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French Comics Pirates Scan 30,000+ Titles, Offer Translations

According to a new report, the best-selling paper comic books in France are also the most pirated ones.

By Olivia Snaije

PARIS: Europe’s most important comic festival opens this week in Angoulême, France, with Art Spiegelman leading the jury. It’s perfect timing for the release of a study on the state of pirated comic books in France, by Le MOTif, the Paris regional government’s book and writing “observatory.”

The third in a series of reports on piracy that began in 2009, Le MOTif zoomed in on comics, as this is the category of books that is pirated the most in France. Comic books make up 10-14% of France’s global book market, but the availability of comics in e-book format does not meet the readers’ needs — resulting in organized teams of pirates (up to 100) that have scanned 30-35,000 comics, of which 8-10,000 are accessible to a larger public, which might not know about specialized sites.

Dupuis, along with Delcourt and Dargaud, are among the most pirated publishers.

The MOTif report reveals that of the 50 best-selling comics, 58% of these are not available as e-books. Pirated mangas are often streamed, whereas comic books are scanned. These generally good quality files, either PDFs or images, sell for an average of $15, slightly below the price of the equivalent paper book.

It is also interesting to note that these pirating teams are well organized and able to scan new mangas that are released in Japan. They even provide professional quality translations (including footnotes). The pirated comics are then sold online until the legal version appears in France, at which point they are removed. (After Japan, France is the country where the most mangas are sold.)

LeMOTif concluded that the results of their investigation are paradoxical; although the number of pirated comics is increasing, the number of paper comic book titles being sold is also increasing. The best-selling paper comic books are also the most pirated ones, which means that for the moment publishers are not panicking.

“The act of piracy is somewhat compulsive, as are comic book readers,” noted Vincent Monadé, Le MOTif’s director.

SURVEY: Are Book Pirates Fulfilling Unmet Demand?

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  1. Posted January 24, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    This is an interesting development in what is really the slow dying of the manga publishing industry (as it once was 10 years ago). I thought pirating was prevalent in the American market and didn’t know this was as serious in France. Thanks for the information.

  2. Posted January 26, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    You must have read the study wrong: I can’t see how the average price for pirated comics would be $15. The average price for pirated comics is much more likely close to $0, since one of the two reasons for pirated comics is not having to pay anything. (The other reason, when it comes to manga scanlation, is getting early access to titles that are published months or years sooner in Japan, or that are not published in French at all by legitimate publishers.)

    My experience is that you the word “sold” should actually be “distributed” in your sentence: “The pirated comics are then *sold* online until the legal version appears in France, at which point they are removed.” There might be distribution services that profit from illegal material, a la Megaupload, but even if they exist I doubt they represent a significant slice of the pirated manga/comics “market”.

  3. Olivia
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Dear Florent, You are absolutely right, my mistake. I went back and spoke to the team at Le MOTif. Mathias Daval (who carried out the study) misunderstood my question and I misunderstood his answer! The pirated versions are indeed free barring distribution fees in some cases. What they did highlight was that 90% of the pirated versions of the BDs were made from average-priced BDs that cost around $15 (euros 11,70). This led to their interpretion that it is not the price of the BD that motivated people downloading illegally. In another MOtif study concerning illegal downloading of “normal” print books, the price was a motivating factor, but for BDs it was not, but rather the unavailability of the e-BDs. Furthermore, in other studies that Le MOTif used as references, people interviewed who illegally download comics said they also regularly bought paper comics. So it was more of a compulsive-type behavior. Thanks for pointing out the error.

  4. Iván Novák
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Indeed, I would love to see a survey on online “scanlator” groups. I understand that most of them are only comic book fans who translate for free, and treat it as a form of contribution as part of a larger online scanlator & scanlation reader community. (In the same spirit as for example, Wikipedia editors do not ask for a return for their time.) There are indeed sites which attempt to squeeze money out of these freely avaliable edits by making downloading them from their site cost a fee, but these sites are usually deviled by the actual scanlators, who’d rather not see someone who didn’t work for it make a profit off of their audience.

    I admit that I am basing this with my familiarity with manga translations and the French and American comic translations to other European languages. (That latter one does exist, and in their case it IS obvious that they are meeting an unfilled need, as few of those publications make it to those countries – or could expect a reasonable profit due to the smaller number of speakers.) But I’m not so well aware of what the French-to-English situation is like.

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