Inside the Digital Manga Guild

Late last year, the manga publisher Digital Manga Publishing announced a new initiative: The Digital Manga Guild. Basically, this is an attempt to make the scanlation model work legally: Volunteer teams would translate books into English (and other languages) and edit them, with the permission of the publishers and creators. Digital would publish the books online and readers would pay a small fee to read them; no one gets paid up front, but everyone gets a cut of the sales.

The proposal was initially met with both enthusiasm from fans who want to see more manga translated and skepticism from existing scanlators who were concerned it was just a big sting to get them to reveal their identities—and become vulnerable to legal action. Those initial fears seem to have been allayed, and a number of teams have signed up. Among them is blogger Melinda Beasi, who will be reporting on the process from the inside, with permission from Digital.

Melinda has already cleared the first few hurdles: She successfully pre-registered and passed the editor's test. Now she has to find partners, because Digital only works with three-person teams consisting of an editor, a translator, and a typesetter. The problem is, there are plenty of editors but not so many people with enough skills for the other two jobs who are willing to work for free. There's a matchmaking thread at the Digital Manga Guild forums, however, and it looks like Melinda may have found her partners there.

Melinda is donating all her fees to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, so she's only in it for the experience. Most scanlators work for free, just for the love of the manga, but they also often have a lot of free time, and many are students who drop out of the scene once they are out of college. So there are two questions here: Will people who have done it as a hobby be happy doing it as a job, and will people who are essentially working for free be able to make the same commitment as a professional translator, editor, or typesetter. It will certainly be interesting to see how this works from the inside, and as our digital Nellie Bly, Melinda will certainly report on both the highs and the lows of this experience.

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