When the Internet ate my son’s manga magazine

Even the digital generation can sing the disappearing print publication blues

Topics: Publishing News,

The card in the mail delivered sad news, disguised as progress. Shonen Jump magazine, a monthly digest of translated-into-English Japanese manga,, was ceasing print publication. Instead, subscribers were invited to sign up for Shonen Jump Alpha an online-only feed of new manga (the Japanese term for comic books). Shonen Jump Alpha, declared the card, would be a great bargain! There would be more manga content available than ever before, and new chapters in ongoing serials would be posted on a sprightly weekly basis.

My heart sank, however, because I knew someone who was going to be very disappointed. My son. Four years earlier, I’d given Eli a subscription to Shonen Jump as a birthday present. It was a gift that kept on giving. My son has unimpeachable bona fides as a member of the digital generation, swimming in a sea of texts and video games and YouTube channels as effortlessly and naturally as a dolphin in the South Pacific, but I’m not sure I ever saw him more happy or content or intently transfixed as he was on those days when a new Shonen Jump arrived. He would curl up on our living room couch with the gloriously fat magazine — sometimes several hundred pages in length — and devour the latest adventures of Naruto and One Piece and Bleach.

He kept all his back issues in his room, engulfing shelves and floor space. He read and reread them. He delighted in pointing out to me particularly absurd illustrations that demonstrated some oddball aspect of Japanese humor. I loved it. As a hardcore fanboy myself from way back, I deeply appreciate geeky enthusiasms — I got almost as much pleasure watching him enjoy Shonen Jump as he did from reading them.

I emailed him the news (he was at his mom’s house). The next morning, when he stopped by to pick up something on his way to school, I asked if he’d read my email. His shoulders slumped.

“It’s so depressing,” he said. “Why would they do that?”

There wasn’t quite enough time to explain, right then, the devastating impact of online distribution on the publishing world, a fact of post-Internet life that had massively affected his father’s career as a journalist. I told him we’d talk about it later and watched him bike off to school. But at the same time, I mulled over an unexpected contradiction. My son is a member of the first generation for whom the Internet was a part of daily life from the cradle onward. To him, Wi-Fi is as normal as air itself, and the first answer to any question is a Google search. But just like any aging boomer eyeing a Kindle with suspicion and swearing undying allegiance to real books, he too was feeling a sense of loss and uncertainty, of destabilizing change.

You Might Also Like

As an inveterate early adopter of new technologies, I’d always assumed that the cultural resistance to new online distribution mediums was functionally generational. The older we are the less we like change. But for every grumbling codger who departs this mortal coil there’s a new baby born who seems to know how to do a two-finger swipe on an iPhone touch screen right out of the womb. And yet here was a clear example of a bond with the printed word, the material object, that transcended generational divisions. Eli told me to he wanted me to sign him up for Shonen Jump Alpha, but he didn’t seem enthused by the prospect of reading the latest installments of his favorite manga on the flat screen. If my 14-year-old could be transformed into a crotchety old codger, then maybe, just maybe, the culture really is losing something valuable as everything goes virtual.

I will admit that there are some ironies at play here. I write these words as someone who has earned his living writing for the Web since 1995. Just a few weeks ago, distressed at the appalling selection of books in the Atlanta airport, I borrowed my daughter’s Kindle to download a science-fiction novel to get me through the six-hour flight back to California — and I took a great deal of satisfaction in doing so. Take that, you crappy, lowest-common-denominator, mass market airport bookstore: The Internet works for me.

My son doesn’t have a Kindle, but I doubt it will be all that long before he’s curling up on the couch with an iPad or his own smartphone, gleefully tapping into a selection of entertainment options — including every manga ever published — vastly superior in terms of variety and comprehensiveness than any publishing medium ever invented. It’s quite possible that Eli just got caught in a clumsy transition moment, a brief stage of publishing confusion that will vanish in a future where everything we want is incredibly convenient.

There might even be some compelling reasons for Shonen Jump’s shift. When I asked Shonen Jump why the print mag was being discontinued, Alvin Lu, the senior vice president and general manager for Viz Media, Shonen Jump’s publisher, told me that readers would benefit from the new format.

“The growth of digital distribution has presented an opportunity to publish these serial manga narratives weekly,” wrote Lu in an email, “which is how they appear in Japan and, even from the very beginning of the print magazine, is something we’ve wanted to do, but couldn’t given the logistics. The situation is somewhat comparable to, say, following your favorite U.S. TV show, but only being able to watch a new episode once a month or only on DVD, instead of its ‘natural’ weekly schedule. The added benefit with ALPHA is that we’re moving toward simultaneity with the original Japanese publication, so we’re erasing the ‘tape delay’ effect as well. As I’ve been telling people, manga is very much a LIVE medium in Japan and with WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP ALPHA for the first time American readers can experience this as well. More than ever, readers of SHONEN JUMP series will be able to experience new chapters together (in the span of a week), communally.”

But Lu did not dismiss the impact of a down economy and the harsh competitive pressure exerted on all publishers by online distribution. Above and beyond my dismay at seeing a cherished part of my son’s life disappear, there’s an economic aspect to this narrative that is troubling to anyone who makes a living from publishing. It’s harder and harder to make a buck in this business, something I know personally, and something that’s clearly true for Viz Media. In 2010, Shonen Jump reduced its publication frequency from 12 months to 10, while at the same time, Viz went through a couple of rounds of layoffs. The bankruptcy and closure of Borders delivered a huge blow to Viz (in addition to Shonen Jump, the company also publishes hundreds of manga in the form of paperback graphic novels).

Can a revenue stream based on online advertising and subscriptions keep Shonen Jump a viable concern? Who will pay for the translations from Japanese if the numbers don’t add up? Everyone in publishing asks a version of this question every single day, and there are no clear answers. I am willing to hold out the possibility that innovative approaches will lead the industry out of this morass — maybe Shonen Jump Alpha will be one of the success stories! But when I first heard the news that the April issue of Shonen Jump will be the last one to drop through my mail slot with its tantalizing thump, I heard, yet again, the sound of a harsh economy and technological changing forcing some tough, unpalatable decisions. And I really have no idea where this is all going to end.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>