After almost two years since the debut of Yen Plus magazine, the Yen Press crew announced in that they would be ending the print edition of their manhwa/manga anthology magazine, and replacing it with a new online edition. The first issue of the new online edition of Yen Plus made its debut at San Diego Comic-Con in late July 2010, and it almost immediately got fans talking.
The upsides? This new online manga magazine makes a lot of great Yen Plus series like Nightschool, Maximum Ride and Jack Frost available online for readers around the world to enjoy at a very reasonable price ($2.99/month for access to two months' issues). The downside? The free trial version of the August 2010 issue was missing almost half of the line-up that was last seen in the print edition; specifically, popular manga titles from Japan like Black Butler and Soul Eater.
I also received lots of comments about Yen Plus via Twitter. For the most part, they were positive and offered constructive suggestions, but there were also a lot of questions that I simply couldn't answer based on what I knew so far about Yen Plus. I decided to check in with Yen Press Senior Editor JuYoun Lee to hear what she had to say about the online debut of Yen Plus and perhaps try to get some hints of what readers can expect to see from this online manga anthology in the months to come.
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS: MOVING YEN PLUS FROM PRINT TO ONLINE
Q: What was behind the decision to shut down the print edition of Yen Plus?
JuYoun Lee: Well, there were many reasons. One of the key reasons was that the magazine business in general has been in a bit of a slump in recent years, and costs were definitely a consideration.
Q: Costs in terms of what? Printing? Production? Distribution?
JuYoun Lee: Well, everything, really. We knew that the magazine business in the U.S. was very tough, and it felt like we weren't really getting Yen Plus out there in such a way that everyone could get their hands on it. Particularly with all of the retail outlet closures, it seemed like the numbers were going down, and it was just tougher and tougher to actually get the magazine into readers’ hands.
We also know that there's a demand for manga online, and we were already moving in that direction on various projects, so we thought it made sense. This move would provide a legal alternative for people already looking for manga online, not just in the States, but all over the world.
Q: Right, that was one of the most interesting aspects of what you're doing with Yen Plus here – that the content is not region-blocked. That's very interesting and new.
JuYoun Lee: Why do you say that's interesting?
Q: Well, one of the big things that comes up when U.S. publishers post manga content online as an alternative to pirated, scanlated content is that many times, what's available via legal channels is only available to readers in North America – readers from Europe, Asia or South America are blocked from reading it based on where they live, because of their computers' IP address.
So for example, when VIZ Media started publishing the current chapters of Rumiko Takahashi's Rin-Ne simultaneously with the Japanese releases, I was telling readers, "Look, isn't this awesome? It's free, it's available the same day as it is in Japan, and it's legit." I asked, "Why are scanlators still scanning and pirating Rin-Ne? VIZ and Shogakukan is going through the extra trouble to translate and post it on the same day as Japan to address fans' complaints that they don't want to wait to read the latest chapters of their favorite manga."
Then I heard from fans who told me that the manga posted on the Shonen Sunday website was blocked to readers who aren't from North America. They said things like "No, I can't read it because I live in Mexico," or "No, I can't read it because I live in outer Tasmania." So whoops. My bad. Now I know!
But I also know that negotiating for digital rights for licensed manga from Japan is a whole 'nother ball of wax than just getting the print rights to a given manga or manhwa title, isn't it?
JuYoun Lee: Oh, YES. I think the biggest problem is that it feels like once it's online, you're not going to have full control of your product. It's kind of new to everybody, so basically, that's the problem. You just don't know what's going to happen when the stuff goes digital.
Even with, say, the Korean publishers whose material we have online, they wanted to see how it goes before really opening up the gates.
Q: When you say, 'They want to see how it's going," what are these publishers looking out for, what do they want to see happen or not happen here?
JuYoun Lee: Everything, basically. Like I said, no one knows exactly how this is going to work in terms of how it will be controlled, what the final quality of the product will be like, how we’re going to interact with the readers, billing, and so on. Everything is new.
SAMPLING YEN PLUS, WITH HINTS OF MORE MANGA TO COME?
Q: Speaking of payments, why only offer readers two-month access to any given issue of Yen Plus? Why aren't fans given the option to download the magazine content and keep it on their computers? Why not give readers access to an archive of back issue content, even if it involves an additional fee?
JuYoun Lee: Well, our core business is still going to come from the printed books. The whole purpose of the printed magazine was something like a sampler: you read it, you see something you like, you go buy the book. It also gave the serious fans their serialized “fix” between volumes of the books. With the online version, we wanted to replicate those goals while keeping the price point reasonably low. If we were to keep all the back issues available online, then the price (per issue) would have to go up.
Q: Why would having archived back issues of Yen Plus available online mean that the price would have to go up?
JuYoun Lee: Think about it. Say you started reading Yen Plus from the first issue and someone else started reading it from the 30th. From that 30th issue, the reader that just paid once gets to read everything while you had to pay for each issue? That wouldn't be fair. The content doesn’t lose its value just because it's older.