On February 18th, Sam Pinansky of J-Novel Club hosted an AMA on r/LightNovels, where he answered user questions and announced J-Novel Club’s latest license: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest. I found this very interesting, given that I was one of the people who had requested Arifureta on the forums, and I had also predicted that it would get licensed last year.
Overall, there was nothing in the AMA that surprised me as someone who has been following J-Novel Club since its inception, but I thought it would be interesting to share some of the answers in the thread to my readers. I also thought it would be useful to archive this information in a more easily accessible form. Think of it as a status update for the company.
The Company’s Finances and Business Model
At the moment, J-Novel Club is mostly funded out of Sam Pinansky’s personal savings. The business is currently not profitable, although Sam hopes that it will start turning a monthly profit by month 10-12. So far, the earnings have been on track with Sam’s predictions.
Sam began building the company in March/April 2016. The company has no head office, although it employs freelancers from Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, Europe and Japan. All work is done via the internet.
In other words, J-Novel Club is a very typical online startup company in its early stages, and the next year or so will likely make or break it as a company.
On J-Novel’s Recent Collaboration with Seven Seas
A few weeks ago, Seven Seas announced that they would release print copies of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash and Occultic;Nine. Sam mentioned in his interview with me that J-Novel Club does not have its own printing/distribution/warehouse capabilities, and he was currently exploring options for releasing print books through a third party partner. Judging by that early statement, the collaboration with Seven Seas has probably been on the cards for a while.
At the moment, the print run seems to be experimental, and with good results more titles may be printed. According to Sam, 5000 copies would guarantee future print deals, although even 3000 copies could suffice for these purposes.
Sam has also stated that there is a possibility that J-Novel Club may license light novel versions of manga series that Seven Seas has licensed. The redditors have interpreted this to mean that a Mushoku Tensei translation is a distinct possibility.
On DMCAs and Illegal Fan Translations
Given Sam’s history as a fansubber, his views on piracy are more liberal than what may perhaps be expected from an official licensor. However, he does not outright condone piracy, and he has stridently criticised the quality of fan translations.
He is also not a fan of DMCAs, describing the procedure as “a pain in the butt“. His policy of dealing with fan translations is summed up as follows: “We ask nicely. And if you refuse, we crush you with our merciless translation quality and speed.” In other words, it is not likely that he will resort to DMCAs.
Reading between the lines, it appears that Sam may even be grateful for the fan translations which have helped boost the profile of series which have not received an official release. He does not like blanket DMCAs that cover series without a legal release, and he actually thanked the NanoDesu team for taking down their Grimgar translation on their own prerogative, expressing his hopes that the NanoDesu readers will support the official release.
Because of Sam’s transparency and friendly presence in the light novel community, J-Novel Club is regarded quite positively on the r/Light Novels subreddit, despite the virulent pro-piracy and anti-localisation stances adopted by many of the redditors. In other words, J-Novel Club > Yen Press, as far as the light novel community is concerned, although whether this will translate into better sales remains to be seen.
Possible Future Licenses?
On the AMA, Sam stated that he has plans on publishing an “older but highly popular” light novel series, and that its success or failure will determine how J-Novel Club approaches older titles in the future. It is my prediction that the title in question is Infinite Stratos, which is currently published by Overlap.
Sam has also stated that he would like to start a female-oriented line of books, but this would only happen next year, which is still a long way off. He does not currently plan to translate 18+ content, especially if their covers will get banned on Amazon, although he is open to releasing ecchi series that are more borderline. However, because he does not want the J-Novel Club brand to be “too ecchi“, he would prefer to ease into the ecchi content instead of launching with it.
In addition, there are some titles which the Japanese publishers themselves request J-Novel Club to translate. Hobby Japan, for instance, asked J-Novel Club to translate In Another World with my Smartphone. In other words, Sam is open to requests from both the publishers and fans as long as these requests are within the realm of possibility.
Currently, Sam plans to increase the velocity of releases to about 8-10 volumes a month over the next year. How quickly this happens depends on subscriber growth and ebook sales. In two years, he hopes the company’s finances can sustain 20 ongoing series, where maybe 5-6 of them are caught up to Japanese release and so only have periodic releases. He is also open to translating long series with 20+ volumes, which indicates that he has confidence in the long-term sustainability of the company.
Finally, Sam has stated that it is “politically complex” to license Kadokawa novels, given that they recently bought out half of Yen Press. Although it is possible that Kadokawa will accept J-Novel Club’s bids on titles that Yen Press is not interested in, it will take more than a four-month track record of success to win Kadokawa publishers over.
To sum up, J-Novel Club is still more or less in the same position it was in the beginning. The most popular light novels in Japan are still beyond the company’s reach, although there are still plenty of high-profile series that J-Novel Club can bid on. J-Novel Club did apparently bid on Magical Girl Raising Project, which is published by Takarajimashima, although Yen Press beat them to the punch. Other than that, J-Novel Club does not face much competition for licenses.
What is the most popular series on J-Novel Club?
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom is currently the most popular series in terms of viewer numbers, although it used to be Grimgar.
Incidentally, the most critically acclaimed series on J-Novel Club is undoubtedly The Faraway Paladin, which recently received a glowing review on Anime News Network and is also well-regarded among Japanese readers and critics. I should probably get to reading that myself…
I’m only interested in a few of J-Novel Club’s series. What’s the point of getting a membership?
Besides a warm fuzzy feeling from supporting the light novel industry, J-Novel Club subscribers do get access to credits that allow them to obtain premium Ebooks, which contain exclusive extras such as short stories and interviews with the author. The premium Ebooks are DRM-free, but they are watermarked, so if you’re distributing them illegally, Sam and co. will know what you’re doing.
The extras were only listed on the members-only forum, but it’s worth letting general readers know what they could be getting by purchasing a membership. The full list is as follows:
Brave Chronicle: The Ruinmaker:
- 2 Mini Stories (originally store exclusive bonus)
- 5 Character design pages (originally store exclusive bonus)
- Volume 1 – Exclusive interview with the Master of the real Cafe Blue Moon, including photo essay (produced by J-Novel Club)
- Volume 2 – Exclusive photo essay on Harmonica Alley and other locations in Kichijouji (produced by J-Novel Club)
My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World
- All Volumes – Translator’s Notes about all the references that Mutsuko makes to classic anime and manga
My Little Sister Can Read Kanji
- All Volumes – Translator’s Analysis
- Volume 1 – Bonus illustration of a little girl showing her panties (originally exclusive for the Korean edition)
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
- All Volumes 1-4 – Bonus Color Illustrations (1-3 per volume)
I Saved Too Many Girls and Caused the Apocalypse
- All Volumes – Glossary of Names/Places/Items
The Faraway Paladin
- Volume 1 – Interview with the author (produced by J-Novel Club)
Mixed Bathing in Another Dimension
- Volume 1 – Bonus Illustrations (Color and B&W, including author’s signature)
Paying to Win in a VRMMO
- Volume 1 – Interview with the author (produced by J-Novel Club)
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom
- All Volumes – Numerous mini stories originally produced for in store exclusives.
In Another World With My Smartphone
- Volume 1 – Mini story originally produced for in store exclusive.
Finally, I feel that is worth pointing out that Sam spends spends a great deal of time translating comments and reviews from English-speaking light novel fans. There’s even a possibility that my blog posts have been translated into Japanese, a prospect which amuses me a great deal. Apparently, this data helps the publishers decide which books they should pitch for an anime or how their own publishing schedule should work. The editorial departments at Hobby Japan and Overlap are quite welcome to receiving fan mail from overseas, so if you do have opinions about their light novels, please do share them. Your support may even help influence an anime deal – who knows?
Aaaaaaaand that should cover all the main points from the AMA. If there’s anything else you feel should be included in this summary, let me know!