After a series of delays, Japan Airlines Co. will start offering electronic versions of Japanese comic books on some international flights to coincide with the inauguration of the airline’s new Boeing 787 jets.
Sky Manga, scheduled to start on April 22, will be the first service to offer e-comics as part of an airline’s in-flight entertainment.
“Now, we can finally offer e-comics,” said Takahiko Ebata, a JAL official in charge of the development of new products and services. “We can publicize the rehabilitated JAL with the world’s first (e-comic service). We can also spread Japanese culture.”
The e-comics that can be read for free on the touch screens on the back of passengers’ seats will be limited to the first three volumes of 30 titles, including “Meitantei Conan” (Great detective Conan), “Major,” and “O-i! Ryoma” (Hallo! Ryoma), as well as Moto Hagio’s “Nanohana” (Rape blossoms), which describes the life of a girl after a nuclear accident.
All titles are published by Shogakukan Inc.
“We hope that people will have more opportunities to read manga,” a Shogakukan official said.
Only Japanese versions will initially be available on the flights. English versions are planned for the near future.
The service will be provided on the Narita-Boston route on April 22 and some other international routes that use the 787s.
Passengers will use the touch screens to select titles and turn pages. The available books will be renewed every three months.
In 2007, JAL asked eBook Initiative Japan Co., a company based in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward that delivers e-books, about the possibility of offering e-books during flights.
For more than a year, eBook Initiative Japan made preparations in cooperation with U.S. and Canadian companies to ensure the service would meet the airline industry’s strict standards.
However, JAL ran into financial difficulties in 2009, and the airline filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2010 under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law, making it impossible to introduce the e-comic service.
eBook Initiative looked for other airlines about offering the service.
In autumn 2010, however, JAL’s business performance began to recover, and it informed eBook Initiative that it wanted to offer Sky Manga exclusively.
But the airline lacked sufficient funds to pay even market value for the e-comics, creating difficulties for eBook Initiative in its negotiations with Shogakukan.
Shogakukan finally agreed to offer its comic books for the project on the condition that the touch screens carry advertisements of the publisher and that eBook Initiative provide passengers only the first three volumes of each title to urge them to buy the following volumes.
JAL faced another hurdle. The new 787s were initially scheduled to be delivered to the airline in May 2008, but Boeing postponed the delivery as many as seven times.
The aircraft were finally delivered, and the e-comic project was given the green light.
Hitoshi Koide, 42, president of eBook Initiative, said: “Even after you finish watching a movie, you can read manga if only 20 minutes remain until landing. The demand for comics will be high.”
He said the company is exploring possibilities for the e-comic service to spread to buses, trains, coffee shops and other places.
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