Last week, Apple unveiled the product that almost everyone in the publishing industry has been eagerly waiting for: the iPad.
The iPad is essentially a portable entertainment device for reading (books, blogs, magazines, newspapers), watching (tv shows, movies and videos), displaying (photos, recipes) and playing (casual games). The good news is that the iPad as a color screen with a touch screen interface similar to the iPhone/iPod Touch. It also has Wi-Fi capabilities, which makes it easy to download new content and applications.
One thing the iPad does that the Kindle and other e-readers can't match (yet) is that it presents pages in color, which opens up all kinds of possibilities, especially for magazines, graphic novels and yes, manga. So I put a call out to some manga publishers and creators for their take on the iPad and how it may affect their plans for digital publishing. Here's what they had to say.
VIZ MEDIA br>
"Here at VIZ we're all buzzing with excitement about the iPad, both because many of us want to get our hands on one but also because of the tremendous possibilities it opens up for digital publishing of illustrated books. It appears that the long-standing challenges posed by questions of resolution, sizing, and color have disappeared. This certainly appears to be the device that will allow users to carry a library of manga around with them everywhere."
"That said, as for our plans, keep in mind that given our relationship to Japanese licensors any strategy we develop must by definition be global... this poses additional challenges that need to be fully addressed before we can think of actively participating in what is, no doubt, an extremely cool new technology."
- Gonzalo Ferreyra, Vice President, Sales & Marketing
To provide some context for what Ferreyra is saying, most manga publishers (VIZ included) have licensing deals with Japanese publishers to publish certain series (e.g. Naruto) and make them available to only certain countries. The amount that they pay to the Japanese publishers/licensors is based on the exclusive rights to publish the stories within certain countries (which explains why even the online version of Rin-Ne is blocked to certain IP addresses/countries). So if iPad versions of certain titles were made available through Apple's iBooks store, how would this issue of country-specific licensing rights be handled?
DIGITAL MANGA PUBLISHING br>
"Digital Manga Publishing strives to push the barriers of transmission of manga, whether it be in book format, in eReader format (as evidenced by the eManga reader), and in digital format (on the Kindle and through the uClick and Kindle apps)."
"We'll ride the wave accordingly. The digital market is still emerging and fluctuating, so we're kind of along for the ride to see where it will go and in which direction. In terms of our publishing projects, considering we have already been working on acquiring digital rights for titles to put on eManga, the Kindle and iPhone, it won't really change the publishing projects or plans we've already been working on, but will definitely add a further platform to introduce a lot of titles that maybe the average reader wouldn't have normally considered."
"The iPad is obviously going to be a boon for full color projects-which could always be a potential direction in the future. It does hold high promise for future incarnations of what we'll see in the e-book market, and it's definitely going to be a push to get a lot of publishers thinking beyond the regular piece of paper-and seeing books and the future of books, in a whole new light. That's where we think the iPad is most exciting-it's in the possibilities of how we're going to see books presented beyond the physical form."
- Michelle Mauk, Slave to the Digital Revolution (a.k.a. Graphics and Marketing Manager)
"The potential of the iPad is huge. We feel the comic-reading experience is going to be truly awesome."
- Marco Pavia, Associate Publisher
"I'm not as hopeful about the iPad as I was this morning. The iTunes store just rejected Zesty, our tamest graphic novel, without citing a reason. We thought this could be a bright spot for us akin to our sales on Amazon Kindle, but we're very discouraged right now."
-Yamila Abraham, Publisher
Abraham's comment brings up a disturbing predicament -- with Apple controlling the iBooks marketplace, will they opt to not sell 'adult' material through their iBooks storefront? Kindle versions of Yaoi Press manga and novels are bestsellers on Amazon's manga list -- but with iBooks possibly opting to not carry boys love and adult manga titles, what does this mean for publishers of adult titles?
While you ponder that thought, here are a few comments from some online comics creators. First, Maximo Lorenzo, creator of OHKO: One Hit Knock-Out, a recent winner in the Zuda online comics competition and Bombos vs. Everything, published by TokyoPop.
"If comic publishers don't take advantage of the possibilities for anthology magazines and subscriptions on the iPad, I'll gnash my teeth in frustration. People have had such a hard time with launching new comics magazines because of our magazine distribution system here in the US."
"What's so great about an iPad anthology magazine? A reader could pay 24-30 bucks yearly for their favorite comics series and get to sample 12-20 more series with it. This gives readers a chance to try new things and give new series a chance. It'll also drive competition between creators within an anthology that should inspire creators to work harder, while lesser known artists' work will share an audience with the more popular series. Readers will be able to vote for their favorite series, so publishers can see what works without the expense of shipping and the burden of returns of unsold books."
"An iPad comics anthology magazine also offers opportunities to offer downloadable extras to subscribers. Readers can download character bios, bonus minigames, creator blogs, wall papers for the iPad, exclusive trailers as well as download the latest chapter right away, anywhere, anytime. While it's no replacement for a printed paper magazine, it can provide an opportunity for new talent to show their stuff before committing to a print version. So I see this as a huge benefit to creators. The only thing I really DON'T want to see is animated/SFX motion comics. It works against the medium, please don't do that."
- Maximo Lorenzo, creator of One Hit Knockout and Bombos vs. Everything
(NOTE: Given that Flash is not supported in this version of iPad, the prospect of animated/motion comics as a part of an iPad manga publishing launch seems unlikely at this time)
Meanwhile, Scott Yoshinaga, one of the co-creators of webcomic Nemu-Nemu, and an unabashed Apple enthusiast had this to say:
"If you read the blogs of anyone that actually had hands on with the iPad yesterday, you know how each had their own opinions of the device before the hands on. It's what they said or wrote after the hands on that really caught my attention. Almost all of them said it's something you have to touch and experience to really understand. They also mentioned how fast it was!"
"Whether you know it or not, the iPad is preparing you for the future of computing. The iPhone and iPad do something that I didn't even notice at first. It obscures the entire file system from you. The user experience is so well thought out that you don't even bother to worry about where your files are stored, unlike in a regular computer. We spend less time worrying about files and more time using the device." br>
- Scott Yoshinaga, co-creator of Nemu-Nemu
Given that I haven't actually got my paws on an iPad yet, I figure it's best to leave the commentary about its advantages / disadvantages to the pros. For example, author and user experience designer Luke Wroblewski summed things up very succinctly in his blog. Here are a few choice excerpts that might be of interest to manga publishers and creators:
"The iPad is not a laptop nor is it a smart phone. It is a couch device, a bedroom device (don't read that the wrong way), and a kitchen device (swivel it to cook from a recipe you find online). In all these places, a laptop always felt wrong. The iPad is optimized for media consumption: surfing the Web, reading blogs/news/books, watching TV shows, playing casual games, listening to music, managing personal productivity (calendar, contacts) and looking at photos. Expecting it to provide the creation capabilities of a laptop is the wrong frame of reference."
"Instead, think of it a digital version of your leisure time activities - reading, chatting, light gaming, surfing, etc. The majority of these are consumption oriented - not creation oriented."
Wroblewski also goes on to point out that having three separate stores for applications (App Store), music and video (iTunes) and books (iBooks) has potential for some confusion for consumers.
"The creation of a third store for media, iBooks, creates some confusion between the App Store, the iTunes Store, and iBooks. Where does one go for what? Are audio books in the iTunes store or in iBooks? Does the Amazon Kindle application go in the App Store or in iBooks? Will my iBooks show up in iTunes or the iPod on the iPhone and the iPad?"
Wroblewski also points out that the lack of support for Flash in the initial release of the iPad will present problems for readers who are used to the full-multimedia experience they enjoy when they surf the web through their computers. He also hints at some of the reasons why Flash isn't supported by the iPad at this time.
"Not supporting Flash leaves many holes on Web pages where videos and interactive elements currently exist. That could create a sub-par Web surfing experience. But hopefully this is something a software upgrade could fix? But there are both technical and political issues at play here.
With a starting price of $499, the iPad is not as expensive as prognosticators had originally thought (most guesstimated that the iPad might be in the $1,000 range). But given that the baseline model has only 16 GB of memory and Wi-Fi without 3G network capability - most hardcore users will opt for more amped-up versions which will cost upwards to $829.00. So early adopters, get ready to open your wallets and wince a little.
There are more round-ups of commentary from across the comics industry - all are worth checking out:
- Publishers Weekly - The Beat
Heidi McDonald asks, "The iPad is here, now what?"
Vaneta Rogers gets comments from a variety of mainly print comics publishers and creators.
- Paperless Comics
Brigid Alverson sums up some reaction from the webcomics community
But for otaku, perhaps the best bottom line of the pluses and minuses of the iPad came from Yotsuba (as appropriated by the funny folks at Japanator.com.) Check out the strip and get a giggle at this slightly NSFW gag.
Image credits: © Apple, courtesy of VIZ Media, © Deb Aoki, © TOKYOPOP, © Maximo Lorenzo, © KyubiKitsy Studios, © Yotsuba Sutazio