Is Scanlation Good? Bad? Both?
For many manga readers outside of Japan, scanlations are crucial to staying up-to-date with popular series and finding new ones. The sheer volume of high-quality translated, typeset, and cleaned manga produced by scanlators often rival the officially licensed content from the Japanese manga industry. In fact, many groups bring attention to series that have low chances of being licensed, and as many readers online believe, scanlation helps create a global market for manga that publishers can enter.
Nonetheless, scanlation occupies a gray area and arguably fosters a culture of “free content” that negatively affect artists whose series are available through legal channels, as can be seen with GGANG-E. Though (for the most part) scanlation groups do not profit from their work, aggregate websites monetarily benefit from the free labor of scanlation groups and love of manga readers. The positives of scanlation become murky when considering its impact on creators who discover their work illegally distributed without permission.
Here at Manga Planet, we strive to have honest conversations about scanlation and want to hear the voices of global manga readers. As part of these efforts, we talked with Ryoko Nicole of Lewd4Yaoi Scans. (A big thank you to Kou Oushirou for putting us in touch!)
We aren’t your “Get it for Free Scan Group”
Manga Planet: First things first, could you introduce you who are and your involvement in the “scanlation world”?
Ryoko Nicole: My name is Ryoko Nicole, and I am the Group Leader/Creator of Lewd4Yaoi Scans
Manga Planet: Oh! I have seen your group around actually. How did you first get involved in scanlation?
Ryoko Nicole: That’s cool to be known, it’s such a large community! I actually first got involved because I saw a request for a “proofreader” for a group, and after reading their work, I definitely wanted to lend a helping hand. I worked with that group for about two months. The group leader at that time had gotten sick, and hospitalized and left this other person in charge. Long story short, that person was incompetently lazy, and the group was in lag and chaos. So, because I had a passion (unbeknownst to me) for “putting this stuff together” I learned how to compile everything, delegate and get tasks from my fellow group members. Happily, no one resisted, and then I began to manage that group while the group leader was on hiatus in the hospital. I had to learn the hard way to do things, (I had no prior experience whatsoever). I asked a couple of friends that were in other groups to ask their leaders things here and there but didn’t want to impose. I ended up getting the hang of things. Through it all, I felt that while the group leader was on hiatus in the hospital, I was unconsciously turning this group into my own. With ideas, designs, recruitment, etc. So, I felt like, heck, I’ve learned all of this, why don’t I just start my own group?! Plus, I wasn’t really a fan of the line up of manga to do next. It was the perfect storm actually.
Manga Planet: Then you started Lewd4yaoi?
Ryoko Nicole: So I asked a few people that I had met in the yaoi community about cleaning, typesetting, translators, and slowly grew and created my group. I had to learn from scratch, but it was so worth it! Yup, I’m totally LEWWD for Yaoi, (Har Har)
Manga Planet: How long would you say you have been involved in the scanlation scene?
Ryoko Nicole: Mmmm…as an official group (my own group) just over ten months. Unofficially, over a year +. I helped friends here and there, but not as anything official. It was just always a helping hand. Wow, I say that, but it seems like forever lol. So much happens in the Yaoi Community, it’s crazy lol. Who’d know that something like this would be an actual passion? I never thought so. After my 9am-5pm, this is literally another job, lol.
Manga Planet: Haha, you say Yaoi Community, is this mostly on Tumblr or Twitter?
Ryoko Nicole: Line, Tumblr, Twitter, Discord, WordPress, Facebook, IG…Communication & networking is everywhere. It’s transcended to a lot of social platforms. People in the yaoi community can strike up a conversation about anything! You’ve met a fellow fujoshi or fudanshi, and these people can introduce you to other Yaoi/BL related news, stories, forum, etc. My whole team is compiled of complete strangers I’ve met on different social platforms, and now we’re a family! Even some have planned to meet; etc. Yaoi brings hearts together; the power of a lewd bootyhole!
On Scanlation and the Manga Industry
Manga Planet: What is your take on how the manga industry is handling BL titles? There are currently a lot of English language publishers hitting the BL market hard now.
Ryoko Nicole: I, personally am extremely excited that publishers are finally giving Yaoi/BL the attention it deserves
Manga Planet: Do you feel like the industry is meeting the needs of fans?
Ryoko Nicole: I think it is a very popular (even though it is closet) genre & profitable for them. Digitally, I think they are ramping it up, yes. To meet the needs of fans. Mainly Renta! They have kicked it up most recently with their digital titles and releases. I am always impressed with how Renta is expanding their collection too haha. I think that the Japanese publishers need to recognize that there is a need for BL and let the titles be licensed to English. They are losing money I believe by just staying in certain markets (outside of English titles). If you think about it, on social media platforms, even on manga sites. SO MANY people are able to communicate about this love for Yaoi/BL in…..English. And these people are from all over across the world. Communicating in English…..English is a very largely known language….universally. So why isn’t it getting more attention??
Manga Planet: Getting more attention, from the Japanese publishers?
Ryoko Nicole I, personally am a fan and lover of print. I wish there were more print titles. But…that is like pulling teeth, so meh. Why aren’t Japanese publishers recognizing the potential in having Japanese translated into English? Sharing the work outside of the Japanese market. (Having it translated) I know it’s in German, Spanish, I get mad all of the time looking at Amazon.uk and seeing the titles in (print) available to them…….and I’m like……why not in English?! Why not?? I’m sure more people read English than German [not being ethnocentric]
Manga Planet: How do you view scanlation in relationship to the manga publisher’s efforts (or lack of efforts) in publishing English language BL?
Ryoko Nicole: Hmmm…well, that’s a gray area. Speaking for my own group, we scanlate manga so that we can bring Japanese titles to English readers because if we didn’t, we would never get to enjoy or experience it. I recently dropped a story, Boku no Kareshi no Sukinahito because it was recently licensed by Renta in late May 2018. If it’s available in English, we won’t scanlate it. We can’t say “support the artist” if you continue to knowingly do so after learning it will now be in English.
Manga Planet: There are still a lot of groups that do that though?
Ryoko Nicole: It’s kind of like gangs. Some gangs emerged because of the prohibition in the 1900s….they tried to get rid of alcohol, and look what happened (amongst other contributing factors). Scanlation emerged due to the underwhelming lack of English titles of Japanese manga. I don’t know about “a lot” of groups who continue a story even after it’s already been licensed, but there are some out there (speaking of only the Yaoi/BL community) I don’t know about other communities.
Manga Planet: Would say there is an understanding/sense of ethics when it comes to scanlation and official releases?
Ryoko Nicole: Some groups keep going because they may feel already “knee deep” in it, some consider the titles their “baby” ~~especially if it has been a long series. So they don’t want to give it up. Within scanlation groups, erfor the most part, I believe so. There may be some wilfully turning a blind eye to not knowing something is licensed, there are definitely genuine instances when people don’t know, but for the most part, when it’s announced, I believe most groups drop the titles. I, myself, was told by a reader. So I released the last chapter 3 (even though we had up until chapter 5 translated) and put at the end we were dropping it due to it being licensed now. On the other hand, regarding readers…a lot of them sadly have no understanding or sense of ethics when it comes to scanlation/official releases, or hardly anything.
Manga Planet: Yeah, we have certainly noticed that, especially on websites like mangago.
Ryoko Nicole: Mangago has the most toxic and entitled readers I have ever met. It’s a cesspool. You can quote me.
Manga Planet: Do you usually distribute your scans on websites like mangago or myreadingmanga?
Ryoko Nicole: Yes, I have. I didn’t at first and had our work “non-download” and “PDF” etc., but a reader ripped it and uploaded it to the manga sites, and it was all out of order and looked crazy. So now I do it, just based off, “If I don’t do it, some other little shit will–and jack it up.” It’s a pain in the butt to have to email the manga sites to fix things. There have been scan groups that say they will scanlate, but please don’t upload due to legal issues. And guess what? It’s done anyway. And there goes that email from the publisher. For the most part…the publishers don’t mind if it’s kept to Tumblr & other small forums. When it hits mangago or mrm….that’s when it’s an issue.
Manga Planet: Does anyone know who runs these aggregate websites?
Ryoko Nicole: We sure do not; we all wish we did lol. I’m sure it’s a super savvy tech wiz. They’re banking probably $20-30k/monthly on revenue from their sites.
On Readers of Scanlations
Ryoko Nicole: Readers….make you want to just not do this anymore sometimes. They have such audacity and entitlement; it’s nauseating. But then there are the grateful ones who have asked when it’s coming on Renta, and they’ll save to buy the rest of it or support the artist.
Manga Planet: That is heartening to know haha.
Ryoko Nicole: But that’s like…25% of readers. The rest are entitled.
Manga Planet: This is probably a question you can’t answer, but where do you think this entitlement comes from?
Ryoko Nicole: Hmmm…I think the entitlement is bred from what the scanlation groups are trying to helpfully provide. My story wasn’t an upload from Renta. But if you go on Mangago right now, the first page has like 5-7 titles from Renta, as of within the last 24-48 hours and other digital sites… it’s going to get ugly. But the entitlement comes from “I can’t afford it,” “My country doesn’t let me get it,” “It’s too expensive.” So because of these factors, they inflate, they feel entitled to get it free….Because scan groups give it to them free, and that’s all they’ve ever known. There are some….many ignorant readers that have actually sent the authors mangago or manga fox links asking when the next update would be……….
Especially with Lezhin & their manhwa…to where even Fargo addressed in on her creator’s note. They’ll tweet the author it…And these readers don’t understand that, the less income the author’s make, the less motivated they will be to create this work. Or, the more the publisher’s will upcharge for the work to recoup the costs of the pirating…
These sites are bittersweet, unfortunately. Bitter because they’re taking revenue from work that isn’t theirs. [Mainly from the author’s work, secondly, the scan group that volunteers for free to do this]. And they don’t discriminate between licensed & unlicensed work, so it hurts the author’s sales for their English title. They IMO should take the licensed material down. It’s a small segment, but they’re vultures, so… “sweet” in a sense, because it’s a place where people can read work that isn’t available in English, and might not ever be. A lot, a lot of people wouldn’t know about BL/Yaoi if it wasn’t for BL scanlation groups & the sites like mgg or mrm displaying them for readers who are like “what’s yaoi” *click*
Manga Planet: Do you have a message you would like to tell readers of scans?
Ryoko Nicole: I would let readers know that scanlation groups are not here to undercut and maliciously affect the lives and livelihood of the author’s that take their time, money, and sometimes jeopardize their health to bring us beautiful stories. Excuses like, “It’s too expensive” or “I don’t have any money” are cliche and untrue. Instead of buying that bracelet/baseball hat, purchase a few chapters ($1-2 USD), things like that go a long way. Paying for manga is no different than paying to go to the movies. You don’t bat an eye at those expensive prices for movie tickets or popcorn. Why do you see manga as any different? Furthermore, if you “can’t afford it,” then you can’t have it. Are you jumping into Porsche’s & driving it anyway because you can’t afford it? Errrm, no. …………………….. Not supporting the author’s affects them financially, emotionally, and mentally.
For example- Low sales could make a publisher think that the author’s work wasn’t a hit when actually it was!~~it’s just that most readers read it on an illegal site, and chose not to buy it. And then that author, who is your “favorite” is kicked down the totem pole or not picked up again. Some may even get discouraged, and stop doing it all together (making stories). The things we all do, have an impact, and even though what we scanlators do is very gray…murky gray~~~we mean no harm. But for the reader’s to blatantly disrespect the author’s by uploading licensed work onto illegal sites or purposely choosing not to buy their work and making plastic excuses is disheartening & needs to stop. Stop being entitled and please do your best to try to and support the artists. One manga or even one chapter a month could go a long way.
As a scanlation group, we aren’t here to provide stories for “free” because you “can’t afford it.” We are here to provide stories that we aren’t able to read in [Japanese] into English. That’s mainly our purpose. So when you can (not if) —please support these artists! Let their popularity in sales help to encourage & motivate them to want to make more stories!!
We aren’t your “Get it for Free Scan Group” —let’s just clear up that misconception. We don’t do this for your pockets; we do this to share the love of Boys Love stories in a language many can read & understand [English.]
Additionally, having scanlation groups out there was valuable to me because, without them, I wouldn’t have been introduced to all of these authors in the BL industry. And I wouldn’t have accumulated the 200+ Yaoi print books I have now, and over 100+ stories of Yaoi (official) digital releases. Not including the amazing people I’ve met in the Yaoi community in different social forums (my loving & amazing group included).
BUT!! This isn’t a “See!! Doing this helps for the author’s ‘exposure’ & in the end it’ll help their sales.” Errrm. No. Me and people like who go and buy even after already reading it scanlated aren’t the norm….at all. It’s a 1 to 25 ratio. Probably worse. My little testimonial….is just that. Little; in the grand scheme of things.
P.S. Stop thanking these manga sites for “updates” Tsk. Thank the scan group (personally) for taking the time out to dive into this gray, murky water of “scanlation” to bring you these stories.
Are you a scanlator? A manga reader? We want to hear from you!