Tezuka Productions and Digital Manga, Inc., a print and digital manga publisher, have announced a deal to translate and digitally publish hundreds of volumes of manga by revered manga and anime creator Osamu Tezuka. The manga will be available on DMI's digital platforms and on a new website, Tezuka World, which will also serve as a library of Tezuka's works for producers interested in developing them for film or television.
Tezuka, who died in 1989, is revered by manga fans in Japan and the U.S. alike as the father of modern manga, and a number of his series have already been licensed in English, including Buddha and Black Jack (Vertical, Inc.), Phoenix (Viz), and Astro Boy (Dark Horse). DMI has published several Tezuka manga in print, including Barbara and the children's story Unico, using the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to finance the printing. The new contract covers all of Tezuka's manga that are not currently licensed to other American publishers.
The first new titles will be digital editions of the Tezuka manga that DMI has already published in print; previously, the company did not have the digital rights. DMI will initially publish about ten Tezuka titles a month.
The contract between DMI and Tezuka Productions is a revenue share, an arrangement that is still relatively unusual in the manga world. The books will be translated by the Digital Manga Guild, a group of localization teams who translate, edit, and re-letter manga for digital publication. Under the terms of the Guild, all three parties—DMI, the Japanese licensor, and the localizers—get a share of the sales but no money up front.
DMI president Hikaru Sasahara said Tezuka Productions, which licenses Tezuka's works, was very enthusiastic about the deal. "They really like the concept of the Digital Manga Guild, where the Japanese publisher and the localizers here in the U.S. who translate, letter, and edit the content and we, Digital Manga, we are the managing company and also the digital distributor, we come together as one unit and three parties share the revenue," he said. "Sharing the revenue means we share the risk too. If the book doesn't go well nobody gets paid; if the book goes well, everyone gets paid and is happy."
Sasahara created the Digital Manga Guild in 2011 to address the cash flow problem that occurs when a publisher pays a license fee and localization/translation costs up front for a work that won't be published until eight to 12 months later. That limited the number of books a publisher could take on: "Under the old licensing system we could only publish up to 15 at the most because of the money situation," Sasahara said. "Because of the Guild we can license as many as we want." The Guild has published about 454 volumes of manga so far.
Under the new agreement, Digital will be allowed to translate and digitally publish about 250 properties, which could come to as many as 500 individual volumes, according to Sasahara. DMI currently publishes on over 20 different digital platforms, including Comixology, Amazon's Kindle, and its own website, eManga, and the books will be available on all of them, he said. In addition, DMI will develop a special Tezuka-only section of its eManga site, Tezuka World, that will be available not only to the buying public but also to anyone interested in developing the properties for film or television.
"Anybody can access it, but I want to specifically promote this website for the Hollywood studios," Sasahara said.
DMI is one of the few publishers that offers DRM-free downloads (via eManga), and Sasahara said the Tezuka manga will be available in that format. "People always prefer downloads rather than streaming only," he said. "They always want to take what they want on the go. It's more convenient for the customer. I'm glad that [Tezuka Productions] understands that aspect."
The Digital Manga Guild gives the books a bit of a marketing advantage: Many of the localizers started out as scanlators, devoted fans that scan and translate manga without permission of the publishers. And while scanlation is credited with building a community of manga fans and making manga more widely available, it also competes with the legitimate publishers and is generally considered digital piracy. Now that the former scanlators are working legally for the Digital Manga Guild, and getting paid a percentage of sales, they don't take kindly to piracy.
"After they finish the localization, they start promoting the titles they work on themselves, and they start asking the scanlators to take down the same title because they really care now about the money they will earn," Sasahara said.
"We licensed over 3,000 titles for the Digital Manga Guild from the various Japanese publishers," he said, noting that he intends to increase the number of DMG teams to take on the increased workload of Tezuka titles. "Now Tezuka came up after we signed the deals, and we want to prioritize the Tezuka titles, but we also have to give those licensors respect for their Digital Manga Guild deals."