The DCA-Crunchyroll partnership is not the only industry-fansite tie-up on the horizon. Mangareborn.jp, currently in beta and planning to go live in August, seeks to work directly with manga artists who want to reach an international audience, bypassing Amazon, Apple and possibly even publishers.
"We don't want to kill publishers," a Mangareborn developer told me. "We want to help decrease their risks by creating a fan base they can use as a focus group."
The emphasis is squarely on community. While the manga industry has taken wayward stabs in the dark to find its overseas audience, amassing too many misses amid the hits, fansites have cultivated a far more intimate relationship with their visitors.
A former fansite operator puts it this way: "We're the risk-takers. We take the first step in evolution. In the world of piracy, the competition is not about 'free' content, it's about service. And that's what the industry lacks."
He pauses, palms outstretched to state the obvious: "We know our end-user, because we are our end-user."
Kelts is a lecturer at Temple University, Japan, who divides his time between Tokyo and New York. He is the author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S." (www.japanamericabook.com), now updated and out in paperback.