Way back in February this year, I wrote about all the legal manga sites people don’t seem to either know or want to talk about, for a multitude of reasons. Renta! was one of them. The description I gave it then was not very kind of the service.
Then, in my rant about the state of manga some months ago, I did notice that Renta! had undergone a…change:
And I admitted it looked way, way better and actually accessible than before.
Flash forward to now, and I ended up getting contacted about a potential follow up article to the service now that it’s been changed. Not surprisingly, I joined in! I ended up speaking to Jay Hoare, who is the English checker for Renta!, among other things he does for the site. He was hired in April along with another person on the English Renta! site, and they’ve been working with 6 other non-native speakers since. (Just for comparison, the JP Renta site has 50+ people working on it.) He shares a lot of what he knows at this time:
Justin: What would you say Renta! is all about?
Jay Hoare: In a nutshell, we’re a site where you can rent and read manga online. We offer a rental service so people can try out the manga, and give them the option to upgrade to “unlimited” if they want to keep reading it whenever they like. To make the reading experience as smooth as possible, we’ve put a lot of effort into our manga viewer, so people can read everything online without having to download anything. Also, in order to differentiate ourselves from other manga sites, we’re trying as much as possible to provide people with manga that can only be read on our site.
What has been the biggest challenge in marketing Renta!, including the notion that we rent manga instead of purchasing them?
Oh man, where to start!? I guess there’ve been three main challenges:
a) Increasing the awareness of manga.
It still amazes me that despite the abundance of great titles available, and the infiltration of Japanese culture in the West, a lot of people still don’t know what manga is. (When I told my parents that I’d found a job with a manga website, instead of getting the “Congratulations! You’re the best son in the entire world that’s ever existed ever ever” that I was expecting, they simply said, “What’s manga?”) There’s a small but loyal community who are really into manga, which is wonderful, but, in terms of marketing, it’s important to reach as many people as possible, which has been really difficult. We’ve had no choice but to charge forward as best we can in the quest to attract new manga lovers.
b) Getting users to pay for manga.
At present, pirate sites rule the manga seas: they have a lot of content available, including the bigger titles that have been made into anime. As such, a lot of manga readers head that way. To try and differentiate ourselves from those sites, first and foremost we’re trying to provide high-quality content. I’ve been working alongside another native-English speaker to proofread the manga we put on our site; recently, we employed a new team of frankly wonderful, dedicated and talented translators who I work close with. We also offer content that’s exclusive to our site, a cheap rental service, and a customer support service that can’t be found on pirate sites.
c) Getting people used to the idea of renting manga.
A lot of users are used to paying for and downloading content. When you say “ebooks”, people often think “Kindle”. As our site is a rental-based system, the content comes with a rental period (unless people choose to rent unlimited of course), which I think puts some people off. However, the benefit of renting on our site means that people can view their manga on any device, be it PC/laptop, tablet or smartphone, and it’s cheaper than buying manga. However, even though our user base continues to expand, convincing people that there are benefits to renting instead of purchasing continues to be tricky.
I noticed you guys brought over Sakigake Otokojuku, a Shueisha property (and an older title) to your service. Can you explain your relationship with manga publishers and how they are helping you with providing content?
We deal directly with the Japanese publishers. Basically, we tell them which manga we’d like to put on our site and they contact the author. Once we get the OK from them, we go from there.
Will Renta! serve as that service that provides older manga like Otokojuku or is this more exception than the norm?
One of the things we’re really trying to do is get as much content as we can that’s exclusive to Renta!. As well as old classics, we also try to get newer stuff, too. So, summarily speaking, if we think our users will like the content, it doesn’t matter when it’s published.
You were brought over to Renta! in order to smooth out the English, among other things. There has been a trend where JP companies start up a site but have poor English (Manga Anime Guardians as a recent example). Do you know why this seems to be the case, especially if they’re trying to appeal to the English market?
A lot of the more famous Japanese companies set up a company in the region they want to sell to; as such, they’re able to employ people directly from that region. Before internetland existed, it was a given that any company wanting to do business abroad would set up a branch over there. However, with the introduction of the internet, companies have been able to reach the rest of the world from the comfort of their own office space. This means that it’s overall a lot cheaper to conduct business, which is great news for Japan, as a lot of its companies don’t have a lot of spare cash. Unfortunately, this lack of cash means that they tend to use their Japanese staff to do a lot of their English translation to reduce costs. As a result, you get some really weird and difficult-to-understand sites. (As you know, Renta! has been guilty of the same thing in the past, but we’ve finally started to get on top of that now!)
I had included in my write up of Renta! a pic which showed the type of content Renta! seemed to be providing. It doesn’t look like that’s changed. Would you say the site caters more to those 18+ and over, or is this just a case where publishers allow you to publish this type of content?
If you look at our home page, we’re making an effort to include more manga besides just pure adult stuff. We’re adding more to our Romance, Seinen, Shounen and Shoujo manga sections every week. Because there was a lot of adult content on the site to begin with, it’s going to take a while to balance everything out, but we’ve gotten the ball rolling in a positive direction, so over the next few months you’ll start to see the change more.
Will Renta! be looking to publish Josei manga, or at least if it’s there, have the genre listed in the near future?
Genre-naming has proven to be a tricky thing. On the one hand you’ve got avid manga readers who understand what “shounen”, “shojo”, etc. mean; on the other hand, you’ve got people who think “Dragon Ball” is a medical condition and don’t know what manga is. As a result we’re still in the process of figuring out what to call certain genres.
Regarding Josei manga, we have romance, yaoi and love manga, so there’s a lot on the site for people wanting that sort of content. They’ve all proven popular, which is why we’ve expanded them into separate genres.
As a side note, we’re aware that to a Japanese person “comics for males” and “comics for females” is inherently implied by words like “shounen” (“boys”), “seinen” (“men”), “shoujo” (“girls”), etc.. However, we’re trying to avoid explicitly labelling content on our site as “for boys” or “for girls”. We did in the past, but dropped the idea, simply because we feel it unnecessarily limits the choice of our users.
Can you recommend some manga people should consider reading on Renta!’s service?
You ready? Deep breath! Eleven Soul has a lot of depth to it as well as skillfully-drawn action sequences. Jeanne D’Arc is a really well-told and beautifully illustrated manga. If you like gritty stories, Mad Bull is engrossing, and often surprisingly funny. Of course, if you want a laugh though, I have to recommend Sakigake Otokojuku. If you like motion comics, there’s Karasuma Kyoko no Jikenbo, which has been slicky presented. For romance fans, we have the crazily popular His Wedding Ring of Revenge, The Italian Prince’s Proposal and The Billionaire’s Bride of Convenience. For shojo-lovers, there’s the emotional A Second Love Is Full of Tears. If you’re a yaoi fan, I’d say give Peach-Colored Taxi — 801 Yen to Ride a read; it’s proving to be a hit with our users.
What shall we be expecting from Renta in the next few months or so?
More manga! Also, we’re working our asses off to try and make the site more user-friendly, as well as investing in making it display more quickly. On top of all that, we’re trying to improve our tablet and smartphone versions of the site too. We’re a small team, but we’re all putting a lot of effort in (and a lot of late nights!), so I personally am looking forward to seeing the fruits of our labor in the coming months. We’re by no means a perfect site, but we’re trying our best to improve, so, if anyone has any suggestions, we’d love to hear them! Yoroshiku!