Last week's news that Japanese and U.S. manga publishers are teaming up to combat illegal scan sites has led to a robust discussion of whether scanlators can go legit—and in fact such a project may be in the offing.
The publishers are targeting aggregator sites, which are draining off their profits by posting their licensed, copyrighted books online. They are less concerned about scanlation groups working on unlicensed manga. In fact, the publisher Digital Manga may be trying its own legal version of scanlation, according to this report at The Yaoi Review.
DMP is working on a new ‘secret’ project for publishing more manga faster and cheaper than it is now. It would be via a digital format and they are looking to hire scanlators to help with this. Essentially, scanlators would be doing what they do now except there is the possibility of getting paid based on the sales of said manga titles they worked on. They also get to have their name on everything they translate and retain certain rights to the work they do.
There are two ways of looking at this. One is that Digital is pioneering a legal scanlation model and paying translators for work they were previously doing for free. The other is that Digital is exploiting inexperienced translators by asking them to work on spec. There is a robust discussion of this and other points in the comments.
Meanwhile, at least one scan site seems to be trying to go legit.
Last week the scanlation site Manga Helpers stopped carrying scans of manga and two people affiliated with it announced they would be working on a new site, Open Platform, which would serve as a legal online manga site. This seems to be the latest iteration of an idea that was first floated last fall, when a scanlator leaked a business plan that Manga Helpers had shown to Viz, the largest U.S. manga publisher, which proposed a pay-to-read system for legal online manga. This concept attracted enough ire among scanlators (who, ironically, feared that Manga Helpers would take their work and make a profit on it) that Manga Helpers had to issue a clarification. According to this forum post at Anime News Network, the talks with Viz went nowhere but an agreement with the Japanese publisher Kodansha may be in the offing. The Manga Helpers post claims that a beta version of Open Manga will be ready soon.
On the more theoretical side, Erica Friedman, who runs a small publishing company specializing in yuri manga (romances between two women), discusses the possibility of "ethical scanlation," in which fans get permission from creators to translate their work and readers pay a fee to read it, most of which goes back to the creators. Readers bat the idea back and forth in the comments section, and one brings up a previous attempt to do just that, MangaNovel, which was sponsored by Toshiba and lasted just a year and a half. And at Department of Alchemy, Alex Leavitt does a nice job of teasing out the intertwined issues in this debate and articulating some of the unanswered questions.