The Future of Digital Manga, A Fairytale

June 25th, 2012

This morning, a post from Simona Stanzani came across my Facebook feed for a charming little comic called Rosie and Jacinda. I did a little research, found a delightful video trailer for it and ended up buying the comic. (Which seems to have been on sale in limited quantity, so I have no link for you at the moment, perhaps when they get it back in stock/print.)

This comic created a storm of discussion on poor Simona’s Facebook feed, so I wanted to move the conversation (at least my part of it) over here, where we’re free to write lengthy dissertations on why people who don’t agree with us are wrong. ^-^

Okay, let me first disclaim – I am a futurist. That is to say, I embrace change, look forward to it, enjoy the shift and ebb of format and policy and await new man/machine interfaces and forms of communication and information sharing with delight. This puts me in a very small minority of fandom. Fans (well, all people) are, by and large, quite conservative. Change distresses people. They rely on models they know, fear things they don’t, and frequently don’t understand that, whether or not they can see the reason for change, change is happening.

So, let’s start with the current model of comics and manga. I go to a store (online or brick and mortar) and I buy a physical copy of a book. There is very likely to be no other legal way for me to read that comic, as there are few comic/manga libraries. This model – I must purchase it to read it – is the old model on which both anime and manga industries are based. (For a really excellent look at this model, take a look at Justin Sevakis’ three-part series about the anime economy on Anime News Network. Part two is the most relevant here.)

Before digital, if I wanted to read a manga, or see an anime, there was a very small, slow underground for subs or translations. Buying the anime once it was licensed was the only real, legal option and, of course, all “true fans” did that to show their support.

This meant that I, as a fan, became a collector. Comics fans are often comics collectors, because it was obvious that after your piles of comics became too large to keep under your bed, long boxes would help you keep them in order…and mylar bags would keep them in good shape just in case you ever wanted to sell them. Which of course you would never do. So those boxes accumulate and voila! You’re a collector. Same with manga. You start to read One Piece and a few years later, it’s got three shelves of space to itself and you can’t get rid of it, because, well, you have all of it since the beginning, so you’ll just shift those other books to the other room and keep collecting. And, let’s be fair – there’s a certain level of OCD among us who are “fans” (as opposed to mere readers.) ^_^

Okay, so the old model was – you want the content, you must buy the physical item.

I’m going to skip the digital revolution and the implication of scans and subs here.

Here we are in a future that no one expected – the very system that fans created to make it easier to enjoy content has now begun to replace the model of purchasing a physical copy in order to enjoy content. Unfortunately, those same fans who are perfectly willing to enjoy the content for free digitally, only want to support it by purchasing a physical copy.

In other words, the equation “In order to enjoy it, I must buy it” has shifted to, “I must be able to own it, or I won’t buy it.”

Let’s talk for a bit about those piles of comics and manga we own. Do we read and re-read ALL of them? No, obviously not. We certainly re-read some of them, but it’s highly unlikely that all fans re-read all of the material they have collected. I have comics in my closet that I haven’t looked at in decades. I have manga on my shelves I read once and probably will never read again. I justify keeping them because they are part of my unique historical collection. But who really gives a shit? I mean, let’s be realistic. No one. Well…maybe one or two people on the planet. ^_^ I’m keeping them because I, like the fan I am, cannot imagine throwing them away. I’ve learned to do that with titles I really didn’t enjoy, things I don’t want in the house, titles that are irrelevant to me – I do contests or sell them. They are weeded from my collection. But still, the piles grow.

This is the major difference between the content and the physical item – space.

Right now, we’re perched on a precarious swing – one way we swing towards the past – “Print copy or I will not buy,” is the eternal call of the fan who grew up in the 20th century. The future is the cry of children being born right now, “A book? Oh, you mean those paper things Dad keeps in his study. I don’t know why he even keeps them, we have /madeupformatname/ now.” (Much the same as younger folks today look at their parents’ LP collections.)

Publishers are being squeezed to produce digital and print right now, because fans want both, but will only pay for one, or maybe might pay for both if they are “reasonable” (which means the lowest cost that item has ever been sold for.)

What it boils down to is that fans want to “own” the content, because we are used to “owning” the physical container of the content. Being able to access content isn’t comfortable or sufficient – we want to download it, because we are used to holding the content in our hands.

I’m going to pick one series and use it as a straw man. Kaguya-hime, by Shimizu Reiko, was a truly fantastic series. The art is beautiful, the story cracktastic and I loved it. Right now, I can see all 21 volumes of the series on my shelves. I love the manga content, but I really, truly don’t need to have the physical copies. If I were able to access the content without having the books themselves on my shelves, I’d dump them. Because I cannot access the content any other way at the moment, I keep the books. They take up space. Space I could use for something else. I am not likely to read Kaguya-hime all the way through again, but I do read bits and pieces of it – and I like to write about it, because it’s so nuts. Having access to to the content without having to keep the books themselves would be perfect.

Can one ever “own” content? Yes and no. I can own the thoughts and experiences of reading that content and the knowledge of that content. In the same sense that when I read a print book I borrow from the library, I can write about that book freely, but if I am to quote large passages of it, I’m required to get permission to do so because I do not own that content, but I can own my unique impressions of that content.

I own books, those physical containers of content. But, although I own the containers of Kaguya-hime, I don’t, in any meaningful way. own the content of the story. It says right in the book who the owners of that content are.

Let’s say I buy access to a digital version of Kaguya-hime. I still don’t “own” the content and now I don’t “own” the container, either. I will still “own” my unique perspective on the story. Many people strongly dislike this arrangement. Here are some of the valid, proven reasons why:

1) What if that company goes out of business?
2) Their proprietary format does not allow me access on all my devices.
3) I want to “own” what I buy.

The first is, of course valid, and people have felt burnt when companies changed models, formats, or gone out of business. This is of course true about many things, not just content – your gym might close, and render your membership null. Your house might burn down and render all those content containers you own into ash. Your mother might throw out your comic collection, rendering the few copies left of some old title that much more valuable to those people who will pay for it. As a futurist, I cannot believe that fear of possible negative outcomes should ever limit my mobility. Other people will chose differently. Our choices are all valid…but…those old models will change, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. As I said, I prefer to embrace change.

The second is, in my opinion, the strongest argument, but not a complete one. Yes, companies ought to make every attempt to make material accessible. However, no company can be responsible for your decisions and if you chose to by a device that will not read software that has become the standard…that really isn’t the content company’s fault. I’m not a big fan of completely proprietary formats either, and prefer universal formats like PDF and epub. Many companies are making inroads with Android and iOS apps that allow you to share your library of content between devices. That’s getting closer to the kind of portability we feel we have with books.

While I sympathize with the idea of wanting to “own” what one buys, I feel that cable TV and Internet access has already killed it as a valid objection. You do not “own” any of the content you enjoy on Netflix or Pay-per-view, either. You pay for the right to access and enjoy that content. Why this model is so repugnant in regards to anime or manga is a little confusing to me. It’s a done deal – we do this kind of thing every day already for content. Except we never have done this kind of thing for comics or manga before. And that’s different because we’re not already used to it.

This third objection is simply a relic of previous models – you are used to a model in which you paid money for a container and were able to move that container around as you so chose – even lend it out, if you wanted, because you “owned” that container.  If/when we can share digital content the way we share physical content containers, we’ll be right on the edge of that objection going away.

And based on comments below, I think I need to add a fourth objection:

4) This all sounds well and good but I want it NOW.

There is nothing to say to that, really.

But, will these objections actually go away if people can share content, and are assured that they can access it the way they want and when and where they want?

Probably not. And the reason for that has absolutely nothing to do with the objections themselves, however sensible they seem on the surface. Fans, as I am repeatedly made aware, are extremely conservative thinkers, as I said. Change is bad on the face of it, because we like what we like and why should we have to learn to like something else just because?  We LIKE books. Obviously, we are used to books. We understand them and their use and limitations. They are portable, universal in format (print on paper) and the only limitation they contain is whether we can read the language on the paper. (Digital may one day eliminate that, by being able to translate what is on the paper, but that’s a different fairytale.)

My argument against all of these objections comes down to “Of course, because this is what you are used to. When you are used to something else, it will not seem strange.” Can you imagine someone explaining MP3s to your parents when they were buying their first LPs? ^_^ My Dad is 75 – he loves his MP3 player. People do get used to change.

Here’s my futurist fairytale – I have a device that supports all standard formats. On that device I can access any of my digital content, regardless of where I am, or whether I am connected to the Internet. I can share that content with friends AND still have it for myself, as I cannot with a physical container, because the content is no longer bound (literally or figuratively) to the container. My content is available in translation and in the original, so I can read it in whichever language suits me. I can switch devices and still access my content.

I no longer need to buy the containers for content, when I can access that content anywhere, any time.

I don’t own the content, but then, I never did. I just owned the containers and my thoughts about the content…and the two things that the content conferred upon me – portability and ability to share – are replicated by this new system.

Because content containers are no longer de rigeur, they have become less typical. They will, like LPs now, be collector’s items and works of art, like the swords I collect. Books are not objects of every day use, but efforts of craftsmanship and beauty. I have space on my shelves for these, because I can access the content I want anytime, so I can surround myself with the most beautiful physical objects.

No one will ask you to destroy your comics or manga collection, but I bet in 40 years it will be mostly gone. It made sense to replace your LPs with CDs and your CDs with MP3s, each one of which made your music more portable and sharable. It made sense to replace movie reels with VHS, and then DVDs and now on-demand video. It will likewise one day be quite sensible to get rid of all those old manga volumes, because you’ll have different ways to access your content.

As a futurist I believe that, since change is inevitable, embracing change leads to fewer heartaches. And if this next format fails, it’s really no big deal because there will be a newer, more flexible, more universal format right after that.


As always, the comments are open for discussion, digression and argument. However, today I am putting an additional limitation on posters. The usual rules here are, do not insult or attack your fellow commenter or link to sites with illegal content. Today I’m adding this one rule: You may not tell a fellow commenter that they are wrong. Please feel free to express your opinion as freely as you like, but please also respect that everyone else’s opinion is valid. Thank you in advance.

I look forward to your perspective!

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54 Responses

  1. Sorry for the rambling comment, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, since I’ve amassed a huge collection of e-books but am still very resistant to digital manga.

    What I would like for manga is something similar to what I have for anime – a Crunchyroll for manga, something I can subscribe to and then have access to many titles, without having to buy them individually. You know, basically like a library. Back when I lived near a library with a great manga collection, asking for a subscription service like this would have been unthinkable to me. However, I no longer live near any libraries with decent manga collections, so I end up buying most of what I want to read. ILL is an option, but it is painfully slow when trying to read a long-running series.

    I’d be perfectly happy paying for a manga subscription service and then paying for print-on-demand copies of whatever manga I decide I like so much that I want copies I can guarantee will still be around if the subscription service goes away or the company loses the rights to the manga.

    A subscription service doesn’t even have the illusion of ownership. My problem with digital manga is that it does have something of the illusion of ownership – I highly doubt that the average person paying for Kindle or Nook books realizes that they don’t actually own what they’re paying for. When the prices of the digital manga are similar to what I might pay to get print manga used, or sometimes even brand new, I take issue with that lack of real ownership. It might be a different story if I knew I could get digital manga DRM-free and knew how easy it was to convert the files to other formats, though – this is what makes me less worried about my e-book collection, where I have made an effort to buy only DRM-free. I still don’t exactly own the files, not the same way I do print books, but it feels like I, as a purchaser of those files, have slightly more control over the future of my collection.

    If you happen to know of a legal subscription manga service of some sort or know of any companies selling DRM-free digital manga, I’d love to hear about it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The fantasy all-format device would be nice… and I take yoiur point on containers – but my main concern is not 40 years but 5-6 years.

    Every single manga I bought in electronic format before around 2005 – about $40 worth – I can no longer access. Lost as a result of changing computers, access, loss of companies, etc. I’d like to re-read the ones I bought in this format (e.g., Tomie) but I can’t.

    Every single manga I bought in print format from 1988 onward – about $2,000 worth – I still managed to have access to despite the same circumstances. I continue to enjoy re-reading them.

    I am not going to spend $2,000 on recreational reading I’m going to lose in four years.

    If digital manga was in a PDF format I probably would still have it, though, as then I’d have it backed up like my other files.

  3. Shannon Luchies says:

    I don’t actually disagree with anything you’ve posted, pretty much.

    (Tho I don’t think print will go the way of the LP. As ‘futurist’ as it sounds, I don’t think digital will really replace it, not unless it gets as cheap as print can be.)

    Saying that I don’t think the consumers are at the point where they will follow your model of reading by app off a site for a fee, tho. I think fans like me will still want a buy option, especially given some of the examples you mention.

    I alkso, frankly, am cheap. I do not want to pay a monthly subscription fee to a site for content, and have to keep paying it to reread or otherwise access the material. I would much rather just buy it and have it, even in digital form.

    That’s me, obviously, but I suspect I’m not alone.

  4. @Library Girl- JManga *is* a Crunchyroll for manga. They are adding new titles as fast as they can. ^_^

  5. Are they? I had thought they only allowed you to purchase individual works, but if you can subscribe and gain access to multiple titles, I’m so in. I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for the info!

  6. @Library Girl – JManga is working with a model that approximated going to a bookstore, rather than a magazine subscription. The points system makes it possible for them to allow people from all over the world to buy. Dollars/pounds/rubles translates into points, which means that we’re all paying our own equivalent of 500 points, regardless of exchange rate. $5, $5 pounds, etc. It flattens the playing field.

    I do believe that JManga would like to do magazine subscriptions one day, as well.

    But there is one bookstore you subscribe to right now and get unlimited use – your library. GO TO YOUR LIBRARY and ask them to Interlibrary Loan manga you want to read. ^-^

  7. I’m a librarian – it’s pretty much a given that I use libraries (both the one I work at and my local public library) and ILL – ILL is particularly fantastic for getting hold of OOP volumes. However, when I’m working on reading a 40+ volume series, trying to set up ILL requests so that later volumes don’t arrive sooner than earlier ones, it can take forever to get through a series, occasionally long enough that I’ve forgotten what happened in the previous volumes. As a result, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying lots of volumes. I like the reduced wait time, and I’ve found I like the ability to reread volumes without having to wait for ILL yet again.

  8. I think I’m more ready for the future than most… I eagerly anticipate a day where I can just plonk down my money and read manga, without having to malign the lack of selection, or worry about the ethical complication of scanlations. Just let me read the good stuff without feeling like I’m settling for less or cheating the original creators, please. That’s what I want: the ability to ethically read the best comics coming out of Japan. They don’t have to be available on my Android phone, and they can have DRM up the wazoo, and they can even be attached to a silly subscription model. I just want to be able to read them. And I want it yesterday.

    So derogotary JManga conversation just rubs me the wrong way. It seems to come from a place of luxury, as if the person is saying “you must please me to earn my hard-earned money.” Which is fair, coming from a customer standpoint. But I don’t come from that place, I come from a place of desperation. I’m desperate to repay the deficit I’ve amassed by enjoying scanlated manga so incredibly much.

    Even after becoming a man of modest means, I continue to download manga knowing the original creators won’t see a penny of compensation. A few weeks ago I read scanlations of Bokko and was literally transfixed by my computer monitor. It was one of the most pleasurable manga reading experiences I’ve had in ages. And it’s sort of shameful. Same things happens when I’m reading a chapter of Ken Ishikawa manga, or the latest Vinland Saga. Honestly, the vast majority of immensely satisfying manga experiences I’ve had were with out of print manga, or scanlations. And it bothers me. I buy the latest releases of manga all the time, but after a disparaging word or two on twitter I don’t have much to say about them. They don’t hold a torch to the scanlations I’ve read. Or the out of print stuff I’ve amassed. Of the stuff I’ve heard about that’s never been translated.

    So I’m not just eager for the future of digital manga, I’m kind of desperate for it. The vitality of my interest in manga depends on it.

  9. @LibraryGirl – The repeated thing that there is no answer for is the same as Anonymous’ concern – we are in a period of flux and right now there is no *one* perfect method. We’re used to there being only one method (books) and when a secon method came around (digital) we expected it to be as fully formed as the other method was.

    This is a period of change and this is exactly what it looks like. People are horribly impatient with change – we want it to be over and done with and all the bugs worked out. Working out the bugs in imperfect systems is exactly what we will spend our lives doing. ^_^

    Change is not the destination. When this format starts to work, expect the next disruption.

    So no, *right now* what you want doesn’t exist and it may never exist the way you want it. There are, however good options right now and it’s up to you to decide if you want to try them or wait for the next set. ^-^

  10. @Milo – I’m with you! I want *any* option, rather than a laundry list of specific “you must do this or will withold my $10” requirements.

    JManga is, IMHO the closest, best idea we have right now to being able to access any damn bit of manga out there. They are really responsive and thoughtful about their choices and I know (because I’m part of it) they are adding more manga every day. I’d love for the opportunity to read any damn old thing being published in Japan anywhere, in any format. But you and I are products of the old fandom, not the fandom bred by scans and subs. We payed for what we wanted from the get-to and never had to be convinced to do so.

  11. That’s a great post many of the issues are well thought but there are few things I would like to nitpick.

    The cable TV model is very different from the current models used for digital books and comics. Cable TV is like music on radio not music on albums. A digital offer that’s similar to the cable TV model is O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online where they offer they entire book catalog for a fixed monthly fee.

    Lacking ownership is problematic if you offer a bookstore model (i.e. pay for individual content) because there’s a mismatch in user experience and analogies used by the customer to setup expectations.

    Even with a subscription model, lack of control implied by lack of ownership can be a big deal. For example, many music services lose rights for certain tracks you “bought” making them disappear from your “library”, others check your location via IP and block your access when you’re travelling, some may refuse to load unless they can connect online first to check your location making it harder to use on planes. Amazon took down Orwell’s books from Kindle, removing them from their customers devices without warning.

    If the price is too close to the physical item price then it’s hard to not expect ownership. If the digital offer is much cheaper we don’t care much.

    Lastly, with digital content piracy is always an option for consumers. Companies may not like it but the more restrained their offers more customers stop buying and pirate instead. We can spend all day complaining about how immoral, illegal, unethical, etc., it is but it won’t stop happening. There’s a myth many publishers believe about piracy not being about convenience, but it is: when it’s more convenient to buy legally people do so. Steam shows it, Kindle shows it, Itunes shows it, Netflix shows it.

    JManga model can even end up working if they drop down a bit their prices and have more releases, right now half a dozen of releases per week is not enough for most fans. For example, it’s been weeks since I last “bought” something on JManga because there’s nothing interesting for me anymore (well, besides the stuff that isn’t available in my region), I “bought” all I wanted (including a couple of series that I discovered while browsing their catalog. Their prices without the discounts, pointbacks, and bonuses, are a bit too high for most, I wouldn’t pay if it was not to show support, I would prefer to buy physical copies.

  12. Eric P. says:

    Thanks for your views, they were interesting!

    Anyway, I like my physical library, because taking a look at it is like a reflection of my identity. Sure I may run out of space, but either I just make room, or if there are titles that don’t hold any significance to me like most of the others, then I’ll sell them.

    Maybe I would be deemed an old-fashioned traditionalist, but my newest reason for preferring the ‘containers’ over the ‘device’ is because I spend so much time on my computer and some other electronic gadgets that I seriously need a freaking break from the computer screen every now and then, otherwise both my eyes and my brain get shot after a while. Reading in a book is truly a different experience than reading from a screen. With a book in my hands that is separate from the World Wide Web and that is a property of me and nobody else (I am, of course, specfically referring to the container I bought, not the story itself), I feel more divulged in the world that I’m reading, and with the number of pages that flip by, I get more the sense of going on a journey with the characters I’m reading. When I go on trips, it’s like bringing along inanimate friends in my bag. And there’s a definite feeling of my books aging with me.

    That’s not to say I’m a total whiny stickler against the digital medium or that I’m completly against change for myself personally. If I want to check out something that is not available through any physical media but through online, then I’ll definitely make exceptions. But I’ll always think of books as important and needed. You yourself have announced the news on the YML of the upcoming ‘Rica ‘tte Kanji’ omnibus. Although I have the option of reading it for free online, since there’ll still be a print version I’m still giong to get my copy and add to my precious collection.

  13. @Eric P. – Yes, exactly. You’re used to the idea and have fond association of it. You are now what will be in the future considered old-fashioned. ^-^

  14. Old-fashioned Zefi says:

    Let’s talk for a bit about those piles of comics and manga we own. Do we read and re-read ALL of them? No, obviously not.

    Obviously, we do, actually, so don’t answer for us, please.

    I sure do. I also reread the books I own (which are in quite a high number). So does my mother, my sister, and several people I know. I wasn’t aware that it was unusual.

    So…I for one am very glad that all this digital nonsense is staying a fringe part of the audience in my country. I have yet to find a single reason to leave the dead tree format behind, and consequently only buy on paper.

    …and I will move to a different home in a month, leading me to move about 200 manga and 400+ books. And yet, I still prefer my paper. A girl gotta work out!

  15. Anonymous says:

    As a self-identifying futurist I largely agree. I just want to gravely misrepresent my dislike of your argument in the form of a nitpick: that burning-house-down analogy rubs me the wrong way because the odds of those things happening are so different, it’s in the order of like, what, 10^5 or 10^6? It’s like comparing the odds of you dying because you slip and fell, versus the odds of you slipping and falling. There are maybe a dozen or two ebooks companies out there and how many went out of the business in the past 10 years? There are like 30-40 houses in my neighborhood and none caught fire in the past 10 years as far as I can tell.

    But that’s irrelevant. I understand your point about risk and I agree to the degree that ultimately aversion to risk has nothing to do with any futurist mentality but a personal sort of decision about comfort. Rational people, of course, take rational risks (eg., sometimes it’s uncomfortable); no risk no reward after all. And my opinion is that the reward is still what drives buyers to embrace change (and make non-buyers…non-buyers).

  16. Reading this made me feel old. :)

    I prefer print a lot, but ever since I moved from a house to a condo, I had to do a lot of thinking regarding space for my manga. I had to sell some of my collection and now limiting my physical copy-buying to a few select titles.

    I also am going through the same dilemma for video games as I still have a library of disc-based games. We’re heading to a future where games will be distributed digitally over being disc-based given the development costs of games. Some folks are hesitant about that change as well.

    For those that seem hesitant on change, perhaps we should remind them that nothing lasts forever.

  17. Betty Anne says:

    You can throw me in as a ‘futurist’ by necessity. I still pay for content – both digital and print – but I now have a preference for digital because of its portability. I put it on my laptop or iPad and take it anywhere with me. By contrast, my print books are a huge pain to lug around. On top of it, I’ve found myself having to move frequently, in search of cheaper and cheaper housing (which also tends to become smaller and smaller in space), and with my husband on the road, I’m the one moving all those boxes of books each time. It’s getting to the point it’s just not worth it – I already have a box worth of books on my iPad, and my iPad can fit in my purse. As much as I love print books, and always have, I just can’t justify them anymore. :(

  18. DezoPenguin says:

    A very thought-provoking post.

    I am not a self-identifying futurist, but I am a collector of books and manga, and I do reread books from my existing collection quite often–often, well over a hundred books a year are reread (apparently, I read something like 435 books per year, or at least I did in 2006 when I was curious enough to keep count @_@). I don’t demand that I have the ability to reread everything I ever buy, but I do want to have the option to control my own purchases.

    With virtually every other form of media, there was an option to own. I could go to a library and borrow a book, knowing that I had to give it back in X number of days, or I could go to a bookstore and buy it, making it mine for as long as I could keep it intact. I could go to a video rental store and rent a movie, or I could buy it. Ditto for music.

    The problem with the digital model is this: It’s a rental treated as a purchase. That is, I pay money to the content provider, and I get the right to use the content for a specified time period, but that time period is an indefinite “as long as we feel like it.” Which could be years or it could be days. With books, so long as I take care of them, I can use them, even if it’s twenty or thirty years later. And ultimately, uncertainty is an unpleasant feeling. As a customer of a digital seller, I functionally have no idea what I’m paying for. And very often, the cost of that digital copy is equal to or very similar to that of the print copy.

    Specifically applicable to books is one other point which you did not address. The printed book is different from every single other form of media in that for a book, the content storage medium and the content playback device is the same item. For a vinyl record, tape, CD, DVD, or a digital file, whether I own the storage medium or not, I have to take that and plug it into some piece of technology to actually experience the content. And eventually–faster and faster, in the modern era–that technology will cease to exist. But a book will never be obsolete–I can *always* access the content by way of a book.

    That isn’t to say that I refuse to buy digital products. I have a JManga subscription and I use it, because it offers a legal way to own the manga I want to buy. But there’s also a reason why I did not buy “GirlFriends” from them and *have* pre-ordered the print release, which is that I will always prefer the print release for anything that I suspect that I will want to read more than once.

  19. DezoPenguin says:

    Another problem with the JManga model, specifically (content stored remotely, accessed by me) is the issue of transmission. Or in other words, if I’m reading a print copy, or a downloaded digital copy stored by me on my own computer, I can read instantly, without having to stare at the “Loading” sign for thirty to sixty seconds every time I want to “turn the page” (as was my experience for reading Kagome-Kagome vol. 3 last week). The same issue applies to any other kind of remotely stored streaming content (is there anyone who hasn’t had issues at some time or other with Crunchyroll or Funimation or NicoNico any other source of legal streams?). That doesn’t make the model wrong, but it’s a flaw to overcome; the tech infrastructure has to improve for the digital dream to become reality.

  20. @DezoPenguin – Nowhere am I saying that the JManga model is perfect. They know it too and have been remarkably responsive to user requests.

    I *am* saying that resistance to change, which is inevitable, is futile. ^_^ It’s up to each of us how we deal with change and I would always rather be in front of it than behind. I look forward to the future and what new means of communication and information sharing exist.

    @Zefi – Things change *whether you like it or not.* That’s why it’s change. ^_^

    For those of you unsure of the word “futurist” as I mean it here, it’s a mindset that embraces and encourages change, that looks forward to the evolution of human/machine interfaces and information sharing. Not just, “yeah, I’ll get a reader ’cause I have to” but more “I’m here to volunteer for the first neural network implant.” ^_^

  21. Anonymous says:

    I’m not necessarily resistant to change, but I am a sophisticated consumer who recognizes the difference between a good at a fair price, and an overpriced, shoddy .

    There is a difference between a download-to-own PDF, and digital models which force you to read on their platforms, only when you’re connected to the internet, in crappy quality, works which will, I assume, evaporate when their licenses expire.

    Personally, I’m more than happy to buy the first, and I resent paying for the other. I’m sure it’s noble intentions that drive some of the commentors above to say they’re happy to pay for anything legal they can get, but it’s not unreasonable for me to demand some level of quality and control. Beggars can’t be choosers, but payers can.

  22. @Anonymous – Because what you want doesn’t not exist in a perfect form already, fans cannot imagine that there may ever be a time when a compromise is reached. So they get pissy – they don’t care about the future, they want it NOW. Well, the future is in process. Change is messy. I’d rather try and shape that future than complain about the present, but that’s just me.

  23. Anonymous says:

    That’s supposed to say good *product and shoddy *experience

    FTR I’m not just pissily complaining, I’m making a valid comparison. SuBLime manga is actually available in PDF format, NOW, and It puts other digital options to shame.

  24. @Anonymous – I slipped up and used “you” when I meant “they,” my apologies. I agree that payers can help provide critical feedback on what they want.

    Niche imprints definitely have far less to lose with downloadable formats. ^_^

  25. BruceMcF says:

    Very most excellent ruminations on #NewMedia vs #OldMedia ~ I already done retweeted it.

    I cannot afford to pay JManga prices for things I will only read once, so I very much want them to have a “read once” price, whether its a chapter by chapter “rent for a week at 1/5 the chapter price”, or a magazine “rent access to this magazine volume until the second volume after this comes out” …

    … but an advantage for the manga that I do want ongoing access to is that even the ones that I cannot read easily on my main online devices I can sooner or later read on a bigger screen computer, and sooner or later they’ll get the reader functions where I can read the titles on my main online devices.

  26. grey-bard says:

    I like Jmanga well enough. It’s better than anything we as Yuri fans had before! I wish they let us buy only as many points as we wanted and download for use in case they go out of business, but what the hell. Still a step forward! The prices are even pretty reasonable.

  27. Tomoyo says:

    I really do agree with the idea that physical volumes of manga will one day be obsolete and replaced by digital manga, but I can’t imagine parting with my manga collection just yet. :( I love being able to pick up a volume off my shelf and thumbing through the pages. I lose the convenience of being able to read my manga from anywhere, any time, but owning these individual volumes of my favorite series makes me indescribably happy. I guess that’s what it means to be a collector.

    There are many books on my shelf (books, not manga) that I’ve already decided to dump once their e-reader equivalents are available. I have no problem doing that with my books. It’s going to be very convenient to have them all accessible from the same device after I get around to doing it. But for my manga… I’m still hesitating. =/ Seriously, it’s gotta be the collector mindset that makes me want to hold no to my shelves of manga that take up so much space even though I can see the benefits of digital manga. I wonder how long it will take my brain to embrace a new way of “collecting” manga.

  28. I still buy books, no interest in switching, but I also still buy CD’s with no interest in switching to MP3’s either. Because I like the burden of having full shelves, and, when I run out of space on my shelves, I just buy more shelves.

    I’m happy that JManga at least dangled the faint possibility of print-on-demand copies of YURU YURI in that thread in the ANN forums. I wish you all the success in the world in your digital distribution endeavors, but I’ll remain a proud physical media luddite. ;-)

  29. Kathryn says:

    This is such an interesting essay, and I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments. This discussion reminds me of a recent post on NPR’s All Songs Considered blog in which a college-age intern explained that she has grown up in a digital culture in which purchasing music was not something she needed to in order to acquire it. She ended her thoughts with the statement that, even though she wants to support artists,

    I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.

    With this in mind, I think that what gets lost in discussions of digital media and fan entitlement is the idea of convenience.

    I personally prefer digital media because of the aspect of convenience with which you opened your essay, namely, that physical books can become unwieldy once a certain critical mass has been reached. I also don’t care that Amazon has a proprietary reader for its Kindle books, since the proprietary reader is well designed, easy to micromanage, and can sync between an unlimited number of different devices. In other words, I use the Kindle store/reader because it’s convenient for me.

    A good example of digital manga done right is Viz’s Sublime Manga outlet. Their web-based e-reader functions smoothly (unlike those of the Yen Plus magazine or JManga or “mainstream” comic publishers like Vertical), you can download the manga you’ve purchased as a PDF file, you can buy and access the manga on the site from anywhere in the world without a subscription, and their manga only cost $5.99 (as opposed to, for example, the $9.99/$11.99 prices on the DMP store). The Sublime Manga website is also visually attractive and easy to navigate, and the translation quality of their titles seems to be consistently high. If that’s not remarkably close to a perfect model, I don’t know what is – but of course they only sell BL manga.

    What I’m trying to prove with the Sublime Manga example (and the Kindle example as well) is that a model that meets fan expectations of convenience (both in terms of low cost and accessibility) exists; and, judging from its reception on various manga blogs, it seems to be both popular and market effective as well.

    I am a huge supporter of JManga, and I hope that, as the site becomes more convenient – by which I mean easier to navigate, less buggy, cheaper, and more widely accessible – more people will be willing to pay for its content.

    Debates concerning issues such as entitlement and subscription models and ownership aside, I really do think that the bottom line for most consumers is convenience and ease of accessibility (although whether those consumers are the most vocal on the internet is another story). In the end, if digital media is more convenient, I think that’s the way the market will shift.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I prefer digital to paper. I’ve bought several thousand dollars of DRM-free ebooks (mostly doujinshi, as the doujin world is the forerunner there). I love the space-saving aspect, and not having to deal with shipping.

    But there is no way to spin DRM as a positive thing for customers. Making analogies about houses burning down is hogwash. It would only be equivalent if one of the conditions for buying paper books was that you had to store them in a candle-lit warehouse full of open barrels of gasoline.

    Pay per view? Netflix? That’s not buying; that’s renting. Renting has its place, but its not a replacement for buying. I’m not opposed to the idea of book rental at prices low enough to make sense, either individually or as part of an all-you-can eat service.

    But when I love a book enough to want a permanent copy, I want a fucking permanent copy.

  31. @Anonymous – I’m not making any case at all for DRM. I think it’s hogwash too.

    Out of curiosity, are are you legally purchasing digital doujinshi? Almost every doujinshi and manga artist I know is strongly against digital distribution and most refuse to allow their work to be made digital. The few times I have seen doujinshi for sale as a digital release it’s been a highly illicit sale – scanlators selling someone else’s work as theirs.

  32. Last comment on my part – all of you writing in to say that you like old media and don’t want to change…yes, that’s the point.

    It really doesn’t matter what you want – media will change. My parents don’t listen to their LPs anymore, either.

  33. a-cubed says:

    There is a further revolution needed. Creators and paying fans need to get away from the idea of paying in retrospect. We need to move to a threshold release system of some sort (look in up on Wikipedia) for pre-paying creators to do the work (preferably at a fixed price rather than the bizarre kickstarter system where things like Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman’s recent campaign was over-subscribed by 900%).
    Creators should be paid a reasonable single payment that they know they will get for each piece they create. It scales because if you’re popular lots of people will pay a modest amount. No other rights (such as film adaptations) are effected by doing this, except the right to charge for electronic distribution. Electronic distribution of past work becaomes the advertising for future work and so creators encourage it instead of feeling cheated by it.

  34. Anonymous says:

    It’s kind of ironic that you close with a remark about people not listening to LPs anymore, since vinyl is back in a big way. I’m in my 50s and I never stopped listening to LPs, and I recently gave my 22-yo daughter turntable lessons. Most of the “hip indie” bands are releasing vinyl options.

    I really think you’re setting up a false dichotomy. Plenty of the folks here are saying they like old media AND are willing to embrace new media. I mean, I have LPs, CDs, MP3s…but most of the digital manga on offer right now is, let’s say, at the 8-track level.

  35. BruceMcF says:

    Some random anon (really, its not that hard to just pick a pseudonym and use the Name/URL option ~ if you are put off by the labeling, the URL is actually optional): “Pay per view? Netflix? That’s not buying; that’s renting. Renting has its place, but its not a replacement for buying.

    And unlike Japan, manga and anime fans in the US and similar overseas markets have been buying what they would really like to buy, and also buying what they would indeed just rent, if given the option. That is, after all, what the “disposable” manga magazines are in Japan, the renting of the manga chapters on release, until you toss the magazine or pass it on to someone else. Then the chapters are collected in tankoubon, often with some small additional extra content as a bonus to the buyers.

    In anime, the digital equivalents are simulcasts for rental and digital downloads for buying ~ the latter mostly on dedicated device markets for the XBox, Playstation, or iTunes.

    In manga, the digital equivalents are YenPlus, (ad-supported) SigIKKI, and Shonen Jump alpha for renting and JManga and ebooks (Nook Comics, etc.) for buying.

    Both renting and buying are needed for a healthy market ecosystem.

  36. Anonymous says:

    “In other words, the equation ‘In order to enjoy it, I must buy it’ has shifted to, ‘I must be able to own it, or I won’t buy it.'”

    …but wasn’t it *already* “I must be able to own it, or I won’t buy it” *at the same time as* “In order to enjoy it, I must buy it”?

    I mean, owning a thing is why buying a thing was invented in the first place! :)

    Centuries before the nation of Japan was founded, many people already had the “I must be able to own it, or I won’t buy it” approach when they went to their local bazaars. :)

    Meanwhile, paying for a thing in order to *temporarily* enjoy it *without* owning it is called *renting*. :)

    “…The future is the cry of children being born right now, ‘A book? Oh, you mean those paper things Dad keeps in his study. I don’t know why he even keeps them, we have /madeupformatname/ now.’…”

    As if *none* of the parents raising children being born right now want to buy children’s books for their sons and daughters and/or have kept books from their own childhoods to read to their children.

    As if *all* of the children’s librarians today expect to throw out their entire paper and cardpaper collections and have nothing left to offer but lendable ebooks (see ) in a few years when the children being born right now are preschoolers.

    A Library Girl, you probably know more about this than me. How excited are you and your colleagues about throwing away all your children’s books?

    “…The points system makes it possible for them to allow people from all over the world to buy. Dollars/pounds/rubles translates into points, which means that we’re all paying our own equivalent of 500 points, regardless of exchange rate…”

    Now I get it, thanks! :) That makes so much sense! :)

    “…But there is one bookstore you subscribe to right now and get unlimited use – your library. GO TO YOUR LIBRARY and ask them to Interlibrary Loan manga you want to read. ^-^”

    YES! :D :D :D

    I do this myself, and get the latest volume of Ooku before the next volume is out in English. :)

    “…I really think you’re setting up a false dichotomy. Plenty of the folks here are saying they like old media AND are willing to embrace new media. I mean, I have LPs, CDs, MP3s…but most of the digital manga on offer right now is, let’s say, at the 8-track level…”

    Good points! :D

    It’s futurist to welcome future media. :)

    It’s not futurist to want or expect old media to disappear ASAP in the future when future media arrive, even before some people can access to that future media, after all.

    It’s just conservatively ignoring the vast diversity of people and media in the world to do *that.*

    “…Both renting and buying are needed for a healthy market ecosystem.”


  37. Anonymous says:

    “…That is, after all, what the ‘disposable’ manga magazines are in Japan, the renting of the manga chapters on release, until you toss the magazine or pass it on to someone else…”

    How much of a late fee do you have to pay if you don’t toss the magazine quickly enough?

  38. BruceMcF says:

    How much of a late fee do you have to pay if you don’t toss the magazine quickly enough?
    Same late fee you pay if you don’t throw your newspaper in the trash or recycle bin in the US. And some people collect newspapers, I guess, but most people toss them. What matters for the market is the regular behavior of most of the market.

    Unlike paper serials, digital “serials” are “printed” on the same quality of paper as digital to own. So some form of temporary rather than permanent access seems the most likely way that the successful serial/tankoubon model can be put onto a more global marketplace.

    The model that best fits JManga might be chapter at a time two week access for a fixed fraction of the volume price, which would allow JManga members to basically put together their own serials on an ad hox basis. Since the publisher doesn’t actually have to pay for the paper twice, I like the model where someone who buys permanent access is credited with payments already made for temporary access to the same work.

    But there’s a lot to like about the serial model in its own right, in terms of artist development, so one model that would fit in well with the Japanese model would be purchase of access to a serial for a given period.

  39. Being a futurist myself, I’m quite infatuated with MP3s and ebooks (the latter is in fact the only reason why I’m now writing that project I started as a manga in 1992). But I still have a lot of books (including a still growing manga collection) and read them, and I’m still adding to my huge LP collection and listening to them.

    Over the years I’ve noticed that the long-term trend is not toward less material media (e.g. MP3s) replacing more material ones (LPs), but greater diversity of formats. Maybe a few formats will disappear (CDs, VHS, eventually DVD), but that’s the trend I’ve observed, and I expect it to continue.

    That’s my opinion, anyway…

  40. @Dennis – I agree completely. I have 78s, LPs, CDs, Mp3s and I expect to add to my formats. As I say, I don’t think we’ll burn our books, just that they won’t be our go-to media, just as 78s and VHS tapes aren’t.

  41. Anonymous says:

    “…Maybe I would be deemed an old-fashioned traditionalist, but my newest reason for preferring the ‘containers’ over the ‘device’ is because I spend so much time on my computer and some other electronic gadgets that I seriously need a freaking break from the computer screen every now and then, otherwise both my eyes and my brain get shot after a while. Reading in a book is truly a different experience than reading from a screen…”

    That’s why I like BOTH formats!

    Reading a book “cover” to “cover”? I prefer paper for the same reasons you do. :) I also don’t have to buy batteries for it. I don’t have to hold (and risk dropping!) an expensive electronic investment in one hand, while hanging onto a subway car ceiling strap with the other, when I want to read during my crowded commute. BTW, could the risk of dropping a book on the train be one of the reasons that I heard ebook readers don’t sell as well in Japan as in the U.S.? I don’t know.

    Doing a keyword search in order to look up something I vaguely remember from back when I read the book last time? Now this is why I love ebooks too, because it’s impossible to do keyword searches anywhere near as fast on paper! Sure some nonfiction has indexes and those are good, but sometimes the keyword I remember isn’t in the index…and what about the rest of the nonfiction and all the fiction that doesn’t even have indexes?

    So yeah, the near future I imagine has room for both families of formats since I don’t limit my imagination to one! :D

    Hey, what if someday there’s a THIRD family of book format, one that’s neither paper/cardboard/etc. nor PDF/EPUB/webpages/etc…?

    I can also imagine a future in which children don’t remember paper books…but that’s because I can imagine the distant future too!

    It’s very unlikely that children born *today* won’t know paper books, but why limit my imagination and narrow my mind to the *near* future? There will be even more future and even more generations of children after that!

    Imagine what sorts of electronic and post-electronic formats will be as many thousands of years forward from us as we are forward from the first writing on clay tablets… :D

    “@Dennis – I agree completely…”

    Me three! :D

    “…I have 78s, LPs, CDs, Mp3s and I expect to add to my formats. As I say, I don’t think we’ll burn our books, just that they won’t be our go-to media, just as 78s and VHS tapes aren’t.”

    Yeah! :D

  42. @Anonymous – E-readers don’t have the market saturation in Japan because less content is available for them. When electronic content is available, it is, it’s optimized for phones, which has been quite successful as a distribution model. Even manga tends to be distributed on phone rather than e-reader.

    This year Amazon JP is releasing Japanese Kindle content. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes anything.

  43. Anonymous says:

    “When electronic content is available, it is, it’s optimized for phones, which has been quite successful as a distribution model. Even manga tends to be distributed on phone rather than e-reader.”

    Thanks for the explanation…

    …and a phone is easier to grasp firmly with one hand than is a Kindle or Nook or iPad (I do see people using these on the subway too, but only when they have seats instead of standing and straphanging)!

  44. @Anonymous – That’s not what I see on the trains in Tokyo – pretty much everyone has their phone in hand whether they are sitting or standing. Some are listening to music or playing games, but most are texting/emailing and reading.

  45. Anonymous says:

    “…So I’m not just eager for the future of digital manga, I’m kind of desperate for it. The vitality of my interest in manga depends on it.”

    Speaking of interest in manga, I’ve seen new listings of scanlated titles (and no I will not link to them!). The -lation in scanlation comes from translation…but they don’t translate the titles these days, just transliterate them.

    Since Japanese is not one of my languages, I can tell that these titles are transliterations of Japanese titles but I *can’t* tell anything of what they’re *about* at first glance the way I can with a list of titles that have English words in them. Therefore, none of these titles interest me the way a title I can read could interest me.

    So…maybe this don’t-translate-the-title behavior by scanlators will make scanlations even less interesting to some potential new manga readers who stumble across their pages? Maybe it’ll slow the rate of people joining the scanlation in-crowd?

  46. Anonymous says:

    @Erica Friedman 10:49 AM

    I probably should have clarified I mean Japanese language ebooks, not English, for both doujinshi and otherwise.

    For doujinshi, I’ve shopped at a various Japanese download stores like Gyutto, DMM, Melonbooks, ToraNoAna, DLsite, etc.

    For major publishers, some books are available in DRM-free PDF or XMDF (and occasionally .book), from places like Papyless, DMM, DLsite, etc.

    Sorry for ranting in your direction, nothing personal. :)

  47. @Anonymous – No apologies needed, comments and rants are always welcome. ^_^

  48. Lisa says:

    For non-downloadable digital content, how do licenses work? Once a license runs out, the content will no longer be available, right? So isn’t all such content perforce of limited durability? (Unless perhaps one has one’s access through the original rights holder.)

    In the past there’s been a sense that when something is published it adds to the eternal corpus of created human works. Of course print works have sometimes been completely lost in history, but it seems not unlikely that non-downloadable content may simply vanish at some point. What does that do to the futurescape of human creative activity?

  49. BruceMcF says:

    @Lisa, the licenses work as they are written. For example, if the terms of the license are that the licensee can offer perpetual access, then when the license runs out, the existing “owners” can continue to access their work but the access right cannot be granted to additional accounts. Whether the licensor is willing to do that likely entails how much money is in it for them, since it constrains the future rights that they can grant.

    But the institution of fixed license terms is one that is adapted to the economics of print runs. The economics of electronic distribution points to licenses with minimum guaranteed terms that automatically rollover unless rescinded, since unless there is another licensee out there, there is a substantial benefit to having the title in digital print as part of the long tail collecting residuals at an incremental net revenue to the licensee and no additional transaction cost to the licensor.

    In anime, Crunchyroll already seems to have something along those lines for titles, with series from the last few years tending to only leave the catalog if the title is licensed for physical release (Aoi Hana was an exception). One assumes that the titles they have sublicensed will term out as normal in about seven years time, but if they have automatic rollover for some of their titles, then there’s no reason for those titles to ever term out, unless someone else picks up the title.

  50. I was very much against digital content even though I’m a big fan of convenience. I thought I was going to have a difficult period of adjustment, but I coped far better with not being able to smell the book than I thought I would. It’s a balance people will have to find for themselves, but they should not delay too long, otherwise they risk being forced into it.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Risk being forced into it or risk being left behind. :(

    Change isn’t a simple now-to-then thing. The future will have even more change than that – a whole bunch of changes! :) The *order* in which those changes happen is important and I like remembering that when I imagine the future. :)

    For a more familiar example before we return to the ebook issue, here’s the new manga comes out in Japan -> people buy it in English change.

    If it happens in the order

    1. New manga comes out in Japan
    2. another publisher buys the English license for it
    3. it becomes available in English
    4. people buy it in English

    then that’s what many of us want. :D

    If it happens in the order

    1. New manga comes out in Japan
    2. it becomes available in English
    3. another publisher buys the English license for it
    4. people buy it in English

    then it has the same 1. and 4. However, in *this* version there’s scanlation, which is unfair to whomever creates the manga.

    It’s the same new manga comes out in Japan -> people buy it in English change either way, but the sequence of the intermediate changes matter.

    Got it? Good! :)

    Now, back to ebooks in general and the mostly paper books -> all ebooks change.

    If it happens in the order

    1. mostly paper books
    2. everyone gets access to the internet
    3. paper books disappear
    4. all ebooks

    then AWESOME! :D

    If it happens in the order

    1. mostly paper books
    2. paper books disappear
    3. everyone gets access to the internet
    4. all ebooks

    then AWFUL! D:

    Of course, the 1. and the 4. are the same in both sequences!

    However, in the latter sequence, a lot of people go *without any books* for a while before they can have books again. That’s so sad!

    (see , especially the “Digital access is a catchy term for a troubling Philadelphia problem: At least 41 percent of households don’t have Internet access…” part)

  52. Anonymous says:

    microfilm was the wave of the future. what happened there? Dystopia baby. Good luck buying a reader or printer on the cheap. For me? I will stick with container books for the ones I plan on rereading and rereading. the rest I will get from my friendly neighborhood library.

  53. Anonymous says:

    This may be a little off-topic, but Library Girl made me think of it. Recently I made a big move over-seas, and had to make the huge sacrifice regarding my bookshelves. All the manga that I had only read once…I donated to the local Public Library System. They got a 100+ manga infusion. On the other hand, my Anime collection is stored in my brother’s basement. :) Books can fall victim to dust, moisture, and decay — shame to lock them up. I like to think that my manga are happily hopping from hand to hand and recruiting readers every day!

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