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Manga creator Ken Akamatsu (Negima, Love Hina) has been pioneering an interesting business model: Putting out-of-print manga online, for free, as PDFs with no copy protection. The site, J-Comi, is supported by ads, and Akamatsu put his money where his mouth is by posting all 14 volumes of Love Hina on the site, which is still in beta.
Last week, Akamatsu announced that he is working with Google to develop a comics reader that will track readers’ location and interests and deliver targeted ads. That’s actually not such great news for readers—comics viewers seldom work as smoothly as a PDF, they won’t allow the comics to be downloaded to an iPad or other device, and everyone hates ads—but I guess you have to pay the bills somehow.
What makes this site a big deal is the names attached: Akamatsu has persuaded two of the biggest manga publishers in Japan, Kodansha and Shueisha, to play along. When the second beta test period begins, on January 11, the offerings will include Belmonde Le VisiteuR, from Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, which is also the home of the blockbusters Naruto and Bleach, as well as Hōkago Wedding (Afterschool Wedding), a previously unpublished 50-page story, and Kōtsū Jiko Kanteinin Tamaki Rinichirō (Rinichirō Tamaki, Traffic Accident Investigator), an older series from Shueisha’s Super Jump.
Akamatsu’s plans also include finding a way to allow readers to post comments alongside the comments (this sounds vaguely like Graphic.ly), which would allow fans to do their own translations right on the site.