Manga, Middlemen and Migration of Power

As we mentioned last week 37 Japanese publishers are working together on the J Manga Portal,  a joint portal site for North American anime fans this year.  A way to get titles, and of course news.

This is something Bonnie and I have been talking about for months: that Japanese companies and any manga company is best off going to the web and going electronic to both reach people faster, provide content, and to provide competition to scanilations.  After all if they don't want people scanilating, then they need to get stuff out fast and cheap (or free).

However this goes beyond my predictions – it's a gigantic group effort by a large number of companies, some of whom I'm quite sure don't necessarily like each other.  This isn't one company here or one company there, this is basically major representatives of an entire industry making a universal shared content and news portal.  This is huge.

Now of course these companies have a chance to screw this up.  They could have very limited e-manga releases, lousy updates, minimal content, etc.  There's a great potential to turn this into a diaster or an unremarkable and ineffective achievement.

But lets assume they get this right, that they get the fans what they want, that it makes money, that it builds publicity and loyalty, and so on.  Let's say this, in short, works and 37 or more Japanese Manga companies create a touchpoint and e-distribution system for their manga.  What does it mean?

It is an initiative that other companies may follow – such as game companies, anime companies, and so on.  It's an interesting effort as it basically recognizes A) the uniqueness of the Japanese manga business, and B) North American interest.  Other unique cultural industries in Japan – or even elsewhere – might take note.

It is a sharing of power and support among competitors in a major cultural market.  The alliances necessary to build this portal could be extended to other business activities.

It is also a warning shot to North American companies that do manga that says, to me, their time is limited.  These companies are cutting out the middleman with this effort, and there's nothing to stop them from extending it further.  Bluntly, once they have an e-pub model going, between print on demand buyouts, and doing it themselves, why do they need any of the manga publishers in North America?

Finally, it's a reminder that in a technical age the middlemen that make the money are becoming the people that provide the technology to do things – not the people that do things.  Whoever is building this portal and the technologies in it are the real middlemen who are benefitting.

This effort, if it succeeds – and it may go down in flames – represents a political, cultural, and technical shift in the manga market.  It will have a great impact on a major cultural market, but also the geeky jobs therein.

Steven Savage