Robot 6

Digital manga service to shut down, pull books from cloud

Japanese Internet provider NEC Biglobe has announced it is ending service to its Sugoi Books Android app as of Aug. 7. This isn’t really a loss for the world of digital manga, because the app wasn’t very good. When I reviewed it last year, I found that the books were overpriced and slow to load, navigation was almost nonexistent, and purchases could only be made using one of those stupid points system in which the point increments never match the price of the book — and those points expire after 180 days.

Not satisfied with a terrible user interface, however, the Sugoi folks are going to give digital naysayers more fodder on their way out the door:

  • All books downloaded before Aug. 7 will be available permanently on devices to which  you have downloaded your books.
  • Searching, purchasing, re-downloading purchased books, and updating the application will no longer be possible after Aug. 7.

This is exactly the scenario that makes skeptics say “I’ll never buy digital comics.” Sugoi’s prices were high to begin with — as I noted in the review, two chapters of one manga cost almost as much as a full volume. The prices are even higher when it turns out to be just a rental. Allowing readers to keep the books they have already downloaded on their devices isn’t tossing them much of a bone; most devices can’t hold that much, and anyway, when I tested the app, downloaded books disappeared almost immediately. And even if you succeed in downloading books for keeps, and you have an Android device with lots of space to store them, what happens when your device breaks?

It doesn’t have to be this way. When Graphicly stopped selling comics via the iTunes store, it continued to make its comics available for re-download for anyone who still has the original app. Other digital comics distributors have told me that they have plans to keep their comics available even if the service shuts down.

Honestly, there are a lot of comics I’ll only be reading once, and if digital comics were cheaper, I’d probably buy a lot of them and not worry too hard. But anyone who asks readers to shell out almost $15 for less than a complete volume owes their customers more than a simple “Sorry, your books are disappearing now” — especially when the distributor is owned by an Internet provider that presumably has plenty of server space.

Fortunately, the Sugoi service was so terrible that I never heard of anyone successfully buying anything from it, so the damage is limited. But it sure doesn’t make the rest of the field look too good.

(via Anime News Network)



Pirates, as always, are unaffected.

I’ve switched to buying almost all of my comics digitally. I don’t pirate anything, as I want to reward the people who create stories I enjoy. With that said, if material that I legally purchased were ever made unavailable, I’d grab torrents in a heartbeat and feel no guilt. The publishing companies can have my money once. No more.

I’m just trusting comixology to be better than this. But if something like this happened to comixology and I had no access to my cloud full of purchased material… Id honestly only be about half-pissed instead of completely enraged. I hate to sound like devils advocate or like I’m apologizing for a crappy, flawed system but I subconsciously treat digital comics purchases like a rental. I think about it this way: back before Netflix, everybody went to brick and mortar video rental places and you’d pay 2 or 3 bucks for a movie that youd watch and return… you didn’t keep it, you never got the time you spent watching it back, you were just paying for the experience of watching it and it didn’t seem to bother ANYONE that they didn’t get to retain a physical artifact. For some reason, and maybe this is just the collector culture comics readers are brought up in, it doesn’t work the same with comics and the reading of the thing doesn’t matter as much as the preservation of the thing. Why is that? People never felt that way about all those movie rentals, just having seen it was enough and the price was roughly the same, too.

Something that would be even more suited to my taste: a Netflix type system where the publisher licenses viewing rights to paying subscribers, where I pay a monthly recurring flat fee to read whatever I like, owning none of it but enjoying plenty. I don’t think that would work logistically, I didn’t crunch the numbers, but what I’m saying is that I’m not hung up on owning the thing, I would almost pay just to avoid problems with storage space in my apartment (comics collections take up too damn much space!)

Brigid Alverson

June 22, 2012 at 2:42 am

@D. Peace: What you are describing in your second paragraph is the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service. It’s mostly older material, but there’s a lot of it. I wish the other publishers would offer their back catalogs this way.

@D. Peace: Mentioned this on 4thletter, but it’s the cost that keeps those experiences from lining up precisely. $2 or $3 is significantly less than a movie ticket and only 10% of the price to own a DVD or Blu-Ray. If video stores were charging $20 or even $10 to rent a movie, you would have seen that business die on the vine. Comixology charges full retail, down to 50%-75% of retail if you wait a month.

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