Earlier this week the English manga and light novel localization world was shaken by an announcement that the employees of the US-based Seven Seas Entertainment publisher have formed a union. United Workers of Seven Seas (UW7S) have come together under #IsekaiIsPossible and made a list of goals they hope to fulfill by unionizing. Among the demands are better working conditions (including paid time off, healthcare, and vacation time), wage increase, but also better communication, better status for freelancers, and also the end of exclusivity and anti-freelance contracts.
After the initial announcement on May 23, the Seven Seas company stayed quiet. The Union, which currently consists of around 30 members, kept communicating on their official Twitter, stating that they are not looking for a strike and would prefer communicating and working out the issues with Seven Seas. The company initially stayed quiet, so we reached out to UW7S for comment, asking what their plans and hopes were for the future.
“United Workers of Seven Seas (UW7S) hopes to achieve positive change within Seven Seas Entertainment through collective bargaining with the leadership of the company. So far, we have received no response from management, but we truly believe the company’s leaders care about us and hope they will voluntarily acknowledge UW7S. Once they acknowledge the union, or after we win a union election, we will begin negotiations for better working conditions for Seven Seas Entertainment employees as well as protections and greater transparency for the amazing freelancers we work with. We love the work we do. United Workers of Seven Seas aims to make sure every individual who contributes to Seven Seas Entertainment is well taken care of and processes are improved so the company becomes more efficient and can continue publishing high-quality comics and novels.”United Workers of Seven Seas Organizing Committee
We also reached out to Seven Seas for comment and after a few days of waiting, we received a reply.
“We appreciate having the opportunity to give our point of view regarding the unionization effort at Seven Seas Entertainment.
We respect the rights of our employees to choose or not choose union representation. While we have been requested by a number of employees to voluntarily recognize the CWA as their legal representative—without an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) conducted election—we have decided to respect the right of all eligible employees to vote on this issue. Since unionization would affect more members of staff than those who have already come forward, an election will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn about their rights and the details of this process before they cast their vote through a governed process.
We have notified the NLRB that we are prepared to move forward with an election among an appropriate unit of employees, and we will, of course, abide by the outcome of the election.”Seven Seas
It appears that the company also replied to the UW7S members at the same time since they started on the official Twitter account that Seven Seas Entertainment will not voluntarily recognize the union and that they are going forward with the NLRB elections while looking forward to forming a constructive relationship.
Is Isekai Possible for Seven Seas Workers’ Union?
The idea of unions is not a foreign one, although it is quite unusual to see one formed in this industry. Testimonials about harsh working conditions have been rampant, especially on Twitter. But, even then there is a slight concern about repercussions and being blacklisted. Freelancing in the field is quite common, with many localizers, translators, typesetters, artists, and others often working on multiple projects at the same time.
On the other hand, the manga and light novel industry has grown exponentially, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. With everyone stuck inside and turning to any form of entertainment available, book sales went through the roof. The fact that there is an actual shortage of manga/light novel releases and constant delays by some publishers speaks for itself as to how much the popularity of this content has grown.
According to the data compiled by ComicsBeat (through NPD BookScan) Seven Seas, which is a part of GoManga network, was the 5th top manga publisher in 2021 with over 170 thousand book copies sold. The website states that this was their “best year ever” with record growth. In addition to traditional light novels and manga, Seven Seas also publishes danmei titles (Chinese version of boys’ love, includes series like Grandmaster of Demon Cultivation (Mo Dao Zu Shi)) and has recently announced printed editions of 3 webtoons. Ghost Ship imprint, which deals with mature content, also operates under it, along with Waves of Color which publishes coloring books.
The question most are asking is a logical one: if the sales are going up and if the content is more popular than ever, why aren’t people producing it and making it accessible fairly paid? Some of the issues outlined by UW7S on their website are very American – the lack of healthcare, vacation time, and paid time off are not things we should be accepting as a society in 2022. But the fact that they are deeply rooted in both the industry and society as a whole remains.
The bright side is that there is no clash here – both the Union and Seven Seas have been very calm in their communication efforts. There will be no strike or boycott (yet) because there is hope to work things out. The motto “Isekai Is Possible” also speaks for itself. Better working conditions are not something out of this world.
The groundwork has been set, and what goes down here will have a huge impact on the localization industry as a whole. This is the first time a union like this has been formed and it appears organized and determined to fulfill the goals that have been laid out. Although the lack of Seven Seas’ reaction has been disappointing to many, the statement they gave does inspire a positive outlook and at the very least a glimmer of willingness to work with the employees. And in the midst of the Great Resignation, not hearing your workers is the worst thing you can do.