Yen Press unveiled its digital distribution plans for Square Enix manga on Monday — and while the implementation is news, the basic concept isn’t; Yen announced at New York Comic Con 2012 that it would be the exclusive worldwide digital distributor for Square Enix. The digital manga model has shifted quite a bit since then, though, and what was announced yesterday was a bit different from what one would have expected a year and a half ago.
Here’s how it will work: Full volumes will be sold as e-books through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google and Kobo, while individual chapters (some being published simultaneously with their release in Japan) will be available through those platforms and via the Yen Press iOS app, which is limited to North America, according to Kurt Hassler, Yen Press’ vice president and publishing director. “The Yen Plus magazine, our previous ‘streaming’ service, was closed following the December issue of the magazine to pave the way for individual chapter availability by virtue of these various platforms,” he said in an email to ROBOT 6.
The standard price for a volume of manga will be $6.99, or $12.99 for omnibus editions. That’s on a par with Viz Media, which prices most of its digital manga at $6.99 per volume, and less than Kodansha Comics, which goes for a $10.99 price point. (It pays to shop around a bit, as digital distributors often offer significant discounts.) Single chapters will be priced at 99 cents for 16 pages and below, $1.99 for standard chapters, and $2.99 for longer chapters (48 or more pages).
Hassler said the service will launch with an introductory sale with “select first volumes” such as Black Butler #1, Soul Eater #1, Fullmetal Alchemist #1, Pandora Hearts #1, Bamboo Blade #1, Higurashi #1, Alice on Deadlines #1, Spiral #1, Sumomomo, Momomo #1 and B.Ichi #1 marked down to $2.99.
The service launches with 175 volumes, and going forward, Yen will publish new volumes of its Square Enix titles simultaneously in digital and print. The digital versions will include color pages that were not available in the print volumes, which is a nice extra. Yen has already posted the digital release schedule for April.
Yen was the first U.S. publisher to make manga available digitally worldwide simultaneously with Japan; the company pioneered that model with the publication of Soul Eater NOT in Yen Plus. The publisher discontinued Yen Plus last year, but it will be picking up Soul Eater NOT again, as well as Yoshiki Tonogai’s Secret, for simultaneous worldwide publication as part of the new program.
The shape of this service shows how much the digital manga scene has evolved in the past few years, as publishers have embraced e-books, widened their geographical reach, and placed a greater emphasis on simultaneous publication with Japan.
Square Enix launched its own digital manga service in 2010, but it was strangled by poor design and excessive DRM, as chronicled here and here. The account required five separate registration steps, with multiple passwords, and users had to download a special reader that would only work a single device (and, in fact, didn’t work at all for many people, myself included).
The partnership with Yen looks a lot better. E-books may be DRM’ed, but they are a familiar product that most people are already comfortable with, and worldwide availability eliminates one of the major reasons users turn to pirate sites. Judging from comments on Twitter and the Yen Press website, there has been a demand for these books. One user even commented “I’ve been reading Black Butler recently and really want to be able to read the official translations,” which suggests that some of the audience may move from bootlegs to the real thing.