Tech Friday: Time to Step Up

Viz Media has really embraced digital publishing in the last few months. Ever since they announced their iPad only app, they have been releasing new volumes practically every week. They now have over 100 volumes from their Shonen Jump, Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump Advanced lines available for download, mostly from older well-known titles such as Dragon Ball/Z, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Vampire Knight , Otomen, and Ouran High School Host Club. They have also started dabbling releasing digital content before or in the same month as print releases, with Bakuman and Blue Exorcist.

That’s fine and all for the subset of manga readers who have an iPad and will put up with Apple’s controlling policies. But what about the rest of us? When Viz first announced that they would be releasing manga on the iPad exclusively, I was far from impressed. Despite strong sales for the iPad, I thought it was a very limited market to go after. The iPad’s price and user base seemed to skew to an older audience, and a recent survey of iPad users of the Viz app seemed to confirmed this. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Brian Piech, Viz’s senior director of marketing said:

“The iPad is probably an older audience, and these could be titles they read ten years ago. It could be a way for them to get back into it.”

So the iPad may not be the place to grow an audience, but to reconnect with it. I know a lot of older manga readers who are concerned about space (me being one of them), and digital is a good way to get around that. But Viz wants to grow their reading audience, so that means expanding out from the iPad.

In this same article, Piech also indicated that Viz was “readying the app to move to a new platform.” A NEW platform. Can that mean a move away from the walled garden of Apple and its iOS? Publisher’s Weekly goes on to say:

While he was vague about the new platform, Piech did say he saw it as a way to extend the audience even further. “It will lower the barrier, because it’s a device that more people have,” he said.

Okay, so we don’t know what the new platform will be, but we do know it’s more widely available. And if Viz is trying to extend their audience, it’s going to have to be a device that teens have and are likely to have/carry. To me this can be one of two things; a smart phone or the web. Smart phones are getting into people’s hands right and left, and especially into teens hands, which is an important demographic for Viz to reach. The web is the most accessible, of course, and can be used on computers, laptops and smart phones. A site like Comixology, or manga on Comixology would certainly help Viz “to reach out to people who are reading Captain America and Thor.”

So can we infer anything from the tone of the article or Piech’s words? Sure, but there’s nothing definitive. The easiest thing for Viz to do is extend their iPad app out to the iPhone, a device that “more people have,” to be sure. That’s still keeping the audience limited to iOS users, but then, maybe that’s what Viz and her parent companies in Japan want. The walled garden of Apple’s iOS seems to have been like a siren call to publishers. But that doesn’t really say “new platform” to me. It’s a side step, not a step up, and I really want to see Viz step up their digital offerings. Android would be a good choice. More people will have an Android smart phone than iPad. But it’s Viz’s desire to cross comic boundaries that makes me wonder if they aren’t going to go for something like Comixology, or even ON Comixology. The only way to get crossover is to go where the comics fans are, and Comixology seems to be the place to find them.

6 thoughts on “Tech Friday: Time to Step Up”

  1. The easiest thing would be to port their app from iOS to Android for use in Android tablets. But more people don’t have Android tablets than iPads.

    So the next idea would be, as you say, working up an app that could be used on the iPhone. Because of the small screen size, they’d probably have to program a camera-pan-style app to go panel-by-panel for the smaller screen. And if they do it for the iPhone, then other Android smart phones probably wouldn’t be too far behind.

    What I *don’t* think it will be is for e-ink devices like the Kindle. Since the Kindle doesn’t really have an image-zoom feature (they probably felt that because the user can resize text, they don’t need one), then the size of the image is limited. If Viz wanted to go on Kindle (or other e-ink devices) they’d have to reletter all their artwork to make sure it’s readable at the smaller page size.

    1. I completely agree that I don’t think e-ink devices are in the running. The Nook color maybe, but that’s really an Android tablet diguised as an e-reader. And I don’t see it as a device more people have than iPads, and really doesn’t fit the demograhic. If they want younger readers, they have to go where they are, and that’s smart phones or the web.

      I hope they don’t go for the camera-pan-style. I’ve tried reading comics/manga like that, it’s really dissatisfying. You really need to see the whole page (and sometimes 2 page spread) to really get the feel of the title. I always read my manga online with two pages. Maybe I’m just still too entrenched into print, and just want my digital to emulate that.

  2. To my mind the Android would be the best in terms of reaching the majority of platform users out there. I think that expanding the reading audience is vital for them– and given the length of many manga series, this could be important for gaining and maintaining readers who are either mobile, expecting to move quite often (which is a number of younger people), who have space limitations, or equally, simply don’t want to mess with mail order or going out to get hardcopy manga volumes.
    Though, as an owner of a nook color, I am not certain if smaller phone style screens can really effectively display manga– even with the nook’s larger screen trying to read a single page at once leads to tiny lettering, and I don’t know if a smaller screen would be usable at all.
    On the other hand, I’m one of those older readers with bad eyes, 🙂 and it might simply be that I’m used to larger screens where those who are used to the smaller phone sized screens might have no trouble at all.

    1. With the right app, a smaller screen could be readable, but that’s about it. I’ve dabbled with comics on my HTC HD2 with a 4.3″ screen. It gets the job done, but if I really like a series, I’m still gonna buy the books. Even on full size computer screen, it can’t beat a physical book.

  3. I don’t own any of those devices, so I’ve been hoping they’d put the app on the Internet since they announced it. At least, make it available through iTunes so I can download books there.

    Not that I’d be buying too much (I’d mostly use the app to preview) but it’d be nice to have that option.

    1. I think Web is the best option for a wider audience. I don’t have an iOS or Android device either, and I would really love to have some options, instead of hearing about another reader on a device I have no desire to, and will never own.

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