Earlier today, Anime News Network reported that NTT Solmare’s ComicFriends manga service will cease operations. The service, which NTT Solmare dubbed a “social manga reading service,” will close on December 20. All remaining “ComicCoins”, the currency used for the service, will be null and void as of December 21.

Before we begin, I can already see eyes starting to glaze over.

“Well, nobody knows what the hell it is!”

Doesn’t inspire confidence, does it?

My point exactly, dear reader. As of right now, the service has a whopping 156 “likes.” That’s not customers, that’s not readers, that’s Likes. As in, “a user clicked a tiny button and put little other effort into the experience.” So, to say that ComicFriends couldn’t penetrate the market would be akin to saying the Great Chicago Fire was little more than a brushfire.

“So what is it?”

ComicFriends is a digital manga service based solely in the confines of Facebook. The service offers chapters of translated manga titles in exchange for Facebook credits or ComicCoins. Users can comment on and share pages of titles that they purchase. The service managed to build a library of over sixty titles, which include quasi-hits like Hiroshi Motomiya’s Salaryman Kintaro, as well as absolute niche titles like Takeshi Ebihara’s Maicching Machiko Sensei. It was previously announced that ComicFriends would host the Kimagure Orange Road manga, but the title never appeared on the service.

“That sounds like it could’ve been a good idea!”

Well, dear reader, I have to admit – on paper, it was! Facebook, with a potential one billion users, has the potential to bring great riches to those who are able to successfully exploit it. And, with a recent surge in the popularity of digital manga, one would think that such a service would set charts alight as readers discuss and share their favorite pages among their friends.

“What went wrong? Isn’t this a… disruption… ocean-y thingy you talk about?”

Well, not quite. A Blue Ocean product is one that fulfills a few criteria:

  • It fills a need that is unfulfilled by the current market (Blue Ocean)
  • It combines low cost and innovative presentation to create value for both the customer and the business (Value Innovation)
  • It reduces or removes features that the market deems less necessary or less desirable

Now let’s look at the facts:

  • At the time of its release, ComicFriends was up against Amazon, iTunes, andBarnes & Noble’s Nook store, not to mention Viz’s dedicated apps. (Red Ocean)
  • ComicFriends charged 11 ($1.10) Facebook Credits per chapter at a time when entire volumes of titles could be had for $5.99 on other outlets.
  • ComicFriends was bound to Facebook. It lacked the ability to read titles on a portable device like a Kindle, a Nook, or even a smartphone, which limits portability. At the same time, they added features that many didnt ask for, and didn’t really care about, which included page commenting.
  • ComicFriends only accepted Facebook credits and their proprietary currency, which stonewalled [or added an extra step, thus an added convenience] to those looking to use more traditional payment gateways.

Now’ let’s also factor in the fact that the titles that NTT Solmare offered were the niche of the niche. Titles like Anchorwoman Sachi, Maicching Machiko Sensei and Salaryman Kintaro have their audiences, for sure. However, without a big title like Kimagure Orange Road, there simply is no incentive for the average reader to look at, let alone
patronize a service like ComicFriends.

If anything, it’s an anti-blue-ocean product, from the presentation to the execution. Tear aside superficial “innovations”, and we’re left with a severely limited item that fails to meet any outstanding needs, fails to satisfy the core job of most digital manga, and hell, even some aspects of hard copy manga.

“So it failed because…?”

To be honest, it failed because it was a sub-par product that failed to meet, let alone exceed the needs of the customer. ComicFriends was an idea, a venture that could have provided an interesting service that enhances the experiences of readers that frequent Facebook. In its current form, though, ComicFriends was simply doomed before it could even get off the ground.