“As a fellow translator, I just want scanlators to really know your own worth.”
Many scanlators and readers we have talked with and interviewed have argued countless times that scanlation occupies a legal and moral “grey zone” for series that have yet to receive an English license. However illegal they may be, scans offer international readers the chance to try new series and become fans, they argue. In this “free publicity” and “spread the love” narrative, these scans help build the market for manga among fans that would not otherwise be known. Though this may be true for series that receive an official English localization, Rotoscope, a scanlator working to create a “licensing venture” with an artist’s blessing, brought up a question not often asked by readers or scanlators: “How many companies decide not to pick up an artist’s comic because they think people will just read it online?”
For series that do not receive an official English localization because of scanlators, is scanlation still in the grey zone?
To find answers, we spoke with Beverly Maynor, a professional Japanese to English translator with experience both in scanlation and the manga industry.
“Impatience is not a publishers fault.”
Manga Planet: Could you please introduce who you are and how you are involved in the industry?
Beverly: Hi there, I’m Beverly Maynor, and I’m a Japanese to English freelance translator. ‘Industry’ wise I’ve been a lot of things, a planner, a director, a salesman, and even worked on multiple ‘startups’ of animation related businesses targeted in bringing otaku culture to the English speaking audiences, but above all, I’m just a fangirl.
Manga Planet: Wow, that is amazing. I’m sure a lot of people would want to ask you for career advice.
Beverly: Haha. They’re free to ask, but I don’t know if I’d give the best advice.
Manga Planet: If you’re allowed to talk to us about it, could you tell us about your experience as a manga translator?
Beverly: Yes! I’ve been working with games for a while now but always wanted to make the crossover to some manga as well. So in order to prepare for that, I actually started with scanlations to get some practice. Since the catch-22 of the industry is needing some samples to show your experience but everything you work on being under NDA. Haha! And lucky for me, I have a great support group of friends who translate, and about half a year after I started scanlating, a friend introduced me to a (honestly— low paying) contract company that handles some manga and actually about 6 months after that I had a short stint at a company trying to make a website for official manga releases! While it may not have worked out at the full-time gig, I am still lucky enough to get to work on official releases today, but most of my translations are with a company doing the great work of translating some 18+ original doujinshi, Enshodo.
Manga Planet: So you started in scanlation to move into manga translation. Would you say scanlating prepared you for professional manga translation? Also, did you mention your scanlation experience to the company?
Beverly: Yes! I think scanlating had a huge impact on getting me hired. Like I said earlier, almost everything you work on in this industry is under something called an NDA—Non-Disclosure Agreement. Depending on the client, some can be really restrictive. Like for the contract manga company I worked with. I can’t say their name, I can’t say what I worked on, I have to delete all the files off my personal computer once they’re done, etc. But yes, scanlation experience is a huge plus in not only can you show these files to the client so they can see your skill set— it’s something definitive that really shows you can work with stuff like small bubbles and sfx. You think it’s simple but coming from a media and game background, text limitations can be a real struggle. I absolutely cringe to think what it was like to edit me the first time I worked with sfx, too. Haha. It’s a great way to get new skills and not waste a lot of client’s time. They get to skip the step of training you, and as a freelancer, that’s not something you’d get without a pay downgrade.
Manga Planet: Ahh, I see. So scanlation can be incorporated into your portfolio. Since you worked on the industry side, has your opinion of scanlation changed?
Beverly: I’d say my opinion of scanlation since my teenage years has definitely changed, but when I actually got into it, I was already of the mindset that it wasn’t a good thing for the industry. I was really upfront with my group about the fact that I was basically doing it for practice and they were really accepting and just happy to have another translator on call. I’m really happy with the things I worked on with them because it is an artist I love dearly, but it is a double-edged sword because I do love that artist, and I want them to get an official English release, and I know I’ve hurt that chance for her now.
Manga Planet: What you mean that it “hurt that chance for her now?” Many readers and other scanlators tend to argue that having scanlations could help the artist since it would build an audience for them.
Beverly: It may not be so common knowledge on the other side of the circuit, but when an artist already has well-known scanlations out for some of their work, that can actually become a reason for people not to get a license.
Because scanlation is not new to the scene, companies are already aware that the hit to sales is already there. Since like only 5% of people who read scans actually buy, your target market is people who have heard of the title but haven’t read scans.
It is a big catch-22. If something is already scanlated, then you want if to be popular enough for people to know the artist name, unpopular enough that people will actually buy it. There are even some scan groups whose reputations ruin it for the artist.
I won’t name names, but basically, the ones that are known to still release chapters once the official license is announced, or actually hear about the license and purposefully release everything instead of stopping.
It’s actually a lot more common than you think, and licensors know who these groups are. I can say that when I worked at the manga company, we tried to reach out nicely and warn some people we were going to license something and get them to find a nice stopping place, and people burned us. That sticks with you. Anytime you get the chance to release something that you know that group did— you DO double think it. And it’s absolutely awful to think about as a fan.
Manga Planet: So “double-thinking” leads to series not being picked up?
Beverly: I think it relies heavily on where you are as a company and your corporate outlook though. Like we went through with the (one scanlated series) we did it because it was a very popular title and we expected traffic for it. (Also, the freelancers were jumping at the bit for it.) Had we gotten a license to another work that scanlation group was doing down the line, I probably would have turned it down.
Manga Planet: This is definitely something we have thought about even at Manga Planet-the scanlation status of an artist’s work. So in this regard, you would say that scanlation hurts the industry, specifically artists, more than it helps?
Beverly: I would say so. As a fan, I understand wanting to share your favorite artist with people. And not to get all grandma up on this interview, but back in my dayyyy (haha), you shared the official print. Even in the digital age, you can share the official digital release. The problem with scanlation is that it’s spoiled us. I actually saw something the other day. Someone was posting a top 30 shojo manga list—and something I worked on was on it. I was over the moon! So I click to see what the comments are, and there it was. “Ugh, this cost money. Can someone pay and put it up on an illegal website so we can read it for free?” (I’m not kidding—they typed illegal!) Not only does that hurt the artist, the industry, and the people who DO do this stuff officially’s paycheck, it is the most indescribably serrated knife stab in the back of everyone trying their hardest for this industry. And the problem is, and I know people don’t want to hear it, this is not the minority.
Manga Planet: We have found a lot of readers when confronted with this truth say that it’s the publishers’ fault-and piracy at its core is a service issue. From your perspective, do you believe this is a valid point?
Beverly: I find it really hard to understand this argument myself.
A lot of scanlators say ‘well this will never be licensed anyway so we’re just bringing what would never come to English over’ or they’re offering ‘timely English releases.’ And not to be harsh but: Who made you the overlord of all licensors? How do you know what would or wouldn’t be licensed? Impatience is not a publishers fault.
In a perfect world, if this manga wasn’t prematurely released, who’s to say what would or wouldn’t get translated into English? Yes, some publishers are picky. Of course, they are. This is something that they worked hard to make a consumable product with the artist. If people want a faster release in Japan, they can’t just take it from something that doesn’t exist yet. They have to wait until the artist creates it. So why does a publisher waiting for the right offer to come along and release it a way that will be satisfying to them and their artist, give you free reign to their copyrighted product?
Let’s think of the original work as an apple. That apple needs time to grow. You can inject it with growth hormones to try and hurry it along, but it still takes about 100 days for that apple to be ready. (Not to mention the six years or so to grow the tree!) If you pick the apple off because you want it now, it’s not the apple the farmer wanted you to eat; it’s small, it’s sour. Is it the farmer’s fault you picked the apple off his tree?
Manga Planet: So in this case, would you say the customer isn’t right?
Beverly: I mean, if we stick with the apple analogy, if the farmer wasn’t ready to sell, that would mean the apple wasn’t at the market. If it was still on his tree, then someone took it off his tree without his permission. So taking an apple and not paying for it when someone’s livelihood depends on selling those apples… yeah, that’s wrong.
Manga Planet: Another complaint we hear from readers and scanlators is that manga is “too expensive” or “overpriced.” A lot of people don’t understand what goes into creating manga let alone localizing it and making it ready for an English release. Could you possibly tell us where their money goes to when they do buy an official release?
Beverly: I think that one varies too much depending on the site for me to give a good answer too.
I can only attest to what I know, and I can’t give you exact numbers but, one thing readers seem to forget is that when it comes to an English release, it’s not just paying someone to translate and typeset. Step one is getting permission from the publisher, a part of that is agreeing on a publishing fee, and what percentage of sales goes back to the publisher(and a cut of that goes to the artist themselves) Depending on titles, this can be tens of thousands of dollars for AAA titles, maybe even hundreds.
On top of that, you have the staff at the English publishing office, who facilitate freelancers or in-house resources for translation, typeset, and any corrections. This is the part that scanlators do for free. They skip that thousands of dollars up front step.
Now, unfortunately, I don’t typeset so I can only speak to what I know, but translation wise– remember this is my bread and butter, I live off this. In an ideal world, everyone is aiming for like at least $20.00 an hour at their full time, college graduate jobs, yeah? Depending on who you’re working for, this can mean anywhere from 4 pages to 20 pages an hour. (You can see how this range hurts me) And how quickly you go is determined by how much text is on a page, how hard it is, etc. Here’s a sample page from one of the works I do with Enshodo from a series called Mesmerism.
Now, as you can see, there is quite a bit of text here, and Mesmerism has a hypnotherapy theme. I’ve never had hypnotherapy before, so this did take some research etc.
I mean, I’ll be blunt, this page alone took me probably took me at least 30 minutes. I have never earned anywhere near $20.00 an hour doing manga, and I probably never will. And I doubt this page was any quicker for the typesetter- bless their talented little soul. And Enshodo sells this whole book for only $5.99!
I can’t say how many copies they need to sell to recoup their cost but, it’s not one copy. Publishing isn’t cheap. Printing isn’t cheap. Staff isn’t cheap. Electricity isn’t free. Photoshop isn’t free. I mean, there are thousands of dings, here and there, and they all add up.
Thankfully my plethora of jobs has left me with plenty of knowledge haha.
Manga Planet: Thank you for sharing it. Do you find that since scanlators work for free, it impacts the rates for professionals in the industry?
Beverly: Definitely. As I mentioned before, that wishful thinking of $20.00 an hour is anywhere from 4 to 20 pages an hour. A lot of companies can actually target scanlators specifically because as a company obviously, you’d rather get 20 pages for that $20.00 rather than 4. And as professional who needs to eat of their paycheck—It’s really hard to come up with convincing evidence as to why you’re worth the extra money to someone who doesn’t speak the language you translate into. (Not that there aren’t plenty of scanlators and professionals who translate very well for that lower rate. That’s why it makes it so hard to prove you’re worth the extra money.)
Manga Planet: In an interview, we did with Ryoko Nicole, a BL scanlator, we talked about “entitled readers,” or readers who expect free manga and are entitled to content. Do you feel like there are “entitled scanlators,” or scanlators that feel like they have the right to translate something or have ownership over a manga?
Beverly: Oh dear, the hardball questions have come out, haha. I can’t say I know many personally, but I do feel like there are some people/groups like that. Like the notion that if one group is scanlating a book, another group can’t work on it. Or people who keep scanlating after a book’s official release has been announced. They certainly do exist out there.
Manga Planet: Many people think that fighting piracy and scanlations are a lost cause. Do you share this sentiment or believe there is something readers and fans alike can do?
Beverly: I certainly think something can be done if we work together. These sites exist because a lot of people use them. But I know that it’s a very hard fight to be had. The saddest part is, legitimate sources that are trying to break in and give people a legal way of reading manga are being crushed because people are so determined to use the piracy sites.
Manga Planet: That is the most depressing part…I feel that quite a bit as well. Do you think publishers can learn anything from scanlators?
Beverly: I certainly do. A lot of Japanese publishers are really clueless when it comes to what it takes to make an English release. Things like re-drawing, or even typesetting, a lot of them don’t know that the translator doesn’t do everything! And I certainly think that Japanese publishers aren’t as aware of interacting with fans. Especially in the states, social media is a big way of spreading people’s awareness of a brand. I was a marketing major, and I always love giving this little tidbit, so I’ll share my master interview answer with you all.
In the states, it’s called social media. In Japan, it’s called SNS (social networking system). Do you know why? Because when you’re branding yourself in English, you interact with your followers, you create a conversation. Japanese brands use it more as a board to announce things. Scanlators know how important it is to interact with their fans, because they do all of this work for free, for those fans. I feel like this is a really important hurdle Japanese publishers need to learn how to overcome if they really want to successfully release things in English.
Manga Planet: Is there anything else you wish scanlators and understood from the industry perspective?
Beverly: As a fellow translator, I just want scanlators to really, know your own worth. You know how much time and effort goes into what you do. Maybe it’s just a hobby, but don’t accept any pay that’s thrown your way. When I started at the manga company, I actually reached out to my own scanlation group. I let them know we were working with the genre of manga they liked to do, but only offered X amount for the total product. And you know what? They turned me down. And to this day, I find that so inspiring. I wasn’t even offended. The leader very clearly laid out, “You know, what we do, it takes time and skill, and we’re not going to work for anything less than Y.”
I’ll be honest, I have a terrible time turning down any job that comes my way. And it gets me stuck in this low pay high volume loop.
And I hope it’s because you know your worth to the industry, you’ll stop releasing everything for free. Because, you do deserve recognition, and praise for what you do. And if you protect the industry, they’ll protect you. We can work together to make publishing better and more viable, instead of all feeding the illegal websites that steal your scans hours after release and profit off it anyway.