Manga Publishers Look To Cross Borders With Digital Distribution

By Deb­o­ra Aoki | Pub­lish­ers Week­ly

Shonen Jump 130715

Char­ac­ters © 2013 respec­tive cre­ators

Over the last two months, two major comics and ani­me shows gave North Amer­i­can and Japan­ese man­ga pub­lish­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to announce new titles, and show­case some new direc­tions in their dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing strate­gies. Some pub­lish­ers made moves to expand simul­ta­ne­ous Japanese/English lan­guage releas­es and their over­all dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing reach beyond North Amer­i­ca, while oth­ers opt­ed to aban­don their pro­pri­etary apps in favor of dis­trib­ut­ing their titles via ePub for­mats or oth­er dig­i­tal store­fronts like Comixol­o­gy. Despite the clo­sure of JMan­ga ealier this year, dig­i­tal con­tin­ues to be a major con­cern. In the past, Japan­ese pub­lish­ers were crit­i­cized for drag­ging their feet on dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing, but things are chang­ing, and they’re chang­ing fast—and by and large, these changes are being dri­ven by the demand for Japan­ese man­ga con­tent from the West­ern mar­ket. Here are five note­wor­thy trends from the last month or so.

Shon­en Jump Expands To UK, Aus­tralia and More

At Ani­me Expo in Los Ange­les, Viz Media and its Japan­ese par­ent com­pa­ny Shueisha announced that the Eng­lish edi­tion of dig­i­tal man­ga mag­a­zine Week­ly Shon­en Jump would now be avail­able in the Unit­ed King­dom, Ire­land, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, and South Africa in addi­tion to North Amer­i­ca. This means that the lat­est chap­ters of pop­u­lar (and much pirat­ed) man­ga titles like One Piece and Naru­to are now avail­able in Eng­lish on same day that the print edi­tion of Week­ly Shon­en Jump hits the news­stands in Japan.

Accord­ing to Hisas­hi Sasa­ki, head of shon­en man­ga pub­lish­ing for Shueisha, this move toward mak­ing Shon­en Jump man­ga avail­able both dig­i­tal­ly and legal­ly in more ter­ri­to­ries is some­thing that has been in the works for quite some time. One thing that has held back Viz and Shueisha in the past was deal­ing with pos­si­ble con­flicts for these titles with licen­sors in oth­er coun­tries.

Viz Media already dis­trib­utes Shon­en Jump titles in the UK via Viz Media UK/Simon and Shus­ter, and in Australia/New Zealand via Mad­men Enter­tain­ment, so these ter­ri­to­ries were rel­a­tive­ly easy to add to the mix. How­ev­er, for now, read­ers in these coun­tries will only be able to sub­scribe to and read Week­ly Shon­en Jump via Apple’s iOS newsstand—it is not avail­able on the web or on oth­er eRead­er plat­forms, or at least not yet.

Ini­tial response from read­ers in oth­er coun­tries has been pos­i­tive, ““We’ve been hear­ing from read­ers who’ve told us, ‘Final­ly!’ and ‘I can’t wait to read it,’” said Eric Eber­hardt, Viz Media’s senior mar­ket­ing man­ag­er for dig­i­tal man­ga. How­ev­er, a few weeks into the roll­out, Eber­hardt also con­fessed that new sub­scrip­tions from these coun­tries have not been com­ing in as fast as Viz Media and Shueisha would like. “It’s off to a good start, but we need it to be even bet­ter,” he said. “It took us a while to make North Amer­i­can fans aware of this. Now, with these new coun­tries, we’re almost start­ing from scratch again.”

Hop­ing to boost read­er­ship in the UK, Viz will be pro­mot­ing Week­ly Shon­en Jump at events like Hyper Japan in Lon­don, MCM Expo, and in Japan­ese pop cul­ture mag­a­zines like MyM Mag­a­zine and NEO . They are also plan­ning pro­mo­tions with Mad­men Enter­tain­ment to raise aware­ness of Week­ly Shon­en Jump in Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

While Viz is field­ing requests from fans in oth­er coun­tries who also want their fix of Week­ly Shon­en Jump (includ­ing Brazil, Mex­i­co, Indone­sia), it’s not as sim­ple to just flick the switch and make this dig­i­tal man­ga mag­a­zine avail­able in every coun­try in the world. Besides licens­ing con­sid­er­a­tions, Viz and Shueisha also need to take into account what’s con­sid­ered to be appropriate/inappropriate lev­els of vio­lence for kids/teen read­ers in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. This is already a fac­tor in North Amer­i­ca where comics that were cre­at­ed for younger read­ers in Japan have been tagged for old­er teens (exam­ple: Case Closed by Gosho Aoya­ma).

The oth­er coun­try that won’t be read­ing the Eng­lish edi­tion of Week­ly Shon­en Jump online? Sur­pris­ing­ly, Japan. In Japan, dig­i­tal is still a very small por­tion of the pub­lish­ing market—roughly only 4–5% of the gross sales of books (although 80% of those sales come from man­ga.) Giv­en that there’s still a rel­a­tive­ly healthy mar­ket for mag­a­zines and graph­ic nov­els in print, when asked why WSJ wouldn’t be offered in Japan, Sasa­ki sim­ply replied, “We don’t need to.”

Kodan­sha Aban­dons iPad App for Man­ga In ePub

Kodan­sha Comics announced that they would be aban­don­ing their pro­pri­etary iPad app, and move toward mak­ing a good chunk of their titles avail­able world­wide on ePub for­mats (via Apple iBook­store, Google Play, Ama­zon Kin­dle and Barnes and Noble Nook).

Attack on Titan

© Hajime Isaya­ma / KODANSHA

To kick things off, they’re offer­ing free dig­i­tal sam­plers of 19 titles, includ­ing a pre­view of Vin­land Saga, the much-antic­i­pat­ed his­tor­i­cal Viking adven­ture sto­ry by Mako­to Yukimu­ra that’s slat­ed for Fall 2013 release. Kodan­sha will be releas­ing the first vol­ume of Vin­land Saga in a hard­cov­er print edi­tion on the same day as the dig­i­tal release.

Kodan­sha also announced that they would be pub­lish­ing many of their upcom­ing titles day and date – that is, mak­ing them avail­able as print and dig­i­tal releas­es on the same day. This includes their ramped-up releas­es of this year’s break­out action/fantasy hit, Attack on Titan by Hajime Isaya­ma. Start­ing in August 2013, new vol­umes of Attack on Titan will be released month­ly until Kodan­sha Comics’ Eng­lish edi­tions catch up with the Japan­ese edi­tions in Jan­u­ary 2014.

Kodan­sha is also ramp­ing up releas­es of anoth­er fan favorite, Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima, with two new dig­i­tal vol­umes released per month, and one new print vol­ume per month. The one title that won’t be includ­ed in Kodansha’s new dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing pro­gram? Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi, the clas­sic best­seller that defined the sho­jo mag­i­cal girl genre, for rea­sons that Kodansha’s reps would not divulge.

Nev­er­the­less, this switch to ePub for­mat is a huge devel­op­ment for the US sub­sidiary of one of Japan’s largest pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies, because many of these titles will be avail­able to fans in all coun­tries (not just North Amer­i­ca) with many of their hottest titles avail­able day and date, some­thing that only a hand­ful of oth­er man­ga pub­lish­ers are offer­ing to date.

Sev­en Seas, Udon Offer Man­ga and More On Comixol­o­gy

At San Diego Com­ic-Con, Sev­en Seas Man­ga and Udon Enter­tain­ment announced their new part­ner­ships with dig­i­tal comics dis­trib­u­tor Comixol­o­gy to offer some of their licensed Japan­ese man­ga and art book con­tent, in addi­tion to their orig­i­nal comics prop­er­ties. These new part­ner­ships will help Comixol­o­gy beef up their man­ga offer­ings and allow small­er pub­lish­ers like Sev­en Seas and Udon to enter the dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing mar­ket with­out the expense of devel­op­ing and main­tain­ing their own pro­pri­etary apps.

© Fujio F. Fujiko Productions

© Fujio F. Fujiko Pro­duc­tions

Com­ing Soon: Tezu­ka Dig­i­tal Man­ga And Dorae­mon

One fac­tor that keeps dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing of man­ga from ramp­ing up faster in North Amer­i­ca is the high anx­i­ety from Japan­ese licen­sors about the pos­si­bil­i­ty that pub­lish­ing any con­tent dig­i­tal­ly will inevitably lead to this con­tent being uploaded and post­ed on pirate sites. Get­ting the dig­i­tal rights for titles that are already licensed for print release is not a giv­en, and some­times com­pounds the com­plex­i­ty of already dif­fi­cult nego­ti­a­tions with licen­sors in Japan.

But that doesn’t mean that things are at a stand­still. New play­ers from Japan debuted prod­ucts or made announce­ments at Ani­me Expo and Com­ic-Con, hop­ing to make inroads with West­ern read­ers by offer­ing new and clas­sic comics con­tent in new ways.

Dig­i­tal Man­ga Pub­lish­ing announced that they are secur­ing the dig­i­tal rights to pub­lish the entire cat­a­log of man­ga by Osamu Tezu­ka, includ­ing titles that have been pub­lished in print by oth­er North Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers, and titles that have yet to be released in Eng­lish like Rain­bow Para­keet and Jun­gle Emper­or. Few oth­er details were offered at their pan­el at Ani­me Expo, such as release dates, prices and a list of titles, but look for more news on this front in the months to come.

Voy­ager Japan, a mul­ti­me­dia pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny based in Tokyo, announced that they would be assist­ing Fujio F. Fujiko Pro­duc­tions in Japan with the upcom­ing release of clas­sic kids man­ga Dorae­mon in Eng­lish for Ama­zon Kin­dle, and pos­si­bly oth­er ePub for­mats in Fall 2013. This new edi­tion of the Dorae­mon comics will be in full-col­or, with new trans­la­tions by Alt­Japan, a man­ga and game trans­la­tion com­pa­ny head­ed up by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda, authors of Yokai Attack!.

© Fujio F. Fujiko Productions

© Fujio F. Fujiko Pro­duc­tions

While Dorae­mon is one of the most pop­u­lar and rec­og­niz­able ani­me and man­ga char­ac­ters in Japan, this robot cat from the future and his wacky gad­gets are almost unknown to read­ers in the West. Why? Because until now, the only Dorae­mon comics avail­able in Eng­lish were a hand­ful of bilin­gual Japanese/English comics pub­lished for the lan­guage learn­ing mar­ket, most­ly by Shogakukan.

Fujiko Pro­duc­tions cur­rent­ly plans to release all 45 vol­umes of Dorae­mon man­ga in Eng­lish as dig­i­tal-only releas­es at first, with pos­si­bly Span­ish releas­es to fol­low in 2014. Print-on-demand pub­lish­ing might fol­low if the dig­i­tal releas­es sell well. While details on price and tim­ing of the first release weren’t revealed, this announce­ment got many man­ga fans buzzing with antic­i­pa­tion, as this has long been one of the most request­ed titles.

Man­ga 2.5: Is Amer­i­ca Ready For High-Def Motion Man­ga?

Man­ga 2.5 hopes to intro­duce man­ga in Eng­lish to West­ern read­ers with high-def­i­n­i­tion motion comics sold via the Apple iTunes Movie Store. Man­ga 2.5 is a joint ven­ture between Hap­pinet, a “whole­saler of enter­tain­ment prod­ucts” like vend­ing machine cap­sule toys, video games and soft­ware and Los Ange­les-based Incep­tion Group, a “diver­si­fied media group spe­cial­iz­ing in pro­duc­tion, acqui­si­tion, and dis­tri­b­u­tion of motion pic­tures.”



For starters, they’re offer­ing Kara­suma Kyoko no Jiken­bo (The Case Files of Kara­suma Kyoko), a super­nat­ur­al detec­tive series by Ouji Hiroi and Yusuke Koza­ki and Myth­i­cal Detec­tive Loki by Saku­ra Kinoshi­ta for pur­chase or rent via Apple’s iTune Store and Ama­zon Instant Video. Each clip offers a full vol­ume of con­tent, rough­ly an hour or so long, with the man­ga re-for­mat­ted and ani­mat­ed with sound effects, opening/closing cred­its music, and Eng­lish voiceovers.

The upside to this approach is that these ani­mat­ed clips are eas­i­er to view on small­er for­mat screens like iPhones com­pared to full-size man­ga pages. How­ev­er, the main prob­lem that Man­ga 2.5 has right out of the gate is that their titles are sold along­side fea­ture-length, live-action and ani­mat­ed movies and TV shows. Some view­ers pur­chased these clips with the expec­ta­tion that they’d be like an ani­mat­ed movie or TV show, then post some neg­a­tive reviews on iTunes as a result. Man­ga 2.5 has the unen­vi­able task of try­ing to sell a prod­uct that’s more than a man­ga and less than an ani­me in a dig­i­tal mar­ket­place that isn’t equipped to show­case hybrid con­tent.

Oppor­tu­ni­ties, Chal­lenges For Man­ga Dig­i­tal Pub­lish­ing

So what’s on the hori­zon for dig­i­tal man­ga pub­lish­ing in North Amer­i­ca? Trends point to greater glob­al expan­sion, and pos­si­bly more pub­lish­ers mov­ing to offer their titles on con­tent-hub sites like Comixol­o­gy or via ePub dig­i­tal store­fronts rather than cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing their own pro­pri­etary apps.

There’s also a strong pos­si­bil­i­ty that more Japan­ese rights hold­ers will be reach­ing out direct­ly to West­ern dig­i­tal pub­lish­ers to get their comics trans­lat­ed and sold via store­fronts that are not sole­ly con­trolled by North Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers. For exam­ple, Ishi­mori Pro is con­tin­u­ing its rela­tion­ship with Comixol­o­gy, pub­lish­ing clas­sic titles by Shotaro Ishi­nomori like Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rid­er, with more to come in Fall 2013.

But will there ever be a one-stop shop for all man­ga titles in Eng­lish for dig­i­tal comics read­ers? Despite set­backs like the clo­sure of JMan­ga, there is demand, and it’s not just from read­ers in the U.S. and Cana­da. It’s up to Japan and their part­ners in North Amer­i­ca and beyond to make it hap­pen, because the rest of the world isn’t going to stand still and wait for them to fig­ure it out.

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Author: Rhonda 2.0

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