Remember manga? It’s still around, even if it isn’t the juggernaut it was in the olden days. The big, big news in manga this week was the launch of Jmanga.com, best described as what if Marvel, DC, Random House, Dynamite and Fantagraphics all teamed up to create their own comiXology. After years of sitting around anxiously watching piracy take a toll, the top Japanese publishers have finally banded together to create their own LEGAL online portal. The site just launched this week, and there been a ton of talk. J.K. Parkin has a great roundup of much of the reaction, but it hasn’t been universally loved: digital editions are priced basically the same as print, and both the pricing scheme and the interface — a browser-only reading experience — are problematic for kids used to universal access.
Jmanga offers online manga in English at steep prices: on average $2 a chapter a la carte, with full books coming out to anywhere from $8 to $11. These are the same prices we would pay for a brand-new manga volume in a US bookstore, and double to triple the cost of the average small Japanese volume. In exchange for that high price, Jmanga offers no actual advantages. You can’t actually download the comic– it must be read at jmanga.com and at jmanga.com only– so it’s hard to say that you even really “own” the book you bought. If jmanga were to ever go down, and it’s hardly guaranteed that this site will stick around long, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of the stuff you’d paid for.
What’s worse is that you can’t even “buy” manga right away. First you have to become a subscriber. $10 gets you a one-month subscription and 1000 “points” (since it’s launch, you get 1500 right now): basically jmanga’s Fun Bucks that correspond directly to dollars and cents. Once you’re subscribed, you’re treated to the option of buying more points, in case you want to read more than one book in the month.
However, on Twitter, Deb Aoki had a more measured response, pointing out that getting all these publishers to work together on this is quite a feat in itself, and it is still a work in progress. Her Comic-Con interview with the principals shows some of the other advantages:
Sam Yoshiba (Kodansha): One of the objectives of JManga is to release manga that have not been commercially released in North America. So yes, things like sports manga and other lesser-published genres are definitely the kind of thing that we want to publish through this website.
We’re all for reading copies of weird-o manga.
Meanwhile, American manga publishers, or at least the biggest one, are also looking to post-Borders markets, like digital and…comics shops. Viz’s SVP Alvin Lu gets his annual interview at ICv2, and we recommend Johanna’s recap but here is a highlight, from part 1 when asked if comics shops are a market for Viz manga:
Yes, I definitely see an opportunity with them for manga publishers. Through our readers’ survey, we’ve been talking to our fans. There’s more crossover than might be imagined. Manga fans do go into comics shops. They’re not necessarily buying manga there, which is what’s interesting. They don’t necessarily see that as a manga destination. I think maybe the closures at Border’s give us an opportunity to say hey, to both the retailers and the fans, these are places that they can buy manga as well. That’s we’re looking to more self-consciously drive, is to work with the comics retailers. That’s one of our initiatives in the future–hoping to do more there.
Interviewer Milton Griepp points out that most comics shops are ordering less manga these days — many of them having decided that getting into the business even when it was booming, was never going to work. We’d call this something of an uphill climb but who knows…anything’s possible.
Viz is also getting into its own onlne portal, which is discussed in part 2:
What’s your current windowing strategy in terms of when you put out titles digitally vs. in print? How do you see that issue?
Right now we’re not seeing a lot of cannibalization, partly just because it’s more backlist right now. That’s become a nice incremental layer of sales on top of our normal backlist sales. If you look at the backlist POS sales and you start to add digital on top, you [see] incremental sales. You don’t see any cannibalization of backlist print sales. Once you move to day and date with new releases, it could be a different story. We did a couple of experiments and nothing particularly conclusive came out of it. We’re also in a different model than the comic shops. We experimented with Bakuman 4 and we didn’t see any impact on the printed sales. On the other hand, we have more of a book publishing model than a periodical publishing model. It may be that you don’t really have the strict laydown dates with the books, so it’s something we’ll probably continue to experiment with. As of right now we’re still looking at front list as being primarily driven by the print business.
Lu also expects some old cult favorites to be brought back in digital form.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.