While I'm glad Digital Manga can continue to sell via Amazon, I'm profoundly unimpressed with the robustness of Amazon's judgment here. If they can be swayed by one group of people yelling loudly about their interpretation of the vague content guidelines, they can be swayed by other groups, including those whose interpretations are not so benign and who may want to stop others' voices from being heard on Amazon's massive platform.
(Apple is engaging in disturbingly similar practices, apparently keeping out yaoi titles and other LGBTQ content from its iBooks store. Digital Manga was told to remove its yaoi titles from its iPad app on February 2. It's a bad, bad thing when distributors get to control what appears on people's reading devices and can use drm to lock people even further into their walled gardens.)
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ETA: The text above contained a reference to taking my business to the The Book Depository, but eggsbenedict points out that The Book Depository was bought by Amazon last year. I don't know exactly how this is impacting the running of the company, but removed the reference just to make sure. Apparently Amazon also owns Abebooks and a bunch of other book-related companies, including some I use and give money to, such as LibraryThing.
Again, I don't know what being owned by Amazon means for these companies and if it has any influence on, for instance, their content policies. Maybe there's no influence. However, it does seem clear that I'm absolutely unable to buy legal copies of some of the e-books I want or need for work without financially benefiting Amazon. It's not a sign of a healthy system if it's completely impossible anywhere in the world to buy a legal copy of a certain book without somehow going through this one single distributor.
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I'm having huge fun working on this literary manga series, and nearly as much fun rolling my eyes at all those who lament that they deviate from "the originals" and that is why they're no good. Much as I love the story of War and Peace, the novel is centuries old and as good as illegible to most contemporary audiences. It just wasn't written with 21st-century readers in mind. This novel and other so-called great classics are no longer accessible to the vast majority of readers for whom they're supposed to form a literary canon.*
( Presentation (in Dutch, sorry) under the cut )
The day was great fun -very good talks, excellent supply of munchies, and many interesting new people, including the author of the absolute awesome comic version of The Forever War. Of course I forgot to bring my copy and couldn't beg for a signature, and then spent most of the time being fannishly dazzled instead of trying to talk to the man. Some other day, then.
A platform for the sale of digital content can impose restrictions upon customers, if customers get a great user experience in return. See iTunes. However, such a platform cannot impose baffling restrictions on how users are allowed to handle their paid-for digital content and make the whole experience of purchasing and consuming the content devoid of any user-friendliness on top of that.
This is why the new Square Enix online manga store is a missed opportunity that will convince no lover of manga to stop reading scanlations. This store is not iTunes. It combines a clunky user experience with very extensive restrictions on user rights. The basics first:
Who can buy? Only US and French users (meaning that I haven't been able to test-drive this).
Price? Currently 5.99 USD per volume in the US and 4 euros in France, which is described as a "limited time offer", so expect prices to rise at least a bit.
Medium? Manga purchased can only be viewed in your browser via a Flash plugin. Apparently you need to be connected to the internet to view your manga, because they are streamed, not downloaded. These manga are not for mobile reading.
All in all, not a user friendly purchasing experience in any way. How many scanlation readers wanting to buy digital manga in a legal way are likely to look at this and see it as a usable alternative?
Trying to sell people something that will disappear when the store goes away? When they have the options of either buying a print version that can sit on their bookshelf forever, or downloading a scanlated version that will not go poof when a company obviously not concerned with user rights decides the experiment is over? This will just not work. Readers are not idiots.
Readers will also realize that the restrictions SE puts on their use of these manga are so unsuited to fannish online interaction in the year 2010 that it's almost funny:
(...) You may not download, print, save, post, frame, or otherwise copy the Manga to personal computers, portable hardware, paper, websites, or any other media or devices. The Manga may only be viewed via streaming access to the Service.
(...) You may not intercept, mine or otherwise collect information from the Service using unauthorized software.
(...) You may not hack, disassemble, decompile, or otherwise modify any aspect of the Service.
(...) You may not modify or cause to be modified any files that are a part of the Service and may not make any derivative works of the Service or Manga.
Of course, not allowing customers to download their purchases means that they will not be able to access their manga while the website is down for any reason:
Later, the TOS mentions what your options are if your license is revoked and you feel this was done for unfair reasons:
I'm not a law expert in any sense of the word, but does a company have the right to demand that you try to resolve your disputes with it through informal channels first? The rest of the TOS makes it clear that customers is basically powerless to fight any action by SE, unless they take this huge company to court and win there. What individual customer is capable of doing that? Seriously? (By the way, user data privacy regulations aren't exactly cutting edge in a good way either, a whole other can of worms.) Of course SE isn't some kind of evohl company that's making extraordinary efforts to ensure its customers can't lodge any sort of complaint. They're just following industry trends. But that doesn't make all this reasonable, or okay.
Manga publishers are going to have to do much better than this to convince readers of those other digital manga, scanlations, to switch to legitimately purchased content. Making digital manga work is eminently possible. The market of digital manga in Japan went from 40 million USD in 2005 to 543 million USD by March 2010, mostly thanks to the popularity of cellphone manga. These cellphone manga are in a sense problematic because they impose a lot of restrictions on what customers can do with their purchased manga. However, crucially, they offer a great user experience. Buying and reading cellphone manga is convenient.
Let me repeat: this online manga store is not iTunes, and its failure to catch on would not mean proof that scanlations readers are inherently bad people who do not want to pay for their content. It would mean that scanlations readers, like all manga lovers, can rub their brain cells together and conclude that this store is not a good-faith effort to earn their patronage and let them consume manga in a way that works for everyone involved. Customers will put up with some restrictions if they get convenience in return. Manga publishers trying to sell digital content overseas would do well to remember that. They would also do well to respect their readers' intelligence.
It's a fascinating read, especially because we're always being inundated by doomtastic reports about the declining sales of paper manga and magazines that fail to point out how well the digital part of the manga market is actually doing. Nakano says that the market for digital literature in Japan is currently worth a good 500 million euros, and over four fifths of that is generated by digital manga. That's sixteen (16) times the size of that same digital market was in 2005.
If you can get past the smaller screen, distributing digital manga and comics via cellphones makes a lot of sense. You probably have the platform already in your pocket right at this moment: everyone and their dog owns a cellphone, while the iPad and similar tablets are owned by a very small percentage of the world population, and are still expensive and cumbersome in comparison. Cellphones are a much more widespread and much more democratic medium than dedicated readers or tablets. Going through cumbersome signups or transmitting credit card details is also not necessary when buying manga over a cellphone, because the price of any manga you purchase is just added to the monthly phone bill. All in all, a very user-friendly model, if you overlook the fact that manga bought via a cellphone probably can't be read on any other devices (should look into that).
For the curious among us, there's some more resources on cellphone manga in our manga research knowledge base.
Overall, I had a great time, mostly because I got to meet a ton of interesting new people and reconnect with those I'd already met at that other conference in Kyoto last December. ( Read more... )
ETA: Forgot to insert cut in post, is fixed now.
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Getting up in arms about nonexistent children seems to be a real trend these days. A similar law has gone live in the UK only a few days ago. With the February sentencing of US citizen Christopher Handley for possessing “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children" and Australia recently mulling criminalization of viewing or linking to online depictions of what might be nonexistent children in sexual situations, it almost looks as if countries are egging each other on to see who can look toughest on child pornography.
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Yesterday I gave a presentation on copyright issues related to dojinshi and fan culture for the first-year students at the Japanese Studies department of the Catholic University of Leuven. It was based on the conference presentation I'll be giving next week in Kyoto, with more introductory material such as what dojinshi are. The conference version will have fewer cute pictures and more long pretentious words.( Read more... )