Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina, Negima!), announced that he will launch an ad-supported portal that dishes up free, out-of-print manga titles. Manga will by various creators will be posted with permission, and revenues will be split among every creator involved. I find this to be an interesting counter-move by Akamatsu, in the sense that it’s completely out of left field, and it’s brilliant. On one hand, it demolishes a number of arguments for piracy on the Japan side, including the ever-popular standbys:
It’s too expensive
It’s not convenient
It’s not available anymore
I prefer digital manga
In addition, the setup ensures that, while it isn’t much (online advertising revenue margins are slim), the creators are still seeing a form of return for their work.
As a fan of the classics, I see this as a wonderful opportunity to (eventually) preserve and curate those influential landmark titles like Lone Wolf & Cub, the original Dragon Ball, or classic Matsumoto works – titles that would be a dire loss to manga as a whole, were they to eventually fall to the ravages of time.
The announcement has led me to start thinking about the upcoming 37-publisher Western storefront again. For some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that this new service, if it does well, will be used as a giant negative by the many downloaders in the subculture. I foresee cries of “It’s free in Japan!” or similar echoing out among the scanlation downloaders, despite the fact that, in this case, the titles are old (Love Hina is 12 years old at this point), they were bought heavily, and they’re also being supported further by advertisements.
But, as we all know, that simply doesn’t matter as long as the word “free” bounces through what is increasingly becoming an echo chamber in some places.