Many manga readers were in for a shock this morning when an e-mail newsletter made its way to inboxes from JManga – with sale of their points system already ceased, and new purchases halting as of March 29th, the company will have a complete shutdown of its services come May 30th, 2013.
For those for whom the name isn’t familiar, JManga was a website “comprised of 39 prominent Japanese manga publishers” that offered a variety of manga titles that readers could pay for access to on their site. While the site lacked any real big name titles, it seemed to flourish decently with an assortment of unique titles that would never otherwise see legal English release. They officially launched in August 2011.
I never followed JManga closely, for reasons I’ll note shortly, but it definitely seems like this news has taken its users by surprise. The briskness of the “Urgent” notice, the immediate cease of points purchases and the already final end-date only a couple months away came like slaps to the face, and the frequent use of the word ‘termination’ isn’t exactly friendly either. Adding insult to injury is that because JManga worked on a cloud system, meaning nothing you bought you actually got to download, everything readers’ have purchased will vanish along with the site. Poof! Even their social media sites are being scrubbed clean, working to abolish it’s near two year web presence.
I’ve been a naysayer of digital manga in the past, and when compared to print I imagine I will be rather finicky about it for the rest of my days, but in recent months I’ve really begun having my eyes opened by the continued efforts of manga publishers. The quality of SuBLime‘s digital boys’ love is fantastic, the speed and availability of Shonen Jump is amazing, and the ease of porting to whatever format you use from eManga is refreshing. All this great sources of reading manga, however, only further alienated a site like JManga from me.
Summed up to start, I believe JManga could never have held on long term (though credit where credit’s due for the time they did last) for a number of reasons, but ultimately JManga was, simply put, offering scanlations to readers with the expectation of being paid for it.
To elaborate, of course there were a few differences from JManga’s services compared to scanlator sites, particular the large aggregaters. JManga’s services were legal and supported creators, JManga paid it’s adaptation staff, and JManga pages were viewable via a Flash based flipbook instead of single image files. Frankly, to many manga readers though, the last note was irrelevant or inconvenient at best so it didn’t offer anything to the experience. Unfortunately to the first fact, the legality of sources means very little to the vast majority of manga readers. The number of those utilizing illegal websites to read manga is a depressing and clear indication of this fact.
JManga, despite claiming some were coming, never delivered on a few key elements – they didn’t make their manga available to read on all portable devices, and they worked off a cloud system. These two things meant readers were confined to reading their titles on their website only, via their one singular method. This required a constant internet connection and in most cases a computer, since it wouldn’t display on tablets or phones. And now the worst case scenario for buyers came to pass – bye-bye JManga, means bye-bye all purchases.
Having read a few of their samplers, the quality of JManga’s work was also not near that which you see on Viz Media or Yen Press‘s websites. While one could argue JManga had fewer resources and experience, it still means nothing in a business where their main rivals are scanlaters pumping out the same quality but faster, cheaper and in heaping more quantities. On top of that, JManga launched with an awkward payment system where you purchased points and then put those towards buying manga. It’s worth noting that eManga wisely ceased this method during their big site relaunch last year.
So JManga offered a digital library of on-screen reading in often less than stellar quality – not much different from scanlaters, except for the fact readers couldn’t download anything, it had far less of it, no big notable titles and, of course, readers were expected to pay. With exception of some unique content, much of which simply too niche for even scanlators to bother with, JManga offered up nothing that scanlations don’t already and for free. Moral fiber excluded.
I see digital manga continuing to flourish but in the footsteps of those who are really making the necessary steps to not just face scanlations head-on, but to soar right over their heads. Simultaneous releases, high quality files, creator permission and input, bonus material and complete flexibility with mobility, downloading and accessibility. This is what companies like Viz Media and eManga are doing, and they’ve even managed to make a partial convert out of an old print fogy like me.
JManga is a casualty of a war they were ill-equipped to fight in from day one. All the same, it’s really sad to see those who did support them are now being left with nothing, and sadder still that it all comes with a resounding ‘I told you so’ mentality based on concerns from the get-go.
Cloud services supported by niche titles like JManga could work, but I think JManga proves that it’s not like this. By having people buy individual titles, you instill a sense of ownership, and this situation proves everyone in fact had none. It would be nice to someday see this same sort of thing but on a subscription basis, like a Netflix for manga. In the meantime, I do hope readers show their support for the remaining players who are armed to the teeth with manga, quality, accessibility and low costs, and ready to earn your attention for it.