It came in the night like an earthquake or a car crash: JManga, the digital manga portal set up by 39 of Japan’s biggest publishers, is shutting down. As of last night you could not make any more point purchases, as of the 26th you will no longer be able to purchase manga, and as of May 30th the entire site goes away–taking all of the manga you bought with it.
Customers with unused points will be able to swap them for an Amazon gift certificate.
JManga was launched as a last ditch effort by Japanese publishers to compete with scanlations and piracy by offering translated digital comics in a legit interface to North American readers. It took a long time for the publishers to come to an agreement and there were many complaints about the point system used to buy the comics as well as the paucity of top-notch offerings. Brigid Alverson, who covered the product from its launch, has the fullest write-up:
One of the hallmarks of JManga was its responsiveness to comments from users, and the fairness with which it treated them. I kicked the tires in early August, and along with a lot of other readers, I complained that the prices were too high and the points system, which required a monthly subscription, was too clunky. In October, they rolled back their prices in what was billed as a temporary sale but turned into a permanent price cut. And in a nice touch, they gave readers who had already purchased books at the higher price a partial refund on their points. Later on they dropped the subscription requirement as well, allowing one-time purchases. And while JManga originally served only North America, they extended the service worldwide at readers’ request. They maintained an active Twitter feed and Facebook presence and, unlike many other Japanese publishers, often responded directly to comments and Tweets.
Despite all that, the service lasted barely two years. No reasons have been given for the abrupt shutdown, but Alverson speculates:
Without any insider knowledge, I would guess that format had a lot to do with it. Manga readers are accustomed to reading online for free, thanks to the wave of pirate sites over the past few years, and JManga was slow to go onto tablets; once it did, it was with a fairly clunky Android app. It’s a shame, because JManga had many of the things fans want—an eclectic range of manga, quick access, and an unusual responsiveness to feedback—but in this environment, apparently, that wasn’t enough.
Twitter is full of post-mortems:
So this somewhat… timid/cautious approach to offering titles on JManga I think hurt them. First impressions are very important to buyers.
— Deb Aoki (@debaoki) March 14, 2013
Johanna Draper Carlson has her own thoughts and observes that Japanese fiscal years end in March so it might have been a money matter.
Of even more portent for everyone reading digital comics, the service is taking everything you bought with it. JManga titles were only available to read on the cloud—it’s similar to what happened this weekend with comiXology’s disastrously successful Marvel #1 promotion: with the site down no one could even READ their other comics.
Now it’s worth noting that cloud storage is now Netflix and Hulu and all those popular media streaming companies also work. but you are always offered the chance to purchase for ever and ever (or until the format dies) your very own copy of the same thing.
That is not currently offered with most digital comics.
When JManga was launched they made this promise: “The digital manga you purchase is automatically placed in your very own virtual bookshelf for you to read whenever you want, wherever you are!” That wasn’t true either and manga fans are currently experiencing extreme trust issues. Animaru has more:
Up until this point the idea of a digital manga service shutting down and all purchases vanishing into thin air has been just a theoretical threat. Now when the largest player on the field has fallen, that theoretical threat is suddenly a very concrete one. From this day on people will always remember the demise of JManga before deciding to invest their money into any manga platform. Of course there are ways to sidestep these trust issues. The most obvious one is the Crunchyroll / Netflix model: paying for the service, not for the content. When there’s a fixed monthly fee, you wouldn’t be left with nonexistant purchases even if the service would shut down one day. It’s the solution everyone wants, but also a one that the Japanese publishers have not been eager to agree to.
Below is the letter sent to subscribers:
Dear JManga Members and Supporters,
It is our deep regret to inform you that JManga.com will be concluding its retail and viewing services on May 30th 2013.
Below is JManga.com’s Service Termination Schedule.
a. JManga Point Distribution and Sales Termination: March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time)
b. Digital Manga Purchasing Service Termination: March 26th at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time)
c. Manga Viewing Service Termination: May 30th at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time)
All JManga Members will be issued Amazon Gift Cards for use on Amazon.com as a substitute the amount of unusedJManga Paid Points (*1) possessed at March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm.
Refunds will be processed between March 21st 2013 to March 25th 2013 (US Pacific Time).
For further details regarding JManga.com’s retail and viewing service termination, please visithttp://www.jmanga.com/urgent-message
As of March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time) JManga7.com has concluded its services. JManga7 Premium Members who signed up between February 14th 2013 and March 13th 2013 at 11:59pm (US Pacific Time) will be refunded. For further details regarding JManga7.com’s service termination, please visit the Jmanga7 FAQ athttp://www.jmanga7.com/
Thank you for your support and understanding,
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.