Article Translation: The Exhaustive Debate Between Kentaro Takekuma x Ken Akamatsu: “The Role Manga Editors Should Take in the E-Publishing Era”, Part 1
Translator’s introduction: In mid-February, the eBook USER segment of the Japanese IT portal site ITmedia ran a fascinating interview between two highly visible individuals in the Japanese manga world, Ken Akamatsu, and Kentaro Takekuma. Both men are avid Twitter users, and a casual back-and-forth the two men had over the service would lay the groundwork for a discussion that the two had a few days later, which would end up continuing for seven hours.
I’ve received the gracious permission from both Masahiro Yamaguchi, the author of the 5-part article presenting the interview, as well as from ITmedia to post a personal translation here. In order to bring it to everyone as quickly as possible, I’ll be posting my translation in a similar 5-part format over the next week. I hope you enjoy the article, and if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please let me know.
“At this rate, the industry will collapse in a few years.” — Ken Akamatsu, a manga artist currently working on a weekly serialization, and Kentaro Takekuma, an editor known for “Even a Monkey can Draw Manga” and other titles. The two explain the changes brought about by the e-publishing era from their differing standpoints as manga artist and manga editor.
[Original Article: Masahiro Yamaguchi, ITmedia.
Copyright 2011 ITmedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.]
On January 27th, a dialogue took place in Tokyo between Kentaro Takekuma, an editor known for titles including “Even a Monkey can Draw Manga” as well as a professor at Kyoto Seika University, and Ken Akamatsu, representative director and president of J-Comi and manga artist.
The impetus for this talk on the role of manga editors in the e-publishing age was a conversation between the two on Twitter. (Details about how this talk came to fruition can be found on this Togetter summary (Japanese), or in this news article (Japanese) by Mr. Karaki of Comic Natalie, who also sat in on the conversation.)
Neither had met the other before until the day of the talk. The dialogue ended the next day, seven hours later, after covering a wide variety of topics, beginning with their exchange of opinions over the image of manga editors in the e-publishing era and going on to cover the present and future of J-Comi, Takekuma’s commentary on the industry as a university professor who teaches aspiring manga artists, and the story behind Mr. Takekuma’s unfinished “Saruman 2.0” (“Monkey Manga 2.0”).
Over the next five days, ITmedia eBook USER will bring you the details of this conversation jam-packed with both men’s thoughts. These are messages meant for the manga industry, the publishing industry, and all fans of manga in general.
The Exhaustive Debate Between Kentaro Takekuma x Ken Akamatsu: “The Role Manga Editors Should Take in the E-Publishing Era”
“Out of Print Titles Mean a Certain Standard of Quality and an Assurance of Not Being Too Erotic or Violent”
“Monkey Manga 2.0 was Planned to be a Media Mix”
“If the Function of Magazines Moves to E-Publishing, New Artists Won’t Sell”
“Places for New Artists to Debut and Editors to Practice Will Disappear”
“When Manga Artists with Producing Skills Fade Away, the Industry Will Snap”
“Present-Day Japan Doesn’t Have the Time or Money to Read Manga That Isn’t Guaranteed to be Interesting”
“As Long as an Artist Pays Their Own ‘Entertainment Fee,’ They Won’t Make Money”
“Manga Artists Will Independently Hire Editors, as Lawyers or Accountants are Hired”
“Our Job is to Provide a Place to Debut for Those with the Fundamentals Down”
“Let’s Meet Again in Five Years. We’ll See Then Who’s Laughing and Who’s Crying”
As a note, statements by the author of this article, Mr. Karaki, and Mr. Nishio of the eBook USER editorial department will be denoted by a “—”
“People are Noticing the Possibilities of Viewers Featuring Dynamic Advertising” (Akamatsu)
Takekuma: Mr. Akamatsu, I read something on your blog saying that you first had the idea for J-Comi three years ago. It was also right around three years ago that I started to hear talk of the major publishers facing a crisis, and it seems like artists have been looking into e-publishing ever since then.
Akamatsu: That’s right. Only, three years ago, the iPad and the Kindle didn’t exist yet. At the time, I thought it’d be fine to wait on it until “Negima!” ended, and didn’t make any moves until 2010.
— What made you start thinking about J-Comi?
Akamatsu: Half of it was me wanting to read lots of old manga, and the other half was as a way to fight piracy. Winny was at the peak of its popularity at that time, and while publishers would take legal action for titles they were still printing, like “One Piece,” the publishers didn’t have the right to sue on behalf of artists whose books were out of print.
Takekuma: Yep, that’s right. The only rights that publishers are given are publishing rights. If they put a book out of print, those rights lapse, and then the only person with rights to the work is the author.
Akamatsu: Since Japanese copyright infringement law requires the victim of piracy to make a formal complaint before a case is prosecuted, it makes it tough for authors. The other day, someone sharing “Negima!” on Share was arrested, but the police had to contact me first, and ask me if it was okay to arrest them. But before that happened, the publisher had to make a report to the police about a manga being serialized in one of their magazines being pirated. I wasn’t involved in that process at all, and if the title was out of print, I would have had to go to the police myself in order for anything to happen. That’s why so many artists just think it’s hopeless and give up.
Another thing that’s unforgivable is how erotic doujinshi gets uploaded to the internet the day it goes on sale at Comiket. For example, there was one Oreimo doujinshi that was recently uploaded to a bunch of different sites, and the doujin artist who drew that couldn’t do a thing. If he were to work together with the creator of Oreimo to press charges, he could, but that’s not a very realistic situation. Wonder Festival uses one-day licenses in order to work out copyright issues, but Comiket doesn’t, which leads to situations like these.
Takekuma: When I first saw J-Comi announced, I thought that it was ground-breaking. I mean, it’s a free ad-supported model that allows readers to copy the files as they please. I previously had vague ideas about a similar model, but didn’t know how to make it into a reality.
Akamatsu: I’d thought that someone must have done it before me, but when I talked to an advertising agency, they told me that no one had yet. There might have been others thinking about it, but I was lucky enough to also have fame and business abilities along with the idea.
The reason that the publishers don’t do this is that the majors like Kodansha and Shogakukan don’t think that putting ads on and distributing the manga that they receive from artists is the type of business that publishers are supposed to do. I think that’s why they won’t go into this field in the future, either.
Takekuma: So, it’s because publishers assume from the start that their business is distributing and selling physical, printed books?
Akamatsu: There’s that, but it’s also that they don’t think about giving things away for free. TV stations do it, but not publishers. It’s because they think that their business is a culture-oriented business.
— For example, there’s the free newspaper “R25” that Recruit prints, but despite its huge circulation, you don’t hear people in publishing talk about it very often.
Takekuma: A lot of people in publishing consider free newspapers as just another kind of flier, not as a real publication.
Akamatsu: There’s a similar attitude towards e-publishing, and when you make your product free on top of that, there’s no interest there.
Takekuma: But that just means that this is a big opportunity. It’s not just manga artists, but also fiction authors (for example, Ryu Murakami, though he just started his own G2010) who can’t escape the model of selling their data for money. From that perspective, J-Comi, which has the advantage of being the only site on an advertising model, seems to me like it’ll succeed.
Akamatsu: While (SHINJU) Mayu-sensei’s “Houkago Wedding,” which was distributed for free as J-Comi’s Beta 2 test, brought in 525,000 yen for her, it looks like another Beta 2 title, “Koutsuujiko Kanteinin Tamaki Rinichiro,” though I don’t know if it will have the same click rate as “Houkago Wedding,” is going to make even more. If you consider that these are out of print books, if one volume makes over a million yen, it’s really impressive.
Of course, I’m also working together with Google to create a web viewer that will feature dynamic advertising. If you think about the project in the long run, this might be even more important.
Takekuma: When’s that being released?
Akamatsu: By the end of February. Honestly, I’d be happy to see a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of yen a month from one volume. We’re talking about out of print titles, so getting that much per month per title is pretty significant. What shocked me the most is when we announced that “Houkago Wedding” made 525,000 yen, some people replied back with comments like “that’s all?” Maybe they think that these are new titles?
— There were definitely some people comparing the revenue to per-page manuscript payments for new manga.
Akamatsu: I’d see things like “the big names make 20-30,000 a page, you know,” and think that these people just don’t get it. Even 50,000 yen a volume would be something to celebrate. I feel like this is one area where that J-Comi needs to work on its PR.
When I say PR, I also mean PR toward J-Comi’s sponsors. What’s great about J-Comi ads is that they’re basically for five, even ten years. You can still read the same PDF 10 years later, after all. That’s why J-Comi doesn’t match very well with cheap, short-term advertising for periods like just a week.
Takekuma: Advertising sponsors always want to sell something new, after all. In that regard, things might be harder for you in the future.
Akamatsu: That’s right. But on the other hand, if we have a viewer that can insert dynamic ads, we can be constantly showing the latest ads, and, for example, show American ads to American readers. If we do that, then American advertisers will be interested, too.
Takekuma: That’s quite impressive. So, you’ll be putting out translated versions of J-Comi in the future?
Akamatsu: We will. You can view text, like dialogue or reader comments, on the screen in the viewer, kind of like film subtitles. Of course, you can turn them off, too. You’ll be able to switch this text into lots of different languages, like Chinese and Japanese. What I’m the most interested in is the Japanese dialogue subtitles. If the text has been entered, it’s easy to search, so if I wanted to see how many times the word for “life” or “death” showed up in a Tezuka manga, for example, I could do that. Personally, I think this is the most exciting part of the system.
Takekuma: It sounds interesting.
Akamatsu: I really would like to do it using OCR, but OCR doesn’t work at all with manga. That means that it has to be done by volunteers, who manually input the text from each page. Once that happens, then those comments will be searchable. Also, those lines of text can be used to target ads. For example, we did the text entry for “Houkago Wedding” ourselves, but it was a very quick process, since we just had to type in the text.
“Out of Print Titles Mean a Certain Standard of Quality and an Assurance of Not Being Too Erotic or Violent” (Akamatsu)
Takekuma: Is J-Comi limited to just out of print titles?
Akamatsu: I’m sure that there will be some people who will see the results we’re getting with “Houkago Wedding” and want to put new titles on J-Comi. After all, the revenue from J-Comi is equivalent to page rates at a publisher.
Takekuma: Of course, there’s the possibility that the number of clicks it got was due to the fact that Ms. Shinju is who she is. It might be tougher for debuting authors.
Akamatsu: Yes. If you want to know why we’ve limited J-Comi titles to out of print titles, it was because of two advantages to them. First, since they’ve been serialized in the past in a commercial magazine, we can be assured of at least a certain minimum of quality. The other is that since they’ve been published in a commercial magazine, we can be assured that they’re not overly erotic or violent.
If we were to take new artists at J-Comi, we’d have to look at their content, and we might have to say “this is a little too erotic,” or “you should change this part to be more like this,” and then the artists would come back with a fixed edition which we could then approve. If we do that, we’re just doing what editorial departments do, you see.
Takekuma: So if you began to take new artists, you’d have to start hiring editors.
— At that point, you’re basically a publisher.
Akamatsu: If we did that, we’d be competing with Kodansha and Shogakukan. It’s way too difficult. I’ve personally gone to board members at Kodansha and told them that I have no intention of doing something like that and competing with them.
Takekuma: When I look at J-Comi, I think that’s something that’s unique about your plan. You don’t want to fight with publishers. Instead, you want to co-exist with them.
Akamatsu: For J-Comi, all we have to do is scan the books and upload them, then next thing you know readers have access. The readers access the files, and J-Comi puts in the ads. All the authors have to do is give us permission to run their manga. That, and set up a bank account.
“Monkey Manga 2.0 was Planned to be a Media Mix” (Takekuma)
Takekuma: The series “Monkey Manga 2.0” I was working on was ended (suspended) before we even got to the main part of the series. The people who decided to stop it were the authors, myself and Koji Aihara.
Akamatsu: Is it more or less due to the reasons that’re in the Wikipedia article?
Takekuma: Basically for those reasons. The two authors in Monkey Manga 2.0 (fictional versions of Aihara and Takekuma) decide to try to make a media mix series, with an anime, video game, goods, and so on, all related to their manga series. Aihara wanted to do that in real life too, but once the serialization started, he realized that he’s a manga artist at heart, and just wanted to focus on drawing manga.
Besides that, a new slipcase edition of “Monkey Manga” was released right before I had a stroke. That thing sold. That sold 3000 copies just through Amazon affiliate links put on my own blog. Before that, it was out of stock everywhere for over ten years. I’d actually asked Shogakukan to put it officially out of print so that it could be published by someone else. Other companies had actually come to me, asking if I wanted to publish the title with them.
Akamatsu: What was Shogakukan’s reply when you did that?
Takekuma: When I told my contact at Shogakukan that it had been ten years since the last printing of the latest edition of the book and asked if they could put it officially out of print so that I could have it printed at another publisher, I was told to wait for a bit, since he would go talk to the people above him. Next thing I knew, they decided they’d do a reprint. They suddenly got serious as soon as I talked about other publishers. (Laughter)
For that edition, we decided to add some new bonus material on how to draw moe manga. About a year before that, I made a post on my blog saying that Koji Aihara and I were old and didn’t understand moe, and asked my readers to help us out. As part of the post, Aihara drew an intentionally crummy un-moe girl, which I posted and asked readers to correct, and we got an incredible response. That post acted as good marketing just on its own. Another thing we did was to ask for almost a year for people to submit catchphrases to put on the packaging of the new edition. Shogakukan didn’t think that the new printing would sell, since it was a twenty-year-old title, so the first printing was only 9000 copies. One volume was 1680 yen, so it’s really expensive for a manga volume, and 3360 yen for both volumes. Thanks to the publicity the blog posts got, though, it managed to sell enough to warrant another print run.
Right after that, I was hospitalized due to my stroke, but without asking or anything, Amazon sent me a case of mineral water as a get well present. After that, someone from Amazon went to Shogakukan and asked them if they were going to put out a part 2 for Monkey Manga. That’s how we got started talking about a sequel.
At that time, we thought that if we were going to do a sequel, that we should do it in tandem with an official website. After that, we started talking about doing a media mix, and seriously considered making an anime. I was talking about getting Kaeru Otoko to help out, too. Aside from that, we were thinking of having voice actress auditions for moe characters that users online could vote for. Of course, everything would be done tongue-in-cheek. That way, if the whole project failed, then that failure could be used as a gag, too. Then, it just ended up not happening at all.
— What did your supervising editor think about all of that?
Takekuma: Since the media mix project seemed like a sham, he probably didn’t realize that we were actually thinking of doing it. If he did, he probably wouldn’t have approved it.
— Editors don’t tend to like their manga artists working much outside of manga very much. Even if it they’re told it’s something that would benefit their manga or bring in money for the magazine, they seem to think that it’s not what manga artists should be focusing their time on.
Takekuma: Well, that’s in some ways a very natural thing to think. I don’t think that editors need to baby their artists to the point of telling them that.