Viz Media was not the first manga publisher to turn to digital publishing, but it has been one of the most aggressive. Just three years ago, in November 2010, they launched an iPad app with just five titles; now they have a digital library of over 1,600 volumes, and the app is available for iPhone/iPod Touch and Android devices, the same service syncs with their Vizmanga.com website, and they offer their books on the Kindle, Nook, Kobo platforms. Last week, they announced another expansion, to iBooks. I talked to Viz Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President Gagan Singh about the significance of that move.
Given that VIZ Media already has an iPad app, why was it important to you to get your manga into the iBookstore?
We want to make manga easily accessible to the widest possible audience. Whether people are searching for our titles in the App Store, the iBooks app or on the web, we want to ensure that they can find and purchase what they’re looking for. Since iBooks is the default eReader app on iOS and OS X, we felt that it was important to make our titles available there. It’s also a great opportunity for manga to find a new audience, since iBooks and other eBook retailers offer functionality that will suggest our titles to readers based on purchase history. So if you are a manga fan and already have your eBook library on iBooks, you now have an option of adding manga to that library.
Will Shonen Jump be available in iBooks?
Not at this time, but we are always investigating ways to expand our distribution.
What are your top sellers on iBooks so far?
As you might expect, the bestselling shonen [boys] titles like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece have all done very well on iBooks. We have also seen strong sales from shojo [girls] titles like Black Bird and Demon Love Spell.
Do you think that readers who use the e-book platforms (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and now iBooks) are a different demographic than users of your iPad app? Do you see any differences between those platforms, in terms of which books tend to do well, how many books a typical user buys, or any other metrics?
Shojo titles do slightly better on dedicated e-Readers, whereas shonen titles do better on general-purpose tablets. Other than that we do not see any statistically significant difference.
How will readers find your books? I’m not seeing a special Viz Media section in the store.
We worked with Apple to create a new manga section that features many of our titles. You can find it by clicking the “MANGA” graphic from the Comics & Graphic Novels page. We are also continuing to improve the VIZ.com site as the best place for readers to find out about print and digital availability by providing links to iBooks, Nook, Kindle, and our own Viz Manga platform for all available titles.
Do you have any special marketing plans?
We will be working with all our retail partners to improve discovery and introduce new readers to manga in the coming months. We also have some great seasonal promotions lined up for our current fans, so we encourage everyone to stay tuned throughout the holidays for more announcements.
Will readers be able to read their manga right to left in iBooks?
Absolutely! Viz has worked closely with all our retail partners to ensure that the reading experience was fully optimized for manga before launching on any new platforms.
Apple doesn’t allow some comics with mature content to be purchased within an app. Has that affected VIZ Media? Does the iBookstore have similar restrictions?
Every platform does have its own set of rules and challenges. One thing that’s nice about iBooks is that content ratings are handled at the individual title level, instead of for the app as a whole. Because of that, VIZ is able to offer M-rated titles via iBooks that aren’t available on our apps, since the apps are rated 12+.
Where do you see the trends going right now?
It continues to be an exciting time for digital publishing in general. While some recent studies have shown stagnation in the growth of eBook sales, the variety of new devices and options for readers continues to expand. That continues to allow us to make our content available to the widest possible audience.
Do you think VIZ Media will de-emphasize the app in the future and focus on iBooks, as Kodansha has? Would you consider a streaming “all you can eat” service like Marvel Unlimited?
At this point we are committed to maintaining our own apps. As mentioned earlier, our goal remains to get more people to read manga. To that end we are always exploring new distribution options and business models that make it easier for our fans to get our content. Right now the focus remains strongly on a traditional eBook retail model, but we’re open to options that will make it easier for our fans to get our content, as long as the business model continues to make sense.