Tokyopop may be defunct as a manga publisher, but someone is still posting on its Facebook page, and it makes for some pretty entertaining reading. Because it’s Facebook, a lot of the readers are teenagers, and I think it is more representative of that segment of the manga audience than any other site.
So when whoever posts as Tokyopop asked, “How do you read manga — digitally or as a physical copy? Which do you prefer and why?” I was interested enough to tally up the answers. The responses were almost comically lopsided, with only 18 out of more than 250 commenters preferring digital; some said both, but the vast majority, almost 200, said they liked to read their manga on paper, not pixels.
Of course, what they mean by “digital” is online manga sites, almost all of which are bootleg. People read manga online because it is free and because it’s the only way to read series that haven’t been licensed in English. But they don’t like it very much. Complaints about digital included eyestrain, slow load times, and that you can’t keep the manga or take it with you. Many commenters simply said they liked the feeling of a book in their hands.
It’s hard to tell from the comments whether the readers are reading manga on a computer (which is definitely uncomfortable, especially for long-form stories) or smartphones. Comments about not seeing the fine detail in digital suggest that a lot of manga is being read on small screens; one of the nice things about the iPad is that it is bigger than a standard manga page, so the art looks really good. One thing comes through loud and clear, though: There is widespread dissatisfaction with the current product, even if readers are getting it for free.
Manga publishers have done a pretty good job of offering legitimate digital choices — almost every publisher has some sort of digital presence now — but judging from the responses to the Tokyopop query, readers see digital manga, whether bootleg or legit, as a way to sample and read new series. When it comes to the comics they want to own, paper still trumps pixels almost every time.