Comics are huge in Japan, but webcomics are not: People read manga on paper or on their cell phones, but so far, webcomics don’t seem to be a big part of the mix. That may be changing, however, as the publisher Gentosha recently announced that it would distribute its manga online in seven different languages. Depending on how the releases are structured, that could mean that fans no longer have to wait for their manga fix.
Gentosha isn’t some little start-up, either; their properties include Rozen Maiden, the favorite manga of Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso, and the popular boys-love manga Gravitation. With creators like Peach-Pit and Kei Toume in their inventory, they are positioned to do quite well if they can make this online distribution work.
But can they? Gentosha’s first experiment in this realm is the now-defunct web magazine Genzo, which suspended publication late last year. The model was kind of weird, and not like anything I have seen elsewhere: You download an executable file to read sample pages, and if you like the manga, you pay a fee to read the entire issue. Although publication has been suspended, all the back issues are up on the site, and in the interests of journalism, I tried to download the July 2005 issue, which is free. Alas, the application wouldn’t open—I’m guessing it doesn’t work on Macs, which is a bummer.
However, I can see why this model would fail. Downloading a .exe file, even with my computer-whiz husband at my elbow, gives me the willies. Why not put free samples online with a “buy this book” button next to them?
In the print realm, Gentosha and Tokyopop recently published the manga Gravitation EX simultaneously in the U.S. and Japan. There’s an advantage to the publisher to doing this: It cuts down on losses to scanlators, fans who buy the books in Japanese, translate them into English and other languages, retouch the files, and scan them in on the web. While some creators and publishers regard this as piracy, others acknowledge that it’s not costing them much if the book isn’t in English anyway, and scanlations help build buzz for a title—and help guide publishers to books worth licensing. Most scanlators will take down a title once it is licensed in their language. As they often are working on several titles at a time, scanlation sites also serve as informal anthologies, where readers might come for one title but stay to sample several others. In other words, free advertising.
Still, many readers would prefer a “legitimate” site that pays royalties to creators and allows hassle-free downloads. Netcomics, which also has a large library, has been making that work for manhwa (Korean comics). It will be interesting to see what Gentosha has up its sleeve.