In the last couple of years, the Japanese consumer goods market has offered cheaply priced document scanners that can read both sides of a page. Some bright spark in an office realised that he could use the company’s heavy-duty guillotine to trim off the gluey, spiney bit of his book, and suddenly it was possible to feed a whole book into the scanner.
This activity has become so prevalent in Japan that it has gained its own neologism: jisui, or “self-cooking”. They slice up books, magazines and newspapers and shove them into a digital format, all the better to read them on their phones and iPads. It’s not about piracy, it’s about simple space and convenience – an infinite e-library like a manga Kindle. A habitual manga reader with a two-hour commute is going to add a foot of comics to their personal shelf space every week. Books might furnish a room for some people, but for others they just get in the way, and now you get the best of both worlds.
I’ve been self-cooking for several years now, ripping all my CDs onto MP3 files. I keep the CDs, because I like physically owning a format, particularly for obscure Japanese artists, and as an author, it’s handy to have access to the sleeves to check names and lyrics. That’s all very well, someone might say, but the intellectual property of the CD rests on the disc itself. And theoretically, now that I have ripped a copy, I’m cheating if I sell the original on. In copyright terms, is a personal copy an illegal reproduction? And even if it isn’t, how can you stop people passing their digital copy round?
This is where the jisui problem becomes an issue. Because double-sided document scanners have made digitising a book as easy as making a Pot Noodle, and digitised books are as easy to share as sending an email. Great for the book-lover who can “lend” a book without losing his own copy of it. Not so great for the author on the day that someone is data-mined, or lends to a third party, or just forgets to wipe their hard-drive, and a book that took a year to write migrates to the Internet for all eternity. For free.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #96, 2012.