My Experience With Digital Manga…The Legal Way

A year ago, I wrote a post expressing my preference for reading manga physically over its digital counterpart. While that article came from a less than tenuous viewpoint as I dipped into the illegality side of things, I realized that it wasn’t fair of me to write it without taking a closer look at the more lawful services to see what they had offer. With more and more manga getting released I’m interested in reading, I decided to fire up my old Nook Color and Hienese Tablet to put some of the services to the test. Needless to say, I found both pros and cons about these services as well provide suggestions on what they could do better. Despite this written with the Android ecosystem in mind and the usual detailed and formal research discard for a more informal view, I do self-righteously think I bring up some interesting points. It’s a relativity short read for now, but will add onto this article in the future.

The Services

  • Google Play Store – GoogleBooks: Since this is written with the Android OS in mind, the Google Play Store and its reading app, GoogleBooks is first up. Honestly, I was very astonished to discover that the Google Play Store carried manga and a lot of the titles I was looking forward to like Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma and Seraph of the End from VIZ Manga’s line. I tried a free sample of the former and was impressed by layout. Even though you can swipe the screen to turn the pages, I found using the volumes keys was better as it didn’t accidentally zoom in on the pages. Nice as it was, I have two major complaints: 1) Turning the pages resets the zooming radius you have set and 2.) Reading from a Horizontal plane really isn’t feasible. The second bullet point is not much of an issue since my tablet is not a 10 inch monster, but for many, tablets that size tend to be better suited for dual pages. The first bullet point does backup the second, yet with using a modest 7 and 8 inch screen for the Hienese and Nook respectively, I would like it very much if I could keep the zoom set page to page – changing it as I see fit.
  • Barnes & Noble Reader: I happen to like the Barnes and Noble native reader. Yes, my Nook is rooted and could use any service I like, but the native services is too good to pass up. Checking out the same free sample of Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma, the experience layout wise was the same as GoogleBooks – allowing you to change the brightness, adjusting the screen, and chapter/page select from the quick fade option at the bottom. However that is where my Honeymoon with it ends. For one, no volume button support. That isn’t much of a tragedy when the thing behaves and doesn’t zoom like GoogleBooks when swiping the screen – that is acceptable. However, the second issues lies in the UI or the lack of it – forget about any customization or options. It doesn’t like being told what to do nor will it listen. Much like GoogleBooks, it won’t hold the zoom page to page nor is reading it full size Horizontal a “thing”. It has nice selection of digital titles to choose from at a modest price point, but only viable if you can deal with the reader.
  • Amazon Kindle: Talk about amateur hour…this thing is pathetic. Unless you own a Kindle or using this strictly Pro bono for someone not accustomed to digital reading a la PC – that is it. Much like the previous two, I checked out a sample of Seraph of the End.  The menu doesn’t offer much: bookmark system, go to page, and page select. No volume key support – swipe the screen only, which has tendency of being finicky and activating the panel reading mode. Everytime you swipe the screen in this mode it pans panel to panel on the page, much like reading a traditional comic book. It works great for that purpose, not so great for manga since it has a hard time focusing on where panel begins and ends. At the very least, this should be menu option rather than serendipitously activating it because I tapped the screen too many times. The manga selection is plentiful with a lot of publishers using the service, yet doesn’t matter with the reader only suitable for its own device or PC.  
  • Kobo – Kobo App:  Wow, Kobo is really something…and I mean that in a good way! With no free samples in sight (expect for Ebooks), I purchased a copy of Bleach and was blown way. Bringing up the menu is a bit of a hassle since you have to tap directly on the center of the screen like twice, but once you do and go into the settings – it’s great! Not only can you tell it to use the volume buttons in lieu of swiping, you can also change the screen orientation to landscape or portrait mode as well set page transitions. The app does display social network icons up at the top by default, but you can also get rid of them through the option page. Add the fact that it comes with custom fonts (not applicable with manga) and takes up most the screen real estate without having to fool with the zoom, Kobo does more than I can ask for. The selection is great! Was really shock to find out they carry hentai manga!  My only major complaint is that the search engine is crap and hard locate anything with the categorization. It is also weird that they have Vol.3-6 of something, but not 1-2. They fix those issues…this would be a very solid service.

The Suggestions

  • All In One Place: With the majority of my time spent focusing on VIZ manga, I did see other publishers like: Kodansha and Yenpress in the virtual biz – but the releases are all over the place. It would be great if I could get From The New World on Amazon – Vertical doesn’t do digital. Be nice if I could get The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat on Google Play – its limited to Kobo and Amazon. Point is: be nice to have the manga I want in on place (on a service I like and want to be bound to), but highly unlikely to happen.
  • Better Control & Reading Experience: With nearly all the services (expect Kindle), the customization options were great, yet controlling them were a problem. Knowing a few things about programming, it isn’t hard to write a line off code around allowing certain configuration to be set for a specific instance. Why should mobile be any different? If I read zoomed in at specific angle when I turn the page, don’t disturb it. If I’m going to swipe the page, don’t have it zoom in like I’m tapping on it. Let me turn my tablet sideways without having to readjust the resolution. Better control over the little things..is that so much to ask for so I have a better reading experience?
  • Discount: For the “old-school” folks like myself, if companies gave people who a discount on physical manga that they already brought digitally – no doubt it would catch on as well as help their bottom line. It’s actually not the question: If I buy something online like at Amazon or through B&N, at checkout you can opt in allowing that company to have access to your email address and send you voucher for 10% off the physical version for the digital manga you brought. Even better have it attached to your receipt. Either way, something like that would be nice and draw more people in who want to go digital – yet have reservations about the process and still want paperback. It’s a pipe dream…
  • DRM/Platform Free: Kobo, Amazon, VIZ, Veritcal, Yen Press, etc – at the end of the day, these are companies. What are companies in business to do? Make a profit! There is nothing wrong with that and they have to if they want to keep doing business. That said, they can also go out of business. Just like Jmanga that met with an early demise for reasons unknown (well, that’s a lie..there is an idea behind it), there is nothing exempting the other aforementioned from getting the same end. Granted it would be a lot difficult for say VIZ or even Amazon from closing shop or eliminating operations to services  – yet it can happen, even if loss of revenue is not at the root. Simply put: I would actually like to own what I pay to have. Just like the manga on my shelf, I want my digital manga to be on hard drive, able to back it up, use my own reader, and actually feel like I don’t have to worry about it perishing. I fully understand why companies can’t do this – but unless they are able to provide peace of mind…digital legally will be a daunting issue. Of course, that doesn’t mean I will turn to the scans or illegal means either. Digital ownership is still sort of in adolescence, so maybe in the next few years companies will have something worked out to grant the peace of mind I seek.
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4 thoughts on “My Experience With Digital Manga…The Legal Way

  1. I’ve switched to digital manga for almost a year now, due to lack of shelf space for new physical books… and being from the UK hasn’t helped, since unlike physical books, digital manga can be region locked. I can’t get anything by Yen Press, and a number of VIZ’s licenses are US-only at the moment too.

    As a result, I’ve turned to emanga.com for most of my purchases. They already do a lot of the things you’ve suggested – no DRM or region locking, releases in different formats for different devices, regular discounts and bundles etc. The only real downside is that it’s owned by Digital Manga Inc., and only offers titles licensed by them, so it fails the ‘all in one place’ check.

    • Ah, right. Guess I shouldn’t be complaining so much when Europe struggles to get much if any licensed here. Thanks for the website, though. Looking at from a glance it is sort of limited to the stuff I think I would like, but it does have a few titles I’m interested in that most publishers here probably won’t do. Do wish more companies would adopt their discount strategy, since most of the stuff is affordable. If they expand the catalog in the future, I might be doing some business their myself.

  2. Personally, I can’t say I really like using volume buttons for the pages, though it works in my favor, since the general consensus it seems is through swiping, lol. The zoom thing is definitely a problem, it’s one of the reason why I don’t want to read manga on my phone anymore, even at 5″, I still need to zoom in and out (to turn page), and it’s kinda annoying, lol. Reading manga on my 10″ Dell Latitude is much more comfortable, I can read everything on one page, even if I need to zoom, it’s mostly on very rare occasions. My only complain is that my Dell Latitude 10 is as heavy as lead.

    • I can’t stand touchscreens on anything, so the volume keys are for me. Yeah, if you decent size screen zooming shouldn’t be an issue, but the phone (unless you have on those phalet’s) I can’t see why anyone would want to read on one. Then again, the cellphone novels were popular in Japan – so guess it is doable. It probably should be that heavy if you have the model with SSD – its like carrying a brick, lol.

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