Manga blogger extraordinaire Deb Aoki sat down with the Viz folks at NYCC and asked some hard questions about their relaunch of Shonen Jump as a digital magazine (to be renamed Shonen Jump Alpha). The magazine will be available via the Viz iOS app and the Vizmanga.com website, but only in the U.S. and Canada.
Aoki asked Viz VP of digital publishing Brian Piech when Shonen Jump Alpha would be available in other regions, and he responded that it depends on Viz parent company Shueisha, which controls the rights. Simply put, Viz has the print rights in the U.S. and Canada, and other companies have those rights in other countries:
This is something that the entire publishing industry is dealing with, not just manga. Digital rights (to a given book or manga) wasn’t always included in the original contracts.
Now, with everything that’s happening, everyone wants the digital rights. But it’s not clear if the print publisher (of a given book in a given territory) has first dibs, or if the rights holder can just shop (the digital rights) around to whomever wants it.
So it's possible that someone will be publishing Naruto digitally in other countries, but it won't necessarily be Viz.
There are pretty much three reasons for piracy—price, speed, and regional availability. Viz has the speed thing licked—with the launch of Shonen Jump Alpha, they will be publishing chapters of six of the most popular manga in the U.S. within two weeks of their Japanese release, and there's a good chance that they may eventually go to simultaneous release in the two countries. On price, the ability to buy a chapter for the magic price of 99 cents (through Viz's website as well as iOS apps) is a pretty good deal for the casual reader (although the yearly subscription price of $25.99 is a better deal in the long term). But region restrictions, whatever the reason, are bad news; they seem to be driving a lot of the traffic on pirate sites, judging from the comments. Two out of three ain't bad—but if Shonen Jump Alpha does well, and the Shueisha honchos loosen the restrictions, that hat trick could prove very lucrative for Viz.