Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen (From Imagined Heights)

Kodansha recently launched an ebook program across multiple platforms but there have been several snags along the way:
  1. Google Play's participation has been postponed, apparently due to delays on Google's end.  The current version of the press release only lists "Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble Nook" as available platforms but Kodansha's Facebook post announcing the launch mentioned "Google Play, and more."
  2. Kodansha's two oversized digital samplers Real and Unreal are unavailable in iBooks.  Kodansha's ebook page originally included links to the iBookstore but those were later removed.  Clicking the links still take you to iBooks but the following error is returned:  "Item Not Available - The item you've requested is not currently available in the U.S. Store."
  3. Kodansha quietly discontinued further support of their original Kodansha Comics iOS app.  The app is still available (and still promoted on their website) but Kodansha will no longer release new series or volumes on the app.  (Although for now it's possible to purchase two volumes of Fairy Tail that won't be available elsewhere for another month.)
But by far the biggest issue has been with the confusion surrounding Kodansha's availability on Kindle.  While the press release simply states that titles are available on Amazon Kindle, not all of the 127 Kodansha titles listed in the Kindle Edition format as of this writing are available on all devices.  In fact, for most titles, the list of supported devices is fairly small:

That leaves out Kindle for iPad and fans on Facebook and Twitter have complained that they are unable to purchase Kindle editions on iOS.  Kodansha has replied that the problem is with Amazon limiting the devices they support as the files worked on all devices tested in-house before being sent off to the digital distributors.  This may very well be true, but it's probably little comfort to customers who are blocked from reading their favorite manga in their preferred format.

There are actually a handful of titles that are listed as available for Kindle on iPad.  If you go to the link on your iPad and search for "Kodansha Comics" you will see (as of this writing) 23 results.  Six of those are pre-orders, so that leaves 17 titles.  However, almost all of the titles I sampled didn't work:  Opening the samples in the Kindle app displayed nothing but empty white pages, and the reading direction was in left-to-right rather than right-to-left.  (Interestingly, the samples that failed on my iPad also failed when I delivered them to my Kindle Fire HD 8.9 which indicates to me that the problems are with the formatting of the ebooks in general and not with particular devices.)

I was able to get Kodansha Kindle ebooks to work on my iPad, but only by first purchasing them on another supported device and then downloading them from my cloud account to my iPad.  I read the Kindle versions of the sampler ebooks this way (and the formatting was wonky on both iPad and Kindle, with page content pushed to the upper-left of the page and too much white space on the bottom and right) and I also gambled on the full version of Fairy Tail 27, which was not listed as available on iPad but which did happen to be on sale for $5.22.  The book displayed just fine on an iPad, even double-page spreads in landscape orientation, as shown below (excuse to spice up this post with some fun, kinetic artwork)

So ironically it appears that Kindle books not listed as available for iPad work on iPad (if you first purchase them on another device that is listed as supported) but books listed as available for iPad don't work on iPad (or other devices either).

From my (limited) experience it appears that Kindle books that have the attribute "Optimized for larger screens" are the ones that don't work on any device.  If it's missing this phrase it may be safe on your tablet.  Another indicator appears to be if the device list covers a long list of devices including those with smaller screens such as iPod Touch (see screenshot below).  From my limited testing, these two factors always appeared to coincide.

With the latest version of the Kindle app, users are able to download samples of (related) books from directly within the app, so if you first install a sample of an book available for iPad, you can then scroll to the end of the book (the samples for the Genshiken Omnibus ebooks worked in iPad for me) and look for other similar samples to install to see if those books work properly before purchasing the full versions.  The available samples are limited to a handful of related titles, though -- "More books by [author name]" and "Customers who bought this book also bought" -- so you won't be able to search for specific titles.

If you're an iPad user and you don't want to gamble with a Kindle edition of a title working on your device, you do have other options:  There's the Apple iBookstore, of course, and the samples I've checked out there work fine (although I personally can't get past the iBooks app's insistence on forcing its hideous skeuomorphic UI on users).  And there's BN's Nook, which is a solid app based on my limited experience with it -- it just has the unfortunate drawback of having the highest prices of all the platforms ($9.49 per volume compared to $7.99 for iBooks and Kindle).

So there have been some bumps in the road for Kodansha's ebook launch but I'm assuming they'll get them straightened out at some point.  Hopefully readers will have the patience to wait for fixes rather than grow discouraged and forget to check back with the program in the future.

* The post title refers to the grandiose dreams I originally had for Kodansha Comics

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