I’ve been thinking a lot these days about what goes into publishing manga, mostly because I would love to begin publishing books on my own, but mostly because I feel like the market has begun to totally change. E-readers are becoming more prevalent for serious fans and even a number of the less serious fans have iPhones, Droids or other smart phones that make viewing manga on the go a lot easier. Of course, the manga industry, and the comics industry in general, has been a bit slow to fully embrace digital. Whether their reasons be because companies still favor print (and so do their readers) or because rights holders are still hesitant to give digital rights, I honestly don’t think the industry can turn away from digital comics any more. Sooner or later, almost everyone is going to own an e-reader just like suddenly almost everyone owned an mp3 player.
Of course, the future is unknowable to us mortals and we can’t predict what will change the industry next, but here’s a few things I think manga publishers need to adopt now to be prepared for the onslaught of fans who no longer want print copies.
1. Offer dirt cheap manga for just about every platform imaginable:
This one should be pretty obvious. The music industry survived it’s piracy wars by letting songs go for 99 cents a pop, the same thing should be possible for the comics industry in theory. Of course, 99 cents is a little low, but prices should be as low as feasibly possible. Why? Because the pirates don’t value manga now, just like pirates didn’t value music then. There will still be piracy, of course, but by taking a big gulp and doing whatever is possible to make prices low for readers, it might be possible to begin attracting some of the casual pirates back.
This, unfortunately, is made difficult by the e-reader wars going on. The best strategy is to just offer the manga on any platform that’s humanly (and financially) possible. Sites like ComiXology are obviously a great go-to site for multiple digital platforms and manga publishers like Viz, TOKYOPOP, DMP and Dark Horse are already there. Plus, you can read on the web in case you don’t have an e-reader, which solves the problem for that side of the market who hasn’t been able to buy the expensive gadgets yet.
2. Regular Online Serialization:
Oh man, do I think this is a great idea. A bunch of SigIkki series and Rin-ne became instant favorites when I discovered I could get chapters online for free. It was a ton of fun to get Neko Ramen strips in my mail box each day. But other than the Viz titles, I can’t think of any publisher who is doing regular online serialization with a large number of series. It’d be great to have more pubs jump on to give those people who want to “preview” their manga before they buy what they want. Solving the problem of people just being able to read a series for free all the time, Viz just pulls the chapters once a book goes out, leaving nothing but the first chapters of every volume for those “preview” pirate types.
There are a number of publishers who serialize online, but I find the problem with them is that they do so too infrequently to hold the attention of readers who are devouring manga at the pace of scanlation readers normally do.
3. An open mind and a better website:
It’s no big secret that most manga publisher websites suck. If they aren’t too busy and overwhelming, they’re hard to navigate and it’s difficult to find the information you want. Minimal web design is popular now for a reason- the faster users can find what they want, the faster they get gratification. I’m not saying that manga publishers can’t add flourishes here and there, but unnecessary content, tabs and whatnot should be taken down. We don’t need manga companies to be our social network stand-ins anymore, but every company should run a blog that publishes a bit more than just PR copy. I particularly like some of Viz’s blogs for Rin-ne and SigIkki and TOKYOPOP has some fun cultural content every week in its newsletter. (I used to write articles for it as an intern. It was great fun.) But there should be a blog and it should be the publisher’s hub for getting information out to the masses. And, most importantly, it should not be written like a press release.
Technically having a open mind should be a fourth thing on this list, but it’s something that really applies to it’s predecessors on this short list. Without an open mind, publishers are going to want to give up and just stick to print. But that’s not going to fly anymore. Publishers need to realize that experimentation is going to be necessary. If a digital publishing venture isn’t making money, it might be best to drop it and turn to a new idea. Internet culture changes so very quickly and there’s always some new device, technology or service out there and surviving will definitely go hand in hand with the ability to be nimble and able to adopt new things.
Is there anything else you feel that publishers should think of when working on digital publishing? I admit, it’s late at night and I might have missed something. Share what you think manga publishers should be doing to accommodate online readers.