We Want to Pay for Manga, but We Can’t

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I love to read manga, but I live in Europe. And that is the reason of my, let’s call it, discomfort, and the reason for this disquisition. In the prospect of optimizing my reading experience, I want to achieve the following.

  • The manga has to be in English.
  • I want to read my manga digitally.
  • Reading it in a web browser is a must.
  • Support for tablets and/or smartphones is a nice-to-have feature.
  • It has to be legal.
  • I have no problems with paying for the content.

These requirements might and probably will not be applicable to everybody, however the point that I want to make with this disquisition is applicable to a large group of people. Now, let’s explain and/or (try to) tackle them one by one.

The Manga Has to Be in English

The manga that I want to read is originally published in Japan, hence, the text is in Japanese, and that is a language that I don’t speak. I live in Europe, and although my first language is not English, I want to read my manga in English. Even if manga would be available in my first language I would still read it in English, but that’s a personal preference. As manga is available in the U.S., English translations are being made, hence, (almost) no additional work has to be done here.

I Want to Read My Manga Digitally

Print versions of manga are the original way to distribute these stories, however, as I’m tech-savvy guy, I want to read it digitally. The second reason is that I hope that it will reduce the costs compared to buying the trade paperbacks (TPB).

Reading in a Web Browser Is a Must

This way I will be able to access it on multiple devices, making it as accessible as possible to me, so that I can read it when and where I want it.

Support for Tables and/or Smartphones Is a Nice-to-Have Feature

I own a smartphone and a tablet, hence, having an adjusted reading experience for these devices would be nice, however, this feature is not mandatory. My preference goes to tablet support if I need to chose between smartphone and tablet support, however, the gap between the two is getting smaller every day. Hence, if one is supported the other will have a big change of being supported too.

It Has to Be Legal

No explanation needed. It’s that simple.

I Have No Problems with Paying for the Content

Yes, indeed, I don’t have a problem with it. I just say this. For me, if it’s worth reading, it’s worth paying for. This also connects with the above statement regarding it’s legality.

Now, Where Are We?

When people are reading this, the following names will already pop up in their minds: Crunchyroll, Manga Rocks, and so on. Let’s first take about Manga Rocks.

Manga Rocks

Manga Rocks is an application for your mobile device that allows you to read manga. The application is free, however, it will only allow you to store one series locally, and it has ad’s. Paying 4,99 EUR will remove the restriction and the ad’s. Hey, is this not what I want? No, the sources of the manga offered by Manga Rocks are scanlations websites. This are websites who scan the print version of manga and offer them online. Some of them even translate them if necessary. However, as you might suspect, this is not legal. Although not everybody knows this, which starts discussions such as thisJapan is also not happy about scanlations. It is also strange that Apple allows such apps in their App Store, but I’m not going to discuss the ethics of Apple. Where the revenue from Manga Rocks ends up, we don’t know, however, we might suspect that the changes of money reaching the authors and publishers are slim. So yeah, Manga Rocks is of the table. There are similar applications available, but they also raise the same questions regarding legality. Next up is Crunchyroll.

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll is the revelation for anime fans and manga readers outside Japan, or not? If I was living in the U.S., yes, however I’m not. I live in Europe, and here is where the region-restrictions from Crunchyroll kick in, or more specific the restrictions imposed by the publishers. As I understand it, Crunchyroll is trying to make every manga and anime series available for everybody, however, when some (read ‘most’) publishers only give them a license for the territories of the U.S. and/or Canada, the content is not available for inhabitants of European countries. And trust me the offered content for us, Europeans, is really limited. I’m not going to elaborate on all the features of Crunchyroll, but to summarize, Crunchyroll is legal, has web browser support, has an iPad and iPhone app, is cheap (only around 5 EUR/month), and offers the manga I want, but only to U.S. and/or Canadian residents. So Crunchyroll is not an option either. Other similar services exists, however, they have the same limitations. For example, comiXology recently expanded it’s digital manga library, however, again we are out of luck.

Viewing One Piece on comiXology in Europe

Viewing One Piece on comiXology in Europe

 

As a side note, the region-restrictions are also a problem for Anime.

What It Comes down To

At least one service that answers all my needs exists, however, the region-restrictions make it useless. I conclude that I don’t have a legal way on reading manga digitally where I live. Now, how can I fix this? Some might say that I just need to abandon the idea, because if it does not exist, there is nothing I can do about it, unless I launch a European version of Crunchyroll (which I’m not planning to).

First Possible Compromise

Can we make a compromise maybe? Yes, this will bring up the legal discussion again. One possible way is to still use Crunchyroll, while bypassing it’s region-restrictions. This is illegal, as far as I understand it. If the license they have for a certain manga is limiting it’s use for the U.S. region, than reading it in Europe is in disagreement with that license. However, you still pay Crunchyroll, and they will distribute the money you pay to the publishers and authors of the manga you read, hence, you are still paying to read the manga. So everything is cool then? No. An obvious reason is breaching the license, and that’s also the main one why you might not want to agree with this compromise. Another reason why you might not want to use this approach is that bypassing region-restrictions is not that easy. For Chrome there is an extension available, however, fooling the native apps for mobile devices is a little more technical and involves VPN’s.

Second Possible Compromise

With this compromise, we still pay Crunchyroll, and money is going to the publishers and authors. Now let’s say that we also want to read manga on our mobile devices, neglecting the support for web browsers. Manga Rocks comes to mind. Yes, it uses scanlations, but we give money to the authors via Crunchyroll. However, by using the app the developers will receive money from it, whether it is by offering ad’s or by unlocking the complete app. Hence, you reward offering (illegal) scanlations through an app, but of course we (read ‘I’) don’t want that people get money from the work of others (this is a eyebrow-raising statement, I know). Thus, this compromise is easier for us, because we don’t have to deal with the technicalities of region-restrictions, however, funding illegal activities is not something that I would like to put on my resume. The same goes for the use of the scanlations websites directly, which we need if we want web browser support. That is, if we don’t consider bypassing the region-restrictions of Crunchyroll.

Only Option

We can conclude that we have cannot legally read manga in a digital form, at least not the manga we want. Our only option is to buy TPB, a non-digital format. We can only hope that publishers of manga understand the need for legal methods for non-U.S., non-Canada and non-Japan residents, because they have fans in other parts of the world too, and, now comes what I’ve been building up to, we are willing to pay for the beautiful stories you guys are creating.

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2 thoughts on “We Want to Pay for Manga, but We Can’t

  1. I really think you should reconsider using a VPN! With VPN Gate, it’s really not that difficult. I think it’s better to support the manga artist and whichever localizer you choose to support rather than both you not getting to read your manga and the manga artist not making a sale. I think beyond the word legal, but should really matter is that the right person is making the money, and manga artists make nothing from illegal scans, but do from you region circumventing. Region blocking is outdated and unfortunate, there’s little we can do and I do think companies are trying hard to make things world-wide, we’re just not there yet. It’s really no different than importing a physical book from another country.

    A lot of Japanese learners use VPNs to order books in Japanese on Kindle. I don’t think Crunchyroll’s collection is that large. You could try using a VPN and looking at Kindle instead. I don’t know much about the manga industry in English and where to find manga.

    But, it’s up to you, of course (^_^). Thanks for the insightful post. Hope more digital manga comes your way in a legal format soon.

    • Hi Rachel

      It’s indeed like you say: the most important is that the manga artists get the money they deserve, and bypassing the region-registrions doesn’t prohibit this (as was stated in one of the compromises) :)
      And I really hope that the future will bring a solution.

      I will also check the suggestions you gave. Thanks!

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