While we've seen a smattering of manga on various devices in digital form over the last couple of years, the last few months have seen a slow but steady shift. Digital Manga Publishing has a lot of their content available via the web and several titles on the Kindle, Yen Press is getting their original works out on the iPad now through their own app and TOKYOPOP had their brief Hetalia run via the comiXology app before, like most other TOKYOPOP initiatives, it simply didn't go any further. The big hurdle at the end of last year was seeing Viz Media getting into the game with their own app and offering a number of name titles and as we saw yesterday, offering pricing incentives that are hard to near impossible to do with book stores by offering first volumes for a buck during the month of March.
So what's next? The big elephant in the room, Kodansha Japan. The company has had a hold on its titles appearing in digital form for quite awhile now but according to posts on Twitter that were brought to light by translator William Flannagan (who works on numerous Kodansha titles under Del Rey and now Kodansha Comics), that appears to have changed:
Just heard over Twitter that the previous hold on Kodansha titles by the iPad has been lifted, and now those Kodansha titles can be published on the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. It looks like ebooks are proceeding apace.
This comes in reference to news from the @ebookjapan feed which has essentially the same information out of Japan. So, with some luck, we might see Kodansha's manga titles arrive on the digital platform this year. The timing makes sense as Apple announced the iPad 2 yesterday and indicated that in just under the first year of the original device being out, they've sold more than fifteen million of them. If you ever wonder why people are making iPad initiatives, this is why. Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Comics talked yesterday about their comics initiative in general with the iPad and other iOS devices and the reasoning is what's driving most of them. The ability to get into a sizable ecosystem that is not defined by geography. While manga and comics fans will easily point out that there are book stores and comic shops most everywhere to some degree (dying though they may be), if you want to access the casual consumer market, having a purchase option wherever they are, right in their own home, with instant gratification, opens up a lot of possibilities.
Providing the publishers get their apps out there, market them and engage the mainstream market in new and creative ways. Therein lies their real challenge. We'd hazard a guess at this point that the majority of manga fans aren't aware that Viz Media has an app and since Viz isn't offering a web reading ability alongside it (ala comiXology), they're going to have a harder time bringing in those fans.
Accessibility, Accessibility, Accessibility. And pricing. And content of course. With powerhouses like Kodansha and Viz Media, there is a ton of content. Now they need to be aggressive and get it out there and find ways to build the market.
Update: Just for further clarification, this doesn't have anything to do with Kodansha Comics and their plans in the US but is solely related to Kodansha's Japanese market and their plans there.