A Story of Mangaka and Contracts

https://note.mu/shuho_sato/n/nc58789fc1daf <- Source

The following is a translation of a blog post made by Shuuhou Satou, author of the award winning Say Hello to Black Jack in regards to Mangaka and the contracts they have with their employers.

A story of Mangaka and Contracts

By Shuuhou Satou

The other day, I was asked by a newbie trying to enter the manga scene: “When attempting to serialize a new work, what is the market rate for a standard serialization, and what kinds of contracts will I require?” As a newcomer to the scene not yet familiar with how our world operates, I believed they wanted to know what and how far they should push for when negotiating with publishers. I met and spoke with them about various things, and since I believe that this is important information for budding artists who intend to become mangaka in the future, I will reproduce my thoughts here.

First, let’s talk about market rates for standard serializations.

Compared to ten years ago, the rates for serializations have gone down. I do not know the rates for every serialization in every single publishing company so I cannot claim to know the exact details. However, I have heard tell that even at major publishers, newcomers are only paid around US$50 per page (even for color pages!). This is, on average, more than $10 less than what it was 10 years ago. In the past, a newcomer would receive a minimum of $70 per page for a magazine serialization. Today, however, it feels like the market rate is about $50 to $60 per page. There are a few editorial departments who will pay over $100 per page, but these are few and far between.

These numbers are only accurate when discussing magazine publishing companies. Recently, the amount of manga being published for reading through the apps of web-based publishing companies has increased, and they pay even less. A certain well known app beginning with ‘C’ pays $500 per chapter. In the event that there is an artist as well as an author, they have to split the $500. Monthly publisher ‘G’, despite having a quota of dozens of pages, pays a fixed sum ranging from $1000 to $2000, with potential bonuses of a few hundred dollars more if the manga proves popular.

Essentially, neither serialization in magazines nor on web applications will lead to very much money, and the pay might not even be enough for your living expenses. It is possible to lock yourself in your room and keep working, intoxicated on the image of yourself working as a professional mangaka despite not making any money, but sooner or later you will burn yourself out.

As for the necessary legal contracts, I believe that the following three types of contracts are the ones most typically used in the industry.

The first are the types you make with the publisher (or tech company).

The second are made for working with other staff members on a project.

The third are the type made between the author(s) and artist(s) in the event that there is more than one creator involved.

I will provide example templates of the contracts I typically use below. The first examples are the contracts made with the publisher (or tech company). There are usually two kinds. The first is the writing contract and the second is the publication contract.

First, the writing contract.

[Looks like a standard employment contract although specifically related to making manga and stuff]

This contract details the methods for receiving payment when your work is serialized in the magazine (or application), as well as the responsibilities related to publication. It may be difficult to imagine for those who work in normal companies, but in the manga world, it isn’t unusual to have cases where the editing department makes an artist draw a chapter, and then decides to neither publish the chapter nor pay the artist. “Pay up! Publish my work! No cancelling the series until this contract expires!” That’s the kind of contract this is.

At the moment, no publishing company is willing to provide a sample contract. The typical business process (aka common sense) of “Commission -> Quote -> Contract -> Order” does not apply to publishers. The artists themselves have to go to the publisher and ask for a “writing contract”. It is natural to wonder, “When will we negotiate the contract?”, when talking about serializations. However formal contracts are not the norm, so please request for one yourself. Doing so will likely shock the publisher and make them wonder, “Where did he find out about that?!”

Next up is the publishing contract, which is necessary in the event that your serialization has been progressing smoothly and has been selected to be released in volumes. In this case, it has become the norm for publishers to present a contract. As the contract differs from publisher to publisher, I won’t post examples. It mainly discusses giving the publisher exclusive rights, royalties, adaptations, commercialization, and secondary use rights.

The most critical thing to keep in mind when negotiating this contract is that you are signing a publishing contract, with the publishing referring to that of print publishing only. You must ensure that you do not allow the publisher to monopolize the rights for electronic publishing or secondary use. The publisher will also want electronic publishing rights, as well as the the freedom to manage secondary use rights as they please. It makes it easier for them to manage as well as to make money.

The basic contract they provide will of course contain clauses which surrender these rights to them, which is why it is important to request beforehand that such clauses be removed from the contract. It is absolutely critical to limit their rights to print publishing only and to keep the rights to manage the branding of your series for yourself.

Is it really possible for a newcomer publishing their first work to make such a request? It is.

I conduct all of my communication with my editor through e-mail, meaning all business negotiations are also done through email. This has the benefit of leaving no opportunity for “he said, she said” arguments in the future.

Carrying on. While newcomers are indeed able to request this, whether or not the publisher accedes is another story. Print publishing is a declining industry, so they will be reluctant to give up any rights within their reach. Even if you attempt to compromise by saying, “Okay, I’ll give you management rights in exchange for a higher royalty fee for electronic publication”, they will be unlikely to budge. Do your best.

The editor-in-chief and assistant editor-in-chief will come out in order to persuade you. If you still resist, they will begin to say things like, “You’re the only newcomer demanding things like this”, “We can’t give you special treatment”, “It sounds like you’re saying that you don’t want to be serialized at all”, and “How dare you bring this up now, after all that we (the editing department) have done for you? That wasn’t part of the agreement.” in order to gently intimidate you.

Through this you will learn that the manga world is not one filled with dreams, but a system with a carefully managed balance of power. Whether or not you allow yourself to be chained down by it is up to you.

Additionally, it is quite rare for a publishing contract to be signed at the beginning of serialization. Publishers want to release volumes if the product becomes popular. However, they don’t want to shoulder the risk if the product isn’t popular, meaning they will hold off on signing a contract until the last minute. This means that newcomers will continue to create and publish their work without knowing whether or not volumes will be released. Still, it is probably better to consider the fact that contracts are being offered at all as a move in the right direction. Of course, you can also request a publishing contract at the beginning of serialization. If you do so, then they will say things like “You’re the only newcomer asking for things like this” to gently intimidate you. If you are interested in enlisting someone to assist you in these negotiations, please contact me. I can introduce you to a professional.

Next up is the project staff contract.

In the event of a weekly serialization, it isn’t possible for one to draw everything on your own. You will need to hire employees to help with drawing backgrounds or adding finishing touches. Until now (and currently still going on), artists do not form contracts with their employees and operate something along the lines of a “master-student” relationship with a clearly defined chain of command.

However, Japan has a Labor Standards Act, which means that you are not allowed to order your staff to do whatever you want simply because you are paying them. Imposing deadlines and quotas, on-scene instructing, and supervision falls in the realm of “employment”. The basis of employment is no more than 40 hours a week. There must be a minimum wage and, in the event that overtime work is required, an overtime wage must also be paid. There are few cases of these rules being upheld in the manga world. Although people may argue that “everyone does it”, it doesn’t change that fact that what is going on is illegal.


Essentially, if you intend to employ people, then you must abide by the laws described above as well as provide for Job Insurance and apply for Social Insurance. Honestly, this is a bit too much for a new mangaka to handle.

With this in mind, I believe the sort of contract a newcomer will be capable of fulfilling is one like below.

[From what I read, it contains mainly NDA stuff, what the employer must do, and payment]

The job description section lists the details as “All work related to the management and design of a website and web magazine” since the contract I found was one for a third party web designer. In the case of project staff to assist with manuscripts, the job description would be changed to “All work related to manuscript production”. The idea is to avoid employing them as an employee, but as a third party independent contractor.

If one does this, then there is no longer to need to apply for Social Insurance. However, since you are now working with an independent third party contractor, you can no longer demand the ability to impose deadlines in addition to quotas, give on-scene instructions, or supervision.

The contractor is free to work where they please, and complete the work that they are capable of completing within the time specified in the contract.

“Complete drawing all assigned pictures” does not fall under “capable of completing in the time outlined”. As long as they work diligently, you are not allowed to demand that they finish everything in the time allotted in the contract. It is of course also inexcusable to force them to work overtime or stay up all night working. As there is no employer-employee relationship in place, you aren’t allowed to demand very much.

If this is still “impossible” to do for you, then in order to make it doable, you should request a higher commission fee from your publisher as well as higher royalties. You will be gently intimidated. It is up to you whether or not you wish to have your staff work in an illegal manner.

An NDA is also mandatory. While it isn’t a fun conversation to have, in the past, employees of mine have stolen client information and made use of it for business purposes after leaving. Their cases are still under way.

Finally, we have the contract between the author(s) and artist(s) in the event that there is more than one party involved.

This contract is the one used by our web magazine (Manga on Web) in cases where multiple people hold the rights to a single work. The royalties paid to the author/artist are decided on a case by case basis. These guidelines are laid out in advance to prevent problems from occurring in the case that the two parties don’t agree on something. Discordant events between the two such as the writer deciding on his authority alone to make a movie adaptation, or the artist creating a sequel without consulting the writer at all occasionally do happen. When a project becomes a success, everyone wants to claim it for their own. I’ve experienced this for myself in the past.

This contract is typically not provided by the editing department, so the artist and the writer must negotiate directly with each other. This means that the two must be in contact with each other, but the editing department typically does not wish for writers and artists to have contact with each other. Writers and artists tend to have grievances with each other’s work, and when they make direct contact, it isn’t uncommon for issues to appear. “Your story is boring.” “You should draw properly.” Even worse, the two could conspire together to revolt against the editing department. As such, it is common for the two to not have each other’s contact information. It’s a good idea to forcefully attain each other’s contact information before serialization at the introductory meeting.

And this concludes the information you need to know about the minimal contracts that are necessary when desiring to present your work to the world through a publisher. Although I’ve written about all of them here, it is impossible to exercise the use of all the contracts listed here. If you attempt to, you will become reviled just like I am. I have even come to dislike myself for having explained these things to newcomers.

I also can’t say “then just cheat”, which makes things even more irritating.