Now that Jmanga.com has opened up its site for all users, digital manga in English has taken another step towards its Utopian ideal. It’s not the most perfect site, but Jmanga does have some edge against competitors. Let’s take a look at where the site is at its best and worst.
- A point system that doesn’t require crazy math (if you’re living in America): I know everyone hates the point system. Why can’t we just pay in dollars? I totally agree, but my boyfriend (who works in Facebook gaming) explained the benefit of a point system to me from Jmanga’s point of view. If Jmanga does intend to go global, it’s much easier for those who manage the site to set up their own currency in order to provide for multiple real-world currencies. That way a credit card transaction will automatically convert the price of the points to the currency of the buyer, but every buyer will get the same amount of points. Lucky for Americans, the price of 100 points equals $1, so we don’t have to worry about doing multiple calculations to figure out the price of a book. The only downsides to the point system so far is that there are so few options for buying points and that Jmanga hasn’t really created discount bundles. (I.E. paying $25 for 3000 points, etc.)
- Manga that no one really wants to print (or re-print) in English: This is clearly the best thing about Jmanga so far. My favorite being Ekiben Hitoritabi, which is about traveling to different parts of Japan via train to eat bento sold at Japanese train stations. I’ve already bought the first volume and devoured it! (I love cooking and I used to make bento for myself and others everyday.) On top of that, there are plenty of Tokyopop titles and CMX titles which I know will bring a lot of joy to anyone who was following Pet Shop of Horrors or Sgt. Frog. (Myself included.) This is the part of the site that will probably be the most successful unless they start simultaneous releases of Naruto or One Piece.
- Jweekly magazine: It’s the little things that help along a site that needs to be adopted by a large number of users in order to be successful. Thus, distributing Jweekly magazine with full chapter previews is a plus, especially when most of the previews are currently limited to a few pages each. I think the magazine idea will be more successful if they showcase different chapters of manga in every issue to whet the appetite of readers rather than serialize a chapter of Naruto each week.
- An easy-to-use website & registration/payment system: It’s fair to say that Square Enix’s complicated digital manga portal is probably losing the company a lot of potential business. In comparison, using Jmanga.com is a breeze. Setting up an account and a subscription (including the credit card transaction) was super-simple. No hoops to jump through at all. Even when you purchase a manga, you can take the option of reading it now or moving on and reading it later. Sure, the site could use a pay by Paypal option, but I imagine that will come in sooner or later. The only major design issue I have is that the menu bar on the top is extremely repetitive. It would be more helpful to put up a button on top for the FAQ or the user guide rather than three or four different ways to browse their manga selections.
- A decent subscription model: I know a lot of people dislike the $10 subscription that Jmanga has set up so far, but it has it’s hidden benefits. Subscribers get 1500 points when they first sign up and 1050 points each month afterward. That’s not enough to get you two whole volumes on your first month unless you buy more points, but it is enough to get you an extra volume on your third month with some left over (assuming all of these volumes are priced at 899 points and that you don’t get extra points.) So you do accumulate extra points to buy more manga, even if it is a somewhat slow process. And you can easily opt out of the $10 subscription at any time by going to your personal page and switching back to a free subscription.
- It’s pricier than what you can buying printed volumes online: I know a lot of people have been saying: “but some of this manga you can’t get in print or in English!” That isn’t really the point. Most people will be willing to pay more for those manga, but if Bleach or any other already published manga is more expensive than its print version, it defeats the point of buying it on a digital medium where you don’t really own it. (Especially when Vizmanga.com offers it up for cheaper.) The only way you’re going lose a printed copy of a manga is if it’s sold off, stolen, burned or otherwise made unreadable. But digital copies could be taken away from you whenever the publisher or provider wants. Thus, why would people want to pay more for something so impermanent? Plus, I’m a strong believer in the idea that if you lower the price point, the more people will buy what you’re selling. These are tough economic times and so a lot of people are attracted to getting entertainment for cheap. Lowering prices might not attract the pirates, but it will definitely attract the readers who’ve been holding out until they could get a manga for $4.99 or less. It’s simple economics, more people are more likely to buy something if it’s at a price that they feel reflects the worth of the product. If Jmanga can slash prices low enough to make people not think twice about buying a manga off their site, a la 99 cent songs on iTunes, I bet they’ll see a decent spike in paying customers.
- You can only read it on a computer: I’m sure this is something that Jmanga will address in the future, but it’s important to ALL digital manga providers that their content is available on just about every kind of e-reader, smart phone or gadget that users can connect to the internet with. Unfortunately, no digital manga provider has accomplished this yet and the process of getting manga on more than just one platform has been slower than molasses. It doesn’t help that both Apple and Kindle have taken it upon themselves to become literary gatekeepers and censor anything they find unseemly. The faster Jmanga gets this process going, the better.
- This is nitpicking, but the translations, lettering and editing could definitely use work: One of the first previews I read on Jmanga was Milk Morinaga’s Girlfriends. I hadn’t read it before and I am far from fluent in Japanese, but I could tell the adaptation was way too stiff and clunky. It was a little disappointing because one of my biggest problems with the vast majority of scanlations is that their adaptions are difficult to read. Erica Friedman confirmed this on Twitter by comparing it to the quality of Yuri scanlations. (The scanlations had a better translation.) Ekiben Hitoritabi has a decent adaptation, but some serious lettering problems (no hyphens, text floating out of the word balloons, no ellipses) in the first chapter that only improves every once in awhile during the rest of the volume. It’s not absolutely necessary to hyphenate a word on the syllables, but it sure looks a lot better. It also could really stand to have some translation notes when the main character rattles off train histories or opens up a bento. (Another thing that is occasionally remedied in the margins of the manga, but not always.) I know translation notes are not something that not a lot of manga publishers do in the U.S., but foodie/train manga like Ekiben Hitoritabi needs to get that kind of treatment. I doubt a serious foodie, let alone a normal reader, can get all the Japanese food names, not to mention all the talk about trains!
Other than that, I’m having problems coming up with anything big to complain about. Sure, it would be great if their zoom function worked better. Yeah, it’d be great if they had more selection. But this is a growing site. Aside from the issues mentioned above, I’m feeling mostly satisfied with Jmanga’s launch. (I was initially skeptical, but the site grew on me after a few days.)
What do you think about Jmanga? What are your favorite things about it and what are the site’s biggest flaws to you?