A Glass Half Empty?

kindle mangaLast month’s column discussed the ongoing drift of manga into digital publishing. In the weeks since, new statistics have come to light about just how pervasive digital publishing has become. A recent report by Yano Research revealed that digital manga publishing in the fiscal year ending in spring 2014 raked in an incredible 65 billion yen (£363 million), accounting for a whopping 80% of the entire digital book market in Japan.

zu01Digital publishing continues to rise all over the world. Many of you will actually be reading this article on a digital edition of NEO, so well done all you early adopters, you. But there are other knock-on effects. Manga are going to become less visible in the real world, as e-publishing initiatives slowly strip them from shelves in corner shops and bookstores. I predict the almost total disappearance of erotica from public view, as furtive consumers squirt it all directly onto their tablets without having to slide it under their raincoats. Teen stuff will be next, and their older cousins in mature manga will lag behind. Before long, there will just be a few legacy titles in the Luddite pensioner market, and smaller print-runs for coffee-shop and noodle-bar browsers.

There is also talk of “enhanced” publishing. Once a creative work is “digitally ingested”, you can fiddle with it and add whistles and bells. Manga publishers are talking of sound effects and read-along audio, maybe even flash-animated panels. This is being billed as some form of higher-level augmentation of manga, which leads me to sound a note of doubt.

Will it really mean better manga? Or will it end up meaning really low-rent, stripped-back, bare-bones anime? Just as marketers put a polite spin on cheapo, minimal-choice adventure games by calling them “virtual novels,” will we find anime companies in the future tempted to rebrand themselves as “enhanced manga publishers” in order to get away with the cheapest animation possible?

Of course, it might be a fad. Paper might come back in, like flares. This was all reported in a magazine called Nikkei Computer, which obviously had an interest in bigging up the digital future. Maybe it’s only the magazines that are going digital, while consumers will still want those bespoke reprint volumes in print. But how will all the enhancements work then…? Pop-ups?

[Time travel footnote – Since this article was published, the University of Hertfordshire has revealed that it is transitioning its 2D Animation course into a Digital Comics and Concept Art course… the first sign of the changes to come?]

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 135, 2015.

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