Digital Comics Distributor JManga to Close – Proves Once Again That DRM is a Terrible Idea

J-manga_logo_242x68[1]JManga broke some hearts this week when they announced that they were ceasing operations.

This digital manga distributor announced earlier this week that they would no longer sell manga as of 26 March and planned to shut down completely in May.

Any customers with store credit would get a refund in Amazon.com gift cards, and any purchased content will be lost when JManga turns off the lights in May (no downloads allowed).

Once again, the legitimate customer is harmed while the pirate gets away scot-free.

JManga launched with much fanfare in 2011. This company was backed by the 36 publishers of the Japanese Digital Comics Association, and it was created as a laudable response to the then rampant fan-based scanlation (piracy and English-language translation) of Japanese comics.  By offering a legitimate option these publishers hoped to provide the content that was obviously desired by fans.

Sadly, JManga wasn't up to the task. The site suffered from troubles with getting and keeping content, pricing issues (fans balked at the early high prices), and technical problems including only releasing an Android app in late 2012 (over a year after JManga launched) and never actually releasing an iOS app.

And now JManga is shutting down and taking all existing purchased content with it.

What we have here is a yet another example of the fact that DRM does nothing but punish the paying customer. It doesn't actually stop piracy; in this case piracy was already rampant thanks to readily available scanners and a large and enthusiastic fan base.

All that was accomplished with JManga was that the legitimate customer was punished for being honest and paying for the content they received. The pirates, on the other hand, weren't bothered at all.

I wish more publishers could learn from this mistake, because the hostility that has been shown toward JManga customers is appalling.

Yes, hostile is the correct word. In fact I would go so far as to say that any publisher who chooses to use DRM (leaving out the ones that have it forced on them from above) is expressing contempt for their customers.

DRM is the digital equivalent of a shop owner who glares at every customer that enters the store, secure in the knowledge that everyone is a thief. Never mind that the customer has money in their pocket; every customer is a thief.

That is exactly how JManga (as well as every publisher who distributed manga on that site) behaved toward their customers. Ditto for all other publishers and distributors who insist on DRM.

With that in mind, the real shocker is that anyone buys digital content at all.

(And yet I still buy DRMed ebooks. Go figure.)

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21 thoughts on “Digital Comics Distributor JManga to Close – Proves Once Again That DRM is a Terrible Idea

  1. JManga
    PaperbackDigital
    CyberRead
    Fictionwise
    B&N (the first time around)
    Amazon (the first time around)
    The Book Depository
    Direct eBooks
    Harper Collins ebook store
    Adobe Content Server 3 PDF’s
    eReader.com
    Mobipocket.com

    All examples of why DRM is bad.

    (I’m sure there are more)

  2. All examples of *ways* DRM is bad.

    Library ebooks: one example of a way DRM can be good.

    DRM is a set of technologies. By itself it is neither good nor bad.
    What is good or bad is how it is used.

    “selling” content for two years and then shutting down and taking back all the content consumers paid for is really bad. (The Fictionwise shutdown was less bad. Yes, B&N screwed up the transition like they do everything else but at least they tried to do right by the customers. Good for a few brownie points as well as one big aw-crap. :) )

    BTW, was the JManga DRM proprietary to them? Does the content need the servers to open?

    So far, everything I’ve seen about japanese publishers (of text and manga) makes them out to be singularly consumer-hostile in the digital space. (The Sony Librie debacle comes to mind.) If nothing else, it shows just how bad it could get if Random Penguin and Co had their ways.

    Thanks to the ebook evolution and the rise off the indie publishers (and an assist from the apprentice) that is not going to happen to us, right?

    Uh, except…
    Those digital comics from DC, Marvel, etc? (The direct editions) What DRM do *they* use?
    (Comixology I assume to be like Zinio and JManga, closed walled gardens through and through.)

      1. Then its a good thing I’ve limited my Digital comics “buys” from them to the free print+digital bundles.
        I might do Kindle or Nook comics but I’ve generally steered clear of single app reading systems and online viewing systems. (No *paid* Zinio or Comixology for me.)

        I’m not an anti-DRM zealot but if I’m paying I want at least a chance at long term access to the content.

  3. Well, I don’t buy digital content with DRM. And I don’t buy content from distributors/publishers that use DRM in their digital content. This means I don’t buy paper books from publishers like HarperCollins, for example. And yet, I still buy books more quickly than I can read them :-)

    But the reason why I wanted to comment on this post, is that you make a point I can’t believe it is true. I can’t believe publishers are using DRM to stop piracy. I mean they wouldn’t put something in their products without knowing exactly what it does, right? And they are not so dumb to believe that a system that puts the lock and the key into the hands of the attacker could work, right?
    And even if they were, they would have realized by now that DRM does not work.

    So, why are publishers (and others) increasing the use of the DRM? (they now even want to put it in html5 and epub3)
    I believe (and Warner told us exactly this last year) that publishers/distributors are using DRM to prohibit fair use (in countries with copyright) and free uses (in countries with “droit de l’auteur”).
    Why? Because then, they can sell that “fair use”/”free uses”.

    I can’t agree when you say that publishers should stop treating customers like they were pirates, because they are not doing that.
    They are treating customers as citizens with “fair use”/”free uses”, with access to public domain, with access to libraries and with access to Creative Commons and other copyleft licenses’ works. They don’t like it, because these means abundance, so they are fighting it.

    So, when you buy a DRM book, you are not buying it from a publisher that thinks you’re a pirate. You are buying it from a publisher that knows that can stop you doing what “fair use”/”free uses” would otherwise allowed you to do.

    (English is not my first language, please don’t mind if I made mistakes)

    1. Valid point, that.
      We *are* seeing publishers (in the US and Canada, among other places) suing to stop uses that tend to fall under fair use.
      Mostly they are losing in court, so far.

  4. I agree totally with your assessment that DRMs are downright hostile to fans, and the sad thing is, this hostility is also reflected in english-speaking publishing industry reps. Whenever there’s a crisis in manga, fingers are pointed at fans: “you didn’t buy enough, you didn’t pay enough, you’re always complaining, this is the fault of scanlators.”

    I recently read a statistic that only 3% of what is published in the US is translated from another language, I assume including manga. The fact is, the market for manga in the US is so niche it’s totally insignificant to Japanese publishers. There’s no impetus for them to do anything for the US market, let alone anything right. There are other problems besides DRM issues; titles go out of print, multi-volume series get dropped partially completed, titles in high demand get picked up years late or never. It’s difficult enough being an english-language manga fan without the insult of DRM.

    The only people who are consistently responsive to fans’ passion and enthusiasm are scanlators, who are fellow fans. I would like to see the manga publishing industry respond to scanlators the way HBO has responded to Game of Thrones being the most pirated show ever, which is basically, “until we can give fans all over the world a fast, accessible (read: not ridiculously expensive) way to have a high-quality experience, we appreciate the interest and demand that illegal downloading generates.”

    I read a lot of manga scanlations AND I buy a lot of manga. I have also purchased hardcopy editions and ebooks (which I de-DRM) of webcomics and novels I can read for free, legitimately, on the web. (I also, incidentally, pay for HBO and don’t even watch Game of Thrones. Can we set up some sort of media exchange?) I want to support creators and I have the means, but being demonized as a fan by the very industry I want to support is a huge turn-off.

  5. BTW, they never did actually release an iOS app, even though they kept promising it. Many fans, including myself, were waiting for it before even giving jmanga a try.

      1. The entire JManga venture was an exercise in dragging Japanese publishers kicking and screaming away from what they wanted to do in the direction of a viable business model. They never actually got there, though they were more than halfway there with their subscription JManga7 site, and by the time they had more than half of a viable business model, they could no longer afford to market it.

        But the only clear reason to lay it at the feet of DRM would seem to be a desire to blame DRM for stuff. DRM or no DRM, the RIGHTS to access the manga would have been tied to the lifetime of the site in any event. DRM or no DRM, JManga could never have offered an on-site download service. DRM or no DRM, downloading with third party tools is quite easy. As always, its an ethical question, whether or not someone is willing to ignore the creators rights to the material, and not any serious technical hurdle.

        JManga always was an online access site, nobody ever “purchased” any right to anything but access the manga on the site, and at $5 for these kind of microniche titles, the 60%-75% discount for access rather than purchase is a quite substantial discount off what would have been reasonable to expect to purchase these titles.

        Its a lot like complaining that after a cable channel shuts down, I’ve “lost the shows” that I’ve purchased with my share of the cable subscription payment to the channel.

        1. “DRM or no DRM, the RIGHTS to access the manga would have been tied to the lifetime of the site in any event”

          That is simply wrong. If there had not been DRM then customers could have downloaded the content and the demise of JManga would not matter much.

          “DRM or no DRM, JManga could never have offered an on-site download service.”

          That is not at all true. There are any number of ebook formats that had DRM that will continue to work and let you use the content after you downloaded the content (eReader, Mobipocket, Adobe PDF, Epub, Kindle, iBooks).

          Just because JManga was designed so it didn’t allow downloads does not mean that this was technically impossible. And yes, the download restriction was part of the DRM; by restricting downloads JManga was also hoping to restrict copying and piracy.

          “JManga always was an online access site, nobody ever “purchased” any right to anything but access the manga on the site, and at $5 for these kind of microniche titles, the 60%-75% discount for access rather than purchase is a quite substantial discount off what would have been reasonable to expect to purchase these titles.”

          So you are saying that the DRM issue is less important because the overall business model was shitty? Okay, but that doesn’t change the fact that customers are losing out on what they paid for as a result of this shitty model.

  6. Piracy, the spacegoat of the corsairs.

    The problem is that all those who try to benefit from others works, are always cheating and convincing, they are the only creators, why the autors have to give up rights on his creation?. The ones killing arts and even science, are those groups.

    Just one person could make a book, a song or an image. But of course, there comes the publishers, lawyers, lobbyst and marketers willing to steal the others works, and of course they join forces. They simply have made their game, and are pushing the others on it.

  7. What exactly is the loss here? I’m not sure you’ve done a full accounting.

    Titles with series started but never finished: happens with print manga publications all the time.

    Titles that someone loved enough to not only read but reread, they get a chance to read them, but not to reread them: but if they love them enough to reread them, surely they are worth $5 a pop to have the translation done and made available in the first place.

    After all, keep track of the GAIN here. Obviously the majority of JManga’s list of titles would never have been translated and available if JManga had had to pay the royalty rate for the titles to actually be purchased. So for the few hundreds who paid for access to the titles, having access to the titles in the first place was part of the gain for these particular license terms with the publishers.

    For the kind of micro-niche titles that made up the JManga catalog, their best sellers would have barely broke even on their volume production costs, so at the higher tankoubon royalty rates that would have been demanded to ACTUALLY “purchase” the volumes, they would have not had had any titles cover their volume production costs.

  8. I have purchased from JManga and I am mad I am losing my stuff, so I figured out their system and wrote a program to download the enUS and jaJP versions of whatever series you have paid for. I am just working out some tweaks but I will release it once done.

  9. And this is why you don’t purchase with DRM’s. Found a good replacement in emanga that DON’T have DRM’s on almost all their titles.

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