Answerman – Why Is K MANGA Not a Subscription Service?

Earlier this month, the K MANGA app launched in the U.S. We saw your questions in the forums and social media and posed them to Kodansha.

ANN readers asked:

In the U.S. market, a number of manga services such as the Shonen Jump app use a subscription model. What was the reasoning behind K MANGA using a coin and ticket system instead?

To paraphrase Kodansha‘s response, the logic was two-fold:

  • The system maximizes royalties for the individual creators
  • The system encourages users to try out a variety of titles, instead of subscribing for a single popular title

Kodansha‘s full response is published below:

It is our minimum obligation to create an environment where authors can use their creative talents to concentrate on their work, as well as lead a fulfilling life. At the same time, it is our role to create an ecosystem that will produce many star authors who will become the object of admiration for many people.

The current system, in which users pay for works they wish to support, is a system in which authors of great works are rewarded more and in a more equitable manner. In Japan, we use a system that is exactly the same as K MANGA, and we have been able to share the fruits of its success with our authors.

Based on this philosophy, we compensate authors for the purchase of their works with free points distributed within the service in the same way that we compensate authors for the purchase of their works with paid points. Even if the user does not spend any money, if he or she spends a little time and effort, we will be able to reward authors for their work.

In addition, with tickets that allow limited access for 72 hours, which can be obtained daily, it is possible to try out at least half of all the available works. We believe that in this way, by allowing readers to experience as many works as possible without having to pay for them, we can ultimately maximize the rewards to authors.

We hope you will understand K MANGA’s system for supporting authors, which cannot be achieved through a subscription model.

Although it’s not necessarily the most user-friendly or convenient system from a North American perspective, it’s not too difficult to understand why it has been successful in Japan. The primary purpose of the app appears to be to give readers a sampling of different manga. If a particular series takes your interest, you can always buy the collected volumes, which is still the bread and butter of a manga artist’s income. That’s relatively easier in Japan, where manga volumes are cheaper and easier to find.

A notable downside of subscription services is revenue sharing. For example, Spotify has often faced criticism for paying very little to individual artists; even a million streams will only amount to a few thousand dollars in the artist’s pocket. While it’s convenient for the consumer, it’s not necessarily the best system for artists.

In that context, Kodansha‘s logic is understandable, but you can also try flipping the question around: why are Shueisha and Shogakukan more comfortable with subscription services? Shonen Jump+ editor Yūta Momiyama explained in a 2021 interview that although the MANGA Plus service includes ads, the priority is making a manga’s official version as easily accessible as possible rather than monetizing the platform. He said that the advantage of MANGA Plus as a simultaneous distribution service is that not only does it preempt piracy, it closes the time gap between domestic and overseas reception.

In other words, the differences in these apps may come down to a difference in business strategy. Where Shueisha takes a broader view of its IPs and promotion of its brand, Kodansha is more concerned with monetizing its individual manga. K MANGA’s free ticket system can be seen as an attempt to bridge the two objectives to an extent. You are free to make up your own mind about how effective it is.

We also asked Kodansha about some other miscellaneous questions regarding the app, the answers of which can be summed up as follows:

  • Regarding the advertisements for unaffiliated services on the app: K MANGA does not share with advertisers the personal information you enter when you sign up for the app. The app does collect cookies for targeted advertising, but you can choose to opt out through Settings. When asked about the possibility of some advertisers being linked to crime groups, Kodansha assured us that its team regularly checks the advertisements.
  • Regarding censorship: Kodansha was unable to provide a full list of titles that were altered for graphic content, but the publisher did confirm that anything that is altered for the app will also be altered on the forthcoming browser version.
  • Regarding the localization for simulpubs: Kodansha confirmed that the simulpubs are handled by a different team from the Kodansha USA releases. For the new K MANGA simulpubs picking up where the Kodansha USA simulpubs left off, Kodansha has made an attempt to retain the original translators and letterers, but this has not always been possible. The two teams do coordinate on terminology lists to ensure consistency between the different releases.

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