This is the week that Viz joined the digital battle in earnest, with the debut of Shonen Jump Alpha, their online shonen manga magazine. While the monthly print version of Shonen Jump still has a few issues to go before it disappears entirely, SJ Alpha is a weekly that carries fresh chapters of six different manga—Bakuman, Bleach, Naruto, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, One Piece, and Toriko—just two weeks after they run in Japan. The magazine is priced at $25.99 for 52 weeks of access to 48 issues, or you can get four weeks' access to a single issue for 99 cents.
Viz senior vice president and general manager Alvin Lu told talked to Crunchyroll that after a couple of tough years, Viz is seeing some good signs in the market. While print sales are tough, especially after the closing of the Borders chain, digital has grown quickly. "It's getting to the point where we can start taking it into an account as it starts to make a difference in our bottom line business," he said, which is actually big news; most comics publishers regard it as a very small addition, but Viz has been aggressively promoting its digital manga site and apps, and they have made a large portion of their library available digitally. Shonen Jump Alpha is an extension of that strategy, and Lu said he would like to see Viz publish other digital magazines, such as a U.S. version of Shonen Sunday.
Besides the almost-up-to-date chapters the inaugural issue contains an interview with Masashi Kishimoto, the creator of Naruto. Watch for this to be a regular feature; in the Crunchyroll article, Viz magazine approvals associate Misaki Kido said that future creator interviews include Tite Kubo (Bleach) in February and Eiichiro Oda (One Piece) in March.
John Jakala has already paid the 99 cents for a single issue and blogged about it at his site, Overdue Panels. He could only access it via the website, which may be a first-day glitch, as it is supposed to be available via Viz's iOS apps as well. He was also bothered by the big time skips in the stories.
A more serious problem is the big gaps between the chapters in SJ Alpha and the chapters that have been released in English up till now. Viz did a digital time warp to speed up releases of Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece, but their most recent digital releases still lag behind the chapters in Shonen Jump Alpha, and the gap is even wider for the other three series.
Lu says that Viz wants to hear from readers—via social media, e-mail, or even snail mail—about what they think of the new incarnation of Shonen Jump. The free issue 0 is still available, so check it out and let Viz know what you think.