When JManga shut down earlier this year, I had half a mind to write a postmortem about it. Their approach was flawed on several fronts: cost, accessibility, library, quality. With the sudden appearance of Crunchyroll Manga, though, I'm pleasantly surprised that the publishers seem to have learned some lessons from that fiasco.
So what did they do wrong the first time around? The a la carte system certainly made things too expensive. They essentially tried to emulate the model of ebookstores in Japan, which sell mostly at price parity with physical books. This is not such a big deal in Japan, since volumes are about five bucks apiece. But when JManga started, they went for price parity with US releases, which is just insane. Discounts gradually rolled in, but even then, their catalog wasn't all that compelling. They also made a mistake with the region restrictions, although they did open it up worldwide later on. The lack of mobile apps was also a big issue. And of course the quality was rather uneven.
Consumers in the U.S., at least, have gotten used to services like Netflix and Spotify, where it's all-you-can-eat at one low price. And you would think that Crunchyroll, given their pricing model and their involvement in the JManga project, would've spoken up about it.
And so we come to Crunchyroll Manga, which we should probably think of as "JManga 2.0", or perhaps even 3.0. The latest chapters are free to read, and a low-cost subscription opens up the back catalog. It's available worldwide (mostly) and there are mobile apps. There are not so many titles at the moment, but most of the ones available are A-listers. It's almost too good to be true, and if you consume enough stuff across all of Crunchyroll's departments, it's a downright steal.
Of course, there are some details. It seems that some of the titles Kodansha already has in print are not going to have their back volumes online, just current chapters. That makes sense from a business standpoint, and it reflects what Kodansha has going over at their Japanese-language moae/moai.jp site.
The site lists the translator for each series, and immediately the big names stand out, like William Flanagan. There are a few where no translation credits are listed, though. (I'll probably review some of the translations in more detail later, but so far there's nothing glaringly off about them.) Apparently the goal is 50 titles by the end of the year (there is some background in this article, but the quotations are largely the same corporate boilerplate we've seen before), which seems doable, although I'm betting most of those will be recycled from JManga.
It's interesting to reflect on how Crunchyroll started out as a site that hosted (or 'stole', depending on your view) fansubs, and somehow parlayed that into becoming a legit streaming site. (They say that it's often easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission, but CR seems to have pulled off both at once.) And now, strangely enough, they have enough brand recognition to anchor a legal manga service. Time will tell whether CR Manga is ultimately successful, but given's CR's momentum, it seems likely.