Final thoughts on the state of the manganet… I promise

July 28, 2006

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.

State of the manganet, part two

July 28, 2006

Some folks noted some omissions in yesterday’s post on manga publisher sites, so I thought I’d try and rectify that.

Broccoli Books puts all the latest news on titles and events right up front. Like Seven Seas and Netcomics, the site makes good use of drop-down menus on the front page, which means you can click directly to pages on individual titles and products or go to full listings of the publisher’s line. It also has an up-to-date blog, archived news releases, and a release calendar with links to books. It’s a functional, informative site.

I find it a little difficult to navigate Central Park Media’s site. There isn’t any glaringly obvious way to find comprehensive, well-organized information on CPM’s titles, and I’m a little baffled by all of the sub-brands on the page’s sidebar. The manga information is there, at the CPM Press link, but the links up front kind of seem like they’re in code that’s only meaningful to loyal CPM customers.

It took me less than a second to become annoyed with the Media Blasters site. Its opening portal had a single link that opened a second window. That second window immediately started shouting at me about Voltron and scared the crap out of my dog. Clicking on the Books/Manga/Merchandise button leads to a page I can’t scroll around. The site is obviously still in progress, as there’s very little product information, but the navigability of the current infrastructure doesn’t make it seem like a place I’d want to visit very often. Is that an age thing? I just want to know where to click to find what I want, and I don’t want other media to start loading automatically.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that Vertical’s page design is elegant, given how beautiful Vertical’s books are. I like that there’s a listing of titles up front and on a dedicated inner page. The information available is pretty extensive, judging by the pages on Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, though Vertical hasn’t provided equally extensive details on Tezuka’s Ode to Kirohito yet. The quality of the existing pages suggests the information will get there, though.

DramaQueen’s site does the open-a-new-window thing as well, and the site took a couple of attempts to load successfully, neither of which is a particularly endearing trait. When you get there, it’s easy to navigate, nicely organized, and has fairly comprehensive title information.

It’s tough to find information on manga titles at Bandai’s site, though the company’s manga line is a fairly recent development and maybe Bandai just hasn’t had time to build a dedicated portion of the site to that kind of product. The search engine yields lots of results, but they aren’t organized very well. And my browser crashed when I clicked the Multimedia button.

Global yuri publisher ALC has a fairly basic site, and there were some surprisingly long loading times when I accessed their Shop pages. I’m not quite sure how I feel about ALC’s choice to include a bunch of links to Amazon’s manga and anime offerings on its Shop pages, but it does give visitors access to and awareness of titles that probably aren’t on any publisher’s licensing fast track.

Yaoi Press could use some easier navigability on its product pages and quit it with the open-a-new-window business. (I love it when Angela Lansbury sings that song. I hate it when web sites act it out.) The site does seem to have some fun features for the yaoi enthusiast, though.

And, just out of curiosity, I wanted to see how easy it was to find information on some graphic novel publishers who also traffic in licensed manga.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, creator of The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo, is right up front on Drawn & Quarterly’s pages and has kind of a fun spotlight page in the Artists section. The Shop pages aren’t especially easy to use, but the information is good when you get to the title you’re seeking.

NBM has some great books, and I know they publish some licensed titles, but I’ll be damned if I can find them with any ease on NBM’s site. If there was ever a publisher site that begged for an alphabetical list of titles, it’s this one. The site for NBM’s Papercutz division, featuring manga-influenced versions of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Totally Spies, isn’t a whole lot better, but it hasn’t hurt sales. Just as a general preference, I think navigation bars are handier if they’re on the top or side, especially if there are lots of graphics on a page.

Taking a second look at Viz’s site after an anonymous comment on its browse-ability, I note that it takes an equal number of clicks to get to the Shop listings I favored and the Browse All area. So it’s really just a matter of preference. I prefer the organization of the Shop site and the lack of scrolling stuff on the pages, but there’s something to be said for the more comprehensive title information in the Browse All area.