An interesting article at Publisher’s Weekly been brought to my attention recently. It’s about the current rough spot manga’s going through in America vis a vis the effect scanlation sites are having on print sales. I never claim to be an expert on the ins and outs of the business end of any kind of entertainment, let alone manga, but I can’t help finding some morbid irony in all of this. The article refers to first half of the past decade as being manga’s "boom years" in America, and I’ve seen that sentiment echoed in a lot of users' comments, here. What's ironic is that, as a comics fan, I remember those years as being “rough times” the American industry was going through. We all were kind of afraid of manga for being this upstart that was swooping in and doing cleaning up while big companies like Marvel were still hurting from bankruptcy.
I'd say the shoes on the other foot, now. See, I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but a big part of the reason for manga’s success back then was that their publishers were actually targeting audiences’ buying habits. A lot of new readers interested in sequential art would prefer to read a thick volume they can pick up at a Barnes & Noble (as mangas are serialized) over getting short issues at a specialty store. Hence, after some reshuffling, American publishers eventually started producing with bookstore-friendly trade paperback collections in mind.
As far as scanlations go, I don't use 'em and I don't approve of piracy. This article brings up that one publisher found that BLACK JACK scans' availability on sites had an inverse relationship to sales, but my hunch is that this is an issue similar to the whole book store thing. If a significant enough portion of your audience is demonstrating a preference for digital delivery, then the answer lies in making an official alternative, and swiftly. A friend of mine who's a long time fan said the same things was going in the 80s with fan subs. Fans would drop the fan versions for the official version as soon as they were available, even though they'd complain about the inferiority of the translation. My friend even put out a theory that might be a fast solution: these companies should just hire the scanlators. The staff and infrastructure's already there, why not make it official?
I'm sure you Anime Vice lunatics have strong opinions on this... so let's hear what you've got to say.