A few weeks ago I made a post saying I wanted questions to put to Kurt Hassler of Yen Press. Well the answers are in with some interesting results. Also stay tuned to the end for a Tiamat’s Reviews exclusive on an upcoming release!!

TD: How is the recession hitting Yen Press, and how are you tackling it?

KH: I think that Yen Press is faring pretty well with the recession all things being equal.  Retailers are definitely playing things more conservatively with their initial orders on titles.  We’re addressing it by doing what we’ve always strived to do — put out the best product possible.  By striving to be the best in class when it comes to both the quality of our licenses and our packaging, we’re working to make it clear to consumers and retailers alike the Yen titles are worth their time and attention and ultimately translate to hard earned money well spent.

  • TD’s thoughts: This actually seems to be working in the UK at least, as more stores are stocking up on Yen’s releases

TD: Will Yen Press be picking up more light novels?

KH: We are always looking at light novel series that we feel are compelling, and yes, there’s at least one new series that we have yet to announce.

TD: Would you consider novels droped by TP, such as Scrapped Princess?

KH: I wouldn’t say that it could never happen.  Obviously we have picked up properties that were once with other publishers in the past, but it’s much more difficult to create a publishing program on a series that already has a market history — unless it happens to be a great track record in the market, but those sorts of titles are harder to come by.  Our main focus tends to be on licenses where we can lay the groundwork and do the launching ourselves.

  • TD’s thoughts: *Sigh* I do hope someone picks up Scrapped Princess and gives it the attention it deserves.

TD: How has the merger with orbit effected you?

KH: I think that the merger with Orbit has been a very good thing for Yen and internally has placed us within the proper departmental structure.  There are a lot of parallels between our business and Orbit’s, so it only made sense.  I think that jointly it’s going to allow us to mutually explore some new horizons together.  From a consumer perspective, though, I think you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference since the change.

TD: Would you ever re-license world of quest?

KH: Technically, we haven’t de-licensed THE WORLD OF QUEST.  The first two volumes the were originally contracted are still in print and an active part of Yen’s list.
As to contracting future volumes of the series, I could envision a couple of scenarios where that might be a possibility.  We all still think that QUEST is a great book.  As things stand currently, the copyright is Jason’s and he’s free to pursue the series as he deems appropriate.

TD: Would World of Quest have done better in a collected format, 3vols in 1 sort of thing?

KH: Probably not.  The price point of a collected edition like that would probably be too much for the audience the book targets.

TD: When will begin to see reprints of the old IceK titles?

KH: Reprints of the old Ice Kunion titles have been ongoing for some time.  I believe that anything we were out of stock on when the list was acquired is back in print with the Yen trade dress.

  • TD’s thoughts: hmmm odd the last time I tried to get my re-prints they were still out of print. I’ll be trying again soon

TD: And when will we see the remainder volumes of the IceK titles being released?

KH: That would depend on which title in particular you are referring to as every series has its own publication schedule.  We’re in the process of extending our licensing agreements on some of the books now.  And there are some series (CHOCOLAT for example) where there are currently no successive books that have been published in the Korean market, so obviously we just have to wait and see.

TD: How has Diamonds change in policy effected Yen’s distribution to smaller stores?

KH: I think that Diamond’s new order minimums are affecting Yen in much the same way they’re affecting other publishers.  Certainly some of our titles won’t meet their minimums, but stores interested in ordering those titles can still get stock through wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor.  Like most manga publishers, the bulk of our business tends not to be through the direct market — which is a shame in general as I think a lot of comic shops could benefit significantly by becoming a destination for manga readers.  There are certainly stores out there like The Beguiling that cater to those readers quite effectively. 

Even if targeting the “mainstream” manga reader is too much of a reach (and I can certainly see where that might be the case for some stores) there are definitely manga opportunities for comic shops out there who want to tailor their selection to the more traditional comics readers that already frequent their stores.  Every manga publisher has some books that can really speak to those readers; it’s just a matter of identifying them and putting the books in the customer’s hand which has always been a strength for comic shops anyway.  (And if any comic shop owners are reading this, I highly recommend HIGURASHI on Yen’s list as an off-beat horror story that can absolutely hook your patrons.  And there’s always SUNDOME!)

TD: Will any series run to completion in Yen Plus, or will they all be removed at some point?

KH: There are some titles running in YEN PLUS currently that we have no plans to remove in the foreseeable future.

TD: Will Yen be adding a forum to the website so as to get fan feed back and license ideas?

KH: Forums are something we’ve been discussing.  It may be a modification we make to the site in the future.  In the meantime, fans are always welcome to give their feedback and make suggestions in the comments fields on the site.

TD: Yen Plus still only has limited distribution in the UK, will this ever change?

KH: We’ve actually recently given full UK distribution of YEN PLUS to Diamond UK, so any shop with an account with Diamond is free to order the magazine.  We’d love nothing more than to see our distribution in the UK grow, so anyone interested should just start petitioning your local retailer!

  • TD’s thoughts: I wonder if that was the right choice? Diamond UK only deals with comic shops, so newsagents and stores don’t use them. While it means a rise in distribution (and easier access) it’s not quite the full distribution through newsagent’s I was hoping to see at some point

TD: Also will subscribers ever be given an equivalent special offer to subscribe, like what there is in america?. At the moment subscribers end up paying a 50% premium (cover cost+50%) supposedly for postage.

KH: This is something we’re currently investigating.

  • TD’s thoughts: YAY!!!

TD: Has Yen considered doing an anthology for light novels?

KH: No, we’ve never given serious consideration to an anthology just for light novels.

  • TD’s thoughts: *sobs* a cold hard straight answer. I’d love to see a LN anthology

TD: Or possibly adding a Light Novel section to Yen Plus?

KH: This is definitely something we’ve considered, and we may give it a shot.

  • TD’s thoughts: At least this is step forward, I’m interested to see how it would work out

TD: Where you surprised at the popularity of With the Light, and why do you think it’s become so popular?

KH: I don’t know if surprised is the right word for it.  Pleased certainly!  We knew it was a fantastic book the first time we picked it up, and that’s why we really wanted it to be the first book we published as Yen Press.  It’s incredibly gratifying not just to hear that people enjoy the book but also that people dealing with autism in their own lives in whatever capacity found WITH THE LIGHT to be something they could relate to.

Recently libraryjournal.com named WITH THE LIGHT as one of 12 great fiction titles for National Autism Awareness Month in the states, and I think that it’s a real credit not just to that book but to the legitimacy that comics and manga are gaining as a part of literary culture.

Here’s the link to that article if you’re interested.

TD: Out of all the titles currently being released (upto april), if you could pick 1 as the best, which would it be and why?

KH: There’s absolutely no way I could pick.  There are just too many criteria.  “Best” at what?  Creating an emotional bond with the characters?  WITH THE LIGHT.  Best at making me redefine just how effectively manga as a medium can be used to tell a story?  SHOULDER-A-COFFIN KURO.  Best in terms of watching an artist grow and come into her own as a storyteller?  NIGHTSCHOOL.  Best at creating an international phenomenon and making readers chomp at the bit for the latest volume?  THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA.  Best at bringing new readers into the world of manga?  MAXIMUM RIDE.
See how I can skilfully weave several plugs into an otherwise straightforward question?

TD: Have you considered doing an online reader, where fans can buy chapters of a volume while waiting for it to be released in paper?

KH: We’re considering a lot of different options online, and I think you’ll see us experimenting with a variety of different models over time.  It may be pay-to-play, may be free…

You should definitely check the site next week for one of our first “experiments.”

  • TD’s thoughts:hmmm sounds interesting. I’ll definitely check it out!!

TD: In an interview last year you were rather dismissive of digital viewing, has your stance on this changed at all?

KH: Actually, I believe you’re referring to a panel I was on last year, and I wasn’t being dismissive of digital viewing.  The question was something like do I see digital significantly impacting print in the next couple of years, and I didn’t.  I still don’t.  I also said at the time that no one has come up with a “best” method for digital delivery yet, and it may very well be that there is no “best” method.  There may be several different, equally effective methods for digital delivery.  Different properties may lend themselves to different digital strategies, and for this reason, we’re taking our time to explore our options.

The great thing for Yen is that we’re working with Hachette Book Group’s Digital division which is one of the most effective and innovative in the publishing industry.  We regularly discuss different avenues we can explore.  We’ve already had books like THE WORLD OF QUEST and MAXIMUM RIDE made available for Sony’s e-reader and Amazon’s Kindle.  (Actually, MAXIMUM RIDE was the number one graphic novel download on Sony’s e-reader site the last time I checked.)  So we’ll continue to expand into the growing digital market — which I think will only continue to grow and become more vibrant over time.

  • TD’s thoughts: Not quite what I was thinking really. The ebook viewers are really expensive and in this economy not worth buying IMO. I’m hoping to see a sort of release like what we getting with anime these days. Digital downloads to be used on the computer.

TD: How do you see Yen Press in 5 and 10 years from now?

KH: I think that our presence in the graphic novel and manga world is going to continue to expand greatly over the next five to ten years.  In our first year out of the gate, we’ve established ourselves quite well in an extremely competitive market, and I think that we’re very much going to become the house of choice for anyone licensing existing properties or interested in creating original graphic novel content.  I think you’ll be seeing the Yen logo a lot more prominently on bookstore shelves (or on hovering holographic screens or whatever the next big digital innovation will be) in the next five to ten years.

TD: What do you think of the manga industry as a whole at the moment, and how it’s handling the recession?

KH: I think that on a whole the manga industry is in pretty good shape.  My perception is that there’s something of an unjustified crisis of confidence in the manga market right now, but if you look at the numbers, manga is still significantly outselling any other type of graphic novel.  I’d like to see a return to confidence in the market — driven specifically by individual licenses and not a vague notion of manga in general — because I’m convinced that’s all that’s required to spur another wave of growth — and I’ve been more than passively observing this market for quite a while now.

As for how it’s handling the recession, publishing and bookselling in general seem to be outperforming the rest of retail in the face of the recession, and I see manga in the context of that overall performance.

TD: Why do Yen Press not license a series as a whole, but only volumes available? Other publishers license the series in their entirety at the time of license. The piecemeal approach Yen Press takes leads to some long waits for new volumes to be relicensed.

KH: For the most part, licensors only license existing volumes in a series.  If a series is ongoing, the original publishers don’t necessarily know how long the series might be, so you can’t license something in its “entirety.”  In this respect, Yen is no different from other publishers in the market.  As for why there may be longer waits between volumes on some properties, there can be a variety of reasons depending on the individual license.

TD: Will Yen Press be rescuing any other ADV titles, such as Ray, which only ever had the first 3 vols released?

KH: As I mentioned before, picking up properties that have already been released in the market is a risky business on all but a select few licenses that have a decent track record.

Where it makes sense, we’ll go after certain properties (see your last question below), but we definitely don’t consider ourselves the Manga Coast Guard.

  • TD’s thoughts: *sobs* I’ll keep praying someone rescues Ray. I think it would be a popular series if it was given the chance it needs (and a decent publisher)

TD: Will Yen be following other publishers and setting up a social networking profiles. Namely Twitter and FaceBook?

KH: http://twitter.com/yenpress

TD: Finally, can you give us some hints of anything juicy due to be released any time soon?

KH: Look for a new English language edition of AZUMANGA DAIOH to be published by Yen Press this December!  There’s your exclusive…  You heard it in the UK first!

  • TD’s thoughts: Thanks for the exclusive. Personally I’ve always been interested in Azumanga, more so since I read the 4Koma released by Yen. So I’ll wait for it to be released 😀
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