Final thoughts on the state of the manganet… I promise

After completing my tour of manga sites, I was left with some general impressions, and since I can’t seem to shut up about this, I thought I might put them down in hopes of getting it all out of my system. Keep in mind that I’m not a web designer, just a frequent visitor to sites like these.

My first thought is that the lowest common denominator of all these sites is (or should be) encouraging visitors to purchase the products on display, or at least leaving them wanting to learn more about them. With that in mind, there’s one element I think all of these sites should contain: a comprehensive, up-to-date list of titles currently in print.

Ideally, that list would be the easiest thing on the site to access. If it can’t be featured on the front page in some way, it should be no more than one click away. It should also be easily identifiable. Coming up with cute tags for the sidebar can be fun, but if creativity obstructs clarity, it ultimately isn’t serving all of a site’s visitors.

With that basic, alphabetical list of product in place, I would suggest providing links to specific information about each title on a separate page further into the site’s structure. If it’s a multi-volume series, provide blurbs for each volume in print. Creator biographies are always welcome as well, as are previews and sample pages.

A caveat of that recommendation is to move information from the general to the specific as the visitor explores more layers of the site. Instead of putting large, potentially slow-loading preview images at the top of a section on a title, put them deeper into the site’s structure. They won’t hinder a casual browser, but they’ll still be readily available and logically placed for those who are interested.

Once you’ve got the easy-to-use A-Z index in place, it’s always nice to provide people with choices of how they search through your listings. Some visitors will be interested in a specific creator, so you might offer a list of manga-ka with links to their work. Others might be interested in specific genres (adventure, romance, mystery, science fiction, etc.) or categories (all ages, shôjo, shônen, josei, seinen, etc.). Supplemental sections highlighting new releases and release calendars are valuable for some users, especially diehard manga fans who track these things. People will be looking for titles through different lenses, and if your resources allow you to provide different options, by all means, do so.

When making design choices, I would always recommend erring on the side of simplicity and functionality. Anything that obstructs a visitor from information on the product you’re trying to move is probably a bad thing, no matter how cool it looks or how fun and fiddly the code was to write. It goes back to the lowest common denominator theory above; visitors might be very eager to find out about your books, but they may not want to wait until the chibi ninja dances across the screen to do so.

That’s obviously a tough call to make, as nobody wants their web pages to look sterile. (Okay, I don’t care if mine does obviously, but I don’t publish manga.) But if the function of your pages is to provide information on your product and encourage people to buy it, the form should ultimately reflect that and accommodate users.

If you’ve got a web site, you’re obviously aware of the multiple uses of the Internet. One of those is publicity, and many bloggers, on-line columnists, and news sites are eager to link to information about specific titles that they’re covering. If at all possible, make that process easy for them by organizing your site in such a way that there are direct links to individual titles. You obviously want people to visit your site and find out about your books, so keep the paths clear for people who want to help you do that.

One thing that I haven’t really addressed here is on-line community development. It’s not really a priority for me as a user, so I’ll leave it to others to talk about those issues if they’re interested. I will say that it never hurts to provide a venue to interact with your customers and for them to interact with each other. That said you might want to make sure you have adequate resources to deal with moderation issues that will inevitably crop up.

I would also reiterate the least-to-most-specific notion here as well. Not every visitor plans to visit the clubhouse, so don’t let that atmosphere overwhelm your site’s professionalism or usefulness. This ties in with moderation as well; if the content of the messages in your forums don’t reflect well on you as a publisher, don’t put that content right out front where a customer might find it off-putting. Make forums and other fan venues easy for the invested visitor to find, but don’t leave any of the clubhouse clutter lying around in the foyer, if you know what I mean.

12 Responses to Final thoughts on the state of the manganet… I promise

  1. John Jakala says:

    You may not be a web designer, but you sure hit on everything you’d cover in usability testing. It’s depressing how many sites ignore basic principles of good design. The more I hear about Tokyopop’s redesign the more amazed I am at what a lousy job they did. As Brigid noted today, their old URLs no longer work, so, for example, if someone clicks on one of the many links I’ve created to their Sgt. Frog manga over the years, those links are dead. I’m not going to go back and update my links, so a potential source of traffic to their site is lost.

  2. Lyle says:

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Brigid says:

    Absolutely! You have neatly summarized everything that I’ve been grumbling about for the past year. Every web designer in the mangaworld should print this out and tape it to the side of their cubicle. And in hopes that someone out there is reading this, let me add that I’d like to see links and basic info on new titles as soon as they are announced, so bloggers like me can provide a direct link. Otherwise, the publishers are missing out on free publicity.

  4. David Welsh says:

    “let me add that I’d like to see links and basic info on new titles as soon as they are announced,”

    Yes! And don’t just link them in a New Releases section if you have one. Put them in with the main list as well.

  5. Lyle says:

    Very well said. Sadly, I see so many websites that prefer the razzle dazzle to the content… definitely a bad thing when there’s a lot of content to draw your audience.

    As for community interaction, I suspect the best investment is a publisher blog (or a handful of them) moderating is limited to comments (still somewhat challenging) and if you can get a good writer (tough, but easier to do than putting together a must-visit message board or MySpace-clone) you can engage the online community quite effectively with less moderating required.

  6. Lyle says:

    Gah! Double post. I hate blogger and its stupid word-recognition thing.

    (Feel free to delete it, natch.)

    Tangential frustraion to note… when BBCAmerica finds a series worth making a fancy webpage for, they forget to put up a link that lets you search for showtimes. Meanwhile, for the less-publicized ones, such a link is a quick click away.

  7. David Welsh says:

    No problem, Lyle. I have an awful time figuring out the word verification half the time (is that a q? a g? a p?), but I was getting so many spam-bot comments that I had to go with it.

  8. Jonathan says:

    The feeling I’ve always gotten from TokyoPop is that they just really want to be the coolest kids in the room. That’s the feeling I got when they turned MixxZine into TokyoPop magazine all those years ago, that’s the feeling I got years later when they started up the hype machine for “Princess Ai,” (“It’s Courtney Love manga, man, isn’t that AWESOME?!”) and that’s the feeling that positively oozes forth from their new website (which makes my web browser positively groan under the weight of all the widgets and diddlywhacks that are moving all the time). “Join us, man! Be cool!” Gahhh …

  9. David Welsh says:

    Yeah, it’s a pretty dire case of corporate hipsterism. It’s not just a product — it’s a culture! And it’s your culture! And you can conveniently embrace it by buying all of our products! SWEET!

  10. Lyle says:

    I totally understand the need for spam control measures. Blogger’s version is sometimes annoying because it mixes up the typefaces with that image distortion and since I’m not sure how to tell a j from an i (in the current typeface) in the first place, it gets frustrating. It’s very rare for me to get my comment in on the first try and, for some reason, this time blogger didn’t reset my comment — usually a sign I didn’t pass the spam guard.

    Gah.

  11. Anonymous says:

    With John J. (and of course David W!) all the way on this one. I’ve just finished postgrad studies in information management which included some fairly detailed stuff on website creation – and it’s amazing how many designers out there seem to be ignorant of the most basic principles of same. Which may be ok if you’re setting up your *own* site and tossing in everything that looks neat or cool, but isn’t if its basic purpose is to, you know, allow viewers to locate and above all BUY the products shown. And most of this stuff isn’t even “not rocket science”; it’s just plain common sense. – JennyN

  12. Rachel N. says:

    I also am a little surprised with the new TokyoPop. It’s a bit trickier to navigate and seems more like a community site than a publisher’s warehouse for librarians and bookstore owners to peruse. Mayhaps studies show that this method sells more books in the long run?

    They at least could have used a .htaccess file to redirect all their old urls. I am surprised that they did not do that because it is so simple and so easy to do. Heck, even I use one because I’ve redisgned my sites many, many times and I like all the links which point to specific pages on my site to keep working! It can be disastrous for a large, corporate site to overhaul without a simple method of redirection to uphold consistency.

    Mayhaps they are still working out the kinks?

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