In a salvo against pirate sites, VIZ Media has announced that it will begin offering new Shonen Jump content free weekly on the website and in the app.  New chapters will be posted in English simultaneously with their release in Japan.

The announcement was made via a video by Hisashi Sasaki, the former editor-in-chief of the Japanese edition, who’s worked with American edition for 15 years. “To remain competitive, Shonen Jump has to evolve,” he said.

The reason cited for the move to free content was that VIZ's experimentation with free content has been successful at attracting new readers, which presumably means they spend money with Viz in other ways.  “We saw many new readers come to Shonen Jump when we posted free chapters this year,” he said.  “We learned that free access gets more people reading manga.

The subtext of the announcement was that fans should read manga from legitimate sources.  “The new Shonen Jump will be legitimate, authentic, and safe,” Sasaki said.

While new chapters will be free, the entire English backlist will be available to subscribers at lower price of $1.99 per month.  “By becoming a member, you can support manga-ka and respect manga-ka,” Sasaki said.

Putting new content free on the web and in the app gives consumers no reason to go the pirate sites for new material, and the price for backlist, with a pitch that incorporates support for the creators, will also make that content available to a broader range of readers who will no longer patronize pirate sites for Shonen Jump titles.  And it puts readers where VIZ can offer their print or download-to-own products rather than out in the wilds of the Internet.

This is an aggressive move; we’ll see if other manga (or American) publishers follow suit.