As most of you in the interweb's community of manga readers have probably heard, Mangahelpers is stepping down from its position as a place for scanlators to come together and share their and is now going back to its original roots as a hub for translators. That means all the manga files in their database are no longer available for download, both the Raws and the scanlations. What does this mean? It means the scanlating game is going to go through some changes soon.
Before I get into the implications of this even let me address what set all this in motion. You see, a few days ago, manga publishers of both East and West announced that they have banded together and formed a coalition designed to eliminate the piracy being perpetrated by the scanlating community. There have been similar attempts at this in the past but this time we not only have the American publishers in on it but also the original Japanese publishers who until recently have restricted their actions to within their own borders. We're talking about major players in the industry cracking down on online scanlation sites, starting with 30 undisclosed sites.
Supposedly, this crackdown is primarily aimed at taking down the sites that charge money in exchange for access to scans but it would overly optimistic for us to assume that sites like Onemanga, Mangafox and Mangatraders wouldn't be targeted as well. It seems that the cease and desist letters haven't been sent yet so most of the scanlating community will be carrying on as usual until they do. Mangahelpers on the other hand however, decided that this was the time to pull a Crunchyroll with the scanlating in general by closing its doors on scanlators and opening new ones to the authors themselves with OpenManga.
To put it simply, OpenManga will try to get authors' permission to host and translate their series online through their service so fans from around the world finally have a legal source of translated manga. According to the owners in this explanation, there may or may not be a price to pay for access to said series. In either case, we still get readily available and legal manga online.
Now let's focus on the question at hand; will this work? To be honest, I have major doubts about this. As much as one can try to idealize and justify the actions of the scanlating community, manga is a business and scanlating undermines that business. This latest move on the publishers' part is not meant to support the spread of manga around the world but rather to take back control of what was supposed to have been their domain in the first place. I really can't see those same publishers supporting the rise of a movement that threatens to take whatever remaining control they have left in the distribution of their products. Fact is, regardless of whether or not the authors jump on this new bandwagon, the rights to the series being published actually belong to the publishing company and not the creators. Without support from the publishers, OpenManga won't have the established series or authors needed for this to work.
Of course there is the possibility that authors would see OpenManga as a way for them publish new works without the restraints imposed upon them by usual conventions within the publishing companies there to get in their way. That also means there is considerable potential for some very fresh and original ideas to see the light of day through the site. However, in exchange for that there is the matter of actual profit rolling into the author's laps. Whatever revenue they would generate would be rather meager as the bulk of the money mangaka make come from the sales of the compiled volumes so unless OpenManga can somehow get publishers to cooperate or come up with a way to distribute the actual money makers with reasonable profit margins, there would be very little incentive for authors to publish and maintain their publications on OpenManga.
Then there is the matter of what comes after the success or failure of the site. If this succeeds we will be looking at a schism in the online community as the issue of "legal vs. free" will rear its ugly head in full force. At that point in the game, the "unavailable" excuse won't be as effective as it is now and people will be pointing fingers at each other over the "ethics" of their practice. OpenManga's success could also lead to a monopoly war over the online distribution as its success will no doubt lead to the rise of similar services aiming to take the top dog's seat in distribution.
Should it fail however, it will mean that the entire online community of manga fans will either have to fall back on more obscure and painstaking methods of getting their fix or depend on the replacement services that will pop up after the old places are gone. I anticipate a general decline in interest in manga as a storytelling medium with the distribution being slowed down by the removal of the readily available sources. This will lead to a gradual drop in profits generated through overseas sales and the slackening of anti-scanlating efforts with it. In other words, failure means we'll be going through cycles of dark and golden ages should both sides of the conflict continue to fail at meeting somewhere in the middle.
Personally, I'm hoping that OpenManga manages to pull this off. It will take a lot of cooperation from the fans and the authors to make this work should the publishers refuse to acknowledge it as a viable way of business for them. For this to even get off the ground, they'll need to publicise their service as much as possible. And I don't mean just in Japan but worldwide as well. There are plenty of aspiring authors out there looking for a chance at making it in the business and even the smallest contribution would help out this movement. Nay-saying these guys won't help make the transition to legal scans any easier so I would suggest to all manga lovers out there to help out however they can. This is something we change, that's why we need to make our move as well.