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Building a Community with Digital Manga: An Interview with Viz’s Alvin Lu and Gagan Singh

Brigid Alverson:

Today, Viz Media announced that its digital manga magazine Shonen Jump Alpha will publish manga chapters simultaneously with its Japanese counterpart, Shonen Jump. This means that North American fans of Naruto, Bleach, and other high-profile properties will be able to read the newest chapters digitally at the same time their counterparts in Tokyo and Osaka are picking up the print magazine from the newsstand.

Viz has reinvented the manga magazine and perhaps the entire manga market with Shonen Jump Alpha, which executive vice president Alvin Lu sees as a key part of building a manga community in North America. The weekly releases allow English-speaking fans to have the same sort of experience that superhero fans have every Wednesday, when they head to the comics store to pick up the latest releases and discuss them with their friends. While the Shonen Jump Alpha community starts out in the digital realm, Viz has a number of initiatives that extend beyond it to bring fans together in real-life settings.

Viz is the largest U.S. manga publisher, and when it came time to think about digital comics, they decided to go it alone, developing first an iPad app, then a website, then apps for the iPhone, Android devices, and Kindle Fire. Viz also publishes their books on the Nook. It has been just over two years since the iPad app was released, and Viz has been aggressive about adding content; currently, about 850 volumes are available digitally.
In addition to their book apps, Viz took the daring step of converting their monthly print magazine, Shonen Jump, into a weekly digital magazine, Shonen Jump Alpha, which prints fresh chapters of the most popular titles—Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece—just two weeks after their Japanese release. In October, at New York Comic Con, Lu remarked that Shonen Jump Alpha will soon go to simultaneous publication with the Japanese releases. The next day, I spoke to Lu and to Gagan Singh, who heads up Viz’s digital arm, Viz Labs, about where Viz’s digital efforts are leading the company.

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