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JManga.com Shutting Down Digital Manga Operations

JManga.com Shutting Down Digital Manga Operations

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.

JManga was, simply put, offering scanlations to readers with the expectation of being paid for it.

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.

…JManga offered up nothing that scanlations don’t already and for free. Moral fiber excluded.

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.


Digital Manga Stretches for the Tezuka Goal with Updated Kickstarter

Digital Manga Stretches for the Tezuka Goal with Updated Kickstarter

With over 450 backers, Digital Manga’s Unico Kickstarter surpassed it’s original funding goal last week. True to their word, the company announced a secondary license for their backers to shoot for – Osamu Tezuka’s Atom Cat:

“This is a family reboot of Astro Boy drawn by Tezuka in 1986-87, about a little boy who has a cat with Astro Boy’s powers. It’s adorable, fun, and has some great art and action!”

Even with additional thousands of dollars required for this title, the number was reached in a matter of days. Another Tezuka was added, this time a two volume series, Triton:

“It’s the story of Triton, a boy living in modern Japan who discovers he is the last survivor of the destruction of Atlantis by the god Poseidon. With his dolphin comrades by his side once again, he goes on a quest to avenge his family and, more importantly, begin to understand where he came from.”

Currently the Kickstarter is just over $30,000 with the current goal for the publication of Triton set at $47,000. Digital Manga continues to set some hefty goals indeed. I’m not sure how they’re working out their ‘pricing’ – going from approximately $20,000 to $6000 then shooting back to $20,000 – but backers seem keen on following the path regardless. Whether or not they reach the nearly fifty-grand total by July 21st remains, of course, to be seen.

Atom Cat
Paperback (B/W)
Page Counts: 200
Release Date: Unknown
Price: $12.95/US
Triton
Paperback (B/W)
Page Counts: (Vol.01) 488 | (Vol.02) 440
Release Dates: June 2013/August 2013
Price: $19.95/US

I’m always glad to have the potential for Tezuka (or manga in generally,really), especially in this instance as Atom Cat sounds like a fun spin-off of Astro Boy – this coming from someone who doesn’t like cats too. I still really wish, however, that Digital Manga would have enough faith in the material to publish it without relying on this method of repsonsbility shift. I don’t think it’ll ever sit right with me watching a for-profit company requesting these kinds of upfront funds from its audience. Kickstarter as an extras potential – such as allowing a digital-only release to go to print or bring an old book back as a reprint, such as they did with Swallowing the Earth – seemed considerably more appropriate use of the service for them. If a financially backed, for profit organization with almost a decade of publishing experience is going to use a Kickstarter, I would hope they could show the confidence to use it as that kind of bonus offer system and not a do-all-end-all crutch.  Maybe then asking your readers to shell out $45,000+ towards mostly unknown costs might go down a little easier… but who’s to say?

But I digress (surprise surprise!). Despite my previous post and podcast on the topic, I still feel I could go on rambles in regards to these Kickstarter projects for pages more so I’ll withhold myself here. I really do adore Digital Manga as a company for their taste and consistency over the years, but these Kickstarters and DM Guild activities have me really on the fence about their current direction. There’s a lot good about the intiatives, but a lot of negatives too.

Ultimately I am glad to see more Tezuka potentially hitting the market and both Atom Cat and Triton will be on my bookshelves when they’re available to actually purchase. Time will tell if it’s one or both, as Triton‘s fate in English seems to now lay squarely on an audience who could already be understandably maxed out.


The Review That Wasn’t: Spice & Wolf (Vol. 05)

Spice & Wolf (Vol. 05)

Author: Isuna Hasekura
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: December 2011

Synopsis: “Lawrence and Holo take a respite from their travels north, but a true businessman never rests! It isn’t long before an opportunity for profit in the town of Lenos presents itself to Lawrence; one that could fulfill his dreams of owning his own establishment. But as always the promise of great reward carries with it great risk – and risk is never greater than when one plans to use a werewolf as collateral!”

Hey, remember me? I used to post reviews here? No? Well, I can’t blame you for that since it has been awhile. Definitely longer than I intended it to be. And there are a few reasons for that but the main one is that I was sent the fifth volume of the Spice & Wolf light novels to review and haven’t been able to finish it. And without finishing it, I can’t really give it a proper review. I can, however, review my inability to produce a review. Or something. Roll with me here, guys.

This isn’t my first encounter with Spice & Wolf. I’ve seen the first season of the anime and about half of the second season. I even reviewed volume one way back when. My struggles weren’t due to the common issue of not knowing what is going on. No, the problems I had come down to finding it a hard book to not put down – and not entirely for negative reasons.

Read more…


Digital Manga Launches Second Kickstarter for Tezuka’s Barbara

Digital Manga Starts Kickstarter for Tezuka's Barbara

On Friday Digital Manga Publishing launched their second Kickstarter – a crowd-souring website that takes monetary pledges towards a goal. While DMP’s first project was to fund Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth back for a second printing, this time they’re collecting pledges to go towards licensing and publishing a new Tezuka title – Barbara.

“Wandering the packed tunnels of Shinjuku Station, famous author Yosuke Mikura makes a strange discovery: a seemingly homeless drunk woman who can quote French poetry. Her name is Barbara. He takes her home for a bath and a drink, and before long Barbara has made herself into Mikura’s shadow, saving him from egotistical delusions and jealous enemies. But just as Mikura is no saint, Barbara is no benevolent guardian angel, and Mikura grows obsessed with discovering her secrets, tangling with thugs, sadists, magical curses and mythical beings – all the while wondering whether he himself is still sane.”

In only two days the company has received pledges totalling more than the $6500 they were asking for. Their press release states that additional rewards (extras for those who pledge more than the $25 cost of the book) will be released throughout the month leading up to the date they’ll be closing the drive and collecting the money (February 13th).

While those who pledge $25+ in this drive have been guaranteed copies of the book once it’s complete – scheduled for sometime in July 2012 – Digital Manga’s Ben Applegate has stated that copies will also be printed and distributed to bookstores as well. I’m grateful for this as it allows me to keep supporting my local businesses and avoid the $20+ I’d very likely end up paying just for the shipping of a single book to Canada through their service (which I’ve now learned is considered overseas? Choose a better word, USPS!). It also means those new to Tezuka or manga, or those curious but not willing to buy blindly, can still have a chance to flip through and make an informed decision. There’s no word on what size this print run will be though and it’s questionable how available this title will be when they need to seek outside funding from consumers just to finance it initially.

The last time Digital Manga used a Kickstarter drive to fund their operations I was skeptical and even after the first’s success, I still am. I’m thrilled to see another older title get a shot at English publication, let there be no question of that. But that Digital Manga is again using a system like Kickstarter – typically used by individuals or small groups without financial backers or partners that companies have – still just doesn’t sit right with me. While I shared my initial thoughts back in November, this second project prompted elaboration as I continue to try and pinpoint what this kind of move means to me and other manga readers.

Read more…


Shaenon Garrity Talks Chobits For House of 1000 Manga

House of 1000 Manga - Chobits

AnimeNewsNetwork has some great writers who contribute to the site and their manga editorial are always daily reads for me. Jason Thompson’s House of 1000 Manga is always an extra treat – a weekly exploration and showcase of a specific manga title. This week the column had Shaenon Garrity as a guest writer and she contributes an article on CLAMP’s Chobits. It’s a fantastic read so I recommend checking it out!

Shaenon breaks down the series’ themes of sexuality, romance and relationship dynamics in a really concise and well-thought out manner. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the conclusions she makes but she backs up every observation and opinion in a way that really gets you thinking about the story.

Even the forum responses, often a minefield of painful commentary, are worth going through for the article. Shaenon herself also elaborates on some points she couldn’t go into via the article for spoiler reasons.


Digital Manga Acquires, Hires and Seeks More Fans’ Help

Digital Manga Acquires, Hires and Seeks More Fans' Help

Digital Manga‘s newsletter came out yesterday and had an assortment of interesting news to share – some great, some neat and some that just left me scratching my head in confusion.

The company has licensed a new boys’ love title – Docchi mo Docchi by Nozomu Hiiragi. It’s a one-shot title about two men employed at the same company. Both are well known with the ladies and rivals at their jobs. When the two somehow end up in bed together, the big question becomes who’s meant to be on top?

Digital Manga also noted that they’ve acquired the license to the third volume of Dog x Cat. Neither title has a release date yet.

The newsletter also reminded readers of job listings posted on Digital Manga’s website. Those currently listed as new and ‘permanent’ there are: Manga-Comic Editor/ Production Associate, PHP Developer, Accountant,  Production Associate, Graphic Designer/Marketing Assistant and E-commerce Sales Associates.

The weird news of the week from Digital Manga though is that they’ve launched a Kickstarter program to fund a second-printing of Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth. Kickstarter is a site where individuals or groups can start up a funding project where they look to the community to pledge money to support it. I’ve seen this work successfully for independent creators who don’t have the initial means to afford print runs but a company size of Digital Manga doing it?

Read more…


Manga Out Loud Podcast Discusses Manga Digitally

Manga Out Loud - Going Digital

Manga Out Loud isn’t plugged nearly enough on my website – it’s definitely top of my giddy list when a new episode comes out. Ed Sizemore and Johanna bring on a whole bunch of fun and super-knowledgeable guests to discuss different manga titles and topics on the show, plus the two are a great podcast duo on their own. So go! Listen! Enjoy!

Ed and Johanna are also now the second crazy generous people to have me on-board for a podcast with this week’s Going Digital – a podcast where we all discussed different elements of digital manga: what’s out there, what we think of it and the pros and cons, among lots of other things. It was lots of fun and my thanks again to everyone there for having me. It’s a big bummer that my computer/internet wasn’t agreeing with me so unfortunately my sound quality is nearly inaudible at times. Witness listening however the power of a very patient group of podcasters! Once you’ve finished listening, Ed’s podcast post is worth visiting for the extensive show notes alone if you’d like to read more about digital manga and see lots of legal links to access it.

During the podcast I definitely took the pro-book over digital side (not that there were really sides, per say) and it was great hearing others thoughts on the benefits of digital access for them. It was also a big reminder how lucky I am to live in a city with a store like Strange Adventures and a dozen libraries. I’m sure I’ll embrace reading manga digitally more when/if I ever indulge in an iPad but I can’t see it ever taking the place of buying books. Would be neat for one-shots and longer test chapters though to determine buying new series less blindly. Time shall tell! If there’s one thing you can definitely say for digital manga, it’s that it still has lots of changes yet to come.


Pop Vultures – Talking Tokyopop on ANNCast

ANNCast - Pop Vultures

There’s a new ANNCast posted this week over at AnimeNewsNetwork where I joined host Zac Bertschy and Erica Friedman from Yuricon.com to discuss the recent Tokyopop shutdown.

We talk about Tokyopop’s shakier business decisions, Stu Levy’s (the company’s CEO) big role to play in its demise and public opinion as well as their Manga Pilot Program. It was a great conversation full of optimism and not-so-optimistic hard truths – I’m thankful I had the opportunity to participate and hope people enjoy the listen.


Rattled Faith As Tokyopop Lays Off Manga Editors

Tokyopop

Tokyopop was the internet’s front-page news amidst the English manga-industry circle this week as news came that they’ve just recently laid off several staffers. Those given this very unfortunate and quite unexpected axe was Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl, Troy Lewter and Asako Suzuki – all three prominent editors of Tokyopop’s manga line-up.

Brigid Alverson (of MangaBlog.net) wrote a really well articulated article on the matter over at Robot6. She focuses heavily on company president Stu Levy and paints a pretty accurate, and unfortunately manic, picture of his management methods and a history of similarly poor timed lay-offs.

People losing their jobs is never good and as many have said, my sympathies go out to those who’ve lost them. This news also doesn’t paint an optimistic picture of the company itself. When I first read this, what immediately came to mind is that Tokyopop has now completely done away with their manga ‘face’ – the side of their company that really looked to me like it focused on the books as their primary focus. Stu Levy has never been about the manga to me – he’s always been the ‘face’ of the other stuff, all those little pet-projects and admittedly odd but flamboyant social projects he engages in for reasons I won’t dismiss but also won’t try to fathom understanding (ie: not intended to target consumers like me, such as their recent America’s Greatest Otaku reality show).

Though it doesn’t seem their manga line-up is taking any direct blows in terms of any more dropped titles (and in fact they still have a handful of new titles starting this year), it’s hard not to wonder what this really means. Are they going to be slimming things back we just haven’t heard it yet? Are those people remaining just getting really, really overworked? Are they hiring new freelancers on who they can pay less for the same work? Will the marketing disappear? Will the quality be affected? It seems hard to believe they could let-go such integral staff members and have things be business as usual.

On top of that, it was announced just yesterday that Blizzard (the company who owns the popular Warcraft franchise), is severing ties with Tokyopop. For years Tokyopop has published graphic novels based on the Warcraft world and, to my knowledge, they’ve always been some of the more consistent sellers with a cross-appeal outside the regular manga readers. Blizzard has since stated this dissolvement isn’t due to the recent cutbacks and was decideded some time ago, which makes me think that this news actually is the opposite effect some will assume simply from the timing of this announcement – that Tokyopop’s lay-offs are in fact (in part) because of Blizzard’s disconnection and not the other way around. All that’s been specifically said so far for reasons is that Warcraft can’t commit in full to the project any longer, which seems fair enough considering the game itself is definitely their bread and butter. Why read it when you can play it? (Though that’s certainly never my personal philosophy!)

It seems safe to say the biggest factor of these Tokyopop cuts, past Stu Levy’s often fickle-seeming management style, is the recent bankruptcy of the American bookstore chain, Borders. It apparently owned Tokyopop a lot of money which it now can’t pay back. Having never been in a Borders before, I can’t say I’ve personally seen the effect, as the closest we have is our Indigo chain of bookstores here in Canada (Chapters and Coles bookstores to many of us). However the pricing has long since become so terrible on buying books from chain stores instead of independent shops here that I’ve long since gotten a disconnect from that kind of manga buying. Still, remembering how huge a part Chapters used to be in my manga-buying binges until the Canadian dollar shot up, I can definitely see how if Borders was that to thousands of readers across the United States, then the loss is pretty huge.

It’s a shame this has all happened, Borders closing creating such issues for so many readers and publishers. What’s even sadder about Tokyopop’s situation in particular is that the loss of these jobs, unfortunate enough in itself, are more additions to a teetering tower within Tokyopop’s industry that is proving from internet response that people’s faith in Tokyopop is shakier than their history.

Tokyopop for me is still a huge part of my manga-life – I’ve probably got more books from them than anyone else, their titles shaped my early manga-buying days. I loved their title choices, their presentation, their pricing and yes even the sheer quantity that meant a lot of mixed quality (but you can’t knock the chance to choose from them all!) – I owe them a lot for the books I’ve been able to enjoy over the years. But now with Lillian in particular gone (never had I felt more in-touch with TP than via their webinars), and the continued production of money-sucking events I don’t really understand, I really have to question if the Tokyopop I love is still even the Tokyopop that exists today.


Viz Media Launches New Website and Leaves Much to Be Desired

Viz Media 2.0

Viz Media is starting the new year with a brand new website! And that is sadly where my enthusiasm ends.

I’d stated a short while back that I’d be continuing with my publisher website reviews, a longer than intended hiatus previously taken after several companies requested I wait. Viz Media’s website, or their old one at least, was my newest completed review, a rather frustrating irony in that so soon after I finished did this new site go up. But I digress, this is about the new site and naturally after finishing a review of their old site, and thoroughly going through my likes and dislikes of it to myself, I had presumptuously high hopes that I may see some of my complaints already addressed in this version when I saw it was live.

Alas… Viz Media, what were you thinking?

Read more…


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