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.

JManga: One Month Later

A month ago, JManga debuted online, with a list of about 180 or so titles from various publishers, about 45 of which were available to purchase as volumes. Since then we’ve seen about 15 more titles added, and about 5 more available to buy, meaning we have about 200 titles both real and potential up there. I want to try to break it down by publisher, and see how each of them have handled the launch.

First off, incomplete grades are given to Akaneshinsha, ASCII Media Works, EastPress, Enterbrain, France Shoin, Fujimi Shobo, Fusosha, Gentosha, Houbunsha, Ichijinsha, Issuisya, Jitsugyo no Nihoa Sha, Kasakura, Media Factory, Nihon Bungeisha, Oakla, Ohzora Shuppan, Shinchosha, Shodensha, Takeshobo, Tatsumi, and Takuma Shoten. Clearly not everyone was going to be at the same level of readiness when the site debuted, and I can totally understand not having product ready from all 39 publishers. I’m hoping we’ll see more in the next few months from many of them.

Gakken and Magazine House (1 title each, available to purchase). I applaud these guys, who clearly are going to have a name recognition problem even among hardcore manga fans such as myself, but who were ready and waiting with something for purchase right off the bat. Gakken’s Manga Science looks like a cute educational manga, and 234 pages for $7.50 is pretty good compared to the rest of the site. As for Magazine House’s Young-kun, well, I think it depends on how much you like 4-koma. The art certainly won’t be drawing you in, so it lives and dies by its gags. Also, $5.99 for 140 pages is pretty good at this site.

Akita Shoten (6 titles, none available for purchase yet). Typical of most of the larger companies here, Akita debuts by promising a few of their already released in NA titles in a digital format. Though Tableau Gate never actually came out due to CMX’s demise.

Asahi Shimbun (7 titles, 1 partially available for purchase). An interesting josei/horror publisher, mostly known here for the series Petshop of Horrors. There’s some intriguing stuff here, and one of the more recent series, Sherlock Holmes, has a chapter available to buy. No idea if it’s a BL series or not. Knowing manga publishing, likely it’s suggestive and that’s about it. :)

Bunkasha (3 titles, none yet available for purchase). Another publisher I know very little of, and an intriguing if small variety of promised titles. One apparent sex comedy/mystery, one gag comic, and one horror. I’m quite interested in all three of these, and hope to see them eventually and learn more about the Bunkasha philosophy.

Futabasha (29 titles, all available for purchase). The big dogs here, and clearly, in my opinion, one of the major movers and shakers behind the entire site/venture. They’ve had very little play here in North America before, and are ready to make this their reminder that they have an awesome manga history too. We get 13 titles, all from within the last 5 years, from their seinen magazine Manga Action!, only one previously available here. 2 from the old-school Manga Town magazine, four from josei comic Jour, two (possibly 3, I’m not sure where Confession ran) from shoujo magazine Comic Mahou no iLand, and seven from moe and otaku-friendly Comic High! and it’s online counterpart, Web Comic High!. That’s a really nice variety, hitting most demographic areas (bar straight shonen for boys, which I think Futabasha lacks in Japan as well). As for pricing, they have decided on a uniform $8.99 for every title. While easy to remember, and handy for stuff like the 251 page Drifting Net Cafe, folks reading Crayon Shin-chan, which has half the pages but costs the same, might be a bit irked. I suspect Futabasha set the ‘standard’ price. It should be a dollar or two lower, IMO, and I suspect that may be why we haven’t seen…

Hakusensha (8 titles, none available), Shogakukan (10 titles, none available), and Shueisha (13 titles, none available). Everything seen here is a Viz product. I’d love to see some previously unreleased stuff, or even previously cancelled stuff (UY? Banri Hidaka?), but there’s a larger issue here: almost everything with these 3 publishers is on sale at Viz’s website for about 3-4 dollars less than the ‘default’ price at JManga. If they simply port their cloud of titles to JManga, folks would likely start avoiding higher priced titles. But if they price them at $8.99… who on earth would buy them there when they’re cheaper elsewhere? I seem to recall those at the SDCC JManga panel noticed a look of discomfort when pricing was mentioned… this may be a reason why, and also why these three are sort of a token presence for now.

Kodansha (5 titles, none available). Speaking of token presences… Kodansha is busy working on getting their brand back out there after the Del Rey hiatus, and I suspect after they do they will be, as Viz and Yen have done, working on their own digital initiative. Till then, this may be all we get… 5 of their most popular titles, all previously available in NA, possibly digital soon.

June Net (10 titles, none available), Libre Shuppan (20 titles, 4 available), and Shinshokan (9 titles, 6 available for purchase). The big players in BL here, and they’ve given everyone something to wait for. There’s a lot of previously released stuff from DMP and Blu here, but all three publishers have brought out (or plan to) their heavy hitters, with lots of Nitta and Tateno sitting there. Shinshokan is especially strong, having 2/3 of their offerings now available. Not bad. Pricing seems consistently about $8.95.

LEED Publishing (10 titles, 6 available). I think LEED also came out of the gates strong, mostly as most folks know who Golgo 13 is, and a lot of these titles are extensions of that type of manga. Saito’s been trying to go digital in Japan for a while now, so likely had stuff ready to go. I like that there’s some 60s stuff from Shonen Sunday and Magazine available, as well as more recent endeavors. If we do see Golgo 13, it may be LEED’s own editions (Saito owns the company, I believe) rather than Viz. And there is one non-Saito author as well, making us hope for more hardboiled stuff from Comic RAN and Comic Ran TWINS. LEED is also fairly hardboiled about their pricing… they’re easily the most expensive publisher here, and the price goes up the more pages there are. Hawking, which is a 400-page omnibus, is about $20.00. I suspect they may find sales disappointing at first for that reason.

Shonen Gahosha (7 titles, 3 available). One of the more intriguing names here. They and LEED are the only ones to have been releasing titles after the debut. They started off with their 4 biggest titles in North America (Excel Saga, Hellsing and the two Triguns), as well as one title unavailable here but also from Young King OURS. Since then, they’ve added a second Young King OURS comedy… and a manga from their cat-oriented manga magazine, Nekopanchi. That alone gains big praise from me, as I love seeing manga genres totally unfamiliar to me. Their pricing seems in line with Futabasha’s, about $8.99 each.

Kadokawa Shoten (63 titles, none available). Well, they’ve got ambition, if nothing else. Easily the most presence on the site. And the titles they’re choosing, very much in line with their media-oriented business statement, are anime franchises, and game franchises, and very appealing to otaku. There’s even a few non-moe things here, such as Mail and Todenka, which are both in the style of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. And yes, I’d really love to see that Higurashi book. HOWEVER, by showing us 63 titles, and delivering, to date, zero… it’s not a good way to start off. I would have tried, if they couldn’t get things out of the gate fast enough like Futabasha did, only putting up a few select titles as potential ones, and then rolling out the bigger guns when they’re available. If I had to give a grade to date for them, however, it’s all flash, no substance as of yet. I would suspect, however, that they may be the OTHER major force, besides Futabasha, behind the JManga initiative, judging by their listings.

As for the site itself, the reader is fairly easy to use. I do note that it is hard to zoom in on anything except the center of the page, so if you want to read a corner or edge you’re out of luck. Also, some titles, particularly ones with night scenes (hi, Ninja Papa) have inner monologues written against backgrounds in black text – making them VERY hard to read. Notably, the corresponding Japanese text is left in – it’s also black, but has a much stronger white border. I realize that English requires more space, but I’m hoping it’s something that can be thought about, if nothing else.

No doubt there have been a few growing pains. The read online system is a good way to combat piracy, but of course means you don’t own your manga – you are merely paying for the right to read it. And it can be taken away by the publisher if issues crop up, which can’t be done with a book. A print on demand option would be fantastic. And the points system is rather confusing, especially as a point is clearly 1 cent – I didn’t bother using them when discussing pricing above. As for the pricing itself, $8.99 isn’t horrific, but when your competitors (and yes, that is including Viz, who have far more famous manga available for cheaper prices right now) are undercutting you, you’re going to have people debating if they want to pay 9 bucks to see whether that weird food manga is any good, or 6 bucks to read another volume of kickass ninjas. And I suspect the ninjas will win.

That said, this is really more than I expected when I heard about the initiative. There *is* some clear effort to make titles previously unavailable here, and not just things based on anime or games that are out over here (though they have those as well). There’s shoujo, seinen, josei and kodomo stuff I’ve never read before all waiting for me, and in a variety of genres that include supernatural mystery, salaryman fantasy, foodie, medical, and even cat detectives. I suspect we’ll have a much better idea of the site’s future, though, when we start seeing Volume 2s. Saito has some, but as I said he’s farther along in his digital initiative. If Futabasha can crank out Vol. 2s for some of the more intriguing titles by October, and Kadokawa can release some of their content, then I think JManga will be around as longer than just a flash in the pan.

And if Shonen Gahosha gets Excel Saga on there beyond a promise, I will personally fly to Japan to kiss their feet. :D