In an aggressive move to digitize and electronically distribute manga to as vast and wide an audience as possible, Southern California based manga publisher, Digital Manga Publishing, has launched Digital Manga Guild, a new online project aimed at both lowering the cost and speeding up the translation of Japanese manga into English.

DMP president and CEO Hikaru Sasahara told PWCW that the Digital Manga Guild is designed to serve as an online gathering place where, upon approval, fan/manga lovers will be able to work in teams as translators, editors and localizers—editorial workers who shape the manga’s language and other details to foreign markets—on assigned manga properties. Once translated and localized, the property is then distributed online via DMP’s website,, where readers can rent or buy the digitized edition. Revenue generated from sales and rentals of the manga property will then be split three ways, between the Japanese licensor, DMP and the Guild team that worked on the translation and localization of the property. This revenue sharing model benefits DMP in two ways: it eliminates the need to pay translators and editors upfront, and eliminates licensing fees.

Sasahara described this as a victory for his company specifically and potentially for U.S. licensors in general. “To have to pay these licensing fees upfront seems totally unfair to me,” he said. “They [the licensors] get their money upfront while we have to do a tremendous amount of work [translating and localizing the license]. It takes 8-12 months to do all this work, meaning we get paid a year after [acquiring the license.]”

The serious decline of U.S. manga sales over the last three years, the rise in popularity of scanlations—fan translated manga illegally posted online for free—and a high-profile effort by a coalition of Japanese and U.S. manga publisher to fight scanlations and digital manga piracy, has focused attention on the importance of making English translations of Japanese manga easier to access online and in other digital formats. Japanese publishers are often criticized for dragging their feet on making their titles available digitally and some critics believe this delay is driving fans to pirate manga sites.

Since the announcement of this platform, 800 people have signed up to work on DMP’s manga licenses. DMP has formed partnerships with six manga publishers in Japan with libraries of up to 5,000 properties and some with more, even double, that number. Sasahara aims to vet the translators and editors and assign manga properties to the various teams at Digital Manga Guild by the Spring of 2011, and expects to launch the translated, localized manga properties by the Summer of 2011. Sasahara’s goal is to build Digital Manga Publishing’s library of digitized manga to 500-1000 properties next year.

Sasahara told PWCW that he uses the same screening process for applicants to Digital Manga Guild as he does for hiring translators for DMP manga titles. Asked if the Digital Manga Guild mimics the scanlation process and format (i.e., fans work in teams to translate and then post pirated manga online), Sasahara said that while the process of localizing the property is the same, “Digital Manga Guild is 100% different” because it’s legal and all the translator/editor/localizers will be paid. Localizers will also be credited by name on the project that they’ve worked on series.

Sasahara projected that this model for translation and localization of manga could potentially further grow the business of any publisher in the U.S. and his expectation is that others in the industry will copy his model. “I have always wanted to change the manga industry,” Sasahara said.