July 26, 2011

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Digging into Digital: Thoughts on Some San Diego Comi-Con Digital Announcements

So the San Diego Comi-Con wrapped up a few days ago, and while I wasn't there (and honestly, it's unlikely I'll ever make that show because of the lead time needed to attend), I did follow the events as closely as I could without seeming so obsessed that I did nothing but check my Twitter feed all weekend.

I also checked Google+.

Anyway, here's the first of two posts about stuff from San Diego. This one is of course related to digital comics, with a second to follow about more traditional announcements. Thanks so much to all the comics bloggers who were out there providing information to the rest of us. I couldn't have written this without you, even if I don't directly link to something you posted.

To me the biggest news of the entire Con was that Viz is opening up its access to non-Apple users by following the Dark Horse model and adding the ability to use your web browser to read their online manga offerings. Up and running immediately after the announcement, you can now use Viz Manga to purchase and read quite a few of their popular comics, including One Piece (which has 37 volumes digitized so far) and Naruto (which is at volume 45). Those comics tend to run $5 for a volume, which I think is about right. Viz is also offering several of their Signature titles this way as well, such as House of Five Leaves (3 volumes) and Children of the Sea (just the first volume for now). These are a bit pricier, but not by much.

All of the Viz offerings are of course cloud comics, which I know tends to put some folks' noses out of joint, but I don't think we'll ever see major publishers allow PDF downloads of their comics, at least not without DRM (which seems to be even less popular than clouding) or charging entirely too much for something that's not tangible (my personal pet peeve). I like love getting manga online for the price of a used copy, as it's much easier to find and doesn't take up endless shelf space in my apartment. For those who think $5 is a bit much--keep in mind you're getting roughly 200 pages of comics for that virtual Lincoln. Even at 99 cents for a Western comic, that's usually only about 100 pages of story for the same price. This is a good value and a great way to open up to some new titles without the investment of a lot of money for those who don't have a good, manga-friendly local library system.

I'm really happy about Viz's decision to reach out, and I hope they keep adding titles as they go along. I haven't had the chance to play around with the system just yet, but I will be sure to do so as soon as I can and report back. For now, though, the news had me gushing to anyone who would listen, usually my poor wife.

Continuing the digitizing of manga, San Diego also offered some hints into Jmanga.com, which is supposed to open up in August, from what I understand. I find the idea intriguing, especially based on what Deb Aoki was tweeting from the panel. Apparently, the goal is to make the site a place where English-speaking folks can interact more with the Japanese creators, something that can only happen on an extremely limited basis at this time. I really think that's cool. As Deb points out in this roundup post on manga-related items, JManga might be a game-changer, if it's done right, especially for those of us who would like to legally access manga online.

Less cool is that we don't know what titles are going to be offered (though I believe Deb tweeted this might be a way for us to get at least some legally translated licence rescues), how that's going to jive with existing translated manga in print and online, and how much all this is going to cost. I would hate for such a great idea to end up with a ridiculous price point because it's "fair" in the eyes of the Japanese publishers. That's just going to give people a "reason" to pirate more comics. Keep it affordable, Jmanga folks! (Please?)

Moving into a galaxy far, far away, Dark Horse adds Star Wars to its digital stable, having apparently worked out whatever issues they had with Lucas and company so that people can read these popular tie-in comics. It's a cool addition for them and for fans of the Star Wars universe. I'm not all that into adaptations of licensed properties, so it's not all that interesting to me personally, but if it's your thing, I'm as happy for you about this as you can be for me about Viz going to web distribution.

In news that does not impact on me because I don't own anything Apple, Marvel is going day and date digital, starting with Amazing Spider-Man and some of their X-Men stuff. I haven't been able to find out any details about pricing, but my guess--and that of the people commenting on this news--is that they'd be $3,99, not unlike DC's plans for the New 52. I long ago gave up reading comics as they happened, but if you want your weekly dose of Spider-Man and are tired of longboxes (I don't blame you--I jut culled all the way down to two), this is great news. If you are a paper retailer however, it has to be a bit chilling. I think the tide is really changing against paper comics being the norm as now the other big player starts to get in on the act in a big way. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Also, I spent 30 minutes trying to find an official release on Marvel's site for this.

I failed.

I love Marvel comics, but their online site is so hard to navigate. There's a lot there, but finding what you need is often like going to a flea market. The effort to get what you need just might not be worth it.

Finally, in news that tempts even me to *get* an Apple product, Top Shelf announced that they, too, are moving into the digital world starting at iVerse. The initial offering is "only" 70 titles, but I believe I read that Top Shelf's goal is to get just about everything they've ever published up online. (My apologies for no link to that. I can't find where I read it, and I failed to throw it in Evernote.) Getting access to all of Top Shelf's amazing books through the web, from Jeffrey Brown to James Kochalka to Robert Vendetti, would be not only awesome, but might just require a second job for me. :)

That's the digital news that stood out to me from the San Diego Comi-Con. Thanks again in particular to Deb Aoki, Laura Hudson, Chris Sims, the rest of the Comics Alliance team, Heidi McDonald, the rest of the Comics Beat team, and everyone else, from creators to attendees, who helped keep me informed.

Tomorrow, I'll post my thoughts on some of the general announcements at San Diego. There's a lot of good stuff in the comics world, and I can't wait to talk about it!