Recently, my best friend came to visit me for a week and -as is tradition whenever we see each other- we marathoned a show together. This time we settled on watching Princess Jellyfish, one of my favorite anime, despite the fact that it only has one animated season and none of the manga is legally available in English.
Afterward, my best friend (who is an animator by trade) declared that she was going to read the manga online. I instinctively cringed because I’m almost never keen on piracy of any kind, but then she introduced me to the concept of the “Artist Tax.”
The idea of the Artist Tax is to counteract some of the negative aspects of consuming pirated media by deliberately going out and supporting the work financially as soon as possible. In this case, it would mean my best friend would read the Princess Jellyfish manga via scanlation site, then buy either the official Princess Jellyfish DVDs or a copy of the manga in a different language when she has the money to do so.
Not a bad idea, at least from a consumer’s perspective. It eases the guilt of anyone who wants to pirate anime or manga that’s not been released in their region/language, and it supports creators financially. And for series that might never see the light of day stateside, it might the only option a manga fan might have to read what they want without doing as much damage.
From an industry perspective, especially an American manga industry perspective, it only solves one problem out of many. Even though the Artist Tax supports some of the creators, publishers, animation studios, etc., it doesn’t necessarily support the American industry. In the case of Princess Jellyfish, it did because I have the nice Funimation box set. But not all titles have something that’s been published stateside. It also drives up the page views for the piracy sites, which allows them to thrive, produce more pirated material and potentially take away profits from the American industry. Not to mention the fact that the more something has been pirated, particularly if there’s no sizable fandom dropping money on related products, the less attractive it might look to American publishers. Plus, this is all self-policed. People could swear up and down that they support the artists, but won’t when the time comes.
Now for the debate portion!
What do you think of the Artist Tax? Would you do it? Do you think it’s a slightly better way of pirating material, at least for invested fans who are concerned about supporting the creators? Or does it seem like just an empty gesture to you?
As a manga fan who buys legally 99.999999% of the time and rarely pirates anything, I would consider reading scanlations of series I was very interested in and self-enforcing the Artist Tax. And I know I would actually self-enforce because I care about the health of the anime and manga industry, both in Japan and stateside. (I’ve done it with a few titles like A Bride’s Story before I’d heard about the Artist Tax.) Plus I would specifically read series that I thought had a very small chance of getting to the States, like Princess Jellyfish or Saint Young Men. But I also have an advantage because I live 20 minutes away from a Kinokuniya, which makes paying the Artist Tax a little easier when I can only buy the Japanese tankobon.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!