Manga publishers have begun to look at simultaneous releases in Japanese and English both to satisfy reader demand and to combat internet piracy. With the simultaneous releases, English language manga chapters are released at the same time — or very soon after — as the original Japanese release. Yen Press has begun to implement this policy with the release of Soul Eater NOT in the company’s online anthology magazine YEN PLUS starting in February.
“Simultaneous serialization is something that we’ve wanted to do since we initially launched YEN PLUS as a print magazine,” said Kurt Hassler, publishing director at Yen Press. “Unfortunately, the lead times for producing print materials vary dramatically between the States and Japan, and the idea of doing something simultaneous in print is pretty impractical. However, when we relaunched YEN PLUS as an online monthly anthology in August of 2010, it eliminated those physical impracticalities, and simultaneous serialization was something we hoped to implement right away. At the time, our licensing partners weren’t quite ready to make the leap with us, but after ongoing discussions with various publishers, Square Enix ultimately came back boldly to take the plunge!”
Soul Eater NOT, a spinoff of Yen’s successful Soul Eater series, was chosen as the debut title and more titles may be on their way. “We are already in active discussions to add additional titles to our simultaneous strategy,” Hassler said. “Nothing has been finalized yet, but we’re extremely eager to expand on our offerings!”
Piracy has often been a reason given for the rush to get both manga and anime releases available in America as soon as possible. “I think that simultaneous publication is absolutely essential when it comes to helping to curb piracy,” Hassler said. “The two main reasons that fans cite for supporting scanlations is that they want the material quickly and they want to have it easily accessible where they live. Neither of those are in and of themselves unreasonable requests. It makes far more sense for publishers to recognize the enthusiasm that fans have for their material and try to capitalize on that to the benefit of the properties and the creators than to turn a blind eye. And I don’t think that publishers are turning a blind eye, but doing something above board and with the full support of everyone involved takes time. It took us nearly four years to reach this point — and Yen is only hitting its five-year anniversary this year!”
The biggest manga publisher in the US, Viz Media, initially tried out simultaneous releases in 2009. According to Alvin Lu, senior v-p and general manager at Viz, the company began digitally publishing chapters of Rin-ne in April of that year as a promotional effort.
A few years later, in January 2012, they came out with their own online magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha and launched with six series: Bakuman, Bleach, Naruto, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, One Piece, and Toriko. “This is the opening lineup for now, constituting around 120 pages of new content weekly to North American fans,” said Lu. “The chapters featured in Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha appear two weeks after publication in Japan. The Japanese magazine hits stores every Monday; our digital weekly refreshes with new content at 10 a.m. Pacific time every Monday.”
In 2011, between Viz’s initial foray into simultaneous release and its launch of Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha in 2012, GEN Manga, a publisher of doujinshi, or independent manga, made the point of releasing its manga simultaneously from the start.
“Digital editions are available worldwide in English and Japanese,” said Robert McGuire, Editor-in-Chief of GEN. “In other words, we don't restrict downloads by any region. And we already have subscribers worldwide.”
When asked about the piracy angle, McGuire said he thought that was missing the issue.
“I wasn't thinking of counter strategies, but trying to think of why it existed in the first place,” he said. “GEN isn't doing simultaneous publication of licensed materials by coordinating with publishers in Japan. GEN is the publisher.”
Hassler does think that offering simultaneous serializations will be the wave of the future for manga publishing. “With all the changes in the manga market in North America in the past few years, it really is an exciting time to be a part of the industry,” he said. “Manga has never been more popular than it is now, but the nature of that popularity has shifted to a form of consumption that is destructive. Too many readers consider themselves as fans while reading pirated editions of manga without realizing the negative consequences that go along with that. Creators have seen what was a healthy and growing portion of their income — international sales — suffer as more and more readers discover their work through outlets that are profiting off that material at the creators’ expense. That trend can be reversed, though, if publishers take the reins and can shift their models to deliver a legitimate product at a superior quality, and I think that’s exactly what we’ve demonstrated is possible with Soul Eater NOT and YEN PLUS.”