My apologies for not being around for the last month. Besides taking up a new position at Eye of the Vortex, doing a lot of studying, and going through two rounds of finals, I’ve also managed to get myself engaged over the past 30ish days. The holidays, as you can imagine, have been a bit… hectic, to say the least.
It’s no big surprise that the internet is one of the “big things” that manga publishers are thinking about – although most of that thinking is due to piracy, scanlations, and scans of professionally translated manga hitting big sharing sites. The web is a constant source of frustration for manga publishers, because it allows readers to access manga for free, much in the same way that the music industry in the US is concerned with pirating sites like PirateBay. It’s not all about pirates and scanlations though – the internet is also a great way to show off previews of your content, and have your content publicized. TokyoPop, Viz Media, CMX, Del Rey, and DMP all show off previews of their comics on their websites, and many of the manga reviewers aren’t showing up in printed form, but rather on blogs (like this one!) or websites (like ComicsVillage).
Previews of comics are a definite must in this day and age, because they allow readers to catch a glimpse of what to expect out of a volume before they make their purchases. I’d like to see the impulse buy rate on manga, because I suspect it is very high, but when I do my shopping, all of the books I’ve already scoped out via reviews, previews, and other means to get my eyes on as much data and opinion as I can handle. It’s one of the reasons why Brigid Alverson’s wonderful aggregation site, MangaBlog is my homepage.
Viz, in its latest digital initiative, has gone above and beyond what most people would consider “appropriate web-based advertising and promotion” with two of its brand new sites, Shonen Sunday and Sig Ikki. For the uninitiated, let me explain.
Sig Ikki is a mix between an online magazine and the manga anthology IKKI, which runs seinen and experimental manga in Japan. Weekly, a handful of the 13 series being printed in Japan are updated with new web content, full, translated, free comics for anyone to read. Shonen Sunday, similarly, is a manga website that releases new and old content from Viz Media to the web. The comics are released for a certain amount of time online, and then are removed: this means, that for a certain amount of time, you can read an entire manga, for free, without pirating it.
As a manga reader, I’m in love with these sites, and it’s not that hard to figure out why. I get a full glimpse of the manga without having to go to the store to look at it, and I can read the story and form my own opinions about it. If I like it, I can continue to read it. And, it’s a huge improvement over some of the cruddy websites that manga publishers have been using – Del Rey, I’m looking at you. Welcome to the 10′s (in a few days). Your website is from the 90′s. Fix that.
Still, I wonder about the long-term health of a project like this. Can a manga publisher give away manga for free and expect to make as much money on the paperback book releases? Especially in the current state of the economy, it would seem that these free series would have lower sales rates. As it is, though, only two series have been published in book form from either of these websites – Rin-Ne, vol. 1, and Children of the Sea, vols. 1-2, so I doubt that there is enough data to make a good prediction.
One might argue that pirates are already giving away manga, so it shouldn’t affect sales, but I don’t necessarily know if that’s the case. Some of these series, like Rin-Ne, aren’t being pushed by pirates because the English company is cutting them out of the loop. In that sense, by keeping the pirates out, Viz gets a virtual copy of their manga on the web with a professional translation and high-quality reader software. Still, I’m sure there are folks who would rather just read the website (since it’s free) and not bother picking up the books.
What are your thoughts on Viz’s online experiment?