“Scanlation helps to an extent, but it is harmful to the official English translation webtoon industry.”
Along with our sister website Manga Planet, futekiya is embarking on an exploration on scanlation and the manga/webcomic industry…with a focus on BL/yaoi. We want to emphasize that we take a neutral position on the issue of scanlation. However, we strongly sympathize with artists and writers and believe they should receive compensation for their work.
In our previous article, Lezhin webcomic artist Byeol Narae stated, “[scanlators] may feel confident that they have an interest in our Webtoon, but at the same time we discover such sites, we feel powerless.” How exactly do webtoon scanlators feel? Mia of Random Fujoshis Scans took the time to explain the workings of a Korean BL scanlation group.
“Yes, we are doing something illegal, but we take pride in our outputs.”
futekiya: So starting off, could you please give us a self-introduction?
Mia: I’m Mia. I’m part of Random Fujoshis Scans, a group that mostly scanlates Korean BL
futekiya: How long have you been scanlating and how did you first become involved?
Mia: A year and a half now. At first, I started translating a BL webtoon on my own. Just for fun, because I really loved it, but I don’t have anyone else to discuss it with. I did it for a month, then someone reached out to me, offering help with cleaning. From there, one title became two, and then three… until I eventually joined my current group and we eventually fell into our own pattern of scanlating.
futekiya: You mentioned in your survey answer that you enjoyed the process. Could you elaborate more on that? Some readers may be interested in what actually goes into creating scanlations.
Mia: The process differs between groups for sure, but generally, it would have these steps: “translating,” “proofreading,” “cleaning,” “typesetting,” and “quality checking.” For manga, there’s also “dusting” (removing unwanted white/gray pixels from black areas and black/grey pixels from white areas), and “leveling” (scanned hard copies are often skewed. pages are straightened through this process), and then for webtoons in scroll format, there’s “compiling” (downloading and numbering the pages in the right order) and “joining” (connecting panels spliced in the middle). So, you can have some steps going on at the same time, but, nothing will take place without the “translating” and “cleaning” happening first. The number of people working on a title will also affect the speed of release. More people doesn’t always mean faster release, though.
For me, it feels like a different process for each series. It’s sort of a less formal form of “people management”. Everything is connected to everything else. I’m one of the admins of our group, and to be honest, the coordinating part can be the hardest. Let’s say you have one person for each of the general steps I mentioned. Even if “translating” and “cleaning” are done, if the proofreader and the quality checker are busy, then we can’t release the chapter. It’s not like we have to adhere to this process strictly, but… I don’t know. Yes, we are doing something illegal, but we take pride in our outputs.
What I enjoy is probably the satisfaction of seeing the end result – neatly scanlated chapters in the best quality we can manage, and ready for release.
futekiya: Oh wow, this sounds like it could be a full-time job? How many hours do you usually dedicate to scanlation?
Mia: It can be a full-time job. Hahah! The hours I dedicate varies, but it usually averages to 10 hours per week. It mostly comes from half a day during weekends when I’m just lazing around. We always throw around the phrase “Real life always comes first” in our group chats, because it’s easy to lose track of time. I can’t scanlate every single day, but if I add the hours and it gets to more than 10 hours a week, I tell myself to step back. I love scanlating, but it isn’t the healthiest hobby (and well, it’s also an illegal one).
futekiya: Regarding the illegal status of scanlation, what is your opinion on the relationship between scanlation and the official webtoon industry?
Mia: Scanlation hurts the official webtoon industry. This is no doubt true, but I’d like to bring up something else. We can put it this way- Webtoons are created by Korean creators, written in Korean, and of course, are dedicated to a Korean audience… So in a sense, the English-speaking audience isn’t included in the computation of sales, because they won’t be expecting them to buy something they can’t understand. If a title gets an official English release, then that’s the time that I can say for sure that the scanlated version will be 100% harming the English release. To put it simply, I think that an English scanlated version won’t significantly hurt the sales of a series if it doesn’t have an official English version.
Which brings us to the “future” of a scanlated title. Ideally, we would keep our scanlations in our blogs and on reading sites who let scanlators have control over the projects. That way, if a title gets licensed in English, then we can simply take it down.
Sadly though, it’s not that simple. Even though that’s how we want to do things, scraper bots, and some readers themselves submit scanlated chapters to aggregator sites where there are no means of taking said chapters down.
Scanlation helps to an extent, but it is harmful to the official English translation webtoon industry. I stand by what I think of the English audience not being included in the sales computation, but it’s probably a lot different now. The manga and webtoon industries are already popular worldwide, so if I’m a mangaka right now, of course, I’ll be writing and drawing with the hopes of getting an official English translation soon.
My opinions on this are probably full of contradictions, but I guess that’s what happens when you try to come up with a middle ground between scanlating and supporting the author. That’s why we’re very particular with purchasing the raw copies that we’re using. It’s the least we can do.
futekiya: The legal and financial issues are quite complex with scanlations. Thank you for this answer. Recently, uploads of Lezhin comics have caused a stir. Do you have any comments on that?
Mia: I’d say I hate it with passion, and I’ve got a lot to say about it, and that makes me a hypocrite… but, yeah, I really do hate it. (I’m referring to the official English copies, not scanlated) It’s not something new, though. If you go back a few years, you’ll see these “Scans Groups” who distribute scanned and digital copies of official English releases of manga titles. I don’t know if they’re still around, but the chapters they’ve uploaded still are, thanks to aggregator sites. What’s probably different with Lezhin titles is that… Lezhin titles are easily and readily accessible. There shouldn’t be an excuse to why there’s a need to upload official releases elsewhere. People say that Lezhin coins are expensive, but even after we’ve posted tutorials on how to buy from the Korean site which gives you more coins for cheaper prices, you still hear this excuse over and over again.
Another thing is that people are using the Lezhin scandal a few months back to justify why it’s better to read from illegal sites rather than buy from the English sites. You see comments like “They don’t treat their artists right so I won’t waste money on them.” Now, how ridiculous is that? We posted again about buying coins from the Korean site, rather than English site, but well, nothing changed. These people should just come out clean and say they want free stuff. Period.
futekiya: It is unfortunate people are taking advantage of the Lezhin scandal. This leads to issues of “entitlement.” There was an ongoing discussion on “reader entitlement” in our conversations with other people. Do you find a lot of that among your readers?
Mia: Hmmm, how should I put it? I know they exist. Haha! I’ve had my fair share of encounters with them. Like readers giving us hell for dropping something that got licensed, or begging them and guilt tripping us into not dropping something. But once I stopped reading comments on aggregator sites, these so-called entitled readers simply disappear. If someone comes to our blogs and leaves a comment, an ask or a message with even the slightest hint of “entitlement” (demanding for updates, releases, or any sarcastic comment that insults any of us or the way we do things), they get deleted, blocked, or banned. So, right now, I’ll say that for the past months, I haven’t seen any sense of entitlement from readers that I interact with, and those who go out of their ways to talk with us. I guess it depends on whether you care to look for this kind of readers, or simply choose to do what you’ve always been doing before they came in.
futekiya: Do you usually upload your chapters onto aggregator websites?
Mia: We do. Preferably on sites that don’t use ads for revenue. It used to be Batoto, but we’re uploading on Mangadex now. (Though if given a better choice, we won’t use any aggregator site at all.)
futekiya: Do you sometimes find your work on aggregate websites anyways?
Mia: It’s a given that whatever we upload on Batoto or Mangadex will no doubt appear on other sites. While scanlators, or contributors, upload to Batoto and Mangadex, others have scraper bots that take images from these two, and which also automatically upload to their sites.
futekiya: Ahhh I see. How do you feel about these bots and aggregate websites?
Mia: I’m past being angry at them, to be honest. Hahah! It’s just… no use and it’s a waste of time and energy. It’s so much easier to ignore them. Though it’s really off-putting how they’re making money off official releases, and scanlations that they haven’t even contributed to. Some sites will respond if you contact them, but there’s no hope of taking down our releases from there. We requested some chapters to be taken down before, but after a few days, they got added again. What our group is trying to do instead, is to inform readers how it’s better to read from our blogs, or from the sites we are uploading to. It’s the best we can do since we don’t want any form of financial profit from whatever we’ve released. If it’s impossible to remove our releases from aggregator sites, we’re hoping to redirect readers away from them.
futekiya: What do you believe official publishers can learn from scanlators?
Mia: That would be the number of titles that are available for fans. Right now, there’s a lot more scanlated series, compared to ones that have official English releases. I feel like publishers are forgetting that scanlators are fans, too. They’re fans who took the time to browse through hundreds of titles, found something they like enough to scanlate, so they can share it with other fans. Yes, you can say that the numbers add up from years and years of scanlation, but the publishers could’ve had that same amount of time to release official versions, too. I know, it’s business for them, haha, but… if they just think about it, fans are interested in so many different types of stories. I hope publishers will not only just rely on what they think will get popular, or on what they think is popular (if it’s true that they’re getting data from scanlation). The more titles to choose from, the higher are the chances that readers will subscribe, and eventually buy.
Oh. And it wouldn’t hurt to listen to fans’ feedback on translation styles and choice of fonts. Typesetting is a huge deal for most fans since it affects their reading.
Readers want to get what they’re paying for – high-quality images, high-quality translations, and high-quality typesetting. Unlike publishers who would need to license fonts for commercial purposes, scanlators don’t have to worry about that aspect, so I can say that a lot of scanlations have better typesetting quality compared to official releases, more often than not. Still, there are a variety of free fonts which can be used in manga, manhwa, and manhua titles. I hope publishers can look more into that.
Pricing is also another issue. This isn’t something that they [publishers] can learn from scanlators since scanlated titles are free, but it’ll definitely help them if they listen to what the readers are saying. More payment options, more subscriptions, and the likes. Something similar to earning free coins by watching ad videos on Tapas, Lezhin’s recently launched “Free Coin Zone,” and Toomics Global’s monthly subscription system.