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San Diego Comic-Con 2011
JManga Industry Panel

by Gia Manry,

Moderator Saki Miyata opened the panel for JManga— a new joint endeavor from Japanese publishers to release manga digitally in English —with a presentation on the manga business in Japan. Manga makes up 25% of Japan's publishing industry and is targeted at a variety of demographics, in comparison to American comics which are geared more towards "shonen" superhero and action titles. Manga is frequently used as a source material for adaptations and inspires subcultures such as cosplay and itasha.

The presentation then addressed the decreasing sales of manga in the U.S. despite a growing number of fans (based on the increasing attendance of conventions like Anime Expo). The decrease is related to the limited number of titles and information about them, along with licensing lag and piracy. The presentation ended with a trailer promoting the JManga service and its features, including guided view, language selection, interviews with manga creators, and a wide variety of titles to read. The site will launch in August.

Next, Miyata introduced the panelists, who all work in the editorial or digital departments of their respective publishers:

Sam Yoshiba - Kodansha Toshitaka Tanaka - Shogakukan Motoi Suzuki - Shueisha Kōji Shimano - Futabashi Naobumi Ashi - Kadokawa Sasaki Hisashi - Shueisha (Shonen Manga)

Yoshiba answered Miyata's first question about the creation of JManga. Yoshiba talked through its origins in the Digital Comics Association of Japan, which consists of 39 publishers, and the decline of foreign manga sales due to the loss of licensees and Borders. The companies believe that JManga will reverse this trend by releasing manga in the U.S. faster and more comprehensively.

Miyata then asked Tanaka about the goals of JManga. Tanaka revealed that despite the fact that the U.S. has a significantly larger population than Japan, Japan has four times as many book stores as the U.S. JManga's goal is to give readers in the United States the opportunity that the Japanese have, to read a wide variety of titles.

Next down the line came Suzuki, who revealed some of what users can expect to see on JManga. The site will use some social networking features that users should be familiar with, as well as original content, custom wallpapers, and the ability to communicate with others about the works available on the site.

shimano spoke a bit more about the original content, such as interviews with the authors, as a way of connecting the works' creators to their readers. As far as interaction, there's an "SMS messaging" service that allows users to ask authors questions that they can ask. The relationship between editors and authors is very close, so the editors will also offer some back stories. This content will only be available on JManga, and the distance between the authors and the readers "will be zero," according to Miyata.

After some more general statements about the site, Miyata opened a question-and-answer session. The first question was about the ability to flip back and forth between Japanese and English and it was revealed that this will only be available for some titles. The next question related to the cost to use JManga: prices have not been decided yet but there will be a lot of free content. This will vary from publiher to publisher.

Another attendee asked whether readers would be able to purchase print versions of manga via JManga. There will be links on the site to other places to buy them, such as Viz's store. The goal is to create an "all-inclusive" service for users on a wide variety of devices as well as print.

The audience booed the next question, which was about what value JManga will offer over fan translations. The answer: that JManga has a responsibility to the authors of the manga and their creations, to keep their vision intact, which is the value over fan translations. Additionally, the site will have the major titles, but their mission is also to bring over the lesser-known titles, which fans won't be able to get anywhere else (except Japan). The site will release a lot of content that most of this audience hasn't heard of, and will attempt to close the gap between the readers, the artists, and the publishers, so the offer of those works and that communication are additional values.

Next came a question about manga on mobile devices; the platform is designed to be enjoyed on whatever platform users prefer, so mobile apps are definitely in the works, although the program will only be available via the regular (non-mobile) website at launch.

The final question related to problems in spelling and grammar in past official manga releases; some of JManga's releases will be reworked versions to improve the quality. Fans can also submit their own ideas about the translations, since it's so much easier to rework digital releases than print ones.

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