Some Thoughts on the End of JManga

When I got up this morning and saw the news, I had a pretty emotional reaction. JManga was shutting down and taking its manga with it. I heard my friends who rail against Cloud in my head pointing at me and laughing, and I made a few tweets. You may have seen some of them. Now, of course, I’ve had a whole day to think about it, so let’s discuss what happened.


This is the sort of thing that everyone knows could happen with content stored on the “cloud” rather than as physical files, but for the most part it hadn’t really happened until today. What’s more, JManga’s digital-only format makes this especially hard for them. If Viz shuts down its digital manga site tomorrow, I’ll lose my digital Excel Sagas, but they’re still in print volumes somewhere, even if they’re out of print. EDIT: Viz has noted that since you have to download the mangas to your tablet/device, you would not lose them in a “cloud”-type way, and can read them till you remove them. Thanks for that correction of my error. Same with most Kindle purchases, or the Yen titles on the Nook. But come the end of May, the JManga titles I purchased will be gone. No print, no digital copies, nada. And that’s hard to take. Despite it being the current business practice for many companies, it’s hard to get shoved in your face.

We’re not really sure yet why this happened – the immediate gut feeling is to say “money”, but who knows? While I suspect scanlation had an effect on some of the more specific titles on the site – The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer, Sun-Ken Rock – I’d argue it did have an effect on the general feeling about online manga, which is “why should I pay for it?” And I do think that some tweets today may have been from folks saying “I knew this would happen, glad I never bought anything”, are from that scan crowd. But really, I do think that my enthusiasm for JManga – the plugging of their site, reviewing of their titles, and money I paid for the volumes – is part of why my reaction was so fierce this morning. It can be hard seeing something you love die so fast.

And so now I’m left with disappointment, and wondering what comes next. JManga always seemed to have an issue or two. They were web-only for the longest time, and never did hit Apple. Their mobile app continued to be a work in progress. There was the infamous launch that included dozens of “theoretical titles” – mostly from Kadokawa Shoten – none of which ever appeared. The points system – especially given that 1 point was clearly one cent – seemed highly confusing to most users. And they never did get that knockout title that would bring users to the site – there was no Naruto, or Soul Eater, or even a cute Evangelion 4-koma. The big draw for NYCC was the creator of SoreMachi, a slice-of-life manga few had heard of before the con. And, of course, everyone at NYCC seemed to sense this in the wind – not just for JManga. Everyone asked “How do we own this content?” at DC and Marvel panels as well.

And yet I loved so much about them as well. They were committed to showing North America – and lately other countries, a process that always seemed like pulling teeth with the Japanese licensors – titles that you’d never think to see over here. Not just obvious things but josei soap opera manga like Wonder!, seinen salaryman manga such as Ninja Papa, retranslated “rescue” titles such as High School Girls. There was manga with cats solving mysteries. There was erotic horror manga. There was dog training manga. There was fighting maid manga. There was educational science manga. There was… I’m not even sure WHAT Young-kun was. These creators now have a fanbase, however small, that they may never have had before.

I am saddened at JManga’s passing, and this is why. I will miss it. I had lots of stuff queued up to read that I likely will never get the chance to, which is depressing. And, of course, there’s the real-life fallout – a bunch of people just lost their jobs. They all did the best job they could, and I hope they bounce back as quickly as possible. And now I wonder what’s next. As Deb Aoki noted, is this going to scare people away? I sense if everyone waits for companies to give them downloadable PDF files, they’re going to be waiting a long time. Cloud is here to stay, whether we like it or not. That said, what’s the next company going to do? Because there will be others. Some smaller companies are already putting out their own titles, and Japan will likely try to find a way to do this again. Can they learn lessons from JManga, both the good and bad?

I have to admit, if a new JManga pops up, I’ll probably get stuff from it as well. I like supporting creators and their content, given the option. JManga gave it a good try at doing that. I can’t thank them enough for it.

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  1. This just goes to show that DRM is the honest customers’ enemy. They are the ones who actually pay their favorite creators for their time and effort, and then they get screwed this way, while the ones who pirate get a much better product, that can be enjoyed when and where they want. Companies and businesses change or go broke, that’s the nature of things, but having to depend on someone else for the privilege of reading what you have bought… Calling that buying is a scam, it’s just renting for an undetermined period of time. It’s an insult, a slap to the face of the customers.

    • But it was an online access site, so DRM is not really an issue. Unlike a digital download, you were never really BUYING the manga, you were always LEASING access to the manga.

      Of course, JManga tried to pretend the opposite with all of their might, so its not as if they are blameless for the widespread confusion between their service and the digital downloads.

      As far as why we were getting less for the same price as digital downloads of manga with an anticipated market large enough to justify a print run ~ posing the question out loud pretty much answers it. You have to pay more for content serving smaller niche markets than for content serving bigger markets, whether you pay more via a higher MSRP, getting less access for the same payment, or the smaller production budget that want into the art house movie as opposed to the summer blockbuster.

      It was a shame that they remained a work in progress so long that they were never able to hammer out a complete business model and a sufficient range of device support to be viable. They had almost arrived at a viable business model JManga7. The only missing piece was some form of less expensive 1 week rental option for content that had rolled out of JManga7 open access and into the JManga collected volumes. $2/wk for free members, $1/wk for JManga7 subscribers, and there is a lot of manga I would have read that I balked at leasing for $6/however-long.

  2. @Ezra_san says

    Good article.

  3. While I can sympithize with the real world fact that people lost there jobs due to Jmanga going out of buisness I’m a biblophile through and through, so it’s kind of hard for me to feel bad about something one I never used and two don’t have the money or acess to use. Sure as an idea Jmanga sounds/sounded great.

    • “While I can sympithize with the real world fact that people lost there jobs due to Jmanga going out of buisness”

      Did the consortium of publishers that ran JManga actually hire anyone specifically for JManga in the first place and then lay off those employees? Or was everyone working on JManga an employee of one of the publishers and probably staying at that publisher after it quits JManga? Some thing else?

  4. I’m not convinced that “cloud is here to stay”. Some fads can last a pretty long time and still be fads. We’re currently in the middle of a resurgence of the 3D movie fad from the 90s – it’s not going to last. Cloud has a lot of downsides that are rarely mentioned in discussions of it, though this thing with JManga is a pretty clear case of it.

    As an IT professional, I’m subscribed to a couple technology mailing lists, and there’s been a lot of “cloud is the future” stuff for the past year or two, but I was also working for a health care provider, and I know how very unlikely it is for such entities (or any other entity that has any sort of government mandate to protect and preserve information) to trust those tasks to the nebulous cloud.

    Unless cloud gets a few more notable successes under its belt before we get several more JManga-like failures, it’s not going to establish itself as reliable enough to replace even just digital ownership, let alone physical products. People might still use cloud as a convenient backup, but unless things change rather drastically, I don’t see it becoming much more than that in the future.

    • As far as “cloud computing” ~ well, we’ll see. But the online access services for media seems like its here to stay, with services like Crunchyroll and Netflix for ephemeral access to content.

      And so long as Japanese publishers demand a higher royalty and more restrictive terms for a digital download license than for an online access license, then online access is the main hope for most of these niche titles to get licensed internationally.

  5. Jade Harris says

    Lissa Pattilo mentions how this content model might work better for a subscription service. I have to say, the loss wouldn’t have stung quite as bad were that the case. As it stands, there’s a few volumes of some of my favorite series about to sink into oblivion (again with Fujoshi Rumi/Otaku etc. Girl) and I can’t even give them the money to read unpurchased volumes.

  6. Alexander Callos says

    I was waiting for the ios app, so I barely dodged that bullet. Jesus, though, I can’t even imagine what people who bought into the service are feeling.

    I’d be pretty mad.

    A word on Viz: the same thing could happen to them if you are only able to read their titles via the web as they have no download option.

    • At $1 for a Weekly Shonen Jump issue, you’re only paying rental prices anyway ~ that’s cheaper per page than a weekly print serial in Japan, which people toss in the trash after they finish it.


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