Shuesha's Webtoons

By | Thursday, June 01, 2023 Leave a Comment
Shuesha -- the publisher behind shonen magazines like Weekly Shōnen Jump, Jump SQ, and V Jump -- just announced they'll be launching Jump TOON, their own dedicated webtoon platform, to compete with the likes of Naver's LINE Webtoon. This isn't terribly surprising in that Naver has had a fair amount of success and the rise of manhwa more broadly has had manga publishers concerned about the competition, so naturally they want (argueably even need) to compete with them in this space in order to not lose their audience.

But I wonder about their approach here. While there's not a ton of details available -- and even fewer that aren't in Japanese, which I can't read and am relying on translation bots -- it sounds like Shuesha is developing this internally. Which is almost the wrong choice.

Shuesha is a publisher. They know books and magazines, storytelling, printing processes, delivery systems, and everything related to print publication. They certainly have an IT department, as this is the 21st century, to handle their infrastructure and website development and all that; but the ground-up development of a webtoon application -- whether that is a dedicated app or just a browser-based implementation -- is an entirely new/different type of project that requires a different skillset than what they would normally have on hand. There's certainly some overlap with their current IT staff, but it's different enough that you're going to want to have a different group of people working on it. A group that's got experience with developing these kinds of tools and can better anticipate potential issues that don't seem immediately obvious an can mitigate them before they require some retroactive kludge to fix them.

I'm not saying that they'll do so badly that Jump TOON will be an unmitigated failure but it's enough outside their wheelhouse that it's not going to work as smoothly as they'd like. They don't have the innate level of understanding of the user experience. I've seen this time and time again in a wide variety of industries. Probably the most comparable example I can think of is DC Comics.

Digital comics were starting to gain enough attention that they wanted in on the action. So in 2007 they launched Zuda Comics, which they had developed internally. The comics that were presented there were all good, but the platform itself had a variety of issues. Not major ones that prevented things from working, but just enough to make the user experience inelegant and uncomfortable. It was Comixology - also launched in 2007 -- that succeeded in digital comics space because they came to the table with a digital experience background, compared to DC's storytelling background. Comixology had a better understanding of the way users could/would navigate the platform, and were able to build their platform with that in mind. (Obviously, Amazon's purchase of Comixology changed the UX considerably for the worse and it no longer works as well as it once did, but in 2007, their platform was very much best-in-class when it came to digital comics.)

I don't know Shuesha's financial situation very well, nor how committed their C-suite executives to this initiative, but I don't think it will last more than a few years. There's definitely room for a manga webtoon platform, but I don't think Shuesha is the company to win that race. They might have the market cornered on manga storytelling, but I sincerely doubt they have the programming and UI expertise to build a successful webtoon platform from scratch.
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