As you have probably read by now, Tokyopop is releasing the first volume of Hetalia: Axis Powers on comiXology the same day the print edition goes on sale in stores. Here's the official press release, which calls this "a first-ever simultaneous print and digital release for a major manga title in North America."
Except that it's not. Hetalia was actually released in digital form first: Last month, Tokyopop made it available on the web via Zinio. I interviewed Hetalia editor Cindy Suzuki about it. Here's what she said:
We thought Hetalia was the right brand to launch a digital-first program—there’s been such a demand to read it, we decided digital was the best way to satisfy the Hetalia cravings. Also, the ongoing battle against illegal scans weighed into our decision to release it early.
She's right: Hetalia had a lot of advance buzz, thanks to the anime and the many opportunities it provides for cosplay. People were waiting for it, and making it available digitally (thus capturing part of the market usually left to scanlators) made a lot of sense.
Suzuki's comments take on new significance in light of yesterday's news. As Johanna Draper Carlson points out, the press release buries the lede: The real news is that Hetalia is the first manga to be carried by comiXology.* Up to now, Tokyopop has released its manga (usually older global manga) as individual apps. The only multi-title manga apps available for iPhone and iPad are apps like Manga Rock that either draw from pirate sites like OneManga (which means their inventory of titles has dropped sharply of late) or allow users to read manga they already own. It seems like the next logical move would be for Tokyopop to emulate Marvel, Boom! Studios, and Archie and have comiXology design an app just for them.
*Well, that's what they claim. Long years of experience in publishing have taught me that someone will probably pop up with an earlier example, so I'm setting aside space now for a correction. I can't think of an earlier example, but my brain is an imperfect thing.