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Shogakukan Online Manga DRM Crippled, Pricier Than Paper


Major manga publisher Shogakukan have launched “Shonen Sunday for iPhone,” but cripplingly restrictive DRM, a meagre selection of ancient titles and prices higher than the actual paper volumes are leading many to suspect the scheme is already doomed to fail.

Only four ancient titles are available at launch – Urusei Yatsura, Conan, Ushio to Tora and MAJOR. Volumes 1-5 of each are set to be released at launch with further volumes for each to be added at the rate of 2 a week.

The reader application itself is free, but digital volumes cost ¥450 each (for comparison, a brand new paper copy of volume 1 of Conan costs ¥400).

An iPad version is also said to be under preparation.

The comics bought cannot be backed up or transferred off the iPhone, and needless to say they cannot be shared or resold either. Buyers are however allowed to freely redownload “their” manga should they delete and resinstall the app, or change iPhones, a most generous concession indeed.

Reviewers report the quality of the images to be very poor, with small text barely legible, and complain of the DRM restrictions, price and lack of any new titles.

If this follows the familiar pattern from other digital media, any failure of the platform will be blamed on rampant piracy and used as justification for even harsher DRM, whilst success will be used to underline the importance of draconian DRM.

And of course there is the issue of Apple’s abject refusal to allow any risque content on its platforms – it seems unlikely Apple would even allow an ultra-mainstream title like Shonen Jump, thanks to what is, by manga standards, very mild sexual content.

Shonen Sunday itself is noted for being in a death spiral – circulation has decreased from 2 million a week in 2000 to a mere 770,000 in 2009, possibly the reason the publisher is starting to consider the necessity of change.

Using a DRM laden and heavily censored Apple-only platform with a tiny screen to deliver digital manga priced higher than its ancient paper version, and all this in competition with illicit online distribution – observers could be forgiven for thinking Shogakukan wants the project to fail, so it can justify avoiding any further troubling efforts at innovation.

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  • Restrictive DRM is the best way to make people pirate a medium.
    Also the iphone/ipad is the worst possible platform for this type of content distribution partly because Apple is ran by a bunch of prudes.
    It seems they want online sales to fail.

  • Can corporate execs get any dumber ? Seriously …

    iWhatever ?
    DRM ?
    price for digital version > price for paper one ?
    crappy quality ?

    How fucking dumb is that …. I think its stupidity on equal level with [overinterpretating of] JPC’s article #175. Hey, wait ….

    Is it that hard to provide decent scans without any retarded DRM on the publisher’s website (using english language and compatible with browsers other than IE), with accompanying paypal/bank info ?

    • 90% of iphone apps including are things someone can whip up in a weekend.
      So the development cost would be squat even if they used American programmers.
      As for licensing DRM yes this can be expensive because most companies that develop it such as macro-vision are greedy scum.
      But the iphone’s built in DRM costs next to nothing to use though it’s simple and easy to break.

  • Anonymous says:

    It costs money to develop iPhone apps – if only in manpower to some.
    It costs money to license DRM.
    Costs get passed on to the consumer.
    Consumers don’t want expensive proprietary inflexible outdated crippled manga. Imagine that!

  • Anonymous says:

    And Shogakukan will see that people aren’t buying this shit and assume that there isn’t a market for digital and then go about really cracking down on scanlations until it’s all gone and then have no excuse for the fact that THEIR BUSINESS MODEL SUCKS.

  • Anonymous says:

    Really sounds like a project intended to fail by design.

    “See? we tried digital distribution and it didn’t work out, so lets forget the whole idea for a few more years ‘kay.”

  • Anonymous says:

    Gee, sure is nice to see SC articles have no anti-Apple bias or anything, which such bullshit as iOS being “DRM laden” even though nothing except iTunes bought music or video have DRM.

    Not to mention the rave reviews of the comic iPad apps by comic fans.

  • Anonymous says:

    Say what? This was a braindead attempt, at best. Reading manga on an iPhone? iPad, maybe. I’m glad they were trying a bit, but it sounds like they were too busy working on the DRM to realize that the content itself had to be worth protecting. Now they’ll probably just say “we tried, so we’re not to blame that everyone’s pirating”. They always do.

  • Barbarian of Gor says:

    If you like it, don’t buy it.
    Do NOT support DRM…period.

    I’d suggest writing polite e-mails/letters to them that simply you will not buy their manga in that format. It creates all sorts of problems for you and deters the hackers by, seconds? And it should be cheaper, since it’s already been produced or even if it’s new it’s already in digital format.

    To Manga publishers, here’s how to deter it a bit without messing with your consumers:

    Hidden serial numbers.

    Any file format, including even .Pdf can be opened with a text editor and they have some ‘ignore’ commands so programmers can make notations, such as in tutorials. But the ‘ignore’ commands are also used by the program for data, so just erasing them all flirts with a crash. Now, if you put a blatant one in the first few lines, yeah, some people will find and remove them, but in 20+ megabytes and not in the same place and multiple ones, but not always the same per user? “Needle in a Haystack”… Note also, files within the files, like the .jpeg images can do this too without messing up the image.

    So, have one of your programmers generate a script that: On digital purchase embeds random serial numbers and user sale IDs. Multiple tags in random (but you know the pattern) places in the files.

    The problem with “Copy Protection” is that you’ve been treating it like “Theft” when you should have been treating it like “Counterfeit”. You could compare this to an anti-“Counterfeit” strategy.

    Now, like all anti “Counterfeit” measures, this won’t easily deter “Real” counterfeiters. They’ll just buy the manga with stolen credit card numbers possibly from someone else’s computer and put them on torrent/file locker sites who get advertising, some install spyware, and others get users to pay for data downloaded. But oppressive DRM would deter them for…seconds? And if it did stop them they’d just scan it (or get it from a ‘fan’ scanner) and post it anyways.

    BUT- it will make “Tracing” them easier and “Proving Damages” easier once they are caught eventually. You’ll be able to help da Fuzz (police) connect the dots between the stolen credit card and the number of downloads and the profit (from ‘sharing’ site ads and download fees) made.

    Also, in the USA, the mint isn’t afraid of “One person making a Million dollars”. They know they can’t prevent it, but they will catch them sooner or later and the economy is adjusted to account for that. They fear “A million people making ONE dollar.”

    And this, this a hidden “Tag” will indeed deter.
    Granted, some people’s computers will be compromised by hackers, some people’s e-readers will get stolen. But not every single month. And with the notice of “Hidden marks” posted, consumers know what to expect; Yes, you can be assured you can view this file on your 10th computer 20 years from now, and we won’t even strangle you if you give it to a few (no more than 3!!!) friends as you might loan a manga to someone. BUT-if you put it on a torrent site, expect a nasty call and perhaps a big bill!

    Oh, and if hackers work out a program (I doubt it) that easily grabs the ‘tags’ you can put “Hidden Watermarks” in .jpegs… That’d be a little trickier to do on command, such as an instant sale, but I’m sure with today’s computers it could be scripted easily.

    And, take note, this is something I’m “Practicing” not just “Preaching”. In RL I’m part of a team making a magazine that’s sold online and this is the strategy we are using. DRM doesn’t deter hackers and alienates the people who give us $, sometimes even as a “Tip/Contribution”. So this is a way to trace any deliberate spreading and without being mean to our customers and getting them politely mindful not to casually ‘share’.

    Last and certainly least:
    No dead trees + no new printing + no warehouse + no clerk to ring up a purchase = lower costs therefore lower price at same profit margin, or greater. Don’t give the “Hackers” justification!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Hmm. At least they tried.

    What DRM is it specifically besides general Appleness?

    It is good to hear they allow for re-downloads on different (apple/supported) hardware after purchase.

    Experiences with trying to read comics on a PSP have already shown me that it’s not worth doing on such a small screen, but future release on iPad sounds good.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wasn’t Openmanga the scam mangahelpers had when they tried to shop other peoples scanlation projects as a reason why they should get a crunchyroll style licensing deal from manga publishers?

  • Dirty_Dingus008 says:

    Than it begs to question to why is this company that fricking transparent in its disdain for future technology and trends?

    Are all those publishing companies that calcified and frozen in the decades past that even the HUGE neon shining signs blasting into their be-goggled eyes not big enough for them all to get the point?!

    Maybe they can plead their government to “assist” them like what the chicago thug of America is trying to do for all those DeaD newspapers and TAX more money out of the Japanese to prop them up when they go bankrupt~~~~

    • Anonymous says:

      The reason these big corporations aren’t embracing the new technology is simple – the new technology slowly makes these big corporations into a unnecessary middle-man standing between the artistic creators and the customers as a big money-sucking roadblock.

      They used to be the crucial link between the creators and the customers, and as a result could treat both their creators and customers as the scum of the earth while at the same time filling their pockets as much as legally possible.

      With the internet in place though, their whole reason of existence, providing that link between the customer and creator, is gone. As a creator, why pay a company big money to get published to a large audience, when you can set up a own site for pocketchange? As a customer, why would you want to pay some fat slob at some company his oversized paycheck, when you could just pay the creator directly?

      If they start offering customers what they want, ie. products in a practical, digital format, they will only hasten their demise by teaching their customers to use this new technology.

  • This will fail at the speed of light.

    Come on, people are already reading manga on much better devices and for free. If they expect this to fly, they better start thinking with their brains real big time.

    I can currently read manga on a Nintendo DS if I really feel like it.

    And to be expecting to charge MORE than print? get real.

    • Anonymous says:

      Those are good suggestions, however I can’t afford to buy a new giant monitor. Also it is not only the size that matters, resolution is probably more important to me.

      My eyesight isn’t as good as you “young whipper-snappers” (lol).

      If you assume that a printed page is 300 dpi and something like an ordinary Marvel comic is 6″x10″, then my monitor would have to be able to display 1800×3000 images.

      So a 4:3 monitor would have to be 4000×3000 and a 16:10 monitor would have to be 4800×3000!

      Obviously the scans would have to have that sort of resolution also.


  • they need to start releasing digital manga like fansub groups do, if they don’t the’ll eventually die. also mangaka should start making there manga digital like many are doing for there doujinshi on the internet, quality is maintained in the digital format and distribution can reach overseas.

  • I don’t see a problem with the price being higher than the paper version. After all, if you have a portable device for reading it, paper loses its most important feature – portability.

    Not being able to transfer it is a problem, but it’s not like you can really transfer paper copies in a sensible way either.

    Redownloading when the service is terminated will be impossible, but you don’t get a free copy if you lose your paper manga in a fire/water accident either.

    So, in the end the only reason that makes this “terrible” is the higher quality (size?) of the paper version.

    • Anonymous says:

      You don’t see the problem? There’s practically no overhead.

      Printing costs? Gone.
      Shipping costs? Gone.
      Retailer cut? Gone.

      Replicating digital content is as easy pressing ctrl+c on your keyboard. The bandwidth overhead would be miniscule in comparison.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hit all the nails on the head as to why these things should cost MUCH less than real paper copies.

        In fact, I think the world would be better off if ALL mangas and doujins were distributed electronically with no DRM. It would save a FUCKLOAD of trees, at least.

      • Also the most important point of all: goods that are available limitless are worthless. Like sand on the beach or air. Online manga are limitless available. Think about it. People earning money with books/movies/music fear exactly this basic principle, hence the DRM. But they horribly fail in preventing others from attaining the material elsewhere.

        • I don’t like money and think humanity would be off better without it. Just think about who the fuck hoards it, who earned it and who plays with it in the end. It’s not like things other than actual work really earns anything. And what do economist? Playing with money other people earned. Such a sick world we live in. What do the banks do? (Or the ones running ’em) Exactly, playing with money other people earned. If you don’t think thats sick I don’t know what is. But it’s definitely not being a lolicon or downloading “licensed” stuff. Back in the days musicians earned their living only with live concerts. Because the Gramophone record wasn’t invented yet.

      • “Apple allows 70% of revenues from the store to instantly go to the seller of the app, and 30% go to Apple.”
        And they preserve the right to kick your application off the appstore whenever they feel like banning stuff.

  • Honestly? I would buy Urusei Yatsura for $4.50-5.00 if I had an iPhone. Viz’s release of it in the US was terrible and ridiculously overpriced.

    But the price is pretty shitty, yeah.

    The DRM doesn’t seem all that objectionable to me though. Really, who gives a fuck.