Six of Japan’s most prominent manga publishers were on hand at the San Diego Comic-con International to announce the launch of, an online portal offering access to thousands of manga titles unseen in North America, beginning in August for the U.S. market. The site will offer mostly free access to a wide variety of manga as well as feature content and will eventually target a larger international audience as well.

The 39 publishers that make up the Japanese Digital Comics Association have organized as an effort to address declining sales of manga in the U.S. and in Japan. Jmanga will offer online access to a wide variety of manga published by the publishers that make up the JDCA, offering an online manga viewer, multiple languages, search by publisher, magazine and year; as well as merchandise, features, social media, manga history and commentary and more. But the site is also clearly an effort to confront pirate manga scanlation sites that attract millions of fans each month by illegally aggregating thousands of manga scanlations—illegally posted scans of print manga translated by manga fans. Jmanga is an industry effort to attract fans to a legitimate source for manga as well as contact with their favorite creators.

Indeed, business manager Robert Newman noted that while U.S. manga sales have declined by as much 50% since sales peaked in 2007, attendance at manga conventions and fan shows continue to show strong growth. Newman said the decline was due to several factors—scanlations included—among them, too few new titles, limited manga information in English, difficulty finding relevant works and a licensing process that is long and expensive. While Newman said the site will be mostly free to use, details of pricing are still undecided. He said that “lots of content will be free and some things that offer some depth may cost something. Ultimately the site’s mission is to promote manga culture.”

The site is designed to allow fans to read manga while online. But it will also offer links to all of the member publisher sites and allow fans to buy print titles as well as merchandise. In June 2010 the Japanese Digital Comics Association announced that they intended to step up efforts to fight illegal scanlation sites. Japanese publishers have long been criticized for dragging their feet on offering fans convenient alternatives to scanlation sites. Many publishers and even many fans—at the panel, the hall lustily booed a fan that said he read manga on scanlation sites—believe that a new generation of manga fans have grown up reading manga online for free and undermining sales of print manga in bookstores. In fact, sales of manga have been declining in Japan for years--manga is a $5 billion business in Japan compared to about $115 million market in the U.S.—and it seems Japanese publishers believe the time is right to act more proactively to recruit new readers as well as offer alternatives to scanlations.

The unprecedented presence of six of the most prominent Japanese publishers at such a public event seems to confirm that the JDCA believes it is time to act. Among the publishers on hand were Sam Yoshiba, executive director of Kodansha and board member of Kodansha USA, Toshitaka Tanaka of Shogakukan, Kouji Shimano of Futabasha and Sasaki Hisashi, former editor in chief of Weekly Shonen Jump, the top selling manga magazine in Japan with a circulation of 3 million copies a week.

The Japanese publishers on the panel said is intended to “expose fans to whats out there,” said, Naobumi Ashi, digital content manager at Kadokawa Shoten Co. Kodansha executive director Sam Yoshiba said digital manga revenues in Japan were growing and reached about $800 million this year and “Jmanga will introduce many more manga titles into the U.S. market. Jmanga will have major titles but its mission is to bring other less well known titles to the U.S. market.” Tanaka said, “there are many fantastic titles that are just not making it into North America. And while the U.S. is much bigger than Japan, Japan has many more bookstores where fans can find manga. We are coming together to offer more access to North American audiences and introduce them to manga they have not seen.”

Newman agreed, “we’re going to be releasing content many of your have not heard of. We’re trying to bring readers, authors and publishers closer together and you’ll find services and commentary and content on Jmanga that the scanlation sites can’t provide.”