Now, I’m certainly not saying we should get rid of chapter releases entirely - hell no. That would be a clear regression and reduce overall availability. The idea of releasing individual chapters, especially when they are as close to the Japanese release as possible, is a great one. Hell, it did wonders for anime, just look at the streaming landscape now. You have an obscene wealth of legally available content!
I would argue that releasing manga by the chapter as close as possible to the Japanese release is almost a necessity to help improve the manga landscape and beat out the pirates - if the legit thing is just as fast (or faster) and more convenient, who would bother with scanlating that particular title outside of people who would likely not be customers anyway? There will still be the alternative issue of people ripping the legit product and re-hosting it under their name, which also happens to anime and frankly will never be fully stomped out, but having primacy and convenience will ensure a place for the legit article. The main issue as far as I see it is that as a reader you have to individually purchase all of these bite-sized pieces of content, spending money for each single chapter, at an inflated rate and reduced convenience. There needs to be a better way to meet this need.
With all this in mind, what would a possible solution look like? I believe that a subscription service would be the most forward-thinking solution. This is something I have mentioned off-hand before (especially on the podcast), so I apologise for repeating myself. This is, of course, not a new idea - I would argue that Crunchyroll was ahead of the times when they launched their manga service, however a combination of failures in execution neutered it. Poor initial catalog, a succession of confusing requirements to gain access to the content, technical issues, lack of development and poor communication/marketing now leave the service in a bizarre twilight state. This is a massive shame as there is some amazing manga on the service. You only get one chance to make a first impression as the saying goes, and I would argue Crunchyroll blew it and continues to blow it due to accessibility issues and poor audience perception.
I would also argue that a refined template for a solution already exists in the shape of J-Novel Club. Individual chapters of series are made available as they are translated on a reliable schedule, and access to both new content and the existing back catalog is gated by an ongoing subscription. When a volume of a series is completed, this is collated and sold digitally and (if there is the justification for it) physically in a range of storefronts.
Subscribers also receive a coupon for a digital volume purchase as an incentive to keep them subscribed continuously and to positively discourage people dipping in for a single month to consume everything and then cancel (although this is not the end of the world as the user is still engaging with the legal storefront and paying money into the service). This also gives the user something to “keep” if they do cancel their subscription.
You can easily argue that this is not even a new solution, as it takes elements from existing solutions within the digital manga space (particulaly Shonen Jump and Crunchyroll) and completes the package.
We know that people want manga chapter releases, especially simulpubs, but they way they are currently served creates a barrier to entry for the reasons I have previously outlined. There needs to be a better solution available - after all, the main competition for digital manga is not physical volumes but instead free piracy, with all its weird drama and questionable, highly variable, quality. Much like in the anime and light novel spaces, part of the solution for manga comes from beating the pirates at their own game. Doing so will meet the expectations of the audience who consume the content, easing their transition to a complete legitimate solution and ensuring attention and - most importantly - money flows back to the creators.
What are your thoughts on the future of manga "simulpubs"? Let us know in the comments section below.