Yesterday, someone at Anime News Network noticed that a free iPhone/iPad app called Manga Rock was scooping bootleg manga — in this case, scans of books published in the U.S. — from a scanlation site. Yen Press has already contacted Apple to ask that the app be taken down until all Yen titles are removed, but since the developer claims not to be affiliated with the site the scans are taken from, it’s difficult to see how this could be enforced. Manga Rock was still available this morning, although apparently Apple has pulled a similar app, MangaDL, from its store; the developers profess ignorance as to why.
Here’s why that doesn’t matter: There are still plenty of multi-comic manga apps on the iTunes store, and every one of them is a mobile reader for a scanlation site. All of them. Some legitimate comics reader apps carry a smattering of manga, but so far the manga publishers themselves have stuck to the older model of publishing each chapter as a separate app. That’s an expensive and clumsy way to read comics; the paradigm has shifted, but the manga publishers haven’t responded.
The publishers should be worried about this. From the user comments on these things, users like the convenience and the features, as well as the fact that for a buck or two (or nothing, if they don’t mind ads) they can read a ton of manga for free and keep it forever. Some users may not realize what’s going on. Some of the interfaces look pretty slick, and since Apple vets all apps, it’s reasonable to assume they wouldn’t let anything as blatant as a mobile version of Onemanga.com into their store. Reasonable, but incorrect.
I’m sure that publishers can tick off a lot of reasons why a multi-title reader would be hard to do. Japanese creators are notoriously reluctant to part with digital rights, and the reader would have to include titles from many publishers, not just one. But if I were reading comments like “I’ve been looking to buy fruits basket (my favorite manga series) and now I have them for 2$ !! Hehe I’m so happy:)” I’d be looking hard for a way to make it work.