In July of 2008 Yen Press put out their inaugural of a brand new manga anthology called Yen Plus. It was a unique combination of manga from Square Enix, Korean manhwa, and American comics. It was an interesting experiment that had some killer titles with distinct name power from all over the globe but as of July 2010 the magazine will no longer be in distributed in a paper format and instead it will be avaliable online. This week we will be looking at the change from a print to digital distribution. What is lost, what is gained, and do we feel that the new online Yen Plus is worth the subscription fee.
As we have all heard time and again digital distribution is the future of, well, just about everything. Print media has survived, and continues to thrive in a physical format better than most, but things like periodicals and magazines are feeling the squeeze. So it was with a heavy-heart the community took the inevitable news that Yen Plus just could not keep up. Bringing the magazine, format and all, to the online market is an intriguing move and adding a subscription fee, though small, is even more of a curiosity.
The first thing anyone comments on with any digital comics is the delivery method. How easy it is to read manga online seems to be priority number one for most people. No matter how good the content an unpleasant reading experience seems to turn off readers quickly. I found my ease of reading Yen Plus varied greatly on what title I was reading. Everything but Gossip Girl and Aron’s Absurd Armada was readable when it was sized to fit the screen in the default setting but was much easier to read when I increased the size by selecting the Fit Height option. Some of the very small text could be hard to read but otherwise everything was fine. I also could no longer use the top most buttons to navigate with scrolling up but clicking the pages to turn back and worth worked just as well. I had to read Gossip Girl at Fit Height setting because otherwise the narration in the black boxes was unreadable. The only way I could read Aron’s Absurd Armada was to click the selecting the Full Size option. The problem is this required me to constantly play with the arrow keys and the mouse to read anything. Had it been anything but a 4-koma I would have been totally taken out of the story by all the work I had to do. In fact I have found that 4-koma comics are usually a pain to read on the computer due to their smaller text sizes. I would have liked to have been able to use the left and right keys to tab between pages like you are able the more popular HTML comic readers but flipping through the pages with the mouse was fine.
When searching ye olde Google for this magazine it is and isn’t very good. No search result seems to yield the actual Yen Press: Yen Plus sign up page, but the Yen Press website is quick to come up which luckily has a link directly on its main page. Anything more generic like “read manga online” or the such doesn’t get anything legitimate yet while “manga magazine” has good results for publishers other than Yen Press. The current free trial allows you to sample one month’s entire magazine for free and it also doesn’t require your credit card or Paypal information to do so. The reader software for the magazine is pretty straightforward with just a few adjustment options. The “pop-out the viewer” option is more like a necessity with the tiny window size otherwise. Depending on screen size and resolution most things are readable at the fit-height view though I too had trouble with Aron’s Absurd Armada dialogue. I do lament the lack of a zoom feature, the best you can do it actual size but that is probably enough. This reader seems to sit in the middle as far as usability.
The second and often times equally important deciding factor is what can you read. How many titles are at your disposal and of those titles how many of the are worth reading. The first thing I noticed right away is that all the manga is gone. The Square Enix manga titles like Soul Eater and Black Butler are no longer in Yen Plus. As it turns out Square Enix is starting their own english manga site soon so all the titles have gone there. This leaves 8 titles in the anthology which are a mixture of American and Koren comics. I can’t say any of the titles are horrible but none of them are must reads as well. Maxiumum Ride and Daniel X do not interest me as I have never been a fan of James Patterson. Gossip Girl works well as a shojo manga but it reads like a very middle of the road shojo manga. Jack Frost still seems like a poor man’s Hellsing and Time and Again always gives me an odd feeling of disconnection from the stories and characters. Nightschool and Haunted House Call felt like good webcomics. But they felt like good webcomics not great webcomics. They both also felt much simpler art wise next to the other comics in anthology. I am sure they has to do with the fact that all the other comics in the anthology probably have assistants but I assume Nightschool and Haunted House Call are closer to solo projects. I did like the reference to the bell, book and candle in Haunted House Call as little occult references like that always please me.
Yen Plus in digital format has kept its page count and articles, but as Hisui mentioned you’ll notice a change in the titles offered. Half of the titles are American collaborative comics, most of which are cash-grab tie-ins to books or franchises. Debate as you will about OEL or whatever you call it but most comics based on a preexisting series don’t have a very good reputation, for good reason. Maximum Ride which premiered in Yen Plus and Daniel X, both by James Patterson, are serviceable but seem to be lacking heart. And Gossip Girl is just a mess as far as I could see. The source material is questionable, but popular, and it translates here to flat humor surrounding rich, catty bitches. But perhaps worse is the artwork which fluctuates in quality never hitting very good and an artist who seems to have trouble making heads the right size. Another title that kicked off in Yen Plus’s print debut and is still going is Nightschool but even with a recap I seriously had no idea what was going on in the story. Less story oriented and more humor was found in Aron’s Absurd Armada but was hit or miss as with most 4-koma. The selection of titles in Yen Plus has variety but none of them are all that stand out. I think they need a big, good flagship manga title to really carry this project through and see it prosper.
While the August edition of the newly revamped anthology is free the later editions will be $2.99 a month. So the real question is if the newly revamped Yen Plus is worth the subscription fee. I think theoretically you get what you pay for but I am just not interested in what I would be paying for. $2.99 a month is a reasonable price for 8+ monthly comics. If you are interested in at least 2 of the titles I would say it is worth it. I just don’t care enough about any of the titles to pay that for a digital subscription. Supposedly Yotsuba&! will eventually join the anthology which will give it a much bigger boost in desirability but I would rather just collect Yotsuba&! as graphic novels. My initial interest in Yen Plus was it has manga that I was interested in while letting me sample American and Korean comics I might have not normally read. But why should I pay for the comics I was only offhandedly interested in when I can read the manga I wanted to read on the Square Enix page for free. If it was free like VIZ IKKI but ad supported as well I would be far more interested in visiting the site. But as it stands while I admire what they are doing and hope it works out for them but I see no reason putting my money down when I could be spending it on graphic novels of series I am more interested in.
When looking at this anthology I found myself wondering just who they are trying to appeal to. I am just not sure the manga reading audience wants these particular titles. So perhaps they are trying to appeal to the broader market, but will any of those people even know how or where to find this magazine let alone that it exists? Yen Plus gets applause for jumping into the digital foray but it is a shame they didn’t start with a stronger pull of titles.