Viz goes full-on digital with new BL line

As the shape of the digital comics world emerges from the haze of uncertainty, readers are saying one thing loud and clear: "I want to own my digital comics." And most publishers are sidestepping the whole issue by saying "We will gladly sell you a license to read our digital comics" and going no further.

So when Viz Media reps unveiled their SuBLime line of Boys Love (yaoi) manga at Yaoi-Con on Saturday, they made manga history: They will be publishing some titles digitally in a download-to-own format, according to manga blogger Deb Aoki, who was tweeting from the panel. The licenses will be worldwide, not restricted to the U.S. and Canada like Viz's other digital releases. What's more, the downloads will be PDFs, which can be read on a Kindle, Nook or iOS device as well as pretty much any computer.

That's right: DRM-free downloadable comics, available worldwide. And the cover price on these e-books is a very reasonable $5.99.

But ... but ... what about piracy? The SuBLime Manga Twitter (yes, it's up already) makes a good point: "Piracy is unavoidable no matter what we do unfortunately. People upload English translated books by scanning them. :-(" After all, print books are the ultimate DRM-free medium. The Viz folks did say that if piracy becomes an issue, they will re-evaluate the model.

Viz is not the first to do this — DriveThruComics and SLG Publishing have been doing it for years, and Digital Manga recently added its Vampire Hunter D manga to the DriveThruComics storefront. But it's unusual in manga, which has been slow to adapt to digital distribution, and it's also unusual for such a high-profile project.

For this enterprise, Viz is partnering with Animate, a Japanese retailer that has been selling yaoi manga for the Kindle for over a year now, and the Japanese yaoi manga publisher Libre. And some of the volumes will be published in print form. Lissa Pattillo has a good summary of the news, including a list of the 12 titles that Viz announced this weekend, at her blog, Kuriousity.

In addition to the Twitter, Viz has already set up a website Facebook page, although they are just placeholders right now.

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