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.