Manga Answerman - Why Isn't All My Favorite Manga Available Digitally?by Zac Bertschy,
Ah, the print vs. digital manga availability dilemma… let's see if we can sort things out for Ann, who sent in this question:
I've found myself in a slight predicament now that I've been getting back into anime and manga. In between these "phases" of my fandom, I found that I generally prefer digital comics over physical print volumes. However, while I almost never have to worry about western comics not getting digital releases, manga is a different story.
While big name, popular series are widely available, the more niche fare I'm more interested in are not. I assume this is largely an issue of the Japanese license holders being worried about piracy, but then why would they make cash cows like Attack on Titan or My Hero Academia available digitally? Is there any way people like me can let publishers or license holders know that there is a segment of their audience that would like digital editions of their books.
After many years of buying (some would say obsessively, compulsively buying) manga, I hear you about preferring the digital editions. It does save space in your home and makes your favorite read just a little more portable.
So why are some manga titles available as digital editions only, some in digital and print, and why are some only available in print? Your question leads me to think that you believe that this state of affairs is due to the Japanese license holders/manga publishers. But like almost all decisions made in manga publishing land, it's a bit more complicated than that.
In some cases, the rights for digital and print publishing are negotiated separately. While most overseas publishers try to get both digital and print rights when they license a title, sometimes they don't succeed. Sometimes digital or print rights get acquired at different times, after additional negotiations. For example, Ayano Yamane, creator of Crimson Spell and the Finder series published by SuBLime Manga, initially only allowed print editions of her books, but later okayed it for release in digital format.
In some cases, the artist / original creator of the manga is against digital publication of their work, and therefore, only licenses their work for print release. Notable examples of this are Naoki Urasawa (20th Century Boys, Pluto) (see his chat with ANN's Rebecca Silverman) and Takehiko Inoue (Slam Dunk, Vagabond). Their reasons vary. Piracy is of course a concern, but so is a love of the print medium. For some manga creators, they feel that their work simply looks best presented as it was originally intended to be enjoyed: as a printed book.
While I can't speak for either Urasawa or Inoue, or make any predictions on when or if they'll change their minds on this front, there are several things that might influence greater availability of manga in digital formats. One is the growth of digital readership – the more readers and the more digital manga that's purchased means that it's more financially worthwhile to publish manga digitally.
While digital publishing eliminates the cost of printing and bookstore/comic shop distribution, it isn't exactly free or effortless to do. Digital publishing comes with its own costs for distribution (on online bookstores like ComiXology, iBooks and BookWalker), along with the costs associated with translation, editorial review, layout/production/touch-ups, design and digital file formatting/transfer along with licensing costs.
In the early days of digital manga publishing, some of the reluctance to publish digitally was based on the Japanese publisher not having their manga readily available in digital / ebook file formats. This of course has changed, as the Japanese manga market steadily moves to a higher rate of digital consumption/readership.
The other factor is improvements in digital reader technology. Early digital manga releases had annoying issues like moiré (that weird grid-patterns that make screentones look off), irregular page breaks and mismatched double-page spreads. But as these user experience issues are being resolved, there may be more reasons for readers and creators to be receptive to digitally-published manga.
The second part of your question is, how can readers let publishers know that they want books available as digital editions? Thankfully, most publishers have a social media presence onTwitter and Facebook. They do read and take note of tweets, comments and emails from readers. Some even regularly post online reader surveys, asking for comments and suggestions. While you won't always get a personal reply, your comments will be heard and will play a role in influencing publishing decisions. So don't be shy – let them know what you're most interested in reading and how you want it, because they really do want to know. And it should go without saying that making your comments and requests politely will go a long way too.
Here's a handy cheat-sheet to contact manga publishers and distributors catering to the N. American market:
Digital Manga Publishing
Drawn & Quarterly
One Peace Books
Seven Seas Entertainment
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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