Since Zepysgirl is busy, here is my transcription of today's teleconference:
Hikaru Sasahara opening remarks:
Assures us that the project is real and is currently moving forward.
I want to tell you about me…it’s important for you to know who is running this business. If you have any problems, you can come directly to me. I’m 100% responsible for everything we do, everything you do. This is probably the biggest and most serious project of my career, because it can impact the way that manga is published in the US.
I came to the US in 1973, from a tiny anime studio in Tokyo. I’m not young anymore, and this is probably the last big challenge I’ll take on. My dad owned the anime studio, and I’m carrying his heritage. My dad’s goal was to bring anime and manga outside of Japan, and I’m carrying his dreams.
I came here alone close to 40 years ago. I had no friends or relatives here, and didn’t have much money. Back in the 70’s there was still racism and discrimination, so I had a hard time blending into US society, but somehow I tried hard to try things out and finally made my small dream come true here, running my own small company of about 20 people.
If you look around your area, a lot of small manga publishers went out of business last year. About 8 companies close to the size of our company –all gone. We are lucky enough to survive. We are probably the largest independent manga publisher in the US. We have no venture capitalist backers and are not owned by any manga publisher in Japan. Complete independence allows us to do something unique, avant garde, progressive, crazy. Being owned partially by another company means you don’t have that freedom. I am trying to keep our company free from other companies so we can do anything we want to.
This project is a unique and progressive idea that is finally coming to fruition after so many years of effort.
Digital Manga is located in Los Angeles, CA. We started this company about sixteen years ago. We are not a brand new company. We are a well-established company, though small. I wanted to keep it small so we can make relatively quick decisions. It’s a way to stay afloat in business.
I wanted to let you know this project is happening. We have the infrastructure implemented. We are still talking to many, many small and medium-sized publishers in Japan, trying to acquire their titles. I’m talking about hundreds of titles I’m trying to bring in.
The only way we can make that project happen is if we all agree that the revenue we make will be shared among partners.
Because of the problems we’ve faced in the past, this is one of the biggest reasons why we cannot publish as many titles as we like. Under the current licensing system, when we acquire manga titles from Tokyo, we have to pay the publishers a large minimum guarantee royalty up front before we actually publish the manga. Three or four years ago, we paid an average of $3500 per title up front. Eight months to a year later, after localization, promotion, lettering, editing, and cleaning up, the English version is finally ready to roll. During that time, the cash flow dries up, because we’re publishing more than one title per month—an average of 8 to 9 titles per month. You can imagine how much money that means we are paying up front.
In the past ,8 to 9 titles per month was our maximum. On top of up-front payment to the Japanese publisher, we have to pay translators, editors, letterers, upon finishing their work. That has made an obstacle to publishing as many titles as we’d like. That means a maximum of 96 titles per year. If you imagine the thousands of titles already published in Japan, we’re taking only a very small fraction of titles per year. That’s why you see so many scanlators out there: it’s because they’re so frustrated. Japanese publishers are trying to stop the scanlators by demanding the work cease or saying they’re going to impose legal action. I don’t think that’s going to be the optimal solution to stop the scanlators. The best scenario is to bring more titles to the market, so they won’t see the need to do scanlation.
I want to change the system. I want to change the industry infrastructure where big companies are favored. I hate that, because I have grown my company from ground zero. Fortunately, when we start working with the small and medium publishers in Japan, they share our same spirit. They’re more flexible and are more open to giving us the rights, including digital rights.
Duirng the first year or two of this project, you may not be able to get as many mainstream, well-known titles as you like. It’s going to be mostly low-profile titles, some old titles, some adult titles, and a lot of yaoi titles. If you’re sensitive about translating, lettering, or editing different kinds of titles, you won’t fit in this project. I want you to understand this is the rock and roll project. I don’t want you to be too picky about what kind of titles you’re going to translate. When rock and roll started, everything was rough, but eventually rock and roll became dominant all over the world. This is the same spirit. Even though we publish yaoi titles, I don’t read them myself. I’m just running the business. People in the US, like in Japan, like yaoi titles, so why not?
When this project starts, we’re going to bring in yaoi titles, old classic titles, and adult titles, and if you’re picky about the kind of titles you work on, it’s not going to work. I want you to be open and flexible. We’re in the rock and roll era of the manga industry, looking for a big breakthrough into America. That’s the only way we can make the manga business grow as big as it is in Japan.
Last year 2010 manga business only generated $150,000,000 (a hundred and fifty million dollars) in the US vs $5,000,000,000 (five billion dollars) in Japan. There’s a huge business in America if people can see not 200 or 300 titles, but thousands of titles. Once they see them, they will start reading more titles, until it can potentially grow to be the size of the business in Japan or even bigger. I want you to know you’re taking part in changing the manga business here in America.
At the same time, I want you guys to make money as well. That’s why I’m asking you. You’re not going to get paid up front. No one will be paid up front, including ourselves. We’re taking a huge risk, because if this project doesn’t go, we’ll lose everything. I’m totally confident, moving forward, taking the risk. You won’t be taking the same risk, but a little risk. Your risk is, if the titles you worked on aren’t read as much as you want, you won’t make as much money as you want. The publishers in Tokyo don’t get paid up front either. Six companies out of 35 to 40 companies I’ve talked to have come forward to this project already. A week ago we got the first list of 100 titles that they say we can do in the Digital Manga Guild. They haven’t even signed a contract with us, so this enormous. Sending a list of 100 titles, without a contract. So I’m totally confident, moving forward to make this project happen. For us, for you, for the publishers, and for all the fans.
I’m serious, and I want you to be serious as well. I want you to feel you are part of this very, very important team that will the industry, and change the way the business is going on. Not a hundred titles, but ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand titles. But only if we agree to be paid when the titles are read, but not up front.
Three parties in this project have to agree. The same concept. You already agreed verbally, and the publisher in Japan already agreed. I’m driving this business. I know what I’m doing, and I’m totally confident.
This coming Sunday, I’m going to Tokyo, and I have an appointment to meet about 30 publishers and to try to sign them up. We have six already signed up, but I need more to come forward. Each company can potentially provide us with 300 to 500 titles. Times I don’t know how many companies. I’m confident that eventually we’ll get all 30 companies to come forward. That’s my job. I’m going to work my ass off to get the titles for you, for us, and for all the fans out there.
I’m doing this a business, but I want you to feel the same. No more free stuff. Let’s make money. No bullshit.
I wanted you to talk to me face to face so you can feel this is the real thing and feel that I am serious. You will be happy once this project gets going. Most likely the first package will be available as soon as the end of next month, March, because we got the first 100 titles already in place.
Question and Answer Period
Lennie= probably starlightmuse, a young woman
First question from Morgan:
How will the profit be divided between DMP, the Japanese companies, and the localization teams?
HS: It’s a very good and serious question, because it impacts how much you end up making. The revenue split is an important part of this project. The percentage of revenue share has not yet been finalized, but I have a ballpark plan in my head. Among the three parties involved, the localization group is very, very important. Without your work, this project won’t happen. In the past, the translator, letterer, editor, were a small part of the manga publishing business in America. Sometimes your names do not appear on the book, but this time, I’m going to give the localizer a lot more respect and a lot more money. I don’t have the percentage at this moment, but I’m thinking about giving the localizer between 10 to 12% of the total revenue. To me, it’s quite a lot of money, if you just look at it as not one year’s revenue, but maybe five to ten years. I’m working toward the highest, 12%, but I still need to talk to the publishers in Japan, because they are looking for a high percentage, because they already spent quite a lot of money on making the manga and their promotion. I’m trying to make the most appropriate revenue distribution for each and every party. I’m working toward the 12% and so I can possibly guarantee you that is the current expectation. About 12% of the revenue will go to your group. After that you have to share the revenue among your team depending on the contribution of each one in making your localization.
Next question from Melinda:
Is there a real time line? Can you lay out a time line…? (static on line, hard to hear) What will happen with newly formed groups?
FL: Right now we’re trying to finalize the agreements. Back and forth, discussing how to work it out, but the agreement should be coming within another few weeks. The agreement is the first step. We have titles prechosen for the beta groups. We’ll be starting with the beta groups.
HS: this could be my Japanese mentality, but I didn’t like the idea of binding you all by contract, but it’s a necessity for us, becasue you’ll be working on sensitive, copyrighted books. In order for us to move quickly, Japanese companies are very hard-headed. They traditionally move slowly. Next step, we’ll send you guys the contract. The contract is just a formality. It’s not our idea to bind your hands. It’s a necessity for us to move forward with the publisher. I hope you understand that aspect. We try to make the contract as flexibile as possible, but it’s a part of the game that needs to be followed through.
As to the time line, I want to do it ASAP no matter what. Like I said, we got the first hundred titles from one of the publishers, and that itself is tremendous. This particular publisher didn’t even sign an agreement with us. Because we’ve known each other so many years, and they completely trust us. It’s gonna happen soon, but you guys have to follow through on this formality first. After you sign the agreements, we can send you the first package of titles.
I also want to let you know one thing very important. As far as the revenue share goes. It’s not just based on one particular platform or reading device. Initially, right after you complete the localization, we’ll put your title onto our e-manga.com site. Our own online site has been in business for two years already generating revenue. That is one revenue souce, but if the same contents go onto the Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, and we put our contents onto Sony Play Station PSP platform, the iPhone, iPad, Android e-book devices, the more devices we put the content on, the more revenue generated, and your percentage comes from any additional devices the manga are put on. Revenues will increase as we put your contents on different devices.
FL: our initial goal tentatively is contracts signed by spring. ASAP. Maybe like end of March then start production in April, launch by early summer.
Next question from Laurie.
What criteria do you plan to use to bundle the manga? How do you plan to mix them up? Same author, same publisher?
HS: All mixed. Possibly different publishers and genres. It’s a very sensitive process we have to do to make sure each package contains different types of products and also at the same time the potential revenue to be disbursed equally to each and every package. I don’t want to see and hear from you that DMP gave me a crappy package. Our process may not be 100% accurate, but we’ll try our best to make each package is similar so groups are treated fairly.
Next question from Kimberly (Saunders):
Several people wanting to participate want to use this project to build their professional portfolios. How will the work by the localizers be credited? Will it be for the group, for the individual?
FL: We’ll leave that decision up to the localizers. We’ll give an option to either sign up as a group name and have you listed as individuals how you like to be displayed on the final product. That can be changed from title to title. We’ll probably set up an option on the interface platform when you guys sign in and start working on a book, an option to put in group name, add individual names or pen names, links to expose and showcase your talents to the world.
HS: This is a really good question. Fred was talking about giving credit. DMG is a place where you promote yourself. We’d be more than happy to display your credit and your name or even links with contact information. THE DMG is a place where if you haven’t ever published commercially, this is the place where you can do it. If you translated 20, 30 even 100 titles on the web, your name and links will be spread all over. Most likely once you get on the web, people will start seeing your names, links, avatar, then they will contact you and say “I read your manga and found your translation, lettering editing so good. Can you translate our mangas?” That can happen.
FL: Opens a lot of doors for localizers for your career.
Next question from Dana:
I was wondering about people who are ungrouped still. Will there be more people coming in, are we stuck, are we still left to group ourselves?
FL: we’re trying to promote DMG through as many channels as possible: social networking forums like Face Book and Twitter. We also get a lot of individual job inquiries to our corporate site that we redirect over to DMG. To get you guys to group up as much as you can. It would help if you could do your part to spread the word that you’re looking for a translator or an editor and things like that.
Lennie: we’re open to this being a community-based project. Unfortunately we won’t be helping much with placement, but we are trying to get more translators to help fill the uneven groups.
HS: I’ve been telling my staff to create the DMG website to be the place to find your potential partners. We knew this would happen that some of the groups are missing a position. We’re trying to make this community a place to find your missing group member. We’re trying to make it better. It’s not working perfectly now, but we’re trying to make our site the place for you to find a partner. Give us a little more time. We’re sure to make that happen.
Next question from Joseph:
As a translator, I was wondering, what sort of restrictions are you expecting the translators and editors to follow: retaining honorifics, translator notes, swear and cuss words, or will it be up to the team’s discretion?
FL: I will give the localizers discretion on making those decisions as to notes to explain cultural differences and nuances and honorifics. You being manga fans should know to take into consideration at the right time, for the right book for the right series. Obviously for modern manga, honorifics may not be used as often, but a manga set in traditional Japan, maybe honorifics would be best to use. Something to work out with translators and editors.
Lennie: Hopefully we’ll have guidelines for consistency.
Lennie: About taxes. We’re discussing how to address it. The same goes for payment. We won’t reveal until we’re ready.
Next question from Tessa:
How do you draw the line between the translator and editor and how is the pay divided between them?
Lennie: the payment will be decided amongst the group. If the translator wants to be the editor, they can apply for both positions. The editor also doubles as quality checker to look over the work to make sure it’s ready to go, since we don’t have a specific quality check person.
FL: I would recommend that if you’re a translator and editor that you do not combine roles working on the same project. You can be blind to your own mistakes, and it’s best to have a second pair of eyes.
Lennie: You also asked if we would buy translations from scanlators. Due to legal concerns, we would not be using any previously scanlated translations or lettering. To start fresh under the DMG agreement.
HS: about the grouping issue. I said I’m working toward giving localizers 12% of total revenue. If you think—it depends on how many people are involved in each group, the money you receive from your work will be shared with all your members. If one person can do the whole job, he or she gets the full 12%, that sounds more lucrative, but if you can’t process as many books as you should, that’s going to be a problem with us. I want you guys to make sure to have enough people to be able to process the number of titles that you work on and finish. The more books you put out, the more revenue you receive. Theoretically, if one person can do typesetting, translation, editing you can get the full 12% but it may be tough for one person to crank out six or seven titles per month. It’s probably impossible. So you have to manage the group so you can crank out many titles every month. At the same time you don’t want to have too large a group because you have to share the revenue. You have to keep a balance in your group. You can manage multiple groups on your own, like a company. You could create a localization company, managing multiple groups under your wing, so you can make more money.
Free question time:
Barbara: How will packages be distributed?
FL: Packages will be distributed by Digital Manga staff.
I’m planning on studying abroad next year, will I still be able to work for you?
FL: Yes. As long as you have an Internet connection.
If a person in the group doesn’t do the work, they would still get a percentage, just because they’re in the group?
HS: Once you get the group together, you need to elect a representative. Once you’re together you make your own rules. We can’t manage how you’re going to split the money. Each group has the responsibility to manage the money you receive.
Lennie: we answered some questions before, but we’re still working things out, and the answer may change. If your member does not do the work. We’ve discussed that, and we’ll have more definite answers once the agreement is done.
HS: let me add something. What Lennie said is very important. A lot of people voiced that they are having problems finding partners for group. Right now, we are asking you folks to group together, but we may possibly work with individuals. Obviously the percentage will be a lot lower than 12% if you work as an individual. We have to respect those who were able to create their own groups, and we want to treat you fairly. Once we establish the specific system whereby you work for us as a group or individual, we’ll try to give you more flexibility so you can work either way and make this project a go.
Question by Micky:
Will there be a statement that shows revenue from each title, so that if a member worked on certain titles, and another worked on other titles, we can figure it out?
Lennie: Yes, we plan to have a statement, where you’ll be able to see every six months the amount you made on each title. The total details are in process, but we plan to have that available to all group members. The titles they worked on and the amount they made.
HS: We’ll give you a 100% transparent accounting so you can see you’re not being cheated. We’ll send you a report of how many times the title has been read on different platforms. A precise revenue report based on different platforms/devices. Then you’ll get the percentage based on total revenue, no expenses deducted.
HS Last words:
I’ve enjoyed meeting you. It was a good meeting, and I hope you liked it and feel like this project will happen, and you’ll be a part of it. We’ll continue to conduct teleconferences. If you have Skype, with a camera, I want to see your faces, and I want you to see the old guy out here. To see if this guy is just a geezer. If you have a camera, maybe we should do Skype, and you can participate in future conferences as much as you want to make sure you feel comfortable. It’s important you feel comfortable and confident about the project and stay with us for five or ten years, and have your kids join the DMG ten years later.