Last week, the manga publisher Tokyopop announced they would release the first volume of Hetalia: Axis Powers digitally, via Zinio, before the print edition comes out—and at a lower price to boot, $5.99 as opposed to $10.99 for the print edition. Curious about their motives, I e-mailed a few questions to Tokyopop and Hetalia editor Cindy Suzuki was kind enough to answer them.
One more thing: In my last post on the subject I found an odd listing for Hetalia on Amazon and wondered whether it was a bootleg edition. Thanks to alert commenter Brack, who figured out that it is a printout of the Wikipedia article on the Hetalia franchise. I’m not sure why anyone would pay 12 bucks for that, but hey, it’s a free country.
Brigid: Why did you decide to release the digital edition both earlier and at a lower price than print?
Cindy: We thought Hetalia was the right brand to launch a digital-first program—there’s been such a demand to read it, we decided digital was the best way to satisfy the Hetalia cravings. Also, the ongoing battle against illegal scans weighed into our decision to release it early.
Back when Zuda, DC’s webcomics contest site, was still kinda fresh and new, Dean Haspiel pitched a couple of comics and the editors picked his semi-autobiographical Street Code as an instant winner. Haspiel, as he himself points out in the Zuda blog, shows his work in a lot of venues, most notably online as a founder of the Act-I-Vate webcomics collective. But when Zuda folded its tent, rather abruptly, a few months ago, the comics hosted there were left homeless.
Now Street Code has joined the migration of Zuda comics to the ComiXology platform. As Haspiel says in his blog post, “my stuff tends to serpentine around what’s popular for general comic book audiences,” but he draws an interesting analogy as to why ComiXology is a good fit:
if Vertigo, my bread and butter publisher the last few years, has been dubbed “the HBO of comics,” then I posit that Zuda is “the IFC of comics,” where, like ACT-I-VATE, alternative concepts are refined online with the distinct intent to expose and develop fresh voices that could otherwise be lost in the gutters.
An interesting theory, although it may be hard for Zuda to keep an independent identity when its comics are simply lumped in with all the others at ComiXology.
Manga blogger Deb Aoki talked to Yen Press senior editor JuYoun Lee recently, and she brought up an important point about Yen Plus, their manga magazine which shifted this month from print to online publication. Deb pointed out something I hadn’t noticed: Yen Plus is not region-blocked, which is huge. One big reason that people use scanlation sites like the recently defunct OneManga.com is that the “legit” online manga sites are available only in the U.S. and Canada. Says Deb:
So for example, when VIZ Media started publishing the current chapters of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne simultaneously with the Japanese releases, I was telling readers, “Look, isn’t this awesome? It’s free, it’s available the same day as it is in Japan, and it’s legit.” I asked, “Why are scanlators still scanning and pirating Rin-Ne? VIZ and Shogakukan is going through the extra trouble to translate and post it on the same day as Japan to address fans’ complaints that they don’t want to wait to read the latest chapters of their favorite manga.”
Then I heard from fans who told me that the manga posted on the Shonen Sunday website was blocked to readers who aren’t from North America. They said things like “No, I can’t read it because I live in Mexico,” or “No, I can’t read it because I live in outer Tasmania.”
While the licensors are certainly entitled to demand separate licenses for different regions, that’s not really the way the internet works. And a lot of regions aren’t ever going to have a big enough market to support their own manga publishers, so including them in the potential audience for online manga may be the only way to capture their dollars (or whatever the local currency is).
The inaugural issue of Yen Press was also notable for only having American and Korean comics, however, Japanese licensors are notoriously sticky about terms and conditions, and it may be that the next issue, which will contain Japanese content, will be more restricted.
Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund joined a coalition of booksellers and other organizations in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday to challenge an expansion of Massachusetts’ obscenity law to include distribution via the Internet of material “harmful to minors.”
The new law, which went into effect on Monday, is intended to close a loophole that led the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction of a man accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. Following the February ruling, the state Legislature swiftly to add IMs, text messages, email and other electronic communications to the existing obscenity law.
But the coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Association of American Publishers, argues that the law is too broad, and “bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet for topics including contraception and pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art.” Under the statute, violators can be fined $10,000 or sentenced up to five years in prison, or both, which the group asserts will cause “a chilling effect” or online booksellers. [The Associated Press, CBLDF press release]
As we inch another day closer to Comic-Con International, which kicks off in just 13 days, organizers have released the schedule for Friday, July 23.
Below you’ll find highlights of the comics-related programming, which range from a panel on AMC’s highly anticipated adaptation of The Walking Dead to spotlights on such creators as Chris Claremont, Moto Hagio, Paul Levitz, C. Tyler and Stan Lee to, of course, peeks at publishing plans for companies ranging from Marvel, DC and BOOM! to Dark Horse, IDW and Top Shelf.
The full programming schedule for Friday can be found here.
10 to 11 a.m. DC Talent Search 2 — DC’s editorial art director Mark Chiarello presents an informative orientation session that will explain how DC’s Talent Search works and discuss the different needs of DC Universe, Vertigo, WildStorm and MAD magazine publications. If you want to learn what DC Comics looks for in artists and how to improve your chances of becoming a working professional, this is the panel for you! To have your work reviewed, attendance at this orientation session is mandatory. (Please note: Not all attendees are guaranteed a one-on-one review.) Room 4
Technology | Apple said it is adding new security measures to its iTunes store after a developer reportedly hacked into numerous customer accounts to boost the ranking of his comic apps, which briefly dominated the book category. The company claims the weekend incident was an isolated — about 400 of its 150 million iTunes users were affected — but customers tell The Wall Street Journal that hackers have hijacked accounts before, with Apple doing little to stop them. [The Wall Street Journal]
Conventions | Heidi MacDonald looks at the tug of war between San Diego, Los Angeles and Anaheim for Comic-Con International, and the tough decision facing event organizers. “This has been by far the most challenging thing we’ve ever done,” said David Glanzer, the convention’s director of marketing and public relations. “Nobody thought we wouldn’t have a decision by June.” The board hopes to make a decision before this year’s event kicks off in two weeks. “If we don’t [make an announcement],” Glanzer said, “a lot of the focus is going to be on that.” [Publishers Weekly]
Publishing | IDW Publishing has promoted Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall to the new position of chief creative officer, expanding his duties to encompass the company’s efforts across all platforms. Ryall, who joined IDW in 2004 from Kevin Smith’s Movie Poop Shoot website, will remain as editor-in-chief. [press release]
Publishing | In not-exactly-unexpected news, Dark Horse will move its online anthology Dark Horse Presents from MySpace to the publisher’s website. DHP originally appeared in print from 1986 to 2000, and was relaunched in digital form at MySpace in August 2007. [Newsarama]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller analyzes direct-market sales figures for May, which saw graphic novel sales slip 15 percent from the previous year: “My suspicion continues to be that orders for bigger-ticket items have been more likely to be impacted by the general recession; retailers are letting trade paperback inventories fall a bit, even in months in which they’re ordering more comic books (even given the price increases).” [The Comichron]
DC announced their digital publishing plan last Wednesday, but since then the conversation has focused nearly as much on what Marvel is or isn’t doing with regards to compensating creators for digital downloads of their work. DC announced incentive payments right there in the PR for their iPad app — did Marvel’s failure to do so mean they weren’t doing this, or (as stated or implied by various Marvel personnel) had they already done it on the down low?
In his latest Cup o’ Joe interview column, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada spoke to CBR’s Kiel Phegley all about this. According to Quesada, Marvel does have an “incentive program” in place, the first checks will go out after the San Diego Comic-Con, the plan applies to all creators (not just exclusive ones, as was rumored), and the reason Marvel didn’t announce it is because they figured they didn’t need to…
Conventions | A survey commissioned by the San Diego Convention Center Corp. reveals that Comic-Con International’s 130,000 or so attendees pour a whopping $163 million into the local economy — quadruple what was previously thought. Surprisingly, this is the first official estimate of the event’s financial impact. But as impressive as that figure is, convention center officials point out it doesn’t take into account the money spent by the roughly 50 percent of con-goers who don’t stay in hotels.
The survey’s results were disclosed just as Comic-Con organizers are set to decide whether to remain in San Diego, or move to Anaheim or Los Angeles, after their contract expires in 2012 with the convention center. [The San Diego Union-Tribune]
“This is certainly welcome news for DC creators, who have benefited from DC’s long-standing policy of equitable compensation over the long-term. Marvel has reproduced works in various electronic formats for years, and I can assure you that my husband hasn’t seen a goddamned dime for any such use of Giant-Sized X-Men #1 or anything else he ever created for Marvel. Meanwhile, royalties from DC for a relatively minor character got us through the worst of our past 15 months of hell. Until Marvel takes the steps that DC has to compensate the creators who made the company great, all it is doing is blowing smoke. Anyone who thinks Marvel is the better place to work is just deluding themselves.”
– photographer Christine Valada, wife of veteran writer and editor Len Wein, on DC Comics’ announcement of creator royalties for digital sales
One of the most welcome aspects of yesterday’s big DC digital-comics announcement from a creator-rights perspective is that “creator incentive payments” are a part of it. In his interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley, co-publisher Jim Lee compared the payments to the royalties creators receive for print sales, saying “the freelance community will be happy that they’re being compensated in every way their stories are being sold.” That aspect of the arrival of digital comics publishing has been shrouded in mystery up until now, so DC’s move is a big first step.
Sorry, DC, but despite what your nice letter says, you are NOT “the first to announce a participation plan for talent” for digital comics. I’m not sniping at DC, just correcting misinformation that’s being sent out freelancers, some who work for both companies.
It’s little surprise that discussion has been dominated today by DC Comics’ move into digital distribution with the launch of the comiXology-developed DC Comics App and the availability of titles via PlayStation Digital Comics. (As an aside: It’s already ranked #11 on the list of free apps available for the iPad.) Here’s a selection of reactions to the announcement from comics creators and commentators:
David Brothers, at Comics Alliance: “While their first stab at day and date releases is promising, it is also going to force Marvel to make a play. The relationship between DC and Marvel in the direct market has largely been one of constant and desperate one-upmanship. This Let’s Be Friends Again strip is pretty close to accurately depicting their relationship. Now that DC has one-upped Marvel’s digital comics strategy by going further with day and date and pricing, Marvel is going to have to rise to the challenge. It may be a month from now, it may be around the time New York Comic-Con begins in the fall, or it may be the top of next year, but it’s soon.”
Augie De Blieck, Jr., at Comic Book Resources: “Out of the gate, the DC app follows the pattern of digital comics publishing admirably. Their selection is an interesting modern cross-section of popular titles, particularly ones related to recent movies (Jonah Hex and The Losers are both in there). There’s nothing out of the deep back catalog here, but the inclusion of a day-and-date series is exciting and more palatable than the one Marvel is offering in coming weeks. It’s a good start.”
Douglas Wolk, at Techland: “If you had to pick one DC title to be sold simultaneously in print and digitally… it might not occur to you to pick a biweekly miniseries whose fourth issue comes out this week. But this is actually a reasonable trial balloon: it’s safe to assume that anyone buying JL:GL [Justice League: Generation Lost] is also buying Brightest Day, so while it’s a popular enough title to gauge interest in day-and-date distribution, it’s not going to be the only thing someone goes to a brick-and-mortar comics store for.”
On the heels of DC Comics’ big announcement this morning, Sony has issued its own release emphasizing the availability of the publisher’s titles on the PlayStation Digital Comics service for PlayStation Portable.
Launched in December 2009, the PlayStation upgraded its digital comics reader just this week with features that include collection browsing, an Autoflow Viewer and left-to-right reading for manga.
In addition to many of the initial offerings available through Apple’s iTunes App Store, PlayStation Digital Comics carries PlayStation Network-exclusive titles like Free Realms, God of War, Resistance and Superman/Batman.
Publishing | The big news of the day, obviously, is DC Comics’ entry into the digital-distribution arena with its comiXology-developed application for the iPad, iPhone and iPad Touch. CBR’s Kiel Phegley gets the details from Co-Publisher Jim Lee and John Rood, executive vice president of sales, marketing and business development. (ComiXology is already updating the app to fix a bug that apparently caused early iPhones and iPods to crash.)
David Brothers has early analysis, looking as day-and-date digital release for Justice League: Generation Lost, and a tiered pricing structure. Meanwhile, Matthew Maxwell writes: “… This does mean that both of the Big Two are now officially putting pinkie toes, if not entire feet into the pool. But who will jump in along with them?” We’ll round up more reactions later today. [Comic Book Resources]