A few days ago, translator Matt Thorn posted on his blog why he was happy to see Tokyopop go. Most of his reasons revolved around the fact that Tokyopop depressed translation rates to way below a living wage by employing entry-level translators and further depressed rates by extending these rates to other freelancers. The result of which was $10 manga, allowing manga to reach a larger audience (teenagers, pre-teens) with not enough quite income to be buying $15+ manga on a regular basis.
He likened the greed of Stu Levy and other manga publishers to make more money selling a lower quality product at a lower price to the beginnings of the American comic book industry. It was a great post that highlighted why Tokyopop’s practices weren’t always so great for the manga industry. Tokyopop brought in a huge, new audience, published a number of great manga and opened up a path for original creators influenced by manga, but the great stuff was few and far between some of the bad stuff. No matter how you slice and dice the situation, even if you feel a lot of gratitude for Tokyopop’s existence like I do, Tokyopop was very, very far from being a perfect publisher.
Somewhere in there, I began to feel like Thorn was blaming people like me (who worked for Tokyopop for low rates) for ruining the rates for freelancers and said so on Kate Dacey’s blog. Luckily, I was completely wrong, but the ensuing discussion is well worth a read and if you have anything you want to add here at All About Manga I would encourage you to do so.
But, if you do feel like continuing the discussion here, please let the following be known:
1. I’m not trying to argue for lower rates for freelancers such as myself at any point in time. Quite the opposite because I would totally benefit from higher rates too. I also don’t think Tokyopop was right for depressing the translation rates as low as they did. Goodness knows if this problem can be fixed to the point where freelancers can earn a decent living wage again. Maybe we should unionize?
2. But at the same time, I am trying to work out a solution that could benefit freelancers and the publishers (because without the publishers, the freelancers are screwed,) which is what I was suggesting when I say that the pay freelancers get should reflect the difficulty of their task in relation to the content of the manga. (For example, a very skilled letterer should be hired and paid more to letter a manga with lots of complex, fiddly bits of text, etc.) This is may be very unfair to my fellow freelancers and if you think so, feel free to tell me so. I can be proven wrong and accept that gracefully.
3. In relation to the above, I’m not trying to argue for lower quality anything so much as argue for not spending money, for example, on an expensive translation when the manga doesn’t need the extra bells and whistles of an award-winning translation because of it’s content. (Meaning, the manga only needs to sound like a regular shoujo or shounen manga.) Then use the money to up the quality in other ways. For example, there are lots of shoujo and shounen manga that could use a great letterer because they have lots of complicated, fiddly bits of text! So basically: use employees and hire independent contractors to fit the needs of the manga’s production.
4. Sometimes the only way you can learn a job is through experience. If that means putting out some really crappy manga at first, so be it. (Edit: Because you don’t know better as a newbie, not because you want to put out poor work.) Whether it be translation, lettering or editing, the more you get to work on, the better you’ll be able to do a good job. While some great arguments were made about training people more before giving them more responsibility, it’s not very realistic at times. But, if you’re a smart publisher, you should only be hiring people with the talent to make up for their initial inexperience. Internships are a great way to do this and train people without costing the publisher money they don’t have. Of course, if the intern is not very good, you don’t have to hire them afterward.
5. Tokyopop was used as a stepping stone for actual talent. A lot of the people who went through Tokyopop to enter the manga industry (or the comic book industry) are really talented. It was the company’s structure, not them, that was flawed. This is proven by taking a good look at where former Tokyopop employees, creators and freelancers have ended up working these days.
Thanks to Kate for putting up with swarm of comments and attention I caused by starting this discussion.