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The March 11 earthquake and the tsunami and nuclear disaster that followed have had all sorts of repercussions for Japan, and while manga and anime are not as serious as the humanitarian problems, it’s interesting to see the industry adjusting quickly to maintain continuity for its customers.
Ayano Yamane, creator of the Finder series, blogged and Tweeted recently that the earthquake caused serious enough damage to several paper mills to put them out of commission, resulting in a paper shortage. Meanwhile, NHK World reports that the Japanese Printing Ink Makers Association has asked newspaper publishers to reduce their output, in terms of both number of pages and number of colors, because damage to several chemical plants has left them short of key ingredients.
Combine that with disruptions to the transportation network due to the disaster, and you have a potentially dire scenario for the manga industry. Manga publishers are responding by putting all or part of their weekly magazines online, for free. Shogakukan will post two issues of Weekly Shonen Sunday online, and Kodansha is putting up a number of different titles. Shueisha put up the manga sections of Weekly Shonen Jump last week, but in a Windows-only format; they have now repeated them on another website that allows non-Windows users to read them. (Shueisha and Shogakukan are the parent companies of the American publisher Viz.)
So far, all the issues that have been posted have been from the past two weeks, so it makes sense to make them available—the work has been done and paid for, and the sales are lost anyway, so putting them online keeps readers from falling away. The question that remains is whether the system can repair itself and print publication can resume in the near future, and if not, whether the publishers will continue their online program or abandon it for another strategy.