Several popular Kodansha simulpub titles will soon disappear behind a paywall. What does this mean for readers, and can the industry fight off the colossal titan of free scanlations?

Did you decide to read the latest chapters of any of the above series recently? Were you in for a surprise?

Crunchyroll

While Crunchyroll was not the first company to release manga chapters overseas the same day as Japan, the site certainly made waves for three reasons: its titles (big name series like Attack on Titan), pricing (latest chapters were free), and good size catalog (which continues to grow).  Fans in the U.S. and other territories could read chapters the same day they were available in the original Japanese magazines, and for free! Once the next issue was set to premier, the previous chapter would be locked. Visitors who opted for a Premium membership (starting at $6.95 a month) would gain access to back chapters, and they would also be able to read the latest chapters without ads.)

ComiXology

A few months ago, Kodansha Comics announced that they would also be putting individual manga chapters up on ComiXology, the large digital comics platform. Chapters would start at $.99 for weekly series, and other bi-weekly or monthly manga would be $1.99. Unlike at Crunchyroll, readers could download the issues for offline reading. While some manga end up being more expensive than waiting for the graphic novels, ComiXology provided an option for readers who are only into one or two series.

So What Changed?

In mid-July, an announcement was posted in the Crunchyroll forums:

For most manga on Crunchyroll, the first and most recent chapters are available to free members with our ad-supported model. Due to changes in licensing, you may notice that some titles in our manga library are now only available to premium users. Starting this month, these titles (including Attack on Titan, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, The Seven Deadly Sins, and more) will be exclusively available for premium users. Thank you for understanding!”

In addition, recently, most ComiXology simulpubs have been pushed back a week. The latest issues for titles like Fairy Tail and Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches are actually the previous week’s chapters.*

In short: fans now have to pay for most simulpubs. Several people posted about their disappointment:

This makes me SO mad. What makes me madder is that you practically buried this announcement so that no one would notice it.”

When the only regular manga you follow is the one they’ve suddenly stopped providing free with ads, that subscription price is perhaps a little bit high.
It’s a shame because I do buy every single volume that comes out regardless…I just don’t want to have to wait months.”

(*Editor’s Note: Kodansha’s ComiXology are released the same day and date as in Japan. We have confirmed with Kodansha that there were technical issues that caused a delay last week, which was when this article was worked on, but they should be updated now.)

So Why the Change?

While the Crunchyroll announcement alludes to “changes in licensing”, I don’t think anyone doubts the real reason is money.

On one hand, I can understand why: while ads provide some revenue, they’re not always a huge moneymaker. For manga, people are generally most interested in the latest chapters. Only those who are really into manga (and anime) will subscribe. If a person is only interested in a few series, it may be cheaper to buy digital volumes to permanently own the back chapters. It’s also lot more work than normal to make a manga a simul-pub, so companies want to make sure all the extra effort is paying off financially.

Pushing the simulpubs back a week on ComiXology also means the two sites are less competition for each other. Want the chapters right away? Subscribe to Crunchyroll. Don’t mind waiting and want to be able to read the chapter whenever and wherever? Buy it on ComiXology. Before, it was almost silly to buy the latest issue on ComiXology when you could read it for free the same day on Crunchyroll.

EDIT: If the ComiXology releases do remain “same-day-as-Japan”, this will provide a good option for those readers who are only interested in one or two series. I have already discussed that the per-chapter price is not always a good deal compared to the collected volumes, but, say, $1.99 for a dose of Attack on Titan is better than paying $6.99 for a Crunchyroll Premium membership. However, I imagine the number of fans who are only interested in Attack on Titan — and, more importantly, interested only in Attack on Titan to the point they’ll actually pay just to have the latest issue the same day as Japan — is probably small relative to the number of people who also like other anime and manga series. For $5 more (the cost of a fast food meal), a person can access thousands of anime shows and other manga in exchange for giving up actually owning the chapter.

So This is Bad News, Right?

Well, I wouldn’t call it good news. Kodansha LTD (the company behind most of the simulpubs) may be just trying to raise some extra dough, attempting to return their simulpub division to profit, or they may want to help pay for future series.

So here’s what it could happen:

  1. People who are interested in the manga will subscribe to ComiXology/Crunchyroll, giving the licensors more money.
  2. Readers will turn even more to scanlations because they don’t want to pay.
  3. The fans already following the manga will keep on buying the graphic novels.
  4. The fans already following the manga will start buying the graphic novels.
  5. Readers will drop the manga.

Obviously, at this early juncture, I have no idea which scenario will play out. I have seen a lot of people saying to go read the latest manga chapters on aggregate sites. Of course, there were already scores of people who were reading translated versions of the chapters in advance thanks to scanlations. It would be nearly impossible to figure out how many of these readers were also supporting the official versions on Crunchyroll or ComiXology. Will the same number of fans be reading scanlations as before, or will their popularity rise again?

Other Options

“Well, why don’t they make the latest chapters free like Crunchyroll does with anime!”

The downside to this approach is that it makes ComiXology less appealing. Even if Crunchyroll makes the chapters available for one week free a week later, the impatient readers will still turn to scanlations.

“How about they pull the older chapters and just make the ones unavailable in collected format free?”

The amount of manga available for Crunchyroll Premium members to read would shrink dramatically. Older chapters are already pulled for series like Attack on Titan and Fairy Tail, so this method would do little to affect those manga’s followings — for good or bad.

“But people will just turn to scanlations anyway! That’s why simulpubs started!”

It is possible Kodansha will change course with their offerings. For now, it seems the publisher believes that the amount of readers who will turn to scanlations will be outweighed by fans who will financially support their series. Lots of manga do well without simulpubs (Tokyo Ghoul comes to mind), so simulpubs are helpful but not necessary for success.

Final Thoughts

I know I was taken aback with this sudden change on Crunchyroll. However, for Canadians, Crunchyroll recently started requiring a Premium membership for viewers to watch completed anime series. Perhaps they will do the same in the United States, slowly putting more pressure on visitors to subscribe to Premium? I wouldn’t be surprised.

So, have these changes affected you? Will any of you now subscribe to Crunchyroll for simulpubs? Maybe you will be buying the latest chapters on ComiXology? Or perhaps you will be waiting for the collected volumes or go the other direction by dropping series completely? Share your opinion in the comments section below!