt overall production). Del Rey is struggling and they're trying to put out more omnibuses of new material. TOKYOPOP is crawling back to a shadow of what it once was. Yen Press appears to be doing well but you never truly know.
The key problem here to all of this is that none of these companies, US or Japan (and most of the focus lies solely on Japan), is that they have not provided any alternative. Their plan is to eliminate scanlation sites (a true impossibility to anyone with a sense of reality) and yet offer nothing for the obviously millions of hungry manga fans. Anyone who has read anything from me over the last twelve years knows I'm not a fan of fansubs or scanlations. And I'm not advocating that these sites should continue to exist. What I have a huge problem with is that all the companies are going to do is to turn away potential customers. We all know that most of them will never buy books, and that's fine. I don't buy manga anymore either, and not because of economics or because I'm suddenly on scanlation sites (I'm not).
What the manga and comics and publishing industry is having thrust upon them is the same that the music industry had happen a decade ago. There is a huge new generation of fans coming into being who really aren't interested in owning these things and just want to consume this (to them) disposable entertainment. And you have older fans such as myself that are also coming into this mindset where I just want to read it and be done with it. The onus on the publishers, again, more so in Japan since they have to approve all of it, is to provide quick digital editions with some form of advertising (that the fans have to suck up and understand is a necessity in order to PAY THE BILLS that allow this entertainment to exist) while highlighting the fact that you can buy print editions if you want to own a permanent edition of it.
Until the Japanese publishers alongside the US publishers get this into existence, they're tilting at windmills and alienating much of the next generation from being fans for years to come.