Just two weeks after Viz debuted Shonen Jump Alpha, its digital replacement for Shonen Jump, the publisher has forced a group of fan translators to stop posting chapters of a number of Viz series.
The scanlation group Mangastream posted the news on Saturday that Viz had forced it to stop releasing chapters of seven series, including the ultra-popular Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece, which are included in Shonen Jump Alpha. They couldn't resist a snort of derision:
They've succeeded in little more than invoking inconvenience to the community as their digital magazine missed the mark; it runs several issues behind and only features 3 of the above series. So long as their product continues to be slow, awkward and inferior to something a ragtag group of nobodies can churn out in a few hours - fans will continue to look to scanlation groups and aggregators for their weekly fix.
This is the first time that I can recall (someone will probably correct me on this if I'm wrong) that a publisher has gone after the scanlators themselves, rather than the sites that carry their work. Onemanga.com, once one of the top 1,000 sites on the whole internet, and most of the other "free manga" sites are aggregators who depend on a handful of speed scanlators to bring them the latest chapters of the most popular titles. While shutting down those sites has proved problematic, cutting off their source of material may be more effective than a cease-and-desist letter. On the other hand, it may not: one aggregator site lists 363 translators for Naruto alone.
One fan took their complaint right to the source, the Shonen Jump forum:
Stop hogging things here. Mangastream gave us fast, accurate translations and we need it back. Why don't you try WORKING with them?
The responses that follow this more or less run the gamut, but there's a surprisingly articulate person there who is explaining Viz's point of view rather well and defends Viz's translations.
And there's more! The site Narutofan, which has been around for over five years and stirred up quite a controversy among scanlators at one time, has been forced to relinquish its URL. Tazmo, the owner, sounded rather aggrieved in his post on the matter, claiming the Viz people were always nice to him and sent him free stuff, and then all of a sudden they sent him a notice saying that they should have the Narutofan.com domain, because otherwise people would be confused. Tazmo isn't buying it:
Apart from having the word *FAN* in the domain name, we mention in one way or another that we are a fan-site on nearly every single page of this website. The NarutoFan.com domain name has also been registered for nearly 5 years before VIZ Media even owned, licensed, and profited off of the Naruto series with any copyright or trademark.
The Narutofan.com domain now redirects to Viz's Naruto site.
Viz is definitely using a comprehensive strategy here, attacking piracy while offering a legal, affordable alternative in its Shonen Jump Alpha. Carrots and sticks, in other words.
There's another angle to this. I'm not intimately familiar with the scanlation world, but I get the impression that there is a lot of turnover in scanlation groups. This makes sense: Scanlators work for free, and you can do that for a while, but once people move on, graduate, get a job, have a family, they don't necessarily have the time or energy or inclination to keep doing it. Scanlation as a whole continues because there is always a fresh crop of enthusiasts willing to take over—people who are so passionate about the comics that they will translate them for free. In a way, that's a tribute to the popularity of these manga, and when that doesn't happen any more—that's when Viz really has to worry.