(I apologize for the lack of a cut in this post. There is something wrong with its html and it does not want to be fixed.)
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).
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.
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?
Here's where things turn completely ridiculous. Please read the TOS for yourself
to understand it fully, but here's some highlights. Everything in italics is quoted from the TOS, emphasis in bold by me.
The Service provides you access to data and intellectual property that SQUARE ENIX maintains on its servers. Subject to your continued compliance with the conditions set forth in this User Agreement, SQUARE ENIX grants you a limited license to view digital versions of Japanese comics ("Manga") and other content available through the Service via streaming only for so long as SQUARE ENIX operates the Service. Available Manga and other content through Service and all other aspects of the Service (including but not limited to the Manga, website content, and software supporting the website) are determined by SQUARE ENIX at its sole discretion. All intellectual property rights to Manga and other content provided in the Service are owned by SQUARE ENIX or its licensors. You do not have any property rights in the Manga; instead you have a terminable, revocable license.
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:
The activities identified in this Section 3 ("License Limitations") are strictly prohibited and violate the conditions or limitations on your license to use the Service. (...) SQUARE ENIX may update the list of License Limitations herein at any time. The current License Limitations are as follows:
(...) 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:
Access may also be temporarily suspended in whole or in part, without notice, due to emergency repairs, fire, flood, explosion, war, strike, embargo, governmental action or failure to act, the act of any civil or military authority, act of God, or by any other causes beyond SQUARE ENIX's control, or any other reasons for which SQUARE ENIX, in its sole discretion, deems that temporary suspension is necessary. You acknowledge that disruptions to the Service may occur and waive any causes of action against SQUARE ENIX in any way arising from or related to any such disruptions to the Service.
Later, the TOS mentions what your options are if your license is revoked and you feel this was done for unfair reasons:
It is SQUARE ENIX's goal to informally resolve legitimate consumer disputes without resort to formal litigation. Therefore, prior to filing any formal legal action against SQUARE ENIX, you agree to a make good faith attempt to informally resolve your grievance (...) If you file a formal legal action without abiding by this section and the action is unsuccessful, you agree that you will be responsible for SQUARE ENIX's costs and reasonable attorney's fees incurred as a result of the unsuccessful action.
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
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.