Manga's "age-old" battle.

Chihayafuru. The Crown of Thorns. Sekirei.

What do these series have in common? They’re among the growing list of digital-only releases.

The Big Debate

Most of you know by now that in the war between physical and digital, I am on Team Physical Copy. If you wonder why, then I point you to Vertical Comics’ recent release of Dissolving Classroom. The main characters are raised off of the front cover, the dissolving bodies they are standing in are glossy, and the walls are matte. It’s a tactile experience you won’t get if an e-book version is ever made.

Dissolving Classroom
You can’t tell from this picture, but this cover feels awesome.

There’s also the price difference. Despite actual books having much more overhead, a lot of publishers price their books at or near the physical version’s list price. Digital versions of Attack on Titan, for instance, ranges from $7.99 (Amazon Kindle) to $10.99 on ComiXology (owned, ironically, by Amazon). Browse a site like Barnes & Noble and you’ll see the at least half of the volumes are currently less than the NOOK book price of $9.99. Not to mention you can use coupons to lower even further, unlike NOOK e-book versions.

I’m not saying that physical versions are perfect either. Some manga have terrible bindings that make it very hard to see everything without stretching them out, and long series can take up enormous amount of space. That’s why options are so nice: Want to potentially resell your old books? Go physical. Need something to read right now? Go digital. Don’t want to lug around a huge book? Choose digital. Like to jump around? Physical.

When There’s Only One

But while the majority of manga is available in both formats, more and more are being limited to a single version. The old Del Rey catalog. Other manga from the creators of Boys Over Flowers and Kimi ni Todoke. He’s My Only Vampire. Dissolving Classroom. If you want to read any of these, you have only one option. But in the war of physical-only vs digital-only, digital-only is dominating. Go see any news announcement about a license, and you will see a lot of questions asking if the series will get a physical release; you won’t see fans clamoring for a confirmation on a digital release. The list of digital-only series just keeps growing. All three of Kodansha Comics’ latest announcements, for instance, are currently only going to be published in e-book format.

I don’t blame companies for prioritizing digital releases. The profit margin is obviously much higher since they don’t have to spend money on ink, paper, shipping, storage, etc. But for many of people — those who like to read near water, browse a local bookstore, or lend out personal copies – the shift toward e-books is disappointing. I’ve been longing for School Rumble and many, many other Del Rey manga to be rescued. The volumes have been sitting sadly on my shelves for years. But to continue the series means I will almost have to assuredly pay more than if I wanted to buy other Kodansha manga like Say I Love You. or The Seven Deadly Sins. While I can finally learn what happens to Tenma and her friends, I probably will never get to line up all 22 volumes on my shelves.

The Future of the War

So will “old schoolers” like me be forced to adjust to the shift to digital? Probably. Let’s face it: Very few manga are going to be physical-only rather than digital-only. I’ve been waiting for print announcements on manga like Crimson Prince, but it’s been well over a year and half of the series published with no news.

While I would love all licensed manga to be give a physical release (as well as a digital release), wouldn’t it be wonderful if there could at least be a limited run? Perhaps something like Limited Run games which print a set amount of copies and that’s it. Or go to print-on-demand like Hetalia: Axis Powers. Of course, Kickstarter is always an option like Kodomo no Jikan or most of Tezuka’s back catalog. Most of these would still be above my personal average cost per volume (I never pay retail) and do have their own issues. At least us on Team Physical could have a chance to let these series decorate our shelves.

So, are there any digital-only manga you wish could get a physical release or vice-versa? Should those of us on Team Physical just join the 21st century? What do you think about e-book pricing? Would you support the major manga publishers if they used some alternative distribution methods to deliver print versions?