Manga piracy has been in the news quite a bit this month.
The popular manga comic scanlation platform Manga Rock announced that it will shut down and a few days later Japanese publishers sued the pirate site Hoshinoromi in a U.S. court.
By now, it’s commonly known that you are not supposed to republish copyrighted works without permission. However, people have different views on what the effect of manga piracy is on the revenues of publishers.
Rightsholders often stress that the industry is endangered by people who ‘steal’ their content, while manga consumers can see it as a form of promotion. Free sampling can satisfy the reading needs that are beyond their budget, expanding their horizons.
Newly published research by Professor Tatsuo Tanaka of the Faculty of Economics at Keio University suggests that both sides have a point.
The findings come from a natural experiment that uses a massive takedown campaign conducted by anti-piracy group CODA in 2015. This campaign reduced the availability of pirated comics on various download sites, which allowed Professor Tanaka to analyze how this affected sales of 3,360 comic book volumes.
The results, recently published in the article titled “The Effects of Internet Book Piracy: Case of Comics,” show that the effect of piracy differs between ongoing and completed series. In other words, the effect of piracy is heterogeneous.
“Piracy decreased the legitimate sales of ongoing comics but stimulated legitimate sales of completed comics,” Professor Tanaka writes.
The overall effect of piracy could not be measured with this methodology but the findings clearly show that piracy does have some positive effects. In this case, it shows the number of sales of completed comic book series increase.
This heterogeneous piracy effect on sales is not unique. Previously, research has shown that the Megaupload shutdown increased box office revenues for bigger films, but hurt smaller releases.
The manga piracy findings are particularly relevant for the Manga Rock situation. Following discussions with publishers, the site plans to remove all its pirated titles at the end of this month and return with a completely legal platform in a few months’ time.
Interestingly, that goes against the recommendation of Professor Tanaka, who writes the following in his paper:
“If the effect of piracy is heterogeneous, it is not the best solution to shut down the piracy sites uniformly but to delete harmful piracy files selectively if possible. In this case, deleting piracy files of ongoing comics only is the first best strategy for publishers regardless of whether the total effect is positive or negative, because the availability of piracy files of completed comics is beneficial to both publishers and consumers.”
The paper was published in August and is based on older, previously-released data. So, one should be careful when applying it to the Manga Rock case, which is newer and deals with fan-made scanlation copies. That said, it could give the publishers some food for thought.
Manga Rock is massively popular and has millions of engaged Mmanga fans in its user base. Keeping some of these on board, even with a smaller library, could be smarter than simply driving them towards the next pirate site.
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