Earlier today, Viz announced that they will offer a “free” version of Shonen Jump Alpha to Android users. Users will be able to download a free edition of the magazine via the Viz Manga application after they complete a promotional offer from one of Viz Media’s advertising partners. There is no limit to the number of magazines a user can redeem, though the offer is currently not available to iOS users.

Call me a cynic, but when I see an offer like this, I begin to ask questions:

  • Why are they going free?
  • How much money will this bring in?
  • How many customers will they lose to the free model?
  • Will they be able to offset these losses?

The first question seems obvious: Why go free? From a consumer perspective, this seems like a great deal. A $26-per-year magazine, gratis? How could this be bad?

From a business perspective, though, this is a fairly large red flag. A business selling a product for the masses would not need to resort to giving its wares away in this fashion. A profitable publication would be able to command the $26 per year for the paid version. Usually, this indicates that the product as it stands isn’t earning its market, and that the product isn’t meeting expectations. And, rather than killing it outright, they would rather throw it to the winds, and hope that the ad revenue gained from this free version will offset the missing revenues.

“It’s not because they love us?”

No, dear reader. Adam Smith once described the business world as follows:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

Basically, companies act in their own self-interest. A business exists to earn a profit, and the human element is a vital aspect of any interaction. So, yes, companies will (often) treat you well, and act as if they are your friend, going as far as to do anything to make you happy. This isn’t sheer altruism, though. It’s a matter of creating an emotional bond with you, dear reader, in hopes of securing future business.

Moving on, though, the question of how much advertisement-supported media will generate, and the cost of migrating customers are intertwined. When a product drops into the tiered model, there will always be a contingency that cancels its subscription to the paid model and flocks to the free offering. Depending on how tolerable the advertisements are and how comparable the ad-supported magazine to the paid version, this number can fluctuate. Whether this is good or bad, though, is difficult to tell. We don’t know how much each advertisement will pay Viz Media for a successful completion, nor do we know how much the company needs to deem the model a success. With the migration of customers, it is possible that Viz may see their revenues decrease in the short term, if the free model is indeed less profitable than the paid subscription (which, by all rights, it most likely is). The company will need to capitalize on volume and reach, as well as sales of their Shonen Jump novels to supplement the lost revenue.

As always, this is but mere speculation. It will be interesting to see just how Viz fares with the introduction of this free model to the market, though. It will be difficult to determine just how it performs in the near future, since Viz doesn’t release detailed financial reports to the public. However, it may be worth following further developments, if only to see whether this new form of Shonen Jump Alpha carries the line higher, or serves as a weight that drags it down to new lows.