A progressive step in publishers availing themselves of the passion and creativity of the fan community, or a cunning plan to trap elusive pirates? That is the question some prolific "scanlators" are asking themselves this week since Digital Manga put out the call for translators, editors and writers to aid in "localizing" what they describe as thousands of Japanese comics in multiple territories -- in other words, asking the scanlators to work with Digital Manga, rather than on their own. DM says nobody, not even itself nor the licensers, will make a cent until a sale is made, but some prospective talents wonder how wise it is to register what amounts to a confession to illegal activities.Digital Manga has branded this initiative as DMG, or Digital Manga Guild, and writes on its website that it's made agreements with six "major" Japanese publishers to provide content for its online platform. Some titles that DM will be distributing in 2011 include Men of Tattoos (Shinsei no Otoko) by Yuiji Aniya, Rabbit Man, Tiger Man (Usagi Otoko Tora Otoko) by Akira Honma, and Butterfly of the Distant Day (Tooi Hi no Cho) by Tooko Miyagi. A more complete list can be found here.

We are in search of groups and individuals to help us with the process, NOW! This entails the need for translators to translate manga from Japanese to English, as well as other languages; editors/rewriters to clean up the translations for a smooth read; and letterers to retouch and typeset text. Once a title is completed, it will be digitally distributed through our platform for purchase. With your help in this process, we can supply more manga faster, to feed everyone's manga addiction!

Registered groups or individuals chosen to work on projects will be assigned some of their favorite, unreleased titles. By becoming a member, you will be offering services to Digital Manga, Inc, and will be eligible to join our revenue share program. Members who work on specific titles will receive a revenue percentage from all future sales of that book. This means you get to share in our profits. However, no party - Digital Manga, Inc., the Japanese publishers, or you (the localizers) - will get paid until a sales transaction is made. That means, we are all in this together!

It's eminently clever to enlist the help of scanlators in preparing manga for international consumption. These fans know the material intimately and in many cases will have completed the work already. It reminds one of governments and corporations hiring prodigious hackers to work on their network security.

However, beyond the questions about registering one's illegal scanlations, the possibility of labor abuse always exists wherever one works on spec. According to Robot 6, the exploitation concern is mitigated by the fact that Digital Manga enjoys a good relationship with fans. And given the company's bet on the revenue-sharing model and apparent dependency on fans to get the job done, it wouldn't be in DM's interest to prosecute any copyright criminals. Not at this stage, anyway.

In any event, the Digital Manga Guild is a novel approach to this area of the comic book business, and one we will be watching with great interest.

[Via Robot 6]