Earlier today, Digital Manga Publishing named three of the members of its Digital Manga Guild. For those that don’t know, the Guild is a program in which fans collaborate with publishers to translate and sell works legally.

This program interests me greatly, since it gives an outlet for the fan-translators, but also provides a revenue stream for the original publishers. All involves parties show a net gain, since the translators earn royalties from their work, fans get access to more titles more quickly, and the publishers’ bottom lines gain an extra boost from each sale. Provided that the prices and payouts are fair. and an overall freedom of use is granted (people are going to want to read these on their Kindles and iPads!), the Guild can be a greatly profitable venture.

It also shows that the publishers are learning the habits of western fans. The 37-publisher portal, and now this guild are both obvious moves to try to mitigate the growing problem of scanlations in our subculture. With the people who would normally distribute the publishers’ work illegally doing a legitimate job now, it is easy to seeat least some reduction in these activities.

More interesting is the speculative look at things. If this takes off, it could spell a large scale change in how manga is handled in the industry. While the printed word isn’t going away any time soon, I can’t help but think of how the licensing process could change. How would publishers react, now that they have to compete with an organization that don’t pay a licensing fee, and don’t have to pay a translator to do the work up-front? Time can only tell in this case.

As for the three publishers, I have to admit that I can’t wait to see what the initial lineup will be. The three publishers, Shinshokan, Taiyoh Tosho, and Oakla Publishing all have a good number of promising titles, but a number of their biggest works are already licensed. For example, TOKYOPOP currently holds the rights to Shinshokan’s Tokyo Babylon, Bandai has Oakla’s Lucky Star, and Digital Manga has most of Taiyoh Tosho’s yaoi lineup. Hopefully, this means that we’ll see some of the more low-key works from the companies get a share of the limelight, rather than shoved aside for the next big thing.

Regardless of the outcome, this new expansion is going to be an interesting experiment.

Update – 12/9/2010: Earlier today, the folks at Digital Manga issued the following statement:
The publishers that were mentioned in the article pertaining to the Digital Manga Guild, published by Publishers Weekly on 12/7/10, are incorrect. When it comes time, Digital Manga will make an official statement on the partners involved in the project based on their wishes. Unfortunately, we are unable to make any further statements at this time, other than to confirm that the information released by Publisher’s Weekly is in error.