By Ryoji Shimada, staff writer
The Jcomi site (now https://www.mangaz.com/), which is presided over by manga artist Ken Akamatsu known for such works as Negima! Magister Negi Magi and Love Hina, has become a topic of conversation for its free distribution of out-of-print manga with advertisements. Jcomi initially opened as a beta site in November 2010 and offered Love Hina as the first title. In just over a week after opening, the number of downloads of Love Hina exceeded 1,700,000. The site has called attention to itself because the popular comic that swept the world more than 10 years ago can be enjoyed free of charge. The site had its official opening in April 2011 with more than 20 titles available (currently more than 35 titles as of June 1).
Jcomi has set up a completely new business model where it prepares out-of-print manga with ads in a PDF file format or through a special online viewer and distributes them for free under permission of their copyright owners. Although the authors of the manga receive only the advertisement fee, the manga have already been out of print with no money coming in from royalties. Even if they were traded at a high price by secondhand booksellers such as Book Off or at net auctions, the authors would not receive any form of compensation. Akamatsu says that the Jcomi business model is a win win situation because it enables a new generation of readers unfamiliar with popular manga of the past to read them at no cost while also generating income for the authors.
Simply put, the aim of Jcomi is twofold. One is to enable users to enjoy at no cost past masterpieces, manga that are now rarely available, and hidden great works. The other is to enable the manga artists to receive a fair share for their contribution to the history of manga.
Using their own business model, Jcomi released Mayu Shinjo’s Hokago (After School) Wedding, Shoei Ishioka’s Belmonde Le VisiteuR and other works for free, in addition to Love Hina, during the trial period before the site was officially opened. It generated income for the authors through advertisement fees, ranging from several tens of thousands of yen to up to over one million ($11,700).
Jcomi, however, also has another aim. That is, to stop the illegal distribution of files. Akamatsu has stated that half of the reason for starting Jcomi was as a countermeasure against the illegal distribution of files. To stop the illegal distribution of out-of-print manga, the authors themselves who own the copyrights must take legal action because publishers do not have the right to sue. There is no other way of stopping the illegal distribution. But Jcomi puts the knife to this situation.
In their program entitled Cleanup Illegal Out-of-Print Manga Files, Jcomi first receives from general users the files (mostly files that had been archived using Zip or Rar) that have been distributed illegally. Jcomi then contacts the copyright owners (authors) of the files that have been offered and confirms with the publishers whether the manga were out of print or not. If the manga are determined to be out of print and the authors give their permission, Jcomi starts preparations for redistributing the files with advertisements attached. The files approved by the authors are “cleaned up” at this stage. That is, they are legalized. This creates an environment where the authors will receive money from the advertisements and the readers will feel good about reading out-of-print manga. Currently, the manga can be read as PDF versions or with a special online viewer.
Akamatsu says that (cleaning) one title per day is the best they can do (to officially release it to the public) because it takes time to negotiate for permission and to convert the file to data. “It was fun to read a manga that I had read long ago.” and “I want to see more titles that I know of.” were the impressions of a male company employee (33) who knew of Jcomi and used it for the first time. The time needed would probably be further reduced if the files were uploaded by the copyright owners themselves instead of being collected from general users. However, a number of problems would still remain such as “We would have to confirm that the provider of each file was the actual author (copyright owner) of the manga,” said Akamatsu. The Jcomi site has set up a goal of creating a historical archive of Japanese manga in the future, but it appears that they still have a long way to go.
Nevertheless, like the male company employee quoted above, the expectations of the readers are high. The total number of visits to the site since its beta version has exceeded 6.4 million. On the other hand, the major publishing companies Kodansha and Shueisha have taken legal action to shut down a major illegal manga site in the United States. On the site surprisingly, “Comic magazine (Shukan Shonen) Jump is translated three days after its release and can be read free of charge. There were 1.1 billion page views in one month,” said Akamatsu. It appears that such actions will become the driving force behind Jcomi’s efforts to clean up illegal manga files. At present, the Jcomi site is only in Japanese. There is a plan, however, to translate the site into English, Chinese, French and other languages within this year. The special viewer currently has a Google machine translation function that enables the lines to be translated from Japanese into more than 50 languages.