Comics on the iPad: Yen Press launches its own app

Yen Press launched its iPad app this week, and it's a thing of beauty—which is good, because it's also expensive.

The app itself is free, of course, but the books will cost ya: Single volumes are priced at $8.99 each, which is less than the list price of $12.99 for print volumes but pretty close to the actual price most people pay for print—in fact, the print edition of vol. 1 of Maximum Ride is going for less than that on Amazon.com right now.

Let's talk look and feel first: Yen Press feels deluxe. It opens up to a gorgeous full-color page from Maximum Ride. The catalog page is less cluttered than most, with three featured books framed in black at the top and six more in catalog listings below, with no distracting animation or scrolling. Touch any part of a catalog listing and a frame pops up with complete information. But here's the nicest part: Touch the preview button and you immediately get a full-page preview, not the smaller images that other app developers provide in their catalogs. Everything loads quickly, so the whole thing works like a dream. The Yen folks didn't use the comiXology or iVerse platform, like most other publishers, but they did a great job.

The selection leaves something to be desired, though: Every book in the opening catalog is American, and four are based on existing properties: Maximum Ride and Daniel X, both based on James Patterson novels, and The Clique and Gossip Girl, both from the YA novel factory Alloy. The other books are Svetlana Chmakova's Nightschool, James Burk's Gabby and Gator, and Jason Kruse's World of Quest. The latter two are pitched at very young readers, while the others are definitely teen books. They are all good, solid graphic novels—even The Clique, which I read in its paper edition, isn't as awful as you might think, and Nightschool and the Patterson books have gotten good reviews.

What's missing, though, is anything from Japan or Korea. Black Butler, perhaps Yen's best selling series, isn't on the app—although it is available for $5.99 a volume from Square Enix's online manga site. Time and Again, a manhwa (Korean comic) that just made YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, is also not there. Yotsuba&!, which would be a natural fit with the kid- and teen-friendly books in the app? Absent. Yen has a solid lineup of manga and manhwa including cult favorites like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Higurashi When They Cry, and none of them are available—well, yet.

The problem, of course, is that the target audience, teens and tweens, isn't going to spend $8.99 per volume. Higurashi and Haruhi fans are older and might have the money, but tweens don't, and their parents are likely to balk at the cost. As for the kids' books, they are great, but since they are buried in the app, only publishers who know that "Yen Press" exists will be able to find them for their kids. I know comiXology and iVerse are both working on kids' comics apps; that would be the place for those books.

Still, Yen has done something no other manga publisher has managed to do—they eliminated their licensed manga from bootleg iPad/iPhone apps. I searched several popular manga apps and could find only a sprinkling of their books, although you can still find them online if you know the right combination of keywords to Google. Poor but tech-savvy teens will continue to do this.

Bottom line: This is a great, well designed manga reader that runs smooth as silk, but the high prices may keep the books away from their target audience.

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