Robot 6

Manga piracy moves to the Kindle

It was inevitable that someone would try manga piracy on the Kindle. It’s actually coming a bit late: The iTunes store is riddled with manga apps that pick up files from pirate sites like OneManga.com.

The Kindle is more of a closed system, so you have to hack it a bit, but an entrepreneur has figured it out. Manga on the Kindle is a subscription service; for $5 a month, you can download your choice of manga to your Kindle. It sounds legit, until you look at the list of available manga: Naruto, Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, Air Gear. No way is any American manga publisher going to let properties like that go to an obscure multi-comic app like this.

So how do they do it? At first I thought this might be published as a blog or e-zine on Amazon’s Kindle service, but it’s not. Basically, it’s just downloads that can be configured to go on a Kindle. There’s something touchingly old-school about the instructions page; it reminds me of the beginner’s guides to IRC (Internet Relay Chat) that scanlation sites used to feature, back when you still had to download. It’s written in the same friendly, reassuring tone, and it explains absolutely everything that will happen.

It’s pretty blatant piracy, but Manga on the Kindle gets a lot of things right. They offer the most popular titles, they don’t restrict it to a single publisher, and they offer a couple of first volumes for free. This last one is key: If you’re going to use digital comics as a sampler, you might as well be generous. Viz wants $4.99 for the first volume of Naruto in their iPad app; Square Enix wants $5.99 for the first volume of Fullmetal Alchemist at their online manga site. In a word: No! These are first volumes of series that have been around for years; free copies are readily available through libraries, Paperback Swap, or your best friend’s older brother. Charging full price for them is shortsighted and greedy, given that the publishers made their nut on these years ago.

Whoever is behind this has some good insights into what readers want. The list of available manga includes a lot of strong titles, and there are at least ten volumes of each. At five bucks a month, it’s actually quite a bargain, especially since you download the manga onto your computer and therefore get to keep it forever—no fear that the Amazon folks will sneak in in the middle of the night and take it back, as they did with 1984.

I assume this will be taken down pretty quickly once the publishers notice (and assert their legal rights), but I hope someone is paying attention. I doubt this site will get much traction because of the clunky download procedure, but the guy behind it gets almost everything else right.

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17 Comments

VIZ is offering some volumes for free on the IPAD- I recall they had Death Note 1 as a freebie to kick off the line. I think they will have things streamlined more once they start offering the free first chapters they already have on the internet for the SigIkki, SJ and SBeat titles on the kindle and Ipad. Though I think those might already be accessinle on the IPAD w/internet browsing [unless Apple's anti-flash stance gets in the way]

I think it’s time again for bloggers to do a new roundup of legit online manga offerings- there’s a lot out there, but now enough awareness, and bloggers tend to reach more readers then the usual advertising routes where pubs have to compete with pirates for adspace.

I think its also important for fans and bloggers to keep one thing in mind when evaluating their expectations for a manga site- can what I’d like be done in a way that will still result in the artists being paid? That’s the key dilemma, and is why these things take so long to get worked out as digital rights get negociated- I imagine VIZ did something right via their negociations given all the major titles they debuted with, and how well their anthology sites have been maintained. I imagine we’ll see some major stuff in 2011, but we’ll have to wait and see….

I will give you Square Enix as a kind of iffy one- I think their site would be a little more palatable if they offered some titles that aren’t already in english in print, and if they offered things in a few more formats. Though having looked at putting my own comics in the kindle, Kindle takes a big chunk of your price- I imagine that’s what’s keeping many publishers off the kindle, until they can negociate their own prices on it. That’s why most manga/comic pubs offer Ipad Apps that link into their own system rather then sell titles directly off the Ipad.

Also, the logic of “you can already get it for free everywhere, why pay for it” is flimsy Brigid- it’s not like VIZ is offering Naruto Vol.1 for free in bookstores. They’re still selling TONS of Vol.1 in bookstores- I imagien they’ll do it as a promotional thing at some point but there’s still money to be made in sellign it on the Ipad.

I disagree completely with the comments. I think the article makes a fair point but doesn’t go far enough. This is typical corporate greed and excess in all manner vs. good business decisions. The 1st question is why did it take this long at all? Viz should have been one of the 1st apps on the market when the App Store was launched via Apple in 2008.

I downloaded some comics on my iPhone on X-mas eve and the price was ridiculous for some of the comics–$9.99 for a GN on Image, $2.99 for some OLD comics from Marvel and DC and nothing of note that was new (there goes that great article on Batman Inc. on CBR’s homepage).

There is no reason for this slow movement to offering better options for customers and exploring new customer opportunities via distribution methods. The ONLY reason this exists is fear of retailers (as if those same comicbook retailers are raising money for coal workers who see their futures changing as we move towards clean energy) and a greed structure to try and maintain an inflated price based on paper costs (something that is non-existant for digital devices).

The comments are really silly above–let’s look at the arguments:

Paploo “I think it’s time again for bloggers to do a new roundup of legit online manga offerings- there’s a lot out there, but now enough awareness, and bloggers tend to reach more readers then the usual advertising routes where pubs have to compete with pirates for adspace.”

–While I agree that ALL (legitimate + illegal) sources should be covered–I think that the key thing that is interesting to note here is the last part. Advertising. You do know that Viz.com has every legal right to advertise right? You know that when they charge some huge licensing fee to a toy or videogame company for Naruto that they can suggest or demand ads on their site?? So, here’s what cheeses me off..where is the business mind to come up with a digital solution to air recent manga from Japan and offer those solutions with some quality ads that drive sales success? I’m pretty sure if the millions of consumers who read Viz manga –,had one place to go then not only would they be able to charge on par or exceed printed advertising (this is backed up by national trends via Ad Age). The reason they don’t has to do with concerns about paying staff that must not be that smart—to produce a printed product and product managers to attend trade shows rather than to create a smart, nimble efficient method to destroy piracy through creating strong digital products + advertising. I guarantee someone is there trying to pitch Naruto as a movie or some other nonsense rather than working on innovating the company’s product. I mean you do realize that they don’t make the comics themselves right? So, there job is to sell the brand and make money and they don’t even create the content?? What job do you have like that?

Paploo “I think its also important for fans and bloggers to keep one thing in mind when evaluating their expectations for a manga site- can what I’d like be done in a way that will still result in the artists being paid?”
–Isn’t that a basic aspect of % vs. revenue? That’s rhetorical unless you know specifically since I can assure that it is how it is usually done. And considering that Viz can choose to sell their app–then this is a non-issue. Oda makes more than Kubo-san and in the US–I’m sure Kishimoto makes more than both. I don’t disagree that this took awhile but that really shouldn’t be the excuse when we know that illegal sales are not going to anyone. Just so you know–this is why the music industry now owes Apple so much–too much greed whining while piracy was benefitting no one.

Paploo “Also, the logic of “you can already get it for free everywhere, why pay for it” is flimsy Brigid- it’s not like VIZ is offering Naruto Vol.1 for free in bookstores.”
–Again, so what? That’s Viz’s problem–we do have libraries and they didn’t acquire them from you or I–they bought them like any other retail operation and the Viz salesperson took it. The real issue is cost. You cannot justify a large cost for a digital product that’s late. If Viz wants to make a serious dent–they should give the entire 1st volume for free and sell the Viz app itself or create a subscription model (once Apple finalizes it). But if the cost is the same a buying a physical volume and is later than the japanese get fresh copies–then Viz have only themselves to blame.

All I’m trying to say is it fair or right to point to a service that doesn’t have to go through any of the legal hoops or pay the creators anything, let along translators, letterers, etc. and say “Companies, you should try that!” ????

It really isn’t, it creates overly high and hollow expectations. Not saying manga companies offerings are immune to criticism [ I think Square Enix really has to step up their game, while Tokyopop really needs to promote what they have out there better], but fans shouldn’t really be pointing to those with no responsibilities to creators, licensors or middlemen like Comixology/Kindle/Apple as an ideal model either.

It’s a real mixed bag, and you have to sort out what’s good and what’s bad before you make an honest decision. I think people are being really harsh for what’s often really big leaps on publishers and creators parts, and holding up aggregators and pirates as examples isn’t an honest way to look at things.

I think there should be more content out there, and it should be affordable, but we should look at why legit stuff is more costly first.

PS– And “more advertising” isn’t really a solution- better use of advertising maybe. I think part of it is that pubs have to deal with a portion of fandom that’s fixated on pirated editions that overlooks their real/legit editions. Manga bloggers are the only ones talking about legit digital manga, and forums seem very indifferent to them. They definitely have a lot of problems directing fans to the content…. there needs to be more education about the issues. We need to step up the conversation.

Wow..Really ignorant person., not only are sites like “onemanga.com” no more then just a forum but often they don’t have anything licensed outside of Japan on them, or for that matter a large portion has strictly become manhwa and because those don’t carry leicencethey is no crime.

@Anon: One Manga is still just as large a pirating site as it was before they changed their front page. All the illegal content that used to be on the front page is now just hidden, but available to view.

Also, just because a comic is Korean as opposed to Japanese doesn’t change the fact that if you steal it, it’s a crime. That is absurdly ignorant.

Can we stop substituting the phrase “corporate greed” for “not a business decision that I would have made” in 2011? Yes, companies are still figuring out the right price points for their digital offerings, but every publisher has expenses that they’ve got to meet, and all of the ethical publishers have to find a way to compensate their staff and creative talent, and, most importantly, whether you like the price point or not, they’re entitled to charge whatever they’d like for their content. For every free sample, $10 trade or $2-5 download you buy, a publisher has invested thousands of dollars already in making that content available for customers.

What we’ve learnt today-
-artists shouldn’t want to be paid for their work. They should just exist on magic and whimsy.
-it’s okay to steal from someone based on race or nationality.
-small businesses are evil, greedy and out to get you.*

Brigid, you do the best coverage on the net for manga news, so please, don’t ever do a “take some business tips from people who are ripping you and your creators off” post again- I loathe how often I’ve seen these thigns, and I expect better from bloggers. Instead, why not highlight some legit sites like webcomics anthologies, or existing legal digital manga sites, and say what you’d like to see done?

*even VIZ and Tokyopop are small businesses, with small staffs and a range of freelancers handling their massive schedules in a very busy, insane fashion. The fringe manga pubs are even smaller, tiny operations of a dozen or less people working to bring you manga legitly. They deserve your time/money,

Brigid Alverson

January 1, 2011 at 9:43 am

@Andrew Farago, @Paploo

I’m not saying the publishers are greedy—just shortsighted. If they want to fight piracy, they have to offer a viable option. Paying five bucks or more for a book you don’t really own is not a viable option.

The problem here is that the publishers are running the sites for their own convenience, rather than considering what the readers actually want. Pirates, who don’t have to abide by contracts or pay their creators and employees, are free to give the readers exactly what they want: A wide range of downloadable content, for free, available worldwide.

Publishers can’t duplicate that, but they need to shake off the old mindset. Specifically:

1. Don’t restrict manga to a single region. That’s old-school print thinking and has to go. The audience is worldwide, and blocking part of it off doesn’t just limit sales, it makes people resent you.
2. E-books are intrinsically worth less than print books, and they should be priced accordingly. People will pay a reasonable price for online material *if* you make it easy for them to do so, but more than half the cost of a print volume is not a reasonable price.
3. Offer an abundance of free material. Not a chapter, a volume—the costs of the first volumes have been more than paid for anyway. Not doing this is a false economy, IMHO. You want to get people into the habit of reading their manga at your site, so give them a push to get them started.
4. Don’t restrict your offerings in apparently arbitrary ways. Viz’s Shonen Sunday and SigIKKI sites make sense in the same way an anthology magazine does—the series are similar, so if you like one you will probably like more. I’m less sold on single-publisher sites that offer a collection of books that have nothing in common other than being published by the same company. People don’t care who the publisher is, in general, and a site that can offer a range of books of a given type will naturally attract more visitors.

You can argue till the cows come home why this or that *has* to be done this way. While you are doing that, the readers will be heading off to sites that give them what they want. Publishers need to get out of their own way. They should be pricing books lower, offering them in multi-publisher apps like comiXology and Comics+ so new readers can find them, putting newer books online, and setting up more thematic apps like Shonen Sunday. Rather than putting Naruto and Vampire Knight in the same app, for instance, Viz could consider doing Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat branded apps that would be more meaningful to the target readers.

Brigid, sorry about this………. I do think all those would be nice, shiny things, but they’re all done with assumptions that publishers haven’t looked into all this or don’t have reasons for doing so, like say,contracts with domestic publishers or international pubs that might get in the way of not-region blocking. They’re testing waters in regards to that…

“2. E-books are intrinsically worth less than print books, and they should be priced accordingly. People will pay a reasonable price for online material *if* you make it easy for them to do so, but more than half the cost of a print volume is not a reasonable price.”

The problem with this is that artists still expect to be paid the same amount- in the case of manga artists, they expect a larger percentage of royalties. You need and should ask for their permission- if they aren’t biting, then sorry, Marvel/DC can leap into these things a lot easier because they own those properties- it’s something many manga fans don’t ever think about it- I’m surprised you hadn’t. This is the main thing standing in the way of legit digital manga, and the rampant piracy of manga/comics on the internet is a major factor in why artists of all nationalities are very cautious of digital, and making sure they don’t get screwed over, whether it’s by overeager fans, or greedy publishers [just look at the strike in France, where artists got in a major tiff with several pubs over digital rights]. Another factor is that digital does exist in some forms in Japan already- forms with lots of DRM like cellphone manga that artists are used to and profit from, which leads them to expect similar assurances and $$$ from other digital formats I imagine.

Anyhoo— Let’s say I wanted to open a site with 100 manga on it- if I were to license a title for say, 1000 bucks, there’s 100000 I’d have to spend. But wait, each of those 100 manga has about say, 6 volumes. There’s 600000 bucks. And hey, even if they’re already licensed in print, digital rights are seperate for most books, so even then I’d have to jump through some hoops. Then I have to pay translators/letterers. Even if they only paid, say, 2 bucks a page, that’s 200 per volume, that’s 20000 bucks. Then web design, hosting, advertising…. if this were done legitly, they’d need investors [pretty much the only reason Crunchy Roll went legit, and if you listen to ANNCast, while streaming is doing okay, it's by no means a cash cow for all involved, just another revenue source]. And if they sell subscriptins, for say, 5 bucks a month, with all the competition form pirates, it would take a long time for them to get to a level that’s profitable, especially if they have to refresh with new content once in awhile. All the figures above are guesswork based off conversations I’ve read around licensing, so actual costs might be less or possibly more. I’m assuming good translators/editors/letters would want standard industry rates, and not el cheapo intern pricing. Either way, a big site in the style of the one you’ve highlighted would cost a lot ot launch legally.

Given the current state of the comics market, I don’t think many pubs have close to a million dollars to waste on a site that may or may not succeed, especially when there’s a lot of smaller ways to build your market and test whether or not there’s an actual way to make money in any decent scale from digital comics? It’s been stated a number of places that Marvel sells more copies of a given issue through MileHighComics than it does through Comixology- I think what’s emerging is that this is still a small, growing market that one should get into, but not one your should dump loads of money and licensing fees into right away. I imagine VIZ looked into their options, and a site with 7 or 8 titles from their japanese business partners catalogue was a safe way to start out.

It’d make more sense to start smaller, like the pubs have been doing, moving into different options after properly researching them with a small but quality selection of titles. Stuff like Apple’s Ipad, Kindle, Comixology, Playstation Network all have different standards and different approvals for content and different profit-sharing policies. It takes a lot of work and money to get aligned with all these outlets, and you need a different set of author approvals for each. Given the small staffs of most publishers, it makes sense we’re only seeing this in small doses. Ed Chavez has talked a lot about this stuff- maybe interview him on the hassles of expanding into digital rather than making a list of demands while not considering the obstacles preventing them? How many of these obstacles are removable, and how many are unfortunate facts of life pirates don’t have to bother with?
Having so many differnet options, and audiences spread out amongst these options without a clear winner of formats, probably makes it difficult to evaluate what one should do at the present.

Digital Manga seems to be sidestepping this by asking people to work for free until the work has been paid for, at which time they will recieve a percentage of the gross- which may work really good for them if fans react really well, or might not go well if it doesn’t catch on- I recall Hakuensha invested in a similar site that sold digital manga and translations made by fans [who got a cut of the profits] a few years ago, and that site tanked after less than a year. They deserve a lot of credit for taking that risk, but I imagine people will still find faults- I say, find less faults, have more understanding, and consider the realities of working within the law, with creator expectations and with professional standards. They’re making a big gamble, something which they should be highlighted for, and which most manga fans will overlook since they’re working with smaller pubs and older titles by the sounds of things.

Webcomic artists and their readers deal with compromises all the time. Having done webcomics and known many webcartoonists, I also think it’s very unfair to enforce webcomics economics and expectations on professional print artists, who serve an entirely different market and whose work demands a different sort of lifestyle/income [ie- it's a lot easier to make a gag strip in your spare time then it is to churn out a 16 page fullsize comic with the help of 2 or 3 paid assistants every week, or to put out a page of a comic a week instead of pencilling 22 pages of comics a month]. They work hard, and expect to be compensated for their work, and that’s a fact that many overlook when making demands like yours.

Anyhoo, whew…. you do have some good points, but all it is is questions WITHOUT answers. Go, send an e-mail to some pubs- you have those contacts, why not ask them why these things aren’t being done? What’s standing in the way? A LOT of these questions have been answered by them in the past, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to refresh on it, and see if anything’s changed. From all we know the superawesomeproject to fix all these problems is underway, but they can’t say anything about it until it’s launched, and it might take a year or more to launch it. Sorry for pointing out that there’s such a thing as realistic expectations.

Finally, you do make good points, just saying, it’s by no means a simple thing. There’s a lot of stuff involved in all this, and a lot outside of the control of our fave pubs.

And wow, that’s a big wall of text.
To boil it down better-
-good ideas, but unfair to not take stuff like costs, legal hurdles and creators into consideration
-ideas are nice and all, but can they be implemented? Are they realistic? Should we be more patient?
-if you want this stuff, please don’t use an illegal site ripping off creators as way to highlight these points. It makes it look more like you’re promoting the site then you’re promoting the things you’d like to see in digital manga. Even if that’s not what you meant [your comments make it sound like that's the case], that’s how people seem to be taking it based off some of the responses posted above- either those like myself who take offesne at the promotion of the site, or the fans who don’t get the fact that you aren’t supporting the sites and attack us for taking offense, because these people aren’t American so it’s okay to steal from them.

Brigid Alverson

January 1, 2011 at 8:29 pm

@Paploo,

Wow, that is a lot! First of all, I’m not promoting this particular pirate site at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the publicity backfired once the publishers see it and send out cease-and-desist notices. I’m surprised that hasn’t happened already.

I totally agree that creators should be paid (hey, I’m a professional writer too, and I like to be paid for my work), and having been a book editor, I know how much overhead goes on in the back end. I’m not saying all digital comics should be free, by any means. But they should be reasonably priced.

Here’s where I part company with the publishers: I think you’ll do better if you pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap than if you dole out your books a little at a time and charge a lot of money for them. Manga are not a rare commodity any more. If readers can’t find them on your site, they will find them somewhere else. That’s the reality, and publishers can’t change it. What they can change is who makes the money.

Every week, someone scans in the latest chapters of Naruto, Bleach, etc., translates them, and posts them online. That’s what people want.

Let’s pause and examine that, shall we? Here is a product that people want, yet the publishers don’t seem to want to sell it to them. Are they allergic to making money? The comics are published from digital files—it’s not like they have to bring a big stack of paper across the ocean in a boat. It’s a buyer’s market for translators right now, so finding someone to translate them quickly shouldn’t be a big deal. Put them in your comics app, in comiXology, anywhere that people buy comics, and get 99 cents a pop for something that people used to steal from you. They don’t have to spend a million bucks on a site; the digital distributors already have the audience, and they don’t take their cut until after the comic is sold.

Manga publishers are being too slow with their backlist, too. American publishers like Boom! Studios and IDW have made their entire back catalogs available to the digital publishers (comiXology, iVerse, Graphic.ly). If someone likes a series and wants to read the whole thing all at once, why not sell it to them? Why dole it out a volume a month? I’m going to take three years to read Bleach? In three years, the target reader will have aged out of manga and moved on to something else. Sell it to the readers when they want to buy it. Now we are talking about books that have already been translated, edited, and printed—that work has all been done. Everyone talks about how hard it is to get manga shelved in bookstores, especially the middle volumes of a long-running series. This makes that problem go away. And yes, I do think you can charge $4.99 for volume 20 of Bleach. I just think the first volumes should be free.

I have absolutely zero sympathy for claims that contracts won’t allow this or that. That’s what lawyers are for. A smart lawyer will tell his client to walk away from a contract that ties up digital rights so tightly that they will never be able to make a profit. (And the margins are pretty thin on print sales now—digital could make a big difference.) That goes for the Japanese as well as Americans. Publishers are in business to make money, and in this economy, no one can afford to leave digital revenues on the table.

Tsk, tsk, tsk…

Brigid, the proper response to piracy is to clap your hands until the direct market and book store faeries come back to life. Suggesting the publishers and creators adapt to a new business paradigm instead of blaming a convenient target for their failures is just lunacy on your part.

Luuuuuunacy!

Join us now: *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* I can see it! *clap* *clap* *clap* It’s almost 1991 again! *clap* *clap* *clap* Yay!

And a month later, looks like it’s shut down….

they changed it you know.

I want a site that cuts the price for mangas, yet still pays the authors! (Like they are doing with a lot of books now.) A big part of the price you pay is for printing (so I think) and I was wondering if you know any places that lets you buy manga (at a cut price) for a kindle. I’m thinking about getting a kindle but if I can’t read manga on it(something I read as much as normal books) then I prob won’t get it… Are there any ligit places like that, or should I just wait?

Fell4

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