Erica, over at Okazu has posted an interesting post. I disagree with her choice of title, since after reading it through several times, I don’t see what she write as the truth. Rather it’s the truth from her perspective as a small publisher.
Be that as it may, after talking about it some on her post I decided to move it over to my own blog since I had a lot more to say on it.
The nuts and bolts of manga publishing come down to sides, the fans and the publishers. Distributors and shops are nothing more than middle men who have little impact.
When a publisher licenses a series for release they’re doing so because they expect it to be successful, and because the fans are calling for it. Most publishers have a ‘tell us what to license’ section so they can follow what the fans want.
However some publishers don’t seem to understand what it means to be a publisher.
For these few publishers they seem to think that once a volume is released their job is done, and it’s no longer in their hands. Sadly this is totally untrue. In fact the truth of it is that their (the publishers) job is only just starting.
When they license a series the first thing they need to do is make people aware of the title. To many times popular series as scanlations have failed as licensed property. And contrary to what the publishers claim, it has little to do with the scanlations, but more to do with the fact that most fans weren’t aware the title was licensed and released.
Publishers need to get of their arses and publicise. Let the fans know that the titles are coming soon, let them read sample chapters online, let them get a feel for the series before it’s even been published and you’ll of increased sales before it even hits the shops.
FUNimation learnt this lesson and started putting the first episode or two of their licensed shows on their website so people could watch them, and get a feel.
There are plenty of anime and manga related magazines out there to be used to publicise releases, not to mention the big website’s such as ANN who run anime and manga adds along side their encyclopedia and News.
Next you have the release, for new series get all fancy, make a big fuss over it have competitions and get local shops involved.
However this is where it gets interesting, you have volume five of a title due out shortly, what do you do? Do you just release it and forget it? Hell no!! You need to work even harder on this volume. Once you’ve ordered the print run of volume five you need to look at volumes one through four. Primarily, what stock of them do you have left. If you have limited or no stock, you then need to look at how the preceding four volumes sold, what was the uptake, and using all the data you can find, try and gauge how many to reprint of each volume.
Simply sitting there and saying, “none left, oh well. What’s for lunch” won’t cut it. If you’ve no stock left at all then it’s clear the title was popular enough to sell out, and you need to consider potential new fans. I’m not saying go out and order thousands of copies of the preceding volumes in the vain hope thousands of fans will descend and buy them out.
What I’m saying is to use the grey matter that lives between your ears (no not the ear wax, the brains boy, the brains!!) and look for a safe level of volumes. This level can be determined by collating all the information you gained from the previous four volumes, and making a guess. Sure it has a chance to go wrong, and you can end up stuck with a load of books. But if you do it right, this should be a very rare occurrence.
Also, I’m not saying publishers should sit on copies of volumes indefinitely, that’s never going to happen. However if a series is still on going, you need to ensure that you have a good supply. this is just common normal business sense. Supply and demand.
Little Mary Jane goes to a store clutching her weekly allowance. By chance she finds volume five of TitleX and flips through it. She’s never read the series before, and finds she likes it, but wants to read the first volume first. So she goes off and asks the clerk if they have volume one, or if he can get it for her.
He checks, and if the publisher is on the ball orders it for her, and possibly (if she’s like me lol) she orders all four volumes at once. They come in, she buys them and volume five, falls in love and a new fan is born (oooo look a new fairy!!).
However if the publisher is of the opinion their job is over at publication….
Clerk goes and checks and finds that it’s out of stock, and out of print with no re-print date given. He returns and tells Little Mary Jane he’s sorry but it’s out of print. So she goes back and puts volume five back, and goes off and buys a Barbie doll instead.
It doesn’t end there though. Many book stores keep search data to help them monitor sales trends. They watch the patterns, and as clerks try and fail to get volumes one through four a pattern starts to form. Then the worst thing happens, volume five runs out of stock, and goes out of print. Not long after that word comes down of volume six due for release.
The little analysts look at the data and see that volumes one through five are out of print, and decides that volume six wouldn’t be worth carrying, and puts it on the special order only list.
At the same time other data on other titles are being analysed and a trends become apparent. A publishers titles go out of print to fast and aren’t being reprinted despite demand being there. Eventually that publisher goes on The List. This list is watch list of sorts, all titles and publishers on the list are ones that won’t be carried on the shelf, they’re only available as special orders.
As a result the publisher looses sales, and looses fans.
The list does exist, I’ve worked in several book stores over the years and have seen it. Basically it’s a list of publishers that aren’t on the shelf stock list, and are only ordered when a customer requests them. The knock on effect of this is rather serious, since word spreads that a publisher has been added to a stores list, and other stores follow suit.
In manga this is the death knell for publishers, since shelf space is at a premium in shops, and getting on the shelf is cause for celebration. Getting knocked off is cause for worry.
Viz dominates many shelf spots, followed by Tokyopop and Del Rey. Why is that? They promote the hell out of their titles. Viz promote in their own magazines, as well as the independents and the DVD’s. Yet they also spend money on street advertising, bill boards, bus shelters and bus sides. They make sure people know that the titles are out there.
Why are Naruto and Bleach so popular? Is it because they’re super first class manga that literally walk out the store on their own? No, they’re popular because Viz have MADE them popular. By promoting them to death and back they’ve convinced people they’re the best manga in the world, and guess what, it’s working. They’re selling faster and faster.
Tokyopop only do limited publication ads, but they and Del Rey do what counts. They work with the front line shops and hold min conventions in stores where they promote the titles directly to the fans, and make sure the fans know the title is available.
Doesn’t this cost money? Of course it does, however any industry, whether it’s publishing or selling cars has the same principal. You need to lose money to make it. In other words you have to spend a fortune to reap the fortune at a later date. It’s what Viz did with their publicity for Naruto. They almost went bankrupt over Naruto because of what they spent on it. In the end though it’s paid off and Naruto is one of their biggest earners.
Tokyopop got wise and learnt how to offset the cost. They joined forces with Nintendo for their latest round of mini conventions. They went around the shops with a Wii, promoting both the Wii and the manga, and giving away over 100 Wii consoles and over 300 manga volumes. The result was that the buzz still hasn’t died down on the event with people wondering when the next one is going to be.
As I said over on Erica’s post, the manga industry is a perfect example of that old saying ‘it takes two to tango’. Or better yet, manga is a three legged race, where the publishers and fans have to work together.
I’ve previously said that publishers don’t owe us (fans) anything. I take that back, they do owe us something. They owe us the manga they license. What’s the point of licensing a series if your either not going to release it *cough* Kodomo no Jikan *cough* or you aren’t going to do enough volumes to go around *cough* Kashimashi *cough*
But we also owe the publishers. We owe them the support, both moral and financial for releasing the titles we want. If either party fails in what it owes the other, it will end up in the publisher most likely, going bankrupt.
If the publisher doesn’t have the money to do the job properly, then they shouldn’t do it. This is especially true when dealing with a niche within a niche, such as Yuri.
Ultimately though, the fans are the driving force behind publishers. Get the fans on your side and publishers will find doors open to them that were closed before. Learn the lessons of those that have gone before, such as Viz, TP, and others, only there’s no reason for you to take as long as they have to learn them. The answers are there, you just need to open your eyes and see.