Ignoring the digital world has finally become impossible for the comics world. Over the last several months, mostly after the debut of the Apple iPad, comic publishers have been announcing their digital plans for the future. The big two, Marvel and DC have put their faith in Apple and Comixology. releasing apps and titles through these platforms. At the New York Comic Con, two more publishers, more relevent to manga readers, have announced more of their digital plans.
Dark Horse Comics announced their digital strategy at their panel on Friday. Instead of going through Comixology, they are creating their own platform for selling their books. This strategy is supposed to be available across all platforms and on the web. For the iPad/iPhone, they will have an app that will connect to their platform, and therefore bypass the Apple censors. For the most part, I agree with Dark Horse’s strategy. Making their titles available on any device, be it a smart phone, computer or tablet is the smart way to go. With most American comics being in color, I can understand skipping the e-book readers such as the Kindle or the Nook. I think it’s funny though, that Dark Horse has turned around so fast. It was only a year or so ago that Michael Gombos, Asian director of licensing for Dark Horse was ridiculing the Kindle and requests for digital comics. As of now, they have no plans for their manga/manhwa titles to go digital. While I can understand the difficulty with manga, I wonder why they aren’t at least trying with their manhwa. Yen Press doesn’t seem to have any difficulty with their manhwa licenses in getting them online. And it could really help their manhwa books to make them available to a wider audience.
Yen Press also had some new digital announcements. At SDCC, they announced Yen Plus, their manga magazine was going online and would be available on the web, so any web-enabled device could read it, but it wasn’t available for download. This is understandable. The magazine is supposed to give people a chance to try out titles so they will be the collected books later. At NYCC, they announced their intention to release an iPad app and online storefront for the downloading of entire volumes of manga and manhwa. It is a completely proprietary platform, with the app being an iPad exclusive. For now, they are starting with their OEL and some manhwa titles (probably the ones already available in Yen Plus). Volumes will be priced at $8.99 which averages out to $1.49 a chapter. Kurt Hassler is said to have emphasised the importance of buying from the Yen Press store, to get leverage with Japanese publishers to show the value of digital distribution.
As much as I would like to support Yen Press and their digital distribution, I do subscribe to Yen Plus digital, I can’t say I agree with this new strategy. Both Dark Horse comics and Yen Press are using proprietary platforms, which I think is completely the wrong direction to go. An open platform that can accommodate as many readers as possible is the way to build an audience. Dark Horse is at least promising to be cross-platform so PC, Mac, and any smart phone running Android, iOS, or Windows Mobile that is web enabled will all be able to read their comics. And I thought Yen Press understood that, as Yen Plus can be read across platforms as well. Making their first download app, not just iOS, but aniPad exclusive is a big mistake. Walling the manga up in Apple’s dungeon isn’t going to get people reading it. The iPad may be selling well now, but it’s not going to be well enough to make Japanese Publishers sit up. A look at the way things are going with iOS and Android seems to be a repeat of the Windows/Mac wars of 1990’s, and we all know who won that. With Apple trying to be more and more like Big Brother, it won’t be long before the shiny newness wears off, especially with Android tablets starting to come out, the first of which is the Galaxy Tab. Really, how can going with a platform that rejected more than 30% of manga submitted be a good thing.
Don’t lock manga up in the dark, dank dungeon of Apple. Let it flourish in the light of open platforms, or at least platforms that don’t care about controlling everything you see and do.