JManga Beta: Legends of the True Savior or Chapter of Death in Love?

Back in 2007 we ran a panel called Fan Scanlations Stole My Innocence at MangaNEXT where one of the main topics was what would be the impact of the growing popularity of fan scan aggregator sites. In 2007 the major consensus was that print media had much less to fear from the Internet due to the appeal of physical media books to the average consumer. Here in 2011 that philosophy has clearly been proven wrong as all the major publishers in Japan and America are struggling to find a way to get a working business model around manga online. Like the anime industry there seems to be money to be made but no one is exactly sure how to do so in a legal manner. So when Crunchyroll, who is one of the few companies that is making money off of legal streaming, announced that they had teamed up with a consortium on Japanese manga publishers to create their own manga portal it seemed like they might have stuck gold twice. There was a good deal of buzz around their site but not a lot of details. Now that the curtain has been lifted off of the mysterious project the question on everyone lips is will this be the site to show everyone how to market their manga online.

JManga has been a highly anticipated project for a community that is increasingly getting their media online and in a streaming format. This isn’t the first of these sites launched for manga, but it has an edge by not being beholden to one or two publishers. With the added wonder of having titles that will never see an official U.S. book release being the real clincher. The site launched on August 17th in an open beta, but it should have tweaked itself a little more beforehand.

If you look at site it has some real promise. There is a mixture of manga titles from the very well-known like Bleach and Ouran High School Host Club along with obscure seinen and josei titles like Marina Mystery File and Urameshiya. It also has titles that were canceled or have gone out of print like Hitohira and Mirai Nikki. As someone who always wanted to finish Hitohira this is amazing. For an opening volley of titles it is quite remarkable. They are even teasing that there are many more equally diverse titles on the way.  The thing is what is promised and what is actually there are two very different animals. Many of the titles advertise more books than are available. Some titles are nothing more than place holders with a short description. Other have some previews but the text is still in Japanese. I am a little worried about some of the work due to little warning signs. The Fate/Stay Night manga description boasts to be about the adventures of Shiro and Saver. Unless it is the secret unveiling of a manga about the prototype Type-Moon adventure then someone goofed on the name of easily the most recognizable character in the series.

It is all rather misleading, people think there are all these great series available because you click on a genre. But a lot of the manga on the site have nothing beyond the free preview which can vary wildly from 5 pages to 53 and anywhere in between or above should you actually click through on the title you are interested in. Even most of the big shonen titles aren’t available; though, this is less surprising with VIZ having launched their own site. Some genres have more than others, like almost none of the josei is really available yet. I’d like to see something so you can add things to a wish list or bookmark them if you haven’t bought them yet especially with so many titles not actually purchasable. Back to the previews for the a moment, I like the weekly newsletter with some titles, it is a great way to quickly check things out. However, the Sherlock Holmes (yes, they are trying really hard to make me love them) sneak peek is 5 pages long, I had no idea if it was something I was interested in. Manga’s very decompressed storytelling makes having anything less than a full chapter preview practically useless.

The manga reader on the site is very professional. It has three ways of letting you read manga to adapt to your screen. You can either view two pages or one page at a time and there is also a guided view. The guided view jumps from panel to panel with a very cinematic feel to it. It also helps on smaller monitors or portable devices. The ability to switch back and forth between English and Japanese on the fly lets you do is very innovative. This lets JManga do whatever they want with translating the sound effects while making sure you can still see the original sound effects at the same time. It is also a handy feature for anyone with some Japanese reading skills. A smart use of the digital format. While the reader loaded up quickly on my computer at home for some reason it took 10 to 20 minutes to load a single chapter on my computer at work. I am sure the security setup at work that was causing the slow down but it did make the site almost totally unusable.

The reader for reading online feels competent though perhaps a little laggy at times especially trying to go into full screen mode. However, I’m not convinced that isn’t just my computer as I have this happen on other sites of the same nature. But that really just goes to show the high quality of the product, when you zoom everything stays very crisp and clean. The guided view works pretty well but doesn’t give you a panned out shot to see bigger images either before or after you’ve read the dialogue which takes away from the experience. Single page and spread views work just fine. You can also toggle between Japanese and English where available.

I wanted to originally check out the site on my iPod touch and have Narutaki view it on the web site and then have us exchange experiences. The problem is that the is no iOS app yet. From what I understand the reason is that the pricing scheme on JManga is so ridiculously complex Apple will not support it with their new in app purchasing rules. I think that more than anything else sums up how broken the points system use to buy manga on JManga is. Points only make sense to me if you can go to a store to a buy cards for a point system like with any video game system but that is not going to be happening any time soon with JManga. Plus no one likes to have to play Tetris with their point system. I know why they do it but I don’t have to like it. Also having to pay a subscription fee just to but manga in the first place is ludicrous to me. It is another barrier in the way of getting people into the idea of buying chapters and book ala cart. The Viz site does it in a much more elegant manner.

I saw someone mention that a points system will help when they take the site international, that is the first good reason I’ve seen for it. I can accept this if JManga does something more coherent with their pricing structure. Letting the publishers set their own prices is fine, but there needs to be some sort of guideline for it. Example, having a chapter be 190 points from this book and 248 points from another is just asinine. Also many of the whole volumes that were available were 899 points, really guys? Why is it not an even 900? I would suggest a structure like: one chapter can cost between 0-200 points in increments of 50. This is more streamlined, but still has wiggle room and makes a lot more sense with having to buy points in specific amounts. But those amounts need to go down, way down, for this to be a reasonable way to buy manga. These titles are not like some e-books that you can download and keep, these manga are only available using the JManga site so you don’t have a copy of your own. That makes these prices even less reasonable with some some titles listed at 1198 points. Though granted the fact that many titles will never be in book form makes that sting a little less. Personally, I’d rather see two systems: a pay per volume/chapter and a subscription unlimited option like that of Crunchyroll.

I don’t want to be merciless but this simply will not do. The point of this site is to provide a legal alternative to countless scanlation aggregator sites. We all know these sites are like a hydra. If you chop off one head two more will just take it’s place. OneManga might be dead but countless other site have sprung to fill the void. The only way to prevent these sites from regenerating is to give people an industry friendly alternative. As JManga stands it is a byzantine labyrinth with prices that are all over the place, an arcane pricing system, an unfinished layout, and a locked down format. At the same time I can go to a certain iOS app and look at the titles from 3 of the biggest scanlation aggregator sites. There are over 2,182 titles on one these sites alone. They are all free and you can download them to your portable device. There is no way that kids already using site like these are going to come over to JManga and pay to read titles when everything is far more convenient and free with the dark side of the force. It is my humble belief that the only way to compete with these sites it to take the model that Crunchyroll has already shown us. A monthly subscription free that gives you unlimited online access to all the titles on the site with a simple universal pay model that will let you download the titles you buy to read offline. You can throw in ads like on the pirate sites as well. In my opinion anything else is doomed to go the way of the dodo. The anime industry has learned that the digital age means you have to sadly throw away your old business model. The manga industry will learn this lesson too soon enough. They just have to choose if they want to learn it the easy way or the hard way. There is still time for JManga to go down the easy path before it becomes a curious footnote in the history of manga.

What this site needs most is uniformity! A real system that is simple and streamlined otherwise not only is it harder on the customer, it is harder on the teams trying to juggle it all. Books are something very dear to me, but I am trying to give this digital content a fair shake. And as someone who doesn’t read scanlations, I want JManga to work double so I can get at those more niche manga titles. There is a foundation here, a good design and layout, good titles on their way, but they need to fix things fast. That is why this beta and any and all feedback is so important, we can help make JManga better by being honest.

Reverse Thieves Title Wishlist for JManga: Giant Killing, Swan, Team Medical Dragon, Vinland Saga, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Urusei Yatsura

One thought on “JManga Beta: Legends of the True Savior or Chapter of Death in Love?

  1. OtakuAnthony says:

    As someone who reads scans (not that I like to but I know in my heart some of the stuff that I read will never get an official English translation) I do want to see JManga work.

    There are three ways that I can see the price go for JManga.

    1. The CR model (x amount of dollars per month to read what ever you want)
    2. The Tier system (say $6 to read one book a month, $10 for two books, etc)
    3. A-la-Carte style system (a modified tier system) in which you can pay a specific amount to just to view a specific book from a title or titles each month (example $5 for each book that you want to read etc.)

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