In a move that should delight fans of Japanese comics while stepping up the fight against manga piracy, Viz Media is releasing a free iPad app today that will allow consumers to purchase and download Viz Media manga titles. The Viz Media App will be available for download through the iTunes store and will launch offering five of Viz's bestselling manga series selling for $4.99 per volume. For a limited time, Viz will also offer volume one of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi
Obata’s bestselling manga Death Note for free download.
The move immediately supplies digital editions of some of the most popular Japanese comics in the world at a time when the Japanese manga industry has been accused of dragging its feet on digital delivery. Viz is launching the new iPad app with five of their most popular series, Bleach (vols. 1-2), Death Note (vols. 1-2), Dragon Ball (vol. 1), Naruto (Vols. 1-2) and One Piece (vols. 1-2) as well as the recently published Bakuman vol. 1. In the coming weeks Ouran High School Host Club (vol. 1) will be available. By the first week of December, Viz will release addition digital editions of Bakuman as well as D. Gray Man, Rurouni Kenshin and Vampire Knight. The Viz app was developed in-house at Viz Media and it can be downloaded here.
Alvin Lu, senior v-p and general manager of Viz Media, said that while the details surrounding digital publishing remain “largely unmapped and fast changing,” he said the release of the Viz iPad app offers “a clear roadmap of where we want to go in this digital terrain.” New material will be released every week Lu said, “we’ll be adjusting the schedule as the app, and response, evolves.” While Viz already does some simultaneous publishing of Japanese and English language editions, Lu said that the publisher has "considered" a smaller window between English print and digital release. "We’ve considered it and we’ll just say, 'more to come' on this," Lu said.
The new Viz iPad app puts Viz ahead of most of other American-based publishers of Japanese manga in translation. Viz Media is jointly owned by the Japanese publishing houses of Shueisha, Shagakukan and its licensing unit Shagakukan Productions. The long awaited release of an iPad app will allow fans to download and purchase manga legally instead of seeking out scanlations, the English translations of Japanese manga made by fans and illegally posted online to read for free. Once a booming graphic novel category, U.S. manga sales have declined in recent years and some retailers and publishers believe that scanlations are undermining the sales of manga in the U.S. At the same time fans and some U.S. licensees complain that Japanese publishers have been slow to make manga available in the most popular digital formats, resulting in more potential readers getting their manga online at pirate sites for free.
Back in June, a group of more than 36 American and Japanese publishers that included Viz, joined together to launch an anti-scanlation coalition. Lu said that the release of the Viz App, “is not primarily a tool to fight scanlations and piracy—that’s not the business we’re in here.” He pointed out the anti-scanlation coalition to emphasize that, “we’ve already taken significant steps.” But he also said, “it’ll probably help. And as our efforts in this area continue to evolve, it will help more.”
The iPad, the first handheld device that lets users read a full comics page easily, is driving the digital strategy of most comics publishers. While the combination of the device and popular titles will likely attract new readers, it remains to be see if longtime manga fans be tempted by titles that they have probably already read. In addition, the first titles offered do not include such series as Vagabond, Solanin, Tekkonkinkreet, a more literary brand of manga aimed at an older readership. But Lu said, “We want to get as broad a slate of titles on to Viz manga as possible. But especially it’s going to be interesting to see the response to the different kinds of series, and to see if that’s mirrored, or not, in the response to the print publications.”
Lu acknowledged that “a lot of people are going to try the iPad out for the novelty,” but he believes the “manga cognoscenti” will likely use it to try series they haven’t already read and to catchup on volumes they have missed. “We actually think there are people who’ve not read every single volume of every series. Our goal here of course is to stamp out any excuses not to keep up with the stories and characters you know and love and make it as easy as possible to find out what’s happening next.”
While there have been some early efforts to make manga available on the iPad in Japan, Lu said that initially the Viz app is being rolled out only in the U.S. and Canada. Asked if there was concern about the effects of digital delivery on physical bookstores and print sales, Lu said they “were not anticipating any major effects on print sales at the outset. Part of this is just the market penetration of the device itself, the numbers of people downloading publishing content through it.” But he also said that, “we know the situation is changing rapidly. We’ll be watching carefully and make the necessary adjustments.”
Asked about the possibility of publishing original manga through the app as well as whether Viz will provide app support for iPhone, iPod and Android platforms, Lu would only say that there’s “more to come” on these issues.
Lu said that as important as it is to finally make Viz manga editions available for sale digitally, “we’re continuously gauging response to all of our digital delivery initiatives—whether that’s our VIZ Anime site, our DTO [download to own] offerings, simultaneous [Japanese and English] publishing like Rin-ne, and the VIZ Manga app—and are already moving swiftly and flexibly through this rapidly evolving and unpredictable environment. We know what we want to do, but as we implement our initiatives—and this is the exciting part, the part we really want to get into—the fan response is really what’s going to shape things to come.”