Friday, August 30, 2013

Manga Publishers and the Publishing Conundrum

This is a guest post by Justin of .

So I decided it was time to clear the air of a few . Now, I should probably point out that I would welcome a number of manga to be published in the US, because there are stories out there I'd love to have in print and stories I may not know about but would love to read out in Japan, and they're just dying to be on my shelf. Unfortunately, there's a lot of things I wish could happen, but they can't happen because of business and cultural differences. So let me go take apart Tierra's article and clarify some things.

"It seems to be, except for a few seinen titles (usually at Ikki (VIZ) or one of the smaller publishers), either battle or romance (and bad romance at that), in mostly school life stories, is all that's being published."

Well, there are a few theories that we can suppose from this statement, so here's a few that I came up with:That's literally what sells in the US, as there's more of a market for that audience.

That's literally what's dominant in Japan, as that is mostly what is published over there.

The ones that are different just aren't good enough.

1) Generally speaking, if there is more of one thing on the market, then it's safe to say that's what appeals to the current audience. Not everyone wants to take the time to get bogged down on anything text heavy or want to see love that's complex; that's why we have our action series and reprints of Dragonball, or we get drama that's great for teens but seems awful if you're an adult. So not surprisingly, if there's a bunch of battle manga being published repeatedly, that should mean that's the dominant genre for people right now in the US. With that said

2)It's not like Japan themselves are creating manga set in high school with battles or romance oh wait, they are. If you think it's bad over here, it's pretty bad in Japan as well. Magazines and volumes have many stories set in high school, with battles or romance, because it's easier to do and get people to relate to. Sure, there will be some differences, but maybe in aesthetics and progression-otherwise, it's the same thing you've read or seen over and over again. Naturally, with that much manga with that setting, if it fits with a theme of the publisher over here, it's gonna be published. Now, there are manga that are different in Japan, and there's definitely more of them out there in Japan than anywhere over here. But

3) They may not be quite as good as you think they are. They may not be able to sell at all over here. They may not fit any of the current publisher's guidelines on what they want to bring over here. And they may not be able to be brought over due to mysterious politics.

Let's get talking on the suggestions I talked about in Number 3. For the first one, yeah, you may find a series you may like, but in reality, it probably sucks, or is at best, average fare. Yep, sorry to say that, but it's true. When that's the case, just give in and consider that you'll just have to live with the fact that the manga you like is not that good.

But generally, this doesn't come into play. What does come into play is everything else. Tierra is surprised that no publisher is (Gin no Saji). At first thought, it sounds like a nice idea. I mean, it's Hiromu Arakawa -- you know, that person who did Fullmetal Alchemist. What more do I need to say there? It should get a bit of a boost from its fans there. Then just the fact that it is different fare from most other manga published in the US, that should also give it some support. But the thing is, this is a farming manga. That's right, a farming manga. And it has a name that doesn't come close to grabbing the attention of those who aren't all that current on most manga news which is a lot of people. Both of those two things are issues that can't be fixed no matter what. The worst part is if Viz decides not to bring it over, it has history on its side. A manga that happened to be brought over here that talked about bacteria and all sorts of organisms was Moyashimon. It only lasted two volumes. With a chance to maybe bring it back, .

Basically, when a publisher licenses anything for the US market, they need to know if they'll make money with the title. This tells you just how different the manga business is compared to over here, where the best a single volume can do to be successful here is sell 2500 to 3500 copies -- which pales in comparison to how it sells in Japan, or how it sells to most products in this country. If a certain title doesn't sell, you can bet that manga publisher is in trouble. I'll give you two examples. One is a bit of a plug: I took a look at , which was published by Go Comi! many years ago. It was surprisingly really good, with a refreshing shoujo lead and a story that seemed to know where it was going. But I did some tweets where I asked people if they had heard of Ultimate Venus, what would they think it is? As it turns out, it should have something to do with Sailor Moon. This manga is not a magical girl series. And btw, . Something tells me the name was a bit of an eyesore. Or maybe they just had other issues, but in most cases, a bit of advertising and changes is just the way to go. Let me give you an example of what I mean by changes:

This is Sankarea, a story about a zombie aficionado who happens to meet a girl who eventually becomes a zombie:

This is the JP Cover:

Which do you think is an overall reflection of what the story entails? And this is what publishers have to deal with. Quality is a factor for these guys, but if they can't find a way to sell it, there's no point in bringing it over, or else risk losing money. That leads to the second example: Vertical ended up licensing Keiko Suenobu's Limit, as there seemed to be some support for it with Suenobu behind it, and technically, it fits what Vertical usually publishes. Welp, , and there's a good chance they're done with shoujo for keeps. This is what happens when you're not made of money and have to really make sure you pick your titles carefully. Even if it might be something of quality, like or , the manga market is fickle business, though that makes it like any other entertainment or business, really.

Next is general guidelines. Obviously, most businesses practice this and have guidelines they'd like to adhere to (for certain publishers, a brand line), which should help them sell their products. Like you know Viz Media has the shounen (Like WSJ and Jump Square) and shoujo (monthly or semi-monthly magazines like Hana to Yume) brands, so they'll do their best to cover that, if they can. Vertical, while for the most part you probably think Tezuka and some classic manga, has published generally mature, or different titles (like Flowers of Evil for example), with a few dabbling here and there (Think Heroman). Digital Manga just has a smorgasbord of manga titles, but you probably recognize them as that hentai/BL publisher. Each publisher has to have some sort of standard so certain titles just aren't as appealing (or they know just won't sell).

Of course, while there are general guidelines, the real key here is the last point I made on number 3, and that is mysterious politics. You think the manga industry is a kind, whimsical soul, you'd think wrong. But I don't think you think that.


No, I really do believe you.

Now, there are different types of politics at play. The first is JP-US publisher relationships. For example, Viz has had access to Shogakukan, the publisher of Shonen Sunday, and Shueisha, the publisher of Weekly Shonen Jump, content, so they'll get the rights there. Kodansha has a USA branch so they'll get the first option to license a title; Vertical or another publisher will then be next in line. That's simple enough, and understandable.

Then you get to the truly weird politics: for example, have . Seven Seas has a list of publishers , and one of them is Hakusensha. What gives here? Well, whatever the case, there are a ton of publishers in Japan, and you know what? They may not or don't want to interact with any of the publishers over here. Or at best, none of the sides can come up with a deal that would satisfy both parties. Basically, it's politics, and politics that prevent more manga from coming over here. This is normal in any other business, but for manga, it just seems more crippling since there's not that much manga on bookshelves. And who knows, it may be even worse than I think it is. It could also not be as bad as I think it is. Only publishers are privy to that info.

I think that wraps up generally why manga is in the state it is right now. Should we be happy about that? No, you shouldn't be. You should be dismayed at how things are right now and maybe try to figure out what to do to help the industry out if you can. But while there are industry practices that may or may not align with you, you should at least understand just how different the markets are and the challenges publishers go through before making certain claims about anything.

Justin is the Editor-in-Chief, and founder of , a Japanese Pop Culture resource that covers anime, manga, games, and more. He thinks he likes anime and manga, but he knows sports is his one main love. You can keep in touch with him on , and you can keep in touch with the site by or .

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