However, because permitting — let alone encouraging — dojinshi runs afoul of copyright law, the agreement remains implicit: The [Japanese] publishers avert their eyes, and the dojinshi creators resist going too far. This anmoku no ryokai [“unspoken, implicit agreement”] business model helps rescue the manga industrial complex in at least three ways.
First, and most obviously, it’s a customer care program. The dojinshi devotees are manga’s fiercest fans. “We’re not denying the viability or importance of intellectual property,” says Kazuhiko Torishima, an executive at the publishing behemoth Shueisha. “But when the numbers speak, you have to listen.”
Second, as Takeda put it at Super Comic City, “this is the soil for new talent.” While most dojinshi creators have no aspirations to become manga superstars, several artists have used the comic markets to springboard into mainstream success. The best example is Clamp, which began as a circle of a dozen college women selling self-published work at comics markets in the Kansai region. Today, Clamp’s members are manga rock stars; they have sold close to 100 million books worldwide.
Third, the anmoku no ryokai arrangement provides publishers with extremely cheap market research. To learn what’s hot and what’s not, a media company could spend lots of money commissioning polls and conducting focus groups. Or for a few bucks it could buy a Super Comic City catalog and spend two days watching 96,000 of its best customers browse, gossip, and buy in real time. These settings often provide early warnings of the shifting fan zeitgeist. For instance, a few years ago several circles that had been creating dojinshi for the series Prince of Tennis switched to Bleach, an indication that one title was falling out of favor and another was on the rise. “The publishers are seeing the market in action,” Ichikawa says. “They’re seeing the successes and the failures. They’re seeing the trends.”
Taking care of customers. Finding new talent. Getting free market research. That’s a pretty potent trio of advantages for any business. Trouble is, to derive these advantages the manga industry must ignore the law. And this is where it gets weird. Unlike, say, an industrial company that might increase profits if it skirts environmental regulations imposed to safeguard the public interest, the manga industrial complex is ignoring a law designed to protect its own commercial interests.
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