At their Friday morning panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2011, six representatives from five major Japanese publishers presented a sneak peek at JManga.com, the new web portal for Japanese comics that will be offering online manga in English for North American readers beginning in mid-August 2011.
This two-part interview covers what I heard and saw at JManga's events at Comic-Con 2011. Part 1 includes the transcript from the panel and commentary from the JManga reception after the panel. Part 2 includes my interview with executives from powerhouse Japanese publishing houses Shogakukan, Kodansha, Futabasha and Kadokawa Shoten, who are all members of the Digital Comics Association, the group sponsoring JManga.
WHAT IS JMANGA.COM AND WHAT DO THEY WANT TO ACCOMPLISH?
JManga.com represents the combined efforts of the Digital Comics Association (DCA), a group representing 39 Japanese manga publishers. Its goal is simple: to offer readers all over the world the opportunity to read manga online, and to offer a legal alternative to the numerous scanlation (unauthorized translated scans of Japanese manga) websites that have popped up in recent years.
JManga is a project that has been hinted at for the past year or so (see my interview with Kun Gao from Crunchyroll, the tech partner who developed the platform for JManga.com). As of early August, JManga.com is only available to a few users who have been granted access to the closed beta, however, if everything goes according to their plans, fans in North America will get their first taste of JManga.com website in mid-to-late August 2011.
But they're not stopping there -- the DCA / JManga have made it clear that while they're offering their site to fans in North America first, they have plans to make JManga.com available to fans in other countries as well, and eventually have it available for various mobile devices, including the iPad, iPhone, Android and possibly eBook platforms such as Amazon's Kindle.
With the decline and demise of the Borders bookstore chain in North America, and the arrival of tablet computers like the iPad, many North American comics publishers have accelerated their efforts to offer their comics online and on mobile devices. Within the last year alone, VIZ Media, Yen Press, Dark Horse, Square Enix, and Digital Manga Publishing have been offering more and more of their manga titles online to readers. These are all worthy efforts – but as one fan asked at the JManga panel, 'What can you offer us that scanlation sites aren't already giving us?'
WHAT DO MANGA READERS WANT OUT OF A SITE LIKE JMANGA?
From what I've heard and observed, here's a partial list of things that comics readers want out of an online manga publishing website.
- Variety and quantity - Access to a variety of manga titles from many publishers in one spot.
- Reasonable price - The ability to read many manga titles online for free or at a reasonable price. While a per volume / per chapter option is fine, many fans have requested an "all-you-can-eat" subscription model, like Crunchyroll or NetFLIX.
- Flexibility - The option to read it on the web, and on mobile devices, including tablets, smart phones and e-readers.
- Speed - The ability to read the latest chapters as soon as possible, preferably within a few days of publication in Japan.
- International access - Fans outside of North America also want access to online manga.
When taken as a whole, this online manga wish list isn't easy to fulfill for various reasons. Licensing agreements for various countries, approvals from the publisher and comics creators, the time and money required to translate / localize Japanese manga to English, and developing the technology to make manga available on various online/mobile platforms are just a few of the problems that JManga must solve in order to even begin to satisfy even some of the items on this wish list. Given that this is just a first step in what will likely be a multi-step evolution of the worldwide manga publishing business, fans will need to set their expectations of JManga accordingly, at least for this first release.
That said, the desire for access to authorized, online manga publishing with quality translations is very strong, and seems to be growing, especially as more fans are getting on board with reading comics digitally. So when JManga announced that they would be bringing representatives from major manga publishers like Shueisha, Shogakukan, Kodansha, Kadokawa Shoten and Futabasha to San Diego Comic-Con to present their plans and answer questions from fans, I knew I had to see what was up. I didn't get all my questions answered, but I found out enough to be very intrigued.
To kick things off, here's what was said and heard at the JManga panel at Comic-Con.
JMANGA PANEL AT SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2011: INTRODUCTIONS
The moderator / host for the panel was Saki Miata, a Japanese-American actress and announcer with credits including the infamous "Chinpokomon" episode of South Park. Also present at the panel were:
- Robert Newman (JManga) – Business Manager, Business Development and Operational Planning
- Osamu (Sam) Yoshiba (Kodansha) - Executive Director, International Business Division (Including Kodansha Comics USA)
- Toshitaka Tanaka (Shogakukan) - Manager, Internet Strategy and Business Development Division
- Motoi Suzuki (Shueisha) - Section Chief, Digital Business Division
- Kouji Shimano (Futabasha) - Chief Director, Comic Editorial Department
- Naobumi Ashi (Kadokawa Shoten) - Manager, Digital Contents Department
- Hisashi Sasaki (Shueisha), Deputy Director of Shonen Manga Group, former Editor-in-Chief of Weekly Shonen Jump
Robert Newman (JManga): Thank you for coming today. This panel is a rare opportunity for you to meet the Japanese publishers.