Scanlation Speaks: Exclusive Interview with Holo of MangaDex

The End of Batoto the “Good” and the Rise of MangaDex

Grumpy, admin and founder of Batoto, rocked the scanlation community by announcing on Jan. 7, 2018 Batoto would close permanently starting Jan. 18, 2018.

I started Batoto along with the crew from The Company back in January of 2011 and it’s been a very meaningful part of my life. I don’t regret taking on this hobby called Batoto and I cherish the role that I’ve played as well as the countless hours everyone else here has put in as well as the great community that we’ve built. I’ve come to see this like my baby. At 7 years, I suppose it’s not even a baby anymore. But it is at a point where I need to move on with my life. I’m tired and I just can’t do this anymore.-Grumpy

Batoto had served as the online manga hosting website supported by and created for the scanlation community since January 2011. Unlike manga aggregator websites like Mangafox that took scanlations without attribution or permission and profited from ad revenue, Batoto honored scanlation group distribution rules and wishes. Additionally, Batoto complied with DMCA takedown requests and removed legally licensed manga. Many scanlators and readers hailed Batoto as “good” in a landscape of shaky and gray legality.

Following the announcement of Batoto’s closure, many readers and scanlators alike mourned the website and scrambled to save their data as well as develop a replacement. MangaDex emerged on Jan. 17, 2018 as the successor to Batoto amid this chaos.

MangaDex Logo

Much like its forebear, MangaDex is an online manga reader “made by scanlators for scanlators and gives active groups complete control over their release.” At the time of publication, MangaDex has 23,740 titles and with 5,808 scanlation groups posting to the site.

As part of our ongoing conversations about scanlation, Holo, the lead developer of MangaDex took the time to talk to us about scanlation, the manga industry, and more.  

“Overall, I do firmly believe the positives outweigh the negatives, and that scanlation is a good thing for the manga industry overall.”

Manga Planet: How did you join the Mangadex team and what motivated you to work on it?

Holo: The original shutting down meant that there was a need for a scanlator orientated site. Seeing as no viable alternatives had been announced by any other parties, I decided to start one myself.

Manga Planet: Would it be possible to know how much time you (and if possible your staff) spend a week running MangaDex?

Holo: It took me many hundreds of hours of solid coding to get MangaDex to where it is today. Recently, other people have joined the dev team, so my time working on MangaDex has reduced. Even so, I still spend an hour or so every day working on the site.

As for the moderation team, most of them spend a couple of hours every day on the site. They deal with content management, such as correcting errors in manga entries, deleting chapters which are banned by our rules, etc.

Manga Planet: What is Mangadex’s vision for the future?

Holo: Our short-term goal is to become the site of choice for scanlators, and that goal has largely been achieved.

Our medium-term goal is to reduce the popularity of other profit-orientated aggregator sites that do not give credit to scanlators whatsoever, KissManga being the main culprit, by becoming the site of choice for readers. KissManga’s ranking is already starting to drop, so we’re on the way to achieving this goal.

Manga Planet: What is your opinion of the manga industry, especially the English language manga industry?

Holo: In this industry, content is king. The English manga industry has a tough time because no single legal site has most of the manga titles, due to the way licensing works. It’s unsurprising that the top results for “read manga online” on Google returns more pirate sites than legal sites.

Manga Planet: Do you believe scanlation hurts or helps the manga industry?

Holo: I am a bit ambivalent on this. It is undeniable that without scanlation, many titles would not have gained popularity in the west, and thus would never have been licensed. So for unlicensed material, scanlation definitely helps the manga industry. However, once a title has been licensed, if the scanlators continue, then some could argue that it does damage the manga industry. On the other hand, piracy doesn’t necessarily mean lost sales, as many pirates are people who wouldn’t have been able to afford the legal alternative anyway. Overall, I do firmly believe the positives outweigh the negatives, and that scanlation is a good thing for the manga industry overall.

Manga Planet: Would it be possible to hear how you and your staff developed the “Upload Restrictions” for MangaDex?

Holo: Our upload restrictions are fundamentally what makes us different from your bog standard aggregator (Kissmanga and co). Banning official scans allows us to have a moral high ground vs them. Also, the majority of scanlators are against hosting official scans, and because we ban them, we managed to attract a lot of scanlators very soon after batoto died. Furthermore, readers can be encouraged to go buy the official releases to support the industry. We link to amazon etc where they can legally purchase the official manga. 

However, there are exceptions to this rule. If the official licensor has become defunct, then we do not restrict their scans from being uploaded. After all, if it’s impossible to buy the official release, what’s the harm in reading them online?

Manga Planet: Has an artist or publisher ever contacted MangaDex requesting removal of a series from the site?

Holo: To my knowledge, this has not happened yet. Our links get removed from Google regularly though, due to DMCA takedown requests sent to Google.

MangaDex Logo
Caprisun designed MangaDex’s unnamed mascot character

Manga Planet: You mentioned in your previous answer that piracy doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of sales since “many pirates are people who wouldn’t have been able to afford the legal alternative anyway.” Do you believe manga should be made available for people even if they cannot afford it?

Holo: In an ideal world, of course the answer to this would be “No”. However, this is the age of the Internet, and if there is a demand for something, someone will provide it for free. That’s unavoidable.
I believe piracy is mainly down to effort vs cost ratio. I personally used to pirate games before Steam came along. I wasn’t poor, but I didn’t believe the games were worth the money the retailers were charging, so I pirated them. Then Steam came along, and made games available for dirt cheap. I stopped pirating, because at that point, the effort of pirating wasn’t worth it. I believe the same paradigm shift needs to happen for manga distribution. Of course the hardcore pirates will continue, but the majority would stop if a cheap and convenient method of consuming manga were available. Look at how successful Crunchyroll was at killing anime piracy! Ultimately, if the legal alternative was cheap and of a good quality and speed, then piracy would be reduced. After all, a Crunchyroll subscription costs $5 a month – that’s the cost of a coffee. If you truly cannot afford that, you have other problems to worry about!

Manga Planet: What can the manga industry learn from Mangadex and scanlation?

Holo: The current model needs to change for English legal sites. I cite Crunchyroll as an example here – only the latest chapters are available for online reading. Any chapters that have been released in a volume are subsequently removed, and you have to buy it! Readers feel cheated – they’ve already paid once for a Crunchyroll subscription – why should they have to pay again? Double paywalls turn people away. The ideal model should be the one that CR uses for anime – with only the most recent chapter being available for premium members, and all older chapters freely readable by the free members. However, I suspect it’s not Crunchyroll’s idea for the double paywall, but the Japanese publishers. Japan still relies strongly on physical sales, while the western world have largely moved onto digital/online. They incorrectly assume that what works in Japan would work for the rest of the world.

In order for legal alternatives to gain traction over pirate sites, they need to have as large a library as possible, with new translated chapters coming out as soon as the Japanese chapters come out in Japan.

Manga Planet: Is there anything you would like readers to know about MangaDex?

Holo: Our future plans for the site include the release of Android/iOS apps. Many readers have said that they use MD on desktop, but have to rely on other mobile apps as we do not provide one ourselves. This will change in the future!

To our existing readers – thank you for making the site what it is today. Your feedback continues to directly affect the future development of the site. Especially to those who contribute to the site financially – running MangaDex is expensive and thanks to you guys, server bills get paid!

To potential new readers – Do come and check us out! We won’t disappoint.

Do you want to find out how scanlators can turn pro? Our sister website futekiya talks with Local Manga, a manga localization company that hires former scanlators. 

Scanlators and Manga Readers: Manga Planet wants to hear from you!

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