A lot of Japanese companies are putting their manga online for an English-speaking audience. This is a wonderful trend, but it’s bittersweet for me. On one hand, online distro is great for manga too niche or risque for US print publishers. But on the other hand, I just can’t accept the “streaming only”, “no-ownership” way most companies are doing their digital manga.
Let’s take a look at J-Manga, one of the biggest disappointments. In their system, you pay cash to buy “points.” With these points, you can pay to put chapters or volumes on your “shelf,” and read them online. “Streaming manga” might sound weird, but it’s basically the same thing as streaming video sites. You can only read the manga you’ve payed for through your web browser, and maybe some mobile apps in the future. There are no downloads, and no true ownership. You only pay for access rights, which can be revoked at any time for all sorts of reasons (their TOS reserves the right to ban users for a number of arbitrary reasons, from “causing embarrassment” to the company). If any of JManga’s JP publisher partners change their minds and take down titles, you will lose permanently lose stuff you’ve payed for. This will happen; there are already plenty of Crunchyroll shows that’ve been taken down as the licensors go elsewhere. Not even just because shows are licensed for R1; JP publishers seem to remove things on random whims (No idea what happened to Book of Bantorra, not like I care much). The publisher consortium providing JManga’s content have shown an especially large amount of disunity and grumbling.
I love the idea of digital content distributed via the internet. And I’m quite glad to pay for it; it’s not just a matter of wanting everything free. My folder of “digital files I’ve payed to download” is 21.9 GB. But the trend toward access rights, instead of ownership, is disturbing. I don’t want to be at the mercy of some corporate gatekeeper. Progress should mean consumers gaining rights, not signing them away. Even beyond principle, a DRMed market is still a huge headache that customers shouldn’t have to put up with. So when I buy manga online, I only buy it as DRM-free downloads. It’s not like that’s a totally unrealistic, utopian dream…GEN Manga sells their issues as a DRM-free PDF, while both BOST TV and Crunchyroll used to sell DRM-free anime. Every single file in that 21 GB folder is DRM-free. And until the digital manga market evolves into an acceptable form, I’ll be waiting for it. In the mean time, I have tons of manga on paper to catch up on.