Category Archives: Digital Manga

Stories on new tech and digital distribution as related to manga.

Tech Friday: E-Reader Roundup

With the holidays rushing towards us (I saw Christmas trees at K-mart across from the Halloween costumes!!), retailers are pushing out their announcements for the coming shopping season.

Amazon started with the announcement that they would be adding a lending feature to the Kindle. Kindle owners will now be able to lend their books out to other Kindle owners for a two-week period. During that time, the book will not be available to the original purchaser, and the book can only be to one person at a time, one time only. Not all books will have this feature enabled as it’s up to the publisher to enable it, just like the audio feature on the Kindle. Of course, the Kindle is only playing catch-up by adding this feature. The Barnes and Noble Nook has had it from day one. But with the e-reader market getting more competitive, the Kindle will have to do everything possible to keep itself at the top.

Especially with announcements like the Nook Color. Earlier this week, Barnes and Noble announced they would be releasing a reader tablet for the holidays. It has a full color, android-based touch screen e-reader. It’s 8.1 inches tall with a 7 inch touch screen, 8GB storage with a micro SD slot expanding it to 32GB, built-in WiFi and a promised 8 hours of battery time. It will also include a full web browser, free word and chess games, Pandora music streamed over WiFi and Quick Office to create, edit, and view Microsoft Office documents. It will retail at $249.00

Barnes & Noble will also release Nook Developer, which will allow developers to create android apps for the Nook Color. They are asking for apps that are “reader-centric” and have “engaging content”. Apps will start to become available next year. The Nook Color will also feature in store exclusives, and has some kid-friendly features that includes expanding text, zooming pictures and the device can read the story out loud.

Of the two announcements, the Nook Color is definitely the more exciting. It expands the e-reader into a more versatile device without losing sight of what its primary purpose is; to read e-books. The Nook Color fills a gap people have been feeling since the iPad came out. This device could be the bridge that a lot of people are looking for, that don’t want a big, unwieldy device that comes with a lot of baggage like the iPad, but is more than just a scaled down computer like a netbook or limited like the current generation e-readers. Of course, nothing’s for sure until it’s in the wild, but, if I were to put my money on an e-reader device right now, I would go with the Nook Color. It has the greatest potential. I hope publishers, especially manga publishers will see that potential too.

Tech Friday: Emerging Digital Strategies

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.

Japanese Journal: Mastering Hiragana & Katakana

RL kept me busy in May, so it wasn’t until this month that I got back to my studies on Smart.fm. I’ve settled into a schedule now of taking two lunches a week (that 1 1/2 hours a week) to continue my studies. Considering my RL schedule, this is the best that I can do at the moment, and it’s actually working out for me!

I started with Smart.fm’s Master Hiragana program. I was still studying hiragana when I started, but as of last Friday, I had all 104 hiragana studied, and had mastered 84. The program takes you through the symbol pretty thoroughly, making sure you can recognize them both in Japanese, and romanized. It uses multiple choice, and times how long it takes you to choose the right character. It also does a spelling quiz by showing you the symbol and then you have to type the correct letters. Any mistakes takes you back to the study screen. And as you get closer to completing all the characters, it starts stretching out the amount of time before you can study again. After I hit 84 last Friday, it stopped letting me study and test, and told me to come back next Friday. So I’m now 40 hours and counting to completing my first goal!

Well, since my lunch hour wasn’t over at the time, I started up the Master Katakana. I was going to work on it anyway. After only about an hour of working on it, I’m at 59 characters studied. I can keep going on this goal, since I’m still studying. Also recently added to help with the studying are two programs, Drill Beta and Brain Speed. Drill Beta is just is just want it sound like. It drills you on characters you’ve studied, and adapts to you to improving learning. Brain Speed is like an arcade game. I do okay on this, until it starts to speed up. I get flustered easily and lose more because of hitting the wrong key and not knowing the answer. This is why I don’t do well with a lot of video games.

I’ve also already decided what my next goal will be after I’ve mastered Hiragana and Katakana. I will be moving on to vocabulary with Core2000: Master the Top 2,000 Words in Japanese. I anticipate this goal will take a little longer than Hiragana and Katakana. There are 10 separate, smaller goals that make up the full Core2000. Mastering these words and making sentences will hopefully get me closer to my goal of reading Japanese. One of the things I really like about this program, is that I can see the progress I’m making, and I can feel I’m actually accomplishing something, even if the rest of my day doesn’t seem that way.

Tech Friday: The Tablet Wars Have Begun

asus_tabletThe first shot in the tablet wars began with Apple’s release of the iPad, and technology companies have responded. At Computex, a computer and technology show several companies were showing off new devices, some to be available as early as this Fall.

The big announcement that everyone is touting is from the creator of the netbook, Asus. They announced three tablets.  The Eee Pad will come in two versions. The EP101TC will come with a 10 in screen and the EP121TC will have a 12 in screen. Both devices will be able to playback multimedia, read e-books, browse the web, and with a keyboard can be used as a computer. Asus is promising 10 hours of battery life with these devices. Exact specs or release date haven’t been announced yet.

The Eee Tablet is the Asus e-reader. It uses a reflective LCD screen instead of e-ink, and is in grey scale instead of color. It will include a touch screen and style for note taking. It uses Wacom’s pen input technology for more precise and accurate notes. Asus is aiming this device at students. It will include a webcam, microSD slot and USB slot. It will also have a 10 hour battery life and will be available in the Fall.

MSI is determined to not be left out, and has announced its own tablet, the WindPad 110. This is a 10 in with multimedia in mind. It will have a webcam and HDMI support, as well as USB slots. MSI will have its own UI over Windows 7. No word on battery life or release date.

asus-eee-tabletAlso announced this week, but not at Computex is that Amazon will be releasing a slimmer version of the Kindle, with sharper images and faster page turns, supposedly in response to the iPad. But without a touch screen or color, this seems kind of pointless. The Kindle and iPad are for two different markets. Kindle is for e-reading exclusively, while the iPad is a multimedia device. Amazon is just throwing away money trying to compete with that. But they are doing something right by getting the Kindle into a retail store. Starting on Sunday, Target stores nationwide will be selling the Kindle after a trial program.

And it seems publishers aren’t too thrilled with the Apple/Amazon battle. Both companies want to hold a monopoly on e-books by making them available in formats that only their readers can read. Publishers are coming out and saying they don’t want proprietary formats for their e-books. They want one standard across all platforms. I’m happy to hear this from publishers. Books have always been open and available to everyone. They should remain this way in the digital age as well, not trapped in Apple and Amazon’s walled worlds. Though I do wish they would stop worrying about DRM. Pirates will get around it no matter what they do. Just worry about getting them to people in an easy and legal way, and the pirates won’t be an issue.

Tech Friday: An eReader For Mom?

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, all the ads lately have been about what to get Mom. One common element I’ve seen (beyond the usual of appliances, jewelry, and gardening) is e-readers. Amazon.com has the Kindle on their front page again, touting how it’s the perfect gift for Mom. It’s $259 for the 6″ screen, and includes a wireless connection to Amazon for instant downloading (and gratification).

Sony, maker of the e-Reader, has been pushing it’s low end reader, the Pocket Edition, which has the least number of features. You can find this device at Office Depot, Staples and Best Buy going for $149 through Mother’s Day. You have to connect it to a computer to get the e-books on it, but it also now comes in a “special” pink edition. Ooooo…. Yeah, I’m not impressed by that either. I’ve looked over the Pocket Edition, and wasn’t really impressed with it compared to it’s price. But it’s the least expensive e-ink device out right now.

Aluratech ebookThen, I found out about a new device. The Aluratek Libre e-Reader. It’s a low tech e-reader, that’s also low priced. Online it can be found for around $150, but K-Mart will have it for only $120 through this weekend. It has all the basic function of an e-reader, but the big difference on this device is that it doesn’t use e-ink. It’s actually a black & white LCD screen they call e-paper. The plus about this is that there isn’t the flash that e-ink devices have on page turns, and it’s still fairly quick. It also can view images and play mp3s, even while you’re reading, something the other don’t do. It comes with a 2Gig SD card with 100 public domain books on it to start. It’s rather stripped down like the Sony Pocket Edition. What makes this a better device (to me) is the SD card slot, and lower price. With the Libre, you can have different SD cards for different reading material. One for e-books, one for images (or comics), and one for audio books (or mp3 if you perfer. That makes this a more versatile device, even if it can’t go online.

For someone that just wants to read ebooks and doesn’t need a backlit screen, dictionary, make annotations, or go online, you know like the experience a paper book gives you, this actually looks like a pretty good deal. It’s not difficult to use, so non-tech savvy moms that want to get in on the e-book revolution can with little work. Aluratek also has a step-by-step guide to getting books from ebooks.com, and comments on product reviews of this device suggest that it will read ebooks borrowed through libraries. Here’s a fairly thorough review of the device:

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Think carefully about what your Mother would want and/or could handle. Don’t buy what you think she would want. An e-Reader is a personal device, much like a book. It needs to be tailored to the reader’s needs. Don’t go for all the bells and whistles just because that’s what YOU would want. You want what you give Mom to be used and appreciated, and not left in the box, stuffed in a corner of the closet because she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings by returning it or giving it away. It’s Mother’s Day for a reason. Make sure it’s something she wants.

Manga Tech Friday: Girl Geeks Represent!

PodcastLogoI’m a total girl geek.  I read comics and manga, watch sci-fi and anime, and I love technology.  One of the things I love about technology is the freedom it gives.  It’s the great equalizer.  With the advent of better and cheaper hardware and software, anyone can have their own radio and/or TV show.  You don’t need to be in broadcasting or work at a radio or TV station to be seen and hear by millions of people.  The tech I’ve come to love and really depend on are podcasts.  They get me to and from work and sometimes through the long day.  I can find podcasts on anime, manga, tech, astronomy, skeptic news and Doctor Who.  I try to share at the manga ones on my This Week in Manga posts, but after listening to the latest batch I realized there was something missing from everything I listened too.  A female voice.

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Tech Friday: Japanese E-Mags to come to US

logo_solmareE-books have been in the news a lot lately, what with the iPad, Amazon vs Publishers, and the Nintendo DSi XL all relating to e-books or e-readers in someway.  But none of this news has really had much of an impact on manga readers except to build up hope that we might one days see manga on these platforms.  Well, finally news comes from Japan through mobile manga provider NTT Solmare, that 3 publishers will not only be bringing out manga magazines for mobile devices in Japan, but that they plan to release these for the US as well.

These magazines won’t just be re-releases of previously printed material, as most mobile manga has been.  These will have new titles premiering on the mobile platform.  NTT Solmare has released some mobile manga already, but only on the Apple apps store for iPhone/iTouch users only.  This new inititive intends to reach out to other mobile platforms and to e-readers such as the Kindle.

True Forbidden FairytalesWhat really makes this announcement exciting is some of the creators that are being tapped for the debut.  One of the creators is Sakura Kinoshita.  I love her work even through it hasn’t done so well over here.  She’s only had two titles licensed so far, Mythical Detective Loki Ragnorok and tactics.  Both were licensed by ADV Manga and only had two volumes released before they stopped publishing.  tactics was picked up by Tokyopop, but has been a slow seller.  To get to read a new series from her would be totally awesome!  And the title of one of the proposed magazines, Takeshobo’s Shin Kindan Grimm Dowa (Grimm’s True Forbbiden Fairy Tales) sounds like it will be full of cool titles as well.  I love the Japanese take on fairy tales.

This is an announcement to really look forward to.

Tech Friday: XL e-Reader

DSiLL_01-580x435In a previous post I spoke of the Nintendo DS as a possible e-reader.  With their latest announcement, it seems that Nintendo is finally answering that call in the US.  The DSi XL, originally launched in Japan in November 2009 as the DSi LL, will be coming to the US in March.  Along with the new gaming device, which has bigger screens, will be the 100 Classics e-book cartridge that I spoke of in the previous post.

While the e-book cartridge itself isn’t that big of news, public domain books are a dime a dozen on the web, it’s the fact that Nintendo is finally stepping into the e-book market in the US that’s exciting.  Over in Japan, the DS has been getting manga and books on the platform for at least 2 years.  It would be nice to see some manga come to this side of the Pacific.  With the larger screen and cartridge format, manga on the DS would be more difficult to pirate.  Not impossible, just more work.

Some blogs are trying to set this move by Nintendo as a play against Apple.  However, if they had been watching Nintendo’s gradual climb up to  e-books on the DS, they would see this is actually a natural progression.  Nintendo isn’t trying to push their way into the e-reader market (which, by the way, isn’t owned by Apple).  It’s Apple that’s been trying to muscle in on Nintendo’s handheld gaming market.  Nintendo has been slowly but surely expanding the DS to be more than just a gaming platform with wifi connection and browser.  Fans have been creating homebrewed applications to put comics and books on the DS for several years now.  This is just Nintendo making it official.  It’s not a declaration of war on the iPad.  Anyone that thinks that is just trying to make a straw man they think they can knock down then the iPad finally comes out.

As a casual gamer, and an older one at that, I have to say I’m looking forward to the DS XL.  Larger screens appeal to me in general.  And while the DS is still not the perfect solution to the e-reader problem, it’s one that I think can be a strong contender.  The Nintendo brand is known and trusted here in the US.  The devices are durable.  They even take all the abuse my kids give theirs!  Both kids and adults enjoy both the platform and the games.  Adding comics and manga, especially those already based on games that are being played on the device should be a no-brainer.  So comics and manga publishers shouldn’t be getting excited about the iPad.  They should be looking at what they already have and reaching out to an audience that’s already there, instead of gambling a on one they hope will be there.

Tech Friday: You Won't Find These in Any Textbook

Anime-manga

Learning Japanese from popular culture such as anime and manga is nothing new.  Mangajin, a magazine from the early 90’s used manga to teach lessons.  In fact, it’s exactly these things that inspire westerners to want to learn to read and speak Japanese.  The Japanese have recognized this and have created a website to help learners of their language.  But it’s not exactly what you’d expect.

The website, anime-manga.jp doesn’t show you manga panels with translations.  No, the purpose of the site is to help teach learners about colloquial expressions that often show up in anime and manga, but not in textbooks.  Languages are fluid, they are always changing.  Anime and manga, which are all about popular culture reflect these changes, which often stump new readers who don’t live in the culture and see and hear these changes. On the site, you can see and hear expressions from typical characters from anime and manga such as school age boys and girls, butlers, and samurai.  You can even hear an Osaka dialect from an old man!

I’ve heard people try to discourage others from using anime and manga as a resource for learning Japanese precisely because of the colloquialisms.  But in order to sound like a real native speaker, you should know them, and I think it’s great that the Japanese recognize this and are reaching out to foreign learners to help them.  Of course, I’m sure all the raw manga and anime these learners will buy to help their studies won’t hurt either.

Tech Friday: Like Falling Dominoes

falling_dominos_smallJust days after Amazon conceded to MacMillian’s demands for an agency model for e-book pricing (ie, variable pricing), Robert Murdoch’s Harper Collins started rattling it’s saber that it wanted the same deal.  By the end of the week Hachette had joined Harper Collins.  So like dominoes, the major publishers are falling in line to continue their old publishing strategy of initial high price (hardback), price drop 1 (trade paperback) and price drop 2 (mass market paperback for digital books.  Since Amazon capitulated to MacMillian, they will have to do the same with the publishers.

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Tech Friday: Doing More

Here in the US, we’re all excited about getting more devices to carry around to read books on.  In Japan, they’re taking existing devices that people are already carrying and adapting them to not just read books but to also enhance that reading experience.  They are letting the content take advantage of the platform instead of making devices to conform to the content.

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And So It Begins

Late Friday night, reports started coming in about a dispute between Amazon and publisher MacMillian.  According to the New York Times, Amazon has “temporarily” pulled all books by MacMillian, including all imprints such as First Second, Seven Seas Entertainment, and Tor, because MacMillian is pushing for a raise in price of their e-book on the Kindle to $15.  The grousing between Amazon and publishers has been going on for a while now, so that this has finally happened is no surprise.  Nor is it a surprise that it happens right after Apple announced it’s iPad, which MacMillian is one of the publishers that signed on to provide books for.

To get a full range of the story, he’s some links to check out.

Johanna Draper Carlson posts about it at Comics Worth Reading.  Check out the comments for interesting information on the breakdown of who gets what in the publishing pie.

Business Insider has a look at the dispute from the Apple side of the equation.

Cory Doctorow, a big proponent of e-books, has his own take at BoingBoing.  Definitely check out his post for how the whole battle affects consumers.  He’s got some really interesting insights.

The Los Angeles Times has some quotes from publishers about Amazon’s pricing, basically defending MacMillian.

Back at the New York Times, their technology blog Bits has more details on the dispute between Amazon and MacMillian, getting the heart of the problem.

Edit: As the weekend has gone on, more people have been speaking out about this, including authors.  Here are two takes on the supply chain issue that really put the whole pricing of e-books into perspective.  If you really want to understand this issue, read Charlie Stross‘ and Tobias Buckell’s posts for detailed insights.