Viz Media, the largest manga publisher in the U.S., has been aggressive about marketing their titles digitally (which makes sense when you realize that some of their series run to over 50 volumes). They launched with an iPad-only app, then expanded to iPhone, the web, Android, Nook, and Kobo, and today they announced that they are making their entire digital catalog, about 1,500 volumes right now, available for the Kindle, including Kindle Fire and Paperwhite, as well. The press release says most titles will be priced at $6.99 per volume, and today was the day that Viz raised prices in their own apps as well, mostly from $4.99 to $6.99. (I talked to Viz’s Gagan Singh about that a few weeks ago.) But Amazon being Amazon, they are actually pricing most books at $5.59 per volume, so they are underselling Viz at the moment. What about the other e-book platforms? Barnes and Noble is asking $5.99 per volume in the Nook store, and while it isn’t easy to separate out the Viz titles in the Kobo storefront, the Viz titles I did find were priced at $5.79.
I spoke to Viz CEO Ken Sasaki at Comic-Con in San Diego last July, and he told me that the app still accounts for the majority of their digital manga sales, but he expected sales on other platforms to grow; while Viz’s slice might get smaller, the pie as a whole will get bigger, he said.
Viz is also syncing its schedule so that titles in the Kindle store will be published nearly simultaneously with the print editions. (There was no mention of whether they would be released on other platforms at the same time.) This means Viz will be releasing its manga in digital at the same time as print and at a lower price, a strategy that folks in the Western comics world claim will kill the business. I asked Sasaki about that, too, and he said, “We believe right now the market is too big and we are not tapping the potential. We see clearly the division of digital readers versus physical readers. We don’t see any data to indicate that those two businesses at two different pricing points are cannibalizing each other. It’s more like, when we push product at the same time [and] market it so it’s available either physical or digital, we are just basically giving the choice to consumers and by doing that, recognition of the titles could be more than [if we were] marketing each product differently in a different timing. At the end, I think we see a lift on both products rather than seeing cannibalization.”
That was his experience with anime, he added. With the new price hike, digital manga aren’t that much cheaper than print (which usually runs to $9.99 per volume), so it seems like a solid strategy.