In a move that will brings its manga program very close to simultaneous English and Japanese publication, Viz Media plans to launch Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, a weekly digital serialized manga anthology. The new weekly digital anthology will debut in January 2012 and eventually replace Shonen Jump, the popular U.S. monthly print manga anthology Viz launched in 2002, which will be phased out in March 2012.
Most importantly, the new digital Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha will publish the most recent chapters of Viz’s most popular manga series two weeks after the same material has appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump, the long running Japanese flagship print anthology that the new digital weekly (and its U.S. print predecessor Shonen Jump) is modeled after. In Japan manga is serialized in giant weekly anthologies and the most popular series are then collected into book formats, or Tankobans, for release in bookstores. Since the popular growth of interest in Japanese comics, or manga, in the American market peaked in 2007, fans have looked forward to a day when their favorite manga series would be released in Japan and in the U.S. simultaneously.
The new digital manga anthology, Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, will come very close to that standard, with plans to publish content two weeks after it has appeared in Japan. This means U.S. fans will be able to read manga series like Naruto, Bleach, Inuyasha and more, very close to the same time they are released in Japan. Most manga in the U.S. is translated into English and published months or even years after it has appeared in the original Japanese. Digital WSJA will be modeled after Weekly Shonen Jump, the premier print manga anthology in Japan with a circulation of more than 2 million copies each week. Indeed its a measure of the importance of this launch that Sasaki Hisashi, former editor-in-chief of Weekly Shonen Jump was on hand at New York Comic con to present the new digital anthology at the Viz press conference.
The new digital anthology will only offer a selection of the many series in Weekly Shonen Jump, looking to increase the amount of content after the logistics of releasing the content in English, two weeks after its publication in Japan, are "down pat," according to Brian Piech, Viz v-p, digitall publishing. WSJA will initially offer Bakuman, Bleach, Naruto, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, One Piece and Toriko.
Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha was unveiled at a press conference at New York Comic Con. The new digital anthology will be offered through an annual subscription of $25.99 for 48 weekly digital issues over 52 weeks. Single issues of the new digital anthology can be rented for 99 cents for four weeks from the time the material is purchased. And once a consumer has downloaded the content (purchased or rental) it can be read on their original device and on all the consumer’s enabled devices though the integrated Viz manga app and Vizmanga.com website. Current subscribers to the print Shonen Jump will receive an automatic subscription to Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha in addition to three free dgital graphic novels, offered to encourage current subscribers to activate their new digital subscriptions.
Near-simultaneous Japanese/English publication is an unprecedented move and the launch of Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, along with Viz’s earlier debut of a manga app for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and the launch of its online site, Vizmanga.com, puts Viz Media in the forefront of offering licensed manga in all digital formats at reasonable prices. Indeed Viz (along with other U.S. publishers like Yen Press, DMP, NetComics and the industry site, JManga.com) hopes to use its digital initiatives to counter the overall declines in the sales of manga in the U.S.
Viz’s new digital publishing initiatives are also aimed at fighting digital piracy and scanlation sites—web sites hosting thousands of volumes of illegally scanned and translated manga volumes. Decline in U.S. print sales of manga are increasingly being blamed on scanlation sites, which are often supported by advertising and attract millions of visitors each month to read the latest Japanese manga online for free. Indeed, Viz’s digital initiatives are challenging the longtime criticism that Japanese publishers are dragging their feet on digital delivery, allowing digital pirates to satisfy the demand for digitized manga.
Alvin Lu, Viz Media senior v-p and general manager, said “Simultaneously publishing an official translation of the most popular comics magazine in the world has been a dream since manga publishing began in North America in the 1980s.”In addition, Shonen Jump, the monthly print anthology that both marked and fed the growth of U.S. manga popularity since it was first published in 2002, will be phased out. The last issue of the print magazine will be released in March 2012.
Near-simultaneous publication in Japan and the U.S. means Viz will have to speed up the U.S. digital releases to bring them up-to-date with the Japanese version. This means some digital series will jump ahead of U.S. print release, according to Viz. Viz will offer these series as part of Shonen Jump Digital Warp, a digital collection of speeded-up series that will bring North American manga fans up to date with Japan. These speed-ups will begin with Naruto Volume 53 and Bleach Volume 49.
“This is how manga is meant to be read in English – weekly, current, authorized and on the go,” Lu said. “Now with Weekly Shonen Jump Apha, it’s about to happen for real.”