Viz Media is the largest manga publisher in the U.S., and when they launched their digital manga service, almost three years ago, they instantly became a pioneer in that realm. They quickly ramped up with a cross-platform service that worked on the web, iOS, and Android devices and also made their books available on Nook (and, more recently, Kobo). And their prices were reasonable: The standard price for a volume of digital manga was $4.99.
About a week ago, Viz announced via a letter (which has since disappeared) on its Vizmanga site that it is raising the price of a volume of manga from $4.99 to $6.99 as of October 1. Some volumes, such as omnibuses and mature titles, are priced higher and their prices will go up commensurately.
I asked Viz vice president and chief technical officer Gagan Singh to elaborate a bit on the price increases and why they were necessary. Here are his responses.
Good E-Reader: Why did you decide to raise the price of your manga, and why now?
Gagan Singh: We debuted our digital manga on the iPad at the end of 2010, and our prices have stayed constant since the launch of VIZ Manga. We’ve expanded from our own app on iPhones and the web, to having digital manga available on the Nook, as well as recently on the Kobo. In order to continue bringing great manga to North America, we now need to offer our digital manga at a slightly increased price. The increase helps support the manga creators (artists & writers), as well as the editors, producers, engineers, and more that make it possible to enjoy manga anywhere.
Why did you decide to go with a $2 increase, rather than a series of smaller increases phased in over a period of time? Were you losing money before this?
We wanted to provide stability and predictable prices in order to minimize any long-term aggravation smaller incremental increases would bring. Our digital manga sales have been doing well, but as is the case with any company, there are always increases in the cost of running business.
Will you maintain price parity across all platforms (apps, Nook, Kobo)?
Yes, the list price will be the same across all digital manga platforms.
Are you worried that your sales will drop because of the increase? Or will the increase compensate for that?
In the short term, perhaps. In the long term, we are confident, as more and more people adopt digital manga, our sales will continue growing.
What about the problem of piracy—do you see it as sensitive to price, or is it simply a paid vs. free situation (i.e., people who go to bootleg sites won’t pay no matter what the price)?
It’s an education process. By purchasing manga through our digital platforms, fans are supporting the creators, the companies that bring out the manga in Japan, and in turn, us in bringing the manga to fans in North America.
Outside of piracy, do you see your chief competition being other manga or print editions of your own manga—are you concerned that selling the digital at a lower price is undercutting your print business?
Sales of our digital manga don’t cannibalize those on our print side. We anticipate the same trend moving forward. In fact, we’ve noticed that the crossover between print and digital readers is relatively small, and that many of our digital readers prefer digital editions exclusively.
Our biggest competitors for mindshare are actually the myriad of other entertainment options out there, from video games to mobile games, tv and movies. We’ve found that people tend to engage in activities friends recommend, rather than pick up something out of the blue. In the end, great content is the key to attracting and retaining fans.
Do you have any plans for incentives, added content, or sales to mitigate the effect for your fans?
We’re always looking for ways to improve value for our customers; please stay tuned for updates!
We want to thank our fans & readers, who have and continue to support our digital manga program. Their patronage is what drives us every day to work tirelessly to bring great manga to everyone faster and in their preferred format!