About a week before Christmas, the manga publisher Square Enix announced the launch of their online manga store. They’re not the only manga publisher to do so — Viz, for example, has an iPad app, and Tokyopop has been experimenting with various vendors. In fact, I hadn’t previously been aware of Square Enix as a publisher, since their best-known titles — Fullmetal Alchemist, The Record of a Fallen Vampire, Yumekui Kenbun: Nightmare Inspector — have been published in the U.S. by Viz.
There are a number of problems with this approach. The first I’ve already alluded to — the provider isn’t known as a brand in the U.S. manga market. Plus, I want to see a consolidated digital store for manga, instead of having to set up different accounts with different publishers who use different formats and delivery methods and prices.
Speaking of the pricing, the books aren’t exactly cheap. The site is promoting “the special sale price of $5.99 for a limited time”, which suggests they’re going to want more later, even though $6 for books you can buy used for under $4 is already rather costly. And you don’t get to download copies, only stream via Flash, which means that you have to 1) be connected to the internet to read and 2) trust that the store website isn’t going to disappear in a few years.
The selection is limited, with only half the series having more than one volume available. New releases will be coming bi-monthly next year — I’m unclear on whether that means twice a month or every two months. Oh, did I mention it’s U.S. only, thus defeating part of the purpose of being on the internet? There’s some really weird press release copy on the subject as follows:
SQUARE ENIX aims to provide a global audience with easy access to localized versions of its popular manga titles through streaming. Also, through cooperation with regional localization/publishing companies, SQUARE ENIX will endeavor to promote both print and online versions of its manga titles globally. Furthermore, it is the company’s aim for the official online distribution service to serve as a deterrent against illegal downloading and piracy.
I’m guessing they’re trying to sign deals with other outlets to provide translations to sell in local currency, but this will not solve the problem they mention in the last sentence. In fact, by purposefully locking out customers, they end up encouraging file-sharing of copies. Commenters at MangaBlog point out these and other problems, including the pricing, the risk of the outlet going under, the lack of a desire to rent the books (which is what this scheme really is), and how old many of these titles are, meaning that fans of the series already own the first volumes.
Lissa Pattillo did an early review of the site and has many of the same concerns. As she says,
Online manga should be aiming to offer readers what scanlations are always touted as providing in their purest intentions – manga the reader can’t get in their language or in print at all. Until sites start offering this, and at prices comparable to the value manga readers are used to paying for a fully-owned, physical copy, I don’t think digital manga will be fully embraced just yet.
She also points out that the company doesn’t accept submissions, and if you send them something anyway, they claim ownership of it.