To Build A Digital Manga Alternative: Learning From JManga’s Shutdown

Jmanga

Hmm, I guess I’m not very timely with this huh? Well, in case you have been living in a cave for the past few weeks, JManga is gonna shut down in May. Better get to reading all that manga you might have bought or start taking screenshots and save it on your computer since you won’t be able to read it anymore. But anyways, I have thought about many angles to write about when it comes to JManga since it was a service I used and also I had met people that worked with them. Who knows where they’ll be working in this economy now. Regardless, I think if I’m going to write about JManga, it’ll have to also be about manga as a whole, and I’m nowhere near ready to write about that now.

So instead, might as well make a decent attempt to look forward. It’s increasingly clear manga will have to move forward properly digitally. So what can we learn from JManga’s shutdown? What exactly would be best to get manga out there? Whatever it is, please sound off in the comments below. Before you do, I ended up contacting manga bloggers and supporters and they gave their takes on what we should take away from JManga’s shutdown, so consider giving that a read before sharing your thoughts.

Unspark from BL Updates:

Before JManga, I was a huge skeptic of digital manga. It was either print or nothing. I was interested to hear about JManga because they seemed so ambitious — only to see it restricted to North America. Bad first impression. Opening worldwide is the most important thing to me for a digital platform; since I’m not from the US I’ve experienced region blocking far too many times. I ignored JManga when they finally did open worldwide until news of certain titles popped up. I would imagine a lot of people discarded JManga out of their mind when they saw region locks; it’s not like they need JManga because they didn’t even know what they had to offer.

I became a follower of JManga because they kept releasing titles I wanted to read that I’d make exceptions for buying digital; as a reader of mostly BL, their taste in titles was great and I branched to trying out most of the titles in the genre. Their overall range was amazing and the fact they could keep that pace each week blew my mind. But essentially, I think they were too ambitious in bringing new content; too much content, too few readers. Manga fans consume so much content when it’s free and are constantly greedy for more, but when you need to pay, it just doesn’t sail very far. In my opinion, they had a problem with reaching out to a wider audience. I constantly had people ask where to read X title and they said they never heard of JManga; they didn’t know what it was or when they released a title, some still thought it was region restricted. I’d personally like a schedule for new releases, though I have to say I enjoyed getting the email each week to see what would be coming, but it really helps to bring outside interest for people who aren’t a member and can see what they have to offer.

I think a lot of people are angry because they trusted JManga. They promised several things and hinted at an upcoming update. I enjoyed their social media presence a lot, more than any other publisher I’ve encountered, but I guess it’s a double edged sword. Take the promised iOS app that they said was coming and never came for example, now people feel dumb for trusting such words. I’ve been a desktop reader and only recently got a tablet so portability wasn’t a problem for me, but I can see now why it’s important. The JManga reader had a lot of problems and was frustrating. SuBLime Manga also has a really clunky online reader – I find even scan sites just displaying the single page at full size better than their online readers to be honest. Downloadable content is a must; I don’t see people trusting a cloud service any time soon.

Erica Friedman from Okazu:

I was asked to give my opinion on “What can we learn from JManga’s shutdown?” and I have to say, that’s an incredibly difficult question.

Why is it so difficult? Well, we don’t know anything about the shuttering of the service, really. Fans have many theories, but no facts. I have some facts, but not all of them. Any conjecture we have would be merely conjecture and perhaps a nice way to waste an hour over a glass of wine. But it wouldn’t be constructive.

Many people immediately pointed to JManga’s demise as another example of the industry screwing them, as if a business’s failure was a personal insult. Most of the people I saw commenting on Twitter and the like were expressing disappointment, coupled with things businesses “should” do, insight they clearly gained from years of pointing fingers at companies that did not do as they “should” have.

Clearly all companies going forward “should” find a way to violate their contracts with the IP providers to allow downloads – even against the creator’s wishes because fans say so.

Do I sound bitter? I am, but not at JManga. JManga was a business venture and it has been shutdown. That happens, it was not personal. We had the right to read the manga content we paid to read and we enjoyed it. Apparently I am in the minority in thinking this was a good thing. I would never have had a chance to read Madame Joker if JManga had not existed. My enjoyment of Madame Joker has not been lessened because I no longer have access to it. For $5/volume — less than buying it from a manga store — I was able to be entertained by it. I’ve written about the fan’s need to own the content container, rather than just being able to enjoy the content, on Okazu.  There are manga I wish to have — I have taught myself Japanese in order to be able to read them. There is manga I want to enjoy, but do not need to own — these are exactly what I used JManga for.

Ultimately, there is nothing to be “learned” from JManga’s shutdown, except that it is another good opportunity to reassess our compulsion to own things. What happened was not an insult, it was not a betrayal, it was a business shuttered and people who lost their jobs. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned after all. I feel the deepest sympathy for all the people who have been rendered jobless. If there is any lesson that we, as fans, must start to appreciate, it’s that this market — the manga market — is so unstable, so volatile, precisely because fans demand so much from it and are yet unwilling to give much to it. We want free digital distribution, cheap translated manga and jobs in the industry we’ve killed.

Ezra Cudjoe, Convention Chairman of MangaNEXT:

Apart from the obvious issue of illegal sites, JManga did not have popular titles available. They had niche titles. Yes, it was manga but those titles didn’t appear cutting edge. They attempted to correct that with releasing Del Rey/Kodansha titles but apparently it was too late.

Tony Yao from MangaTherapy (I could only take a few things, not all unfortunately!):

The good was that it had a huge variety of titles. Plus great exposure of yuri and josei titles. Big concern was that SoreMachi was the only “hit”. Which leads me to say this: where was the marketing to all of this? Wasn’t there a tweet you RTed about “BRAND AWARENESS”? Plus, it’s sad that so many people didn’t hear of it until it ENDED. Freaking trended on the main page of Twitter because of bad news. Are you kidding me?

I think I’m thinking about how sites like Crunchyroll and Tokyo Otaku Mode (whose people I met when I was in San Francisco) manage to create communities.

In a sense, inbound marketing is a big key. In other words, they have to be “human”. VIZ does a good job of this. Manga publishers don’t act “human” enough. I’m not saying they should be completely nice, but be reasonable and appealing to the consumer while slowly nurturing them to buy your products. It’s about emotional context.

Manjiorin, Manga Reviewer at OASG:

I’m definitely surprised to see JManga go. I’ve always been under the impression that it had a small, but loyal and ultimately sustainable following. There seemed to be a lot of love coming from manga bloggers and others in our little community, and JManga had a lot of interesting stuff worth reading. And yet, I had always meant to “get around” to subscribing to JManga and never did. Now that they’re gone, I wonder if the reasons why I hadn’t subscribed were also the same reasons other people had, and if digital could be done differently with different results.

Initially I was really scared off by JManga’s pricing set-up; the idea of buying “points” instead of just plunking down a few bucks for a volume, while not terribly complicated, was enough to make a mostly print manga girl go “meh.” I kept my eye on the site though, subscribing to their Facebook feed and making note of series I intended to purchase when manga bloggers sang their praises. (The regret for not grabbing Shiina Karuho’s Crazy for You and Yukari Ichijo’s Pride is deep, so deep.) Another thing that made me a bit weary, superficial as it is, was how darn busy the actual layout of the site was initially. I had a bit of time navigating things and some series/genres were oddly categorized.

Still, I think a lot of those bumps and complaints can be overcome if you really have content that’s worth reading; and this is where the death of JManga really sticks me. They were getting there. While I openly admit my waffling on subscribing wasn’t much help to JManga in the end, I was getting more and more excited to give them a shot. I appreciated the niche titles they built up — yuri, cat manga, bento manga, stuff you just don’t normally get.

Ultimately though the question is: what would it take for something like JManga to stick around the next time? For me, a few things: ditch the points system if possible and go with either a low (at least cheaper than print anyway) universal cost per volume; give me some sort of library (with covers) to view all my purchases, (because the collector in me likes that stuff); and let me access my stuff from multiple devices. And if we’re really reaching, downloadable PDFs would be lovely — even a small watermark would be acceptable to me if necessary. Viz’s digital initiative has done a great job; most things are priced at $4.99 and I can get on my Nook, then switch right to my laptop browser and have access to the exact same content on both. At the same time though, Viz benefits from already having print versions of most of their digital library (as well as the backing of major Japanese publishers) so perhaps that offsets the digital pricing.

Maybe the digital manga revolution will have to start off more with current publishers branching out on well-known titles while slowly testing out more niche titles as digital only. When you get to the end of the latest Naruto volume? “Like Naruto? Go online and check out this other similar digital only title!” I know publishers could be a bit hesitant, but honestly, with something like JManga the brand name itself isn’t initially familiar and the releases not massively popular. I’m not sure many people besides those invested in manga fandom really even knew of JManga. But if Yen Press were to advertise a heart-warming, slice of life digital-only at the end of my Bunny Drop volumes, maybe with a free preview and the entire volume online for five bucks? I just might check it out. For a standalone site like JManga, it’s tough. It would be great if major publishers could advertise digital manga alternatives on their sites too.

In my heart I’m a manga collector, so print ultimately has me won, but if digital means more manga, a sort of companion to the wonderful print titles we have now, I’m always behind that. I just hope that JManga’s demise isn’t the throwing in of the towel; there’s more, great work to be done, both by fans and publishers. As a spoiled fan, I made the mistake of thinking JManga would be there when I got there; and while we may never know why JManga died, we have to at least remember to tell people when we like these things or what they can do so that we can like them.

So again, please share below what we can ultimately learn from JManga’s shutdown…if only so nothing like this happens again!

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Justin

Justin is the founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Anime & manga fan that likes to blog about anime and manga, is addicted to sports, and weak to crossovers. You can follow Justin on Twitter @Kami_nomi.

15 thoughts on “To Build A Digital Manga Alternative: Learning From JManga’s Shutdown

  1. I will have my own post up later next week (or the one after that, I’m not sure). But shortly: subscription, subscription, subscription. And big titles. A good website. It needs to be easy to access. Click and read.

  2. More. Common. Titles. It is a must. I found some unique titles over at JManga back when I was referred to it by a friend, but it simply had no titles that I recognized and could follow. I imagine a site that had possible rights to Naruto/Bleach/One Piece (the popular three) would garner a ton of people. JManga catered to a niche and if you want to survive, catering to a niche only is sometimes dangerous on the marketing side.

    • Yeah, name recognition, for me at least, above any other problems to have with the site, is at the list of things that was a problem. I still remember that haunting panel I did last year where no one knew what it was :(

  3. Like Marow, I was already planning to write something similar to this effect. Well, for manga in general.

    I never used Jmanga, but I did like how Jmanga was being back titles that I did use to read when Tokyopop had them (I.E Monochrome Factor. Not that the BL Anime version one, lol). Despite this, like said before, their selection was narrow. Another big reason they failed, besides the market penetration strategy, is of course: No download option. We already seen with E.A games debacle with Simcity that DRM just does not work, so Jmanga is no exception. If anything, it only turns people toward the illegal sources more, due the convoluted systems set in place. That’s no excuse, but I think Jmanga could of at least accommodated that or allowed the manga to be downloaded to a tablet or reading device. Either way, the whole business model didn’t seemed that well planned out from the onset. Better luck to the next venture like this, lol.

    • lol you both were planning huh? You both are also timely, just like me :D

      Yep, let’s just say the majority of people who do not like DRM is higher than those who don’t really mind. Should it be a big deal? For me, eh. But clearly this is something to consider since in the end, people will speak with their wallets. A good amount of people didn’t for this reason.

      • Actually try a four weeks ago, but wasn’t too assure of myself to post it yet. Sadly, most of my post are like that. And, yeah, very clearly. Like with one author (I can’t even remember his name, but think Leo Laporte on Twit even mentioned this a day ago on his show), he releases his books online free, despite having them published. It just makes the people that like this books, support him even more. I am not saying that Jmanga or anyone else should do exactly that, but they would be more successful. However, for myself, I prefer physical print over digital, so that will not change anytime soon.

  4. “In my heart I’m a manga collector, so print ultimately has me won[…] As a spoiled fan, I made the mistake of thinking JManga would be there when I got there”

    These lines describe me perfectly. The manga I love, I want them printed.
    I intended to buy est em’s 1vol Happy End Appartment but when it costed 8euros, pretty much the same cost for a printed yaoi title on bookdepository… I was sceptical and prioritized this month other buys. The ‘Puppa’ and ‘Dosei Ai’ were other manga I wanted to try. But honestly, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t have any pdf copy of it, which in the end is the least they could do (and I don’t accuse them, as much as Japanese business model). There is only so much money I can spend, especially when my salary is pretty small and we are in the middle of crisis. I believe this is sth the industry should understand. A friend has told me that when a publishing house releases -too many good- titles per year, it’s really difficult to support them without facing financial problems yourself :P

    • Well Unspark actually made a point I admittedly never thought of — JManga had been releasing a ton of titles; the problem is now people have to pay for them. But you can’t buy everything (unless you’re rich or have a steady job), so while it did seem like it was great JManga was releasing a lot of titles, maybe releasing them weekly was a mistake.

  5. This strikes me as your typical entry into a foreign market problem. Lack of vision. You have to be able to see a long way into the future and expect to spend a lot of time climbing.

    Not putting thieving scammers like mangafox / animea and their ilk off the air probably doesn’t help the baseline either.

    It doesn’t really matter to me, I am like the collectors above, I’d much rather fondle a book than stare at a laptop… Besides, my nearest comic shop is about 300 metres away ^^!

    American companies coming here have a different sort of problem. Over here, the new toy is king. Cinnabon had huge queues when it first started here in Shinjuku. Ooh, queues means popular, lets open more stores!

    However, we have the attention span of a concussed mayfly (and to be quite hones, cinnabon are EVIL outsided sugar monsters) so pretty soon they are all franchised out and gone, no queues, not enough customers, next new thing has taken them.

    • It does make you wonder where JManga hoped to be not a year from now, but at least 10 or maybe 20 years from now. But really, I think they were just handicapped by the JP publishers. I can’t prove that of course.

      It doesn’t really matter to me, I am like the collectors above, I’d much rather fondle a book than stare at a laptop

      Wait a moment you live in JP, this doesn’t (totally) matter to you xD But on that note, uh, I don’t know if you can answer this, but how was JManga received in Japan?

  6. I’m enjoying the rationalizations. Did anybody posting here even subscribe? If it wasn’t the pricing, it was the DRM, or the lack of download, or few titles, or the need to hold a book. None of you would have subscribed even if some of these requirements had been met. Let’s be honest.
    I was a premium subscriber and enjoyed every minute of it. I got to read and experience titles that would never get published with the current publishers who only want to put out Naruto clones and BL. Erica F is right. It’s time to for people to get over owning things and start living for the experience.
    Right after the announcement, emanga sent me an email offering a discount on manga I could actually “download to own”. Well, if one doesn’t want it, download to own means nothing. I’m pretty much over the type of BL they offer and that’s pretty much all they have.
    If an online service such as JManga were to come around again, I’d sign up in a heartbeat. (Especially if they offered Madame Joker. What a manga!)

    • None of you would have subscribed even if some of these requirements had been met. Let’s be honest.

      Well who knows — more people would have subscribed had some of these requirements had been met. And even if they didn’t subscribe, if the service was good, then they could encourage people to actually check the site out if they couldn’t. A good digital service = more people talking about it and wanting to check it out. As far as I know, and this has been proven, JManga was pretty much a niche upon a niche, with little knowledge outside of the very small and knowledgeable hardcore fandom. Whether their issues are what have already been said above and in these comments, the fact is JManga did not market itself well enough.

      It’s time to for people to get over owning things and start living for the experience.

      It’s 2013. It’s too late now. Maybe if this was proposed years ago, people could accept this. Not now. And if the next digital publisher who does something similar to JManga exists, they need to learn from this experience so this doesn’t happen again. In the end, a reliable online and legal site is what we want to have. With the EA Sim City fiasco and the problems with JManga, it’s clear people just like having ownership. That’s how 2013 is, fortunately or unfortunately.

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