Publishing Perspectives has an interesting article about comic book piracy in France, focusing on a report by the Paris government’s “Le MOTif” book and writing “observatory”.
The third in a series of reports on piracy that began in 2009, Le MOTif zoomed in on comics, as this is the category of books that is pirated the most in France. Comic books make up 10-14% of France’s global book market, but the availability of comics in e-book format does not meet the readers’ needs — resulting in organized teams of pirates (up to 100) that have scanned 30-35,000 comics, of which 8-10,000 are accessible to a larger public, which might not know about specialized sites.
58% of the 50 best-selling comics are not available as e-books. The report notes that pirating teams are even able to scan and translate new mangas from Japan. It also points out that, strangely enough, even though the number of pirated comics is increasing, paper comic sales is also increasing. The books that sell the most are also pirated the most, and vice versa. Could there be something to the idea of piracy having a promotional effect? (Though, on the other hand, cause and effect could go the other way—pirates might just want most the the titles that sell the most.)
The article has a couple of points that puzzle me. For one thing, it says that “Pirated mangas are often streamed, whereas comic books are scanned.” I wonder if by “mangas” they mean animé? The idea of “streaming” a comic doesn’t make sense.
It also notes that pirated comics are “sold online until the legal version appears in France, at which point they are removed,” and puts their price at an average of $15, slightly below the price of the equivalent paper book. At least on this side of the Atlantic, I’ve never even heard of anyone selling pirated comic or manga scans; they’re all posted for free download on BitTorrent or cyberlocker sites.
One point that caught my attention was the suggestion that piracy is a response to unmet demand. This is something that folks like Gabe Newell of Valve have brought up before, and we see it play out in manga-related matters over here, too. For example, the manga and animé series Detective Conan had its first hundred or so issues and episodes translated and sold commercially over here (where it was known as Case Closed)—but the vast majority of the 800+ manga issues and 600+ TV episodes have not been translated and probably never will be. But fans translate and post them online for other fans to read or watch.
While it’s technically piracy, it’s the sort of “piracy” on which the entire anime fan community in the US was originally built—since technically-illegal fansubs were what launched demand for anime over here in the first place. And it seems doubtful that any company would see a 600-episode-and-still-going show as being worth the vast financial expenditures involved in translating, given that only the few most dedicated fans would even contemplate buying them all, let alone be able to afford them, so it’s probably going to continue to be an unmet demand.
There are an awful lot of animé and manga that have never been and probably never will be licensed for American translation and sale—too esoteric for the broader audiences over here for a licensee to be able to recoup its investment. And as long as there isn’t a way for fans to get them in English legitimately, they’ll continue to be pirate-fansubbed. (Small wonder that some animé studios are beginning to subtitle their domestic DVDs in English themselves!)
This seems to be the same thing the French comics community is finding out: if people can’t get the comics legitimately in the form they want, surprise! They’ll find a way to get it illegitimately.