There has been plenty of talk on this blog and elsewhere about the economics and ethics of scanlation, but let's face it, we're all grownups here. The vast majority of the audience for manga in the U.S. has been teenagers, and teenagers don't necessarily operate under the same logic that the rest of the world uses.
The anime blogger who goes by the handle One Great Turtle encountered that logic recently during a chat with a college freshman at the University of Kentucky's Asia Arts Festival. OGT and a friend were discussing the recent trend toward alternative manga:
After hearing this, the freshman subsequently asked “So, like, are they trying to make it cool to read print manga?” at which both I and the graduating senior goggled for a moment before going “what the hell are you on about?”
Apparently, in his high school, it was seen as uncool to read print manga. I didn’t find out then why it was particularly considered uncool, although the perpetual-behindness of licensed releases may have been a factor, as well as a certain sense borrowed from underground aesthetics that licensed titles may have “sold out” or were otherwise “too mainstream”. It’s also interesting to note that the act of “reading manga” itself apparently wasn’t considered uncool. Just reading print manga.
Which, of course, totally makes sense. Teenagers have always hated anything that smells of a sellout, and scanlations are to their readers what bootleg Grateful Dead tapes were to my generation, much more desirable than the commercial product (except the Dead didn't get all uptight about it and lawyer up). Copyright is utterly meaningless to a 15-year-old. However, this is a phenomenon the publishers ignore at their own peril, because those 15-year-olds are their core audience. The guys in the suits can splutter about contracts and rights and logistical difficulties, but the kids don't care. And if a bunch of high school students can translate, edit, clean, and post a chapter of manga in a day, a big corporation like Shueisha should be able to do it too.
(Via Ogiue Maniax, which has additional commentary.)