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JManga, the manga portal created by a group of 39 Japanese publishers to sell digital manga directly to consumers, officially launched yesterday. The site uses a points system to sell books — a buck gets you 100 points, with each volume costing 899 points or more. You can also buy individual chapters if you prefer, which is probably a nice way to preview something you aren’t sure about, and along those same lines, they’ve got a whole lot of free chapters available as well.
Several folks who know a lot more about manga than I do have taken a look at the site and posted their thoughts. Johanna Draper Carlson, for instance, points out that you can only buy points in $5, $10 and $25 increments, which probably isn’t a big deal for eventual heavy users of the site, but if you’re looking to just pop in and buy one or two volumes, you’ll end up spending more than needed. And since the site already has “print-level pricing,” that means casual users could end up paying more than they would off Amazon or at a local store. Points also expire after a year, which kinda sucks.
And David Cabrera points out that you aren’t actually “buying” anything; the site uses a Flash-based interface and doesn’t allow you to actually download volumes: “In exchange for that high price, Jmanga offers no actual advantages,” he says on his blog. “You can’t actually download the comic– it must be read at jmanga.com and at jmanga.com only– so it’s hard to say that you even really ‘own’ the book you bought. If jmanga were to ever go down, and it’s hardly guaranteed that this site will stick around long, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of the stuff you’d paid for.”
Ed Sizemore, who reviews Manga at Johanna’s site, kicked the tires a bit on the reader: “It has a simple interface and good high-resolution images,” he says. “There is a control panel in the bottom right-hand corner. You can select from one of three viewing options: two pages per screen, single page, or panel-by-panel (although there are some books that don’t have the panel-by-panel option). Once nice feature is that when you come to a two-page spread, the view automatically shows the full illustration regardless of the viewing mode selected. If you are in one-page or panel-by-panel, the view will return to that mode when you advance to the next screen.”
One of the positives several folks have noted is the inclusion of manga that either hasn’t made its way to the United States or is out-of-print because its American publisher is no longer around (like Tokyopop and DC’s CMX imprint). “JManga launched with a library of over 100 titles — a digital catalog that dwarfs any individual American publisher’s,” wrote Kate Dacey. “With so many different kinds of manga available on the site, even the most discerning fan is likely to find something that appeals …” The folks behind the site have said they plan to have 10,000 manga online by 2013.
Dacey also notes that some of the translations are awkward, but ends her piece by saying “I’m willing to give JManga a chance to work out the kinks — to develop smarter pricing strategies, expand their catalog, and work on the quality of their translation — before I declare the project a failure. Whatever the initial limitations of the service, I’m excited to see old favorites return from licensing oblivion, and pleased to see so many titles for adult readers. And c’mon… how could you not try a service that offered you stories about yakuza gastronomes?”