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.