Viz Media has become one of the United States’ top manga distributors, and the company is only getting started. Not long ago, the publisher wowed readers with its big plans to overhaul its Shonen Jump subscription. So, when the opportunity arose for ComicBook.com to speak with the magazine’s U.S. editor-in-chief, we jumped at the chance.
Recently, editor Andy Nakatani sat down for an interview with ComicBook.com where he opened up about the impact of Viz Media’s Shonen Jump update.
For those unaware, Viz Media is the publisher of Japan’s most famous shonen anthology. Weekly Shonen Jump has housed iconic series from Naruto to My Hero Academia, and Viz has updated how the magazine can be read digitally abroad. Earlier this month, a $1.99 subscription plan went live which gives readers access simultaneously published series in Japan but entire backlogs of other popular titles.
When asked how long this plan has been in the works, Nakatani admits the makeover has been in development for quite some time, and it was Dragon Ball Super that really convinced Viz Media how well the model would work.
"Talking about Dragon Ball Super, we started releasing that online for free... I think it was 2016 in the summer. At the time we were not simultaneous, okay? And then seven or eight months later, we caught up. We released at a speed quicker than how they were released in Japan. We caught up seven or eight months later and you know, it was pretty big success when we released the free chapters because it's free. When we caught up to Japan and we were releasing the chapter simultaneously, our traffic just like shot up. So, it was clear to us that people wanted free simultaneous, and just the simultaneous factor just kind of was the key," the editor-in-chief explained.
"We've always been thinking of ways of how to improve [Shonen Jump]. I would say, this kind of a free model, we've been exploring how we could do aspects of the free model for like five years maybe. It's kind of... working out agreements with the licensors and artists and everything is kind of a complicated task."
So far, online reactions to Viz Media's ambitious plans have received nothing but praise. For Nakatani and his team, the buzz has been a blessing, and the editor admits the magazine's U.S. staff is loving the makeover for more personal reasons as well.
"We didn't know exactly how people were going to react, but it's free and it's simultaneous and we're giving access to that catalog. Those are all key things people have been kind of asking for. So, we were hoping that people would react positively and since they did it was just a huge relief for us," Nakatani said before adding: "As far as staff here, a lot of our staff are fans and when this plan was kind of presented to them, they were reacting the same way. They were like, 'Oh, this makes total sense. Yeah, we should totally do this.' And so since they believe in it, they were on board to put the work in."
As for where Viz Media will go next with manga, Nakatani says the company is focused on its new Shonen Jump model and fine-tuning it for the time being. However, there is more the company can offer to the U.S.'s growing manga fandom and those communities even outside of the States.
"This step that we're taking now I think it's going to be huge," Nakatani stressed. "Especially with making these simultaneous chapters available for free and it's an official source that people can go to so that the artists can get their due. Hopefully this will kind of exponentially increase the people who are looking at the official versions. I guess we'll just kind of waiting to see what happens beyond that. Hopefully there'll be a halo effect for memberships as well as graphic novels."
Continuing, the editor expanded on how Viz Media is always listening to feedback from fans and wanting to expand its catalog to readers wherever they may be.
"I think I was talking about it before, but some of the things that people who read manga wanted were free access, more series, and being able to access the back chapters. The other thing that people have been wanting is... we're only available in about 10 territories. It'd be nice to be able to expand on that. We're not doing that in the immediate future, but that would be a great thing to do."