The Truth About Publishing, Selling and Buying Manga

July 13th, 2008

One of the top subject among all anime/manga blogs these days is the difficulties and frustrations of finding and buying the items that, as fans and consumers, we want to support.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to express well enough all the many complexities of the issues, so my apologies in advance if I seem like I’m oversimplifying or making things more confusing. To try and explain the whole mess, I thought I’d split the whole thing into three perspectives. Hopefully as I go through the process from each group’s point of view, you can start to see the problem areas on your own. Honestly, I have no suggestions at all about how to fix this.

Let’s start with the point of view of the consumer:

I want to buy a manga. I have several choices to decide how to do that. If I go to a comic book store, I can look through a copy of Previews (for which many comic stores charge, something that I think is criminal,) and decide what I want to read three months from now. The comic store places the order and we both *hope* that the book will come out on time and that there will be enough to fill my order, because the distributors frequently fill larger orders first, leaving the remainder of their initial order from the publishing company to fill the smaller orders from individual shops. If I don’t get my book, maybe the distributor will have enough remaining orders to place a new order with the publisher…or maybe not. If they do, maybe the publisher will have enough books from the first printing left to fill that order…or maybe not. If any of the “not” options arise, I don’t get that book. Even though I ordered it three months in advance.

So, I decide to go to a bookstore. Here’s a spot where consumers have a serious disconnect between their reality and real reality. They think – the bookstores will have books. Or they will order books for me! The reality is that bookstores only want to shelve books that will sell. So they will almost never order a book/author they don’t know, that has a niche audience, a small chance of selling, or a book that they don’t know anyone wants. Whether they have a lot of manga shelf space or not, real estate is always at a premium. Naruto sells, Bleach sells. These titles, for many reasons (some of which I touched upon last week) sell multiple copies. Strawberry Panic Light Novel (and I don’t want to beat on Seven Seas particularly, I’m just choosing that because it is a niche publication by being both Yuri and a Light Novel,) might, maybe, possibly, sell a copy. If you are a bookstore – which are you going to place an order for?

So, I go to the bookstore and ask them to order a copy of a book. They check to see if their distributor has it. They won’t go through the publisher directly, because that would be madness…there’s a million publishers, small and large. There are fewer distributors, so the bookstore can place an order with a few places, rather than many. Now the cycle goes back to the – does the distributor have it in stock or not?

So, in the case of say, Yuri Monogatari 5, you walk in to the store, ask them to order it. They place the order with Diamond and eventually, yes, you have your book. But if Diamond has none in stock, and they don’t plan on getting any more, because the last bunch never sold or was returned – or they can’t because I’ve shifted distributors, then you don’t get your book.

All of this applies to online bookstores as well as brick-and-mortar and is no less vexing. Online is a little more annoying because they may not even have the ability to let you place a pre-order or order, if they don’t list the book on their site.

Now, the distributor’s point of view:

A publisher tells the distributor that they have a book going on sale in five months. The distributor adds it to their catalog, that goes out to book stores, comic book stores, etc. Bookstores look through the catalog and decide to place some orders for that month. They may change their order a bit if a lot of pre-orders come through for a particular title, by adding more to what will go out on their shelves. Or, if a book that was on the shelves is not selling well, they’ll return the unsold copies (to make room for new volumes) and not buy as many the next time of that title.

The comic book stores take the orders for manga and hand them in – they rarely buy anything for the shelves, because most small American comic book stores really don’t *get* manga, and don’t want it hanging around the shop, but some do keep a nice selection. Those will deal with the orders just like the bookstores do. Mostly comic stores buy what their subscribers pre-order and no more.

The distributor collects the pre-orders and gets back to the publisher with a purchase order for x number of books. The publisher sends those books. It takes time for them to get sent, then logged into the system, then shipped out. In fact, it adds anywhere from a month to two months to the from printer-to-consumer cycle. So even though a book is “on sale” on Day/Month, you may not get it for a while.

Now, let’s say that the distributor gets no, or only a few, pre-orders. They won’t place a big order w/the publisher, because as far as they know, only 40 people want this book. In reality, there may be 4000 waiting for it to come out, but since those people didn’t pre-order it, the distributor and bookstores have no idea. So they place an order for 100 books, send out the 40 orders, and fill other orders as they come in. That’s 3900 people who are waiting for a book to show up on a bookstore shelf so they can buy it – but that book will never arrive, because the bookstore and the distributor can’t read minds and didn’t know to order it.

Once people realize this and ask their bookstore to order it, pretty quickly the distributor is out of books. Maybe they get enough orders to make it worth placing another order with the publisher, but because the initial order was small and they only have a few more orders coming in, not 3000, but maybe 30, they place another small order and the cycle repeats. They don’t want to be warehousing thousands of unsellable books, so they will be very conservative.

And, if they start getting returns from bookstores, they’ll be even more conservative, because they can’t resell books that have been returned to them to another bookstore. They will sell to discount and bargain sellers (like the people who sell books cheaply on the Marketplace on Amazon,) but those are few and buy in small amounts. So, if Diamond is stuck with 100 shipped and returned copies of Iono-sama Fanatics, they won’t request a new order, even if they get a few orders in for it – and they won’t ship what they have, because they are considered used. So, even if the publisher can fill the order, they may not be able to get you a book.

Last up, the publisher’s point of view:

The publisher has to work on a schedule and know about 5 months ahead of themselves when a book will come out. (This is easier for larger companies. It’s really hard for me, since I can never be sure how much time a book will take and, more importantly, how much time at any given point in my life, I can give it.) They tell their distributors, who put the books into their catalogs. Then they wait for the purchase order. So, if you pre-ordered Kannazuki no Miko from Amazon, that pre-order went into the initial p.o. from Amazon to the distributor and the distributor to the publisher.

Let’s say the publisher publishes 6000 books. They get an initial p.o. for, again, say 1000. That leaves them holding 5000 books. Now, maybe the best situation happens and all 1000 get sold and few returned, so they get another p.o….this time for 300 books. Because, remember, the distributor isn’t going to want to warehouse more than they can sell, bookstores don’t want to shelve more than they can sell (and bookstores don’t really get that new fans pop up all the time, so having only the latest volume of a manga series makes it hard to sell that volume 5 to someone who hasn’t read 1-4.) So the second p.o. will always be smaller than the first. Unless there’s an astounding number of orders from stores.

Maybe, from this point on, the publisher get a p.o. every few months for a few more books here and there. But mostly, they still have about 4000 books sitting in their stock. The stores/sites will also only keep a book or two – at most, and after a while won’t bother stocking more. And they may return a title if it gets too old, so the orders dribble out. The publisher *has* the books, but can’t get them to new fans, because the system has no method for that.

And, just to make this all more annoying, all these books sold through a distributor are sold for a very low price, so the distributor can add a percentage and so can the bookstore, so everyone makes money. If a publisher sells a book that is a cover price of $10, they may only get $4 from the distributor. If the cost of printing that book is $4/book, then with shipping, the publisher would actually lose money even though they made a sale. So per-books costs have to be very low in order to make any money at all.

You will probably say “why not just sell direct?” but that’s not as easy as you think. People don’t order directly that often and not in great numbers. Fulfillment for 1000 single items is a nightmare. That’s 1000 books that have to get packaged, labeled and mailed and many of the publishing companies don’t have that kind of staff. I certainly don’t. If I had 1000 copies to send out of a book, you’d be waiting WEEKS while I got all those orders filled. Also, some publishers don’t bother discounting their books on their site, so you get a better deal at a store site. In the case of the one book you want from that publisher, it’s sometimes not worth the effort to get that one thing. People would rather buy on a site where they can buy many titles at once, like Amazon, or go in a bookstore and find it on the shelf…only that title might not be there, for all the reasons I mentioned above.

The publisher *might* go to events, but that is extremely expensive and may not make more money than it costs – unless the publisher has new items constantly, it gets harder and harder to sell that Volume 1. Sure, there’s a new fan here and there…but they need to sell out the last 4000 of those books, which is a lot of new fans to try and get. It’s not reasonable to expect to be able to have sales like that at a show. New books make it easier to sell the old ones, but then publishers are locked into a cycle of having to constantly be putting out new books, which can get very expensive and you actually end up with more older volumes lingering each time.

You, the consumer, might really want a copy of Last Uniform and Seven Seas may have the copies to sell. But if the bookstore won’t or can’t place the order, or the distributor won’t or can’t place an order, then the books might be there, but they can’t get to you.

Here is what I can tell you. There is NO publisher – none, ever – who want to screw you, the consumer, the fan. If you believe that, you are being silly, or perhaps deranged if you *insist* that any company is out to screw or deceive you.

*Every publisher wants to sell books. They want you to get the books you want.*

Plain and simple, they want to make money. The profit margins in publishing are so low that, trust me – they all really, really want to sell books.

What does happen is that a lot of companies are run by fans, who have a middling to poor grasp of business and/or business communications. So their inability to communicate to you may seem like them fucking with you. But it is not intended to be that way. On the other hand the company may be run by suits and they don’t understand fans at all, so then it seems like they don’t give a shit. They do, but they don’t know the particular issues of fandom. Again, it’s not personal.

Because of the legacy process from comic books, and the process for books in bookstores that is geared for short-lived best sellers, manga publishers in particular have a hard time getting those books to you. And the onus gets put on the consumer’s shoulder to pre-order things, which is ridiculously unfair. It basically means that you have to buy first, in order that people after you can buy later. It’s an absurdity and I’m sure we’ve all been burned by it at some point.

If you’re from overseas the problems are multiplied, because to your country our books are foreign and therefore of significantly lower priority than your own. Even if my distributor has a deal in place with bookstores in your country, it’s not guaranteed at all that any bookstore there will ever place an order for one. Even if you go in and ask, they may just not care enough to bother.

It sounds good to just get rid of the distributor, but that’s unrealistic. Bookstores and comic bookstores typically buy from distributors because that makes their lives easy and in some cases, it’s the *only* way to get that book. So without a major distributor, you’re basically selling off your own shop. And that just will never generate major sales on a regular basis (except in some unusual cases. If you are thinking of Right Stuf, for instance, remember that they were actually a distributor first, with a website that aggregates many companies’ items, so it’s more like going to an anime/manga store or Amazon, than a single publisher.)

Lastly, the sad truth is that far more people buy Volume 1 of a title than will buy Volume 2 and it goes down in numbers from there. So if a publisher spends $10k to publish 6000 copies of a book and sells 2000, and doesn’t come close to breaking even, then the impetus for them to spend 8k to print 3000 copies (because even though it’s less copies, they’ll still pay license fees and royalties and the cost per book will rise, because they are printing less) and will only sell 1000 this time. And so on, as they put out more volumes. Unless pre-orders are there to pick up the slack.

So, it comes down to the fact that the whole cycle of publishing, distributing, buying and selling is a total mess. Not just for one company or one consumer, but for all of us.

I hope that that explains some of the issues you, the reader, run in to when trying to find the manga you want. It doesn’t help the problem, but I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on why sometimes, even if a publisher says a book is available, you can’t seem to get it.

If any of the other publishers out there have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear it. I’d also love for us to get together and figure out a way to fix this system, because for manga publishers at least, it’s way beyond broke.

While writing this, I started thinking about the complexities of promoting manga, so I’ll deal with that at a later date, too.

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38 Responses

  1. Eugene says:

    As I touch upon here, this is a problem with small publishers everywhere. Print-on-demand seems a promising solution, especially with Kodak selling professional digital presses it claims will be cost-competitive with full-color offset.

  2. I think most fans accept there’s going to be delays in getting older titles, and even longer ones in getting titles that have been published for a few years. Unless they’ve been hugely popular.

    The thing that ticks us off is when it’s new releases that are impossible to find, let alone back issues.

    It’s just common business sense to make sure you have at least some surplus stock of volumes for an on going series. Lets say you’re releasing volume 5 of a series. You order the volumes and at the same time check the number of stock for the previous 4. If there’s none in stock you order those as well. Even if it’s just say 50 volumes of each you still order them.

    Of all the series i have on going at the minute, around a quarter of them are series i’ve picked up that were several volumes into the series, and i’ve gone on to buy previous volumes at the time of buying the volume (what ever, that was on the shelf at the time.

    If i can’t order the previous volumes i won’t buy the new release thats available. I don’t like incomplete series.

    Shops have a similar belief. Especially when it comes to manga which gets a very limited shelf space. They want the titles that sells, and the titles that are easily replaced. If a title becomes hard to replace or out of print, they won’t carry new releases of that series. They’ll order it for customers, but won’t carry it on the shelf.

    It dosen’t stop there however, if a publisher becomes consistant in it’s failures to provide copies of titles, whether new volumes or previous, then shops won’t carry any title from the publisher. They don’t have the time to deal with running around after publishers, especially for a small profit gain of manga.

    They end up sticking with the big two, Tokyopop and Viz. With Del Rey and Dark Horse/DMP coming next

    There’s an old saying thats very ture for the manga industry. It takes two to tango. In this case it takes the publishers, and the fans working together to make it succeed. If either side fails to work with the other, it falls apart and it’s damned hard for them to get it back together again.

  3. eugene – POD isn’t really suited to manga though. The sizes are wrong, the formats are backwards, and the ability to add a few 4-color glossy pages to an otherwise B&W book rarely exists. This is a great option is you want to put out a text and line illustration trade paperback on a non-fiction topic, but a much less satisfying option for 4-color art and layered and toned illustrations.

    And then, you’re still up against the fact that people would rather buy a few things from one place, than one thing from a few places. (Which is why malls are a success, despite the fact that they are obviously vile places.)

    The only thing POD does is cut out the issue of fulfillment. But for a fan, who wants to buy an armolad of good manga and roll around in it – and let’s face it, that’s what we all want as fans – it’s emotionally unsatisfying to be forced to order this book from that place and that book from another.

  4. Disciple – I’m not saying that you’re wrong, because your thoughts echo many fans’, but you are using the weakest argument possible. Your point is, basically, that a distributor or bookstore, ought to put out money from their pocket so that a fan *might* buy a copy of a book.

    That’s simply not a reasonable thing to ask. They don’t have the money or space to buy books and hold on to them in case someone might, eventually, want one.

    I’ve been asked that time and time again, why don’t I print a bunch of t-shirts, or sell other people’s titles at shows. The absolute truth is, I don’t have the money to invest up front for an item that *might* be bought. If I did, I’d love to have a dozen t-shirt designs and pins galore, as well as carrying other manga titles and maybe even some anime. But all of that costs money which I simply don’t have, and would involve me finding storage space and renting a bigger vehicle to get it all to a show…in hopes that maybe a person might buy it.

    I do understand your point, and I hope that this essay will make you see the other side a little more clearly. It’s not personal. It’s a complex and difficult business all the way around. And until you invest in publishing, shipping, promoting, storing and sales of a book, your perspective is a fairly narrow one. :-)

  5. Your missing my point Erica, it has nothing to do with the shops and what may or may not sell.

    It’s in the publishers hands that i’m talking about.

    I’ll try again :)

    Volume 5 of a series is being released in 3 months, publisher has ordered their print run etc etc. Now, they also need to look at the previous 4 volumes. How well did they sell? What was the growth rate and uptake on each volume as subsequent volumes were released, and how many copies of early volumes are left in stock.

    These are simple questions that need to be considered, the last first IMO. You need to establish how many copies of volumes 1-4 are left in stock, and are ready to sell when volume 5 is released. If the answer is none, then clearly you need to ready some more. So you then look at the other questions and see what the uptake for new readership was like for previous volumes after subsequent new releases.

    I’ll admit, this is the hard part, damned hard. But any publisher worth their salt, and who have worked the industry for a while, should be able to make a fair guess. It’s not always going to be right, but it’s something you have to do. Even if say you order 100 of vol4, 75, 0f vol3, 50 of vol2 and 25 of vol 1, it will mean you have stock on hand for new uptakes.

    And there ALWAYS are new uptakes for titles. I’ve picked up several series that have been in their 20’s.

    It’s a gamble, i’m not saying it isnt. But it’s something good publishers can do, they can read the market and make a good guess.

    Now, lets say you have no stock of the previous 4 volumes, don’t replace them, and release volume 5.

    Little Mary Anne comes along and finds volume 5, flicks through and it gets her interested and she asks the nice slaes man if he can get her volume one. He goes and checks, for her, checks the online ordering system (and if the guys nice) calls the various distributors, comes back and says sorry, they’re out of print.

    Do you think she’ll still buy volume five? I know i wouldn’t, and i don’t know many fans who would risk a new series thats already going out of print, and hope that somewhere they can get the first few volumes.

    Now, Little Mary Anne’s question has a knock on effect, the search is logged, and over time patterns are seen. these paterns influence shops on what they stock and don’t stock.

    For example, lets say she had been able to get those four volumes. Other shops order as well, and a patern of orders crops up. So the head office looks at the pattern and adds the series to the stock list. More series by that publsiher are being ordered, so that publisher gets a bit more shelf space, and so on and so on.

    However if the patern is the reverse. Those four volumes are out of print, no one can get them, when other volumes of that series are released, they aren’t ordered for stock. They’re special orders only, in other words customers have to ask for them.

    If the publisher is consistent in their previous volumes not being available, then other series are dropped, and eventually the publisher goes on the list. The list is the unofficial no stock list, as in the publishers that arent ordered for stock, just special orders. (And i know this list exists in various forms, as i’ve worked in several different book stores over the years)

    You see the shops while playing an important role in manga, are only a minor player. The key players are the publishers and the fans.

    In an earlier post you said publishers don’t owe fans anything. I disagree, publishers owe fans respect. We are the ones who pay their wages, we buy their titles which in turn allows them to publish more. I’m not saying fans don’t owe publishers something either, because we do.

    We owe publishers respect and continued support. But as i said in my last post, it takes two to tango. If the fans stop respecting the publisher, and stop supporting them, then eventually the publisher goes out of business. Equally if the publsiher fails to give the fans the things they want, consistently, and continuously, then the fans lose interest and move onto other things. Enbd result is bad for the publisher and the fans in either case.

    Like i said though, i’m not saying it’s an easy ride. But it can be made easier by publishers talking and listening to the fans. Not everything is going to go the fans way, life ain’t perfect. But even if they don’t act opn what the fans are saying, the fact that they listened, and made note of it, goes along way to earning more respect, and more support.

    Publishers can’t survive without the fans, but equally without the publishers there would be no fans.

    I’ve a lot more i wanted to say, but thats a different but related topic. Guess i’ll do a post of my own :)

    What you said has got me thinking about things a little differently though.

    I may not always agree with what you have to say, and i can come across a bit brusque and OTT when i’m passionate about things, but please don’t take it to hard, i’m not out to offend. I just believe very strongly in what i believe.

  6. DezoPenguin says:

    Thank you for an insightful and informative article!

    It seems that the biggest problem here in a niche market lies with the distrubutor. We can’t really expect a particular bookstore, for example, to provide shelf space for a title when reasonable expectations are that three copies of it might be sold in the entire city where the bookstore is located and that those three might well come from other stores, comic shops, or online retailers. But I think it is a reasonable expectation for a consumer to be able to order an in-print book and be able to purchase it at retail price.

    The solution *seems* to be that manga publishers (or, at least, small-market manga publishers) need to, essentially, create their own distributor–an independent entity which can handle the distribution function for all the companies’ manga (therefore letting its employees handle the shipping questions) and combining the products of multiple companies (to achieve economies of scale to the extent possible), while providing a single, unique location for retail-end customers to deal with (permitting it to exist within regular distribution channels) and dedicated to the manga industry (so that copies which are printed don’t get wasted, and so that the interests of manga don’t get pushed aside in favor of the more profitable interests of the latest bestseller).

    Of course, I have major doubts if such a thing can work–there are issues of funding/capital (i.e. who contributes and how much, and do the entities who need it have the capital to contribute?), control (who’s in charge–heck, who determines who’s in charge?), geographical/shipping limitations (publisher A being in California, publisher B in NY, publisher C in Texas, the warehouse in Michigan, etc., etc.), advertising/promotional (making sure Amazon and B&N even know it exists) which seem almost insurmountable. But without major changes in the underlying structure, it seems to be the only solution that can insure that niche consumers get served.

    That or just raising prices. It’s something that hit me when Maka-Maka was announced; the price leap, I know, is due to the physical features of the book, magazine size, all in color, etc., but it hit me that for my niche-within-a-niche fandom I’d buy the book anyway at the increased price because my personal economic valuation–what dollar worth does this mean to me–is considerably greater for Yuri than for other manga. There are some titles that if they were $15.95 instead of $9.95 I’d drop them like a hot potato, but for Yuri (not to mention my other favorites) I’d pay the increased price without blinking and adjust by reducing my overall manga consumption. Of course, the question applies, if a publisher doubles the profit margin will they sell more than half the books they did at the original price, but in a niche market made up of fanboys and fangirls it’s entirely possible (indeed, to some extent that’s the entire point that R2 otaku economics are founded on).

    Of course, there’s a point at which price increases will do nothing but chill the market and increase publisher losses–we all know how Bandai Visual turned out, though that didn’t only involve an increased price but also reduced content and a lack of a coherently identified market to sell to. Likewise, it also has the effect of negating promotional effects and restricting the market to the existing niche…but if the market isn’t expanding anyway, it may well be the only way to move niche product like Yuri and still do it profitably.

  7. Jarlath says:

    Doesn’t your essay assume one thing? That fans, or potential fans, know a book exists and thus demand the bookstore ask the distributor to make sure it’s available? That, and the assumption that the title will be available, rather than existing in some inventory system as a listing but which doesn’t get shipped?

    That’s my major problem with Seven Seas Entertainment – as I’ve stated previously, the only way I heard about Kashimashi being licensed by them was on blogging sites. No word in manga/anime magazines; no advertisements in store, or other announcements designed to spread the news that said ‘hey! New manga title!’. If I was in Hicksville, I could understand that… but like I said, having a few million people living in a place SHOULD (emphasis, should) qualify it as somewhere you’d want to advertise.

    That was problem number one. Problem #2 was then locating the titles. Big bookstores either deal directly with major distributors, or Diamond Comics who distributes more to the comic stores and smaller manga/anime places. A lot of manga publishers (Dark Horse and TokyoPop especially) deal with Diamond because they specialize in dealing with smaller stores and focus on visual materials… which is where Previews comes in.

    Now, if the stores have heard about Kashimashi either from their staff, from Previews, or from fans who have come in demanding them, they place orders with Diamond for titles. Usually it comes out to ‘five of everything in this category, of this publisher, and 50-100 of the Marvel/DC titles’.

    So, here’s the demand that gets delivered to the publisher – they’re asked by Diamond for X copies of Y manga. Now, the publisher has to make sure they’ve got enough stock to handle the orders for Y manga, else Diamond’s going to be either forced to cut the numbers shipped to THEIR customers (the stores)… or else forget about ordering the title completely, trusting in another distributor to handle the distribution to these other stores.

    As far as I can tell, Seven Seas Entertainment’s had problems supplying enough copies to publishers, which leads to Diamond shipping one copy to each store… or not shipping one at all, citing its unavailibility. Bigger bookstore chains, who either handle their own distribution or deal with publishers more directly, either don’t bother dealing with publishers who can’t deliver or else do business rather seldomly with them. This results in ‘out of stock’ or ‘unavailable to order’ entries on websites, or in catalogs accessed in-store by the staff when a fan comes in to ask for a copy of Y manga.

    This, in the end, puts the onus on the publisher and licensor of a title – the distributor isn’t required to promote the title… since they’re just shipping it to the stores, and not profiting directly from its publication and sale. The publisher is the one responsible for the success or failure of the licensed manga as much as anything; they ultimately are the ones who have to get the word out that they’ve licensed the title and that it’ll be available for sale, encouraging the fan to ask the store who will see the title in their catalogs.

    This is something that Del Rey has had a lot of practice with, which is a key contributor to their meteoric rise in the manga publishing industry in North America – they’re a big company, and very practiced in dealing with promoting and distributing titles. They’re the ones who sent rotating shelves to their customers (the stores) to show off the new manga titles, and they’ve got the equipment and distribution mechanism to make sure titles are available when customers do ask for them. Thus, they play not only on their reputation as a big publisher but also on a track record of being able to deliver titles on time, to customers who are demanding them. Their titles tend to ship on time, and even despite some questionable choices on translation as well as the paper used for printing (early Negima volumes, for example, have a bad history of changing spellings as well as printing errors like fading ink) they’ve been quite successful. Their licenses also tend to be good, but that matters more to fans than to stores – for the latter, they do publish, almost always have stock or the ability to reprint, and they promote the hell out of their titles to make sure that stores aren’t stuck sitting on 50 boxes of unsaleable material.

    Seven Seas, in several years of experience, has had some VERY weak promoting of certain titles (I think the most I’ve seen are a few banner ads on websites), and worse yet (for stores) a perceived inability to supply what demand does exist… which in turn means distributors are less likely to work with them to promote titles in magazines/catalogs like Previews, and also to help stores do extra requests for more copies. Stores can’t generally deal with publishers directly due to a lack of infrastructure, which means potential sales get lost as stores either have to turn fans away (who eventually get discouraged and just download scans) or else fans… well, they stop being fans and move onto whatever other title is hot and available in Shounen Jump, Shoujo Beat, or whatever magazines are handy.

    Demand is created by both knowing a product exists as well as wanting it… and the knowledge that one CAN get it, one way or another. ADV Manga started off real well by being able to promote titles like Gunslinger Girl and Yotsuba, as well as FMP, through ads in Newtype USA and their own DVDs… but ultimately faltered because they licensed too much, couldn’t promote what they had, and then couldn’t SELL enough to make up for their licensing costs, on top of not being able to subsidize it with DVD sales. I don’t want to see Seven Seas Entertainment go this route… but at this point, I’ve given up on ever seeing Kashimashi in stores locally, ever. Diamond doesn’t even seem to carry listings for it anymore, and every store I’ve talked to has checked with Diamond… and been told that they’re unlikely to ever see it. Bigger chains, with the ability to handle distribution themselves, also can’t get the titles – as I said earlier, in other posts, I’ve seen like ONE volume of Kashimashi in stores, and maybe once seen a reprint or older volume more than a month after the a new volume was released. It’s rather hard to start a series halfway in… and I know many fans, myself included, who ended up going back to by previous volumes either out of the desire to see how things began, or a need to understand where this came from.

    Genshiken, for example, I started with Volume 5. Guess what I ended up doing to make sense of things… and the stores were happy to sell to me, too. Of course, that was a Del Rey title that they knew they could still get copies of, as distributors and Del Rey still had stocks of them. To this day, a year or so after the series was finished publication as far as Del Rey is concerned, three years after its initial publication, I can still order Volume 1 of the series from any major bookstore and find it in a lot of smaller anime/manga shops.

    Sales don’t just END the moment you publish a manga, and ship it out. That’s part of why Dragon Disciple’s rather upset with Seven Seas, as far as I can tell – it’s like SSE assumes that, as soon as they finish publishing Volume 4 of Kashimashi, that that’s IT, and nothing else needs to be done as nobody will ever want Volume 3 or Volume 2, and that stores will Automagically order Volume 5… whenever that ships. Fans do have to do their part.. but in the end, fans who can’t buy things legally will either give up the legal route (meaning zero money to SSE), or else give up the title for something else (which means that the license’s value drops).

    Just saying.

  8. It is not in the publisher’s hands. I am a publisher. I know what I’m talking about.

    For the publishers too, it is a matter of money. It is not possible to reprint a book easily. It costs a lot of money and royalties and licensing fees have to be paid every time a new printing is done. It doesn’t get that much cheaper the second or third time a book is printed. And, like distros and bookstores, publisher’s space is limited.

    You are speaking from the position of fan/consumer. Like most people in that positon you have an idea of how things ought to be. But they just aren’t that way.

    My last comment is this – it’s about money and no company in the industry has the resources to keep stuff on hand just because a consumer might want to buy a back issue. It’s not about you. It’s not about anyone. It’s a lot of companies doing their best to make a buck with very limited time, money and space.

  9. jarlath – promotion is an entirely separate issue, which I’ll deall with next time. (And *just* as frustrating.)

    Dezopenguin – there are already some anime/manga specific distributors, but that doesn’t solve the fact that space and money will always be limited resources. There is no simple solution.

  10. Rinu says:

    Hi Erica,

    thanks for interesting article, I am looking forward to read next chapters of this “series”.

    Honestly, I have only a vague image of the whole distribution thing. When I complain about an inability to get my desired title, I have on my mind distributor’s difficulties. In the fact I see so many financial risks bound up with selling, I cannot imagine I’d run a company.

    I wondered about how it’s possible that US companies start to have so many delays and close their living down since in my homeland it isn’t so wild (more or less stable date of releases, finished series, availability of older titles). But to be fair, I have to admit that here is less companies which aren’t so willing to experiment -> stable, yes, widespread supply, no.

    An idea of ordering all stuff directly from publishers is nice but it is off because in such situation I’d pay twice more for shipping as a foreigner. I am a fan who is willing to pay extra for something but I am not crazy. So even if it was possible, I am sure there would be large number of foreigners who would stop or reduce buying.

    Well, I’m sorry if my reaction is slightly off topic ^^.

  11. Jarlath says:

    In that case, maybe I should ask how well funded they were before they began licensing titles. ADV Manga started with a successful DVD company behind them, which had some ties to Japanese licensors and thus began publications. THEIR problem wasn’t promotion and marketing so much as overlicensing titles and not getting enough money out of it to sustain operations without having to take profits from another division (DVD sales). That, and Newtype USA bombed pretty badly…

    I’ve given up on buying Seven Seas titles – I can’t find them, and I can’t even start the series from the beginning. ADV Manga’s gone this route as well – they stopped publishing a lot of series before their ends due to funds drying up (as they seem to have for SSE), and they’ve left a lot of titles in limbo.

    With niche titles, it seems you either go for the ‘one title at a time’ route and hope sales are good enough to allow you to license more titles later on… or you develop a partnership with someone who has more funds and can help keep you going for the first few years, until you’ve built up enough reputation and name-recognition to get an instant-order status from distributors and bookstores.

    Sadly, SSE seems to be heading the way of CPM instead. A lack of funds at the start seems to have doomed them, and aggrivated other issues (promotion/marketing, distribution, stock availability) which have dragged their reputations through the mud and taken their licenses into oblivion.

  12. What is “sufficient” funding? Especially when the world economy teeters on the brink of collapse. :-) CPM’s issues were because a major distributor went bankrupt, and they ran into licensing issues. Any company – no matter how well funded – would reel from that kind of blow.

    Seven Seas may have hoped that some titles would do better than they did, and the contraction of world economies has forced many people to cut back drastically on luxuries. Manga is definitely a luxury, so of course sales are affected.

    I don’t think you can stand from an outside position and tell companies that they need to have had more money, or better market research. No one could have predicted the current environment.

  13. I’ve not wanted to go to SSE again on this post, since my feeling for them have been made clear many times, but since you mentioned them :)

    There’s a question that has never been answered yet. If these titles haven’t sold as well as they expected, where are all the excess stock?

    Tor don’t have them, they’ve been asking for stock ever since the move. Diamond don’t have them since they’re saying they sent everything. So where’s all the stock?

    While you’re right no one could expect the sudden down turn of the economy, SSE seems to have never had the funds to do a proper job when it came publishing. With the exception of the SP novel there has been no promotion what so ever for any of their titles. Half the titles they have a lot people still think are unlicensed.
    Then of course licensing KnJ then chickening out of publication would of hurt as well.

    SSE seems to have lurched from volume to volume financially, as though they’ve done it all on a shoe string budget.

    It’s sad in a way, cause lately i’ve been hoping they do fold, atleast that way it allow another more reliable company to pick up the properties they hold currently.

  14. Eugene says:

    If a B&W version means keeping a book in print that would otherwise disappear, well, that’s something to think about. POD presses do four color as well.

    Actually, POD presses like LS/BookSurge and bundlers like Lulu don’t care what the copy looks like, because no human being looks at it. All the physical printer knows is that it’s printing 300-600 DPI of something in A5 (for example).

    Upload a PDF to Lulu and the title will be permanently “in print” for zero cost up front. BookSurge (Amazon) charges an upfront fee, but it’s modest. LS is owned by Ingram, which means that in-print titles are listed worldwide.

  15. Neo_Hrtgdv says:

    I think many of the logistics of ll of this are a major problem, time-space organization is hard and expensive.

    So because of the way things are it takes a while to get stuff ready to print, printed, sent, received, organized, and then *maybe* sold, all the while the consumer absorbs those costs.

    Why is manga so expensive? because of the cost of getting it to our hands.

    I live in Mexico and have some Claymore, Life, and Aria mangas who were ordered via Amazon (with a gruesome shipping cost) or bought at Comic Castle (yes, that’s the name in spanish oO’) a manga/comic store in Mexico.

    Now price does add up, and if I told you gas has something to do with it you might laugh, but please don’t. Planes and cars use gasoline to ship manga, as the gas price goes up so does the price of getting manga from point A to point B. So every time you move the books around the world they get more expensive, and you do not want to buy such luxuries when your necessities are also getting more expensive.

    Erica is right, everyone is trying to do the best they can and not lose a toe on the way, it is just how things are. Sure I’d love to go and have supper with any of you tonight, but the cost of me getting there would be easily 100 times what supper costs either for you or me in our respective places.

    Our options aren’t many, we either find a way to make logistics cheaper and faster or we start publishing virtual books and make a way to allow people to print them home or as close as possible.

    I know it’s infuriating, even more for people like me who live in a different country. There is no easy way out, the solution might be well beyond our hands.

  16. BruceMcF says:

    POD isn’t really suited to manga though. The sizes are wrong, the formats are backwards, and the ability to add a few 4-color glossy pages to an otherwise B&W book rarely exists.

    Sounds like the features list checklist for a POD system for manga publishing.

    Indeed, it may not need to be a one-off system … given the feature list above, a small batch system that is loaded with some drop-in pages that were printed in a bigger run would seem to fill the bill. After all, distributors would obviously not be wanting to order less than a carton of a number at a time, so “print on demand” in this context is print a carton of a number.

    But, clearly, from the description of the economics of publishing, the market outside a handful of big sellers is just too thin to support a “display to sell” model nationwide, which means that bookstores and comic book stores are the bricks side of a bricks and clicks distribution model.

    So, given that its only ever going to be a small income stream for the distributor, it ought to be made as trouble-free as possible. A small FedEx box of a number is empty, another is ordered, it shows up on the truck in a couple of days.

    So rather than taking the small numbers off the flow racks side by side with the big numbers … hogging space that could be devoted to a line with more turnover … they are on side aisle racks, one box per number, and a re-order done when a box is emptied.

    However, complementary to print on demand to eliminate the problems of inventories at distributors is the need for licensing and royalty terms that allow small print runs to survive. And since that is a matter of wrapping the head around an entirely different market to the main market, its not at all clear how that comes to pass.

    Hard technological change is one thing, but often its the soft technological change that is the hardest to get put into place. I’m not sure how that comes about, other than Japanese firms entering the US market directly and experiencing that its an entirely different commercial context.

  17. Adam Arnold says:

    Jarlath, Kashimashi had a 14-page preview in the November ’06 issue of “Anime Insider” back when the first volume came out. Venus Versus Virus also had a 12-page preview the following year (May/June ’07).

    Both of those series also had full-page ads taken out in Previews.

    And lets not forget that Newtype USA had full reviews of nearly every series we’d published up until Newtype USA ceased publication.

    Plus, Aoi House 4-koma strips ran in Newtype USA for two years bringing lots of traffic to and increasing company & title awareness.

    And for some examples for online promotions we’ve done…
    For I Otaku, we ran a “How Otaku are You” photo contest where we gave away free book and as well as original artwork. And for our light novel launch, we gave away close to thirty books to bloggers asking only that they reviewed the book. That was a really large (and expensive) push, but we also send out free books to reviews all the time. And really, for B and C-list titles, a good review on a news or blog site and positive buzz on a forum can go a lot further and last far longer than a simple banner ad or costly magazine ad ever could. After all, promotion comes in many forms.

  18. Erica,

    Thanks for the great article – informative and and really thought provoking.

    One of the things you wrote, though, made me wonder something.

    You will probably say “why not just sell direct?” but that’s not as easy as you think. People don’t order directly that often and not in great numbers. Fulfillment for 1000 single items is a nightmare. That’s 1000 books that have to get packaged, labeled and mailed and many of the publishing companies don’t have that kind of staff. I certainly don’t. If I had 1000 copies to send out of a book, you’d be waiting WEEKS while I got all those orders filled. …. People would rather buy on a site where they can buy many titles at once, like Amazon, or go in a bookstore and find it on the shelf…only that title might not be there, for all the reasons I mentioned above.

    My question is — have you looked into Fulfillment by Amazon?

    The margins would seem to be a lot better than what you get through the other listing-on-Amazon methods (such as Amazon Advantage) — yet this method offers a lot of the benefits you were looking for in this quote. It’s been something I’ve been considering for when my own books are ready and the only thing that gives me pause is that they are currently needing you to put a sticker on your product with their special code, possibly requiring you to ship your books twice (once to yourself for putting the stickers on and once again to ship to the Amazon warehouse. I have a feeling, though, there would be ways around this, such as having your printer add the sticker, and I’d like to believe that this requirement might change because it’s a little silly…)

    Is this something that you’ve looked into and dismissed? Are there other things about it that would not appeal to you as a small publisher?

    Thanks again for the great article!


  19. Hi Alex –

    I guess that you’re not the only one who can’t understand this, because a lot of these comments are addressed to me, personally, as if *I* am the one dealing with every single problem mentioned. LOL

    This post was an overview of many problems faced by many manga publishers. Not a laundry list of problems faced by me.

    It was to try and explain to fans why things that seem clear cut and simple to them are often not nearly as simple as they think.

    That the responses have mostly been 1) addressed to me as if I am facing all of these problems and 2) simple one-point of view, “try this” fix type comments, means that most of you really have not understood my point.

    But thanks for your suggestion, it might be of use to someone, somewhere.

  20. Hi Erica –

    Fair enough. I actually did understand that you were speaking to a wide audience on larger issues here — they just happen to be issues that are relevant to a number of other publishers of special interest works, like myself. :-) And my comment was meant in the spirit of “these are real problems, we’re all in this together, a good conversation has been started, maybe we can brainstorm some best practices” as opposed to looking to offer any particular publisher, including yourself, a quick fix solution to the difficulties of making a very challenging business model work.

    That said, I think you did an excellent job of explaining to fans what we are all up against. I hope that your post increases understanding and patience for those of us choosing to work in this difficult yet very rewarding field.



  21. Alex – My apologies then. I misunderstood. I can say that I haven’t investigated using Amazon fulfillment, because I am a strong believer in keeping my distributors and retailers separate (for the same reason I prefer to not subsribe to one provider for cable, internet and phone. I don’t want *anyone* having a chokehold on my goods and services. lol)

    Personally, I think the problems are not on the sales side, but in the publishing side. It’s too hard to know how *many* to publish to maximize one’s presence in a market. Market research among fans is hideously unreliable. You’ll get 10 “want to buy”s for every 1 actual buyer. Because they do “want” to buy – they just won’t actually *do* it. :-)

  22. Jarlath says:

    adam: Did they only have one ad? As I said, I only found out the title was licensed via bloggers who celebrated its crossing the Pacific. If they only had the one ad, then I’d call that a promotion problem still… since it depends on me catching it that one time, and not everyone reads Previews unless they’re either obsessive collectors or in the business, and it’s a hell of a way to try to increase your audience.

    This means they were either a) focusing on a very narrow group of buyers who knew what they wanted due to the possibly controversial topic (gender mixups and the hangups caused by sexual orientation confusion as a result), or b) they didn’t have the funds to promote it heavily or cross-promote it in a way that would’ve gotten people interested.

    Example: AnimeWorks has been releasing the Kashimashi DVD’s. Does anyone know if they (SSE) did cross-promotion with them? Even just a ‘get the manga from Seven Seas Entertainment’ on the boxes? Posters in the stores? Anything beyond what looks, by the way it was described, like a one-shot blurb? Del Rey’s been pretty aggressive in marketing, and as a result of that (and some good licenses), they’ve been selling manga like nobody’s business, even in this economic downturn. TokyoPop’s been doing good sales… but their market share’s dropping, possibly because they’re becoming known as an OEL manga publisher more than they are a licensing company, on top of having some of the same issues ADV Manga went through with licensing marginal titles on top of doing too many at once. Even ADV manga did cross-promote DVD’s in the manga, and from what I recall did indicate they had manga of the same series.

    Distribution is indeed a bloody pain (you don’t want to keep inventories which end up costing space to store as well as ship, for no profit)… but man, as I said, I’ve been unable to find the titles for YEARS. I’ve asked in stores repeatedly, and they said Diamond couldn’t get it because they were all out and had no clue if they’d ever get more. At this point, I’ve given up on everyone who doesn’t deal with Diamond or has a reputation for not reprinting old titles or having sufficient stocks of them, or cancelling titles in mid-run.

    Of course, this leaves me in Del Rey, Kodansha USA (they’re showing up soon, according to Dar Internetz), TokyoPop (on the decline), and Yen Press (whose titles I CAN find in Diamond, and who apparently got the ‘order ten of everything’ status in several national bookstore chains).

  23. Haruchin says:

    Hi Erica,

    Thank you for a very interesting post. It certainly flags up some key problems in the publishing industry, and should be food for thought for a number of different groups.

    I wonder if I could get your opinion on Online Only publishing? As highlighted in your post, many of the problems faced by the manga industry come from the sheer logistical difficulty of dealing with numbers of books – printing costs, storage space etc.

    I work for the academic journals department of a major publisher – handling journals that have very small subscription lists (compared to fiction publishers). We’ve discovered that more and more individuals and libraries are opting to have online only subscriptions – giving them access to full html or pdf files of journal issues, going back to the point that we began digitizing content as standard (usually 1997 or so). This means the reader has access to a large amount of content, which they can print out if required, and which requires only digital space in which to store it.

    Would this be a viable alternative in manga publishing? It might work best if considered hand in hand with a subscription model of publishing (not an option for one-off anthology books like yours) – but given the episodic and long-running nature of much of the manga out there, this could be a new way to package manga content for overseas sales.

  24. Eugene says:

    For those curious about how we all got into this mess, NPR provides some background on how the current distribution model for books got started (back during the Great Depression, it turns out).

  25. A quick followup from Japan – an online acquaintance of mine has pointed out perhaps the most obvious thing that we have all missed. He says that 20 years ago, it was the same in Japan – very hard to find books. But now, because otaku culture is so much larger, there are many more opportunities to buy and sell.

    Perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong – not to try and fix the technical aspects, but simply to go out there and grow the market. If only 5% of fans buy, (again, I’m making up numbers)right now that means there’s 5000 buying out of every 100,000 fans. If there’s 100 million fans, those number rise to a high enough levels to make the issues most non-issue.

    Just some more food for thought. :-)

  26. GregC says:

    The problem is NO ONE is making money by printing comics these days. Tokyopop, Viz, Marvel, DC, and on down the list – it doesn’t matter who. Change “manga” to “manga and indie comics” and every bit of your article applies.

    Licensing to other media is where the money is now. Movies and merchandising pay for making the comics. The comics drive the creative process, but they are no longer the cashflow providers they once were. This hurts manga in the US even more because the most of the license fees go to the Japanese copyright owners. But even for “domestic” titles, there’s not enough sales to make do.

    POD has come a long way lately for both standard-sized comics and manga. Ka-Blam prints in two sizes. Amazon’s new Create Space prints in many sizes, including manga. The quality of printing is very good and getting better. CreateSpace will get you listed on Amazon. Ka-Blam has their own online store with many titles. So that solves a little bit of the having to go many places problem. Hopefully both of those issues will continue to improve rapidly.

    Indie comic publishers have found themselves pushed out of many comic stores as many are cutting back on carrying the “midlist” titles. Out of the thousand(s) of stores that order the spandex books, maybe 200-300 carry something else. A much smaller number have a decent manga selection. And you spelled out the problems they, and bookstores, have getting product.

    As someone releasing their first print comic soon, I know all of this first hand. Although I have found a lot of the manga and indie friendly stores ARE willing to deal directly. I found a lot more that were willing than 2 years ago. They are getting fed up with Diamond also. It’s also why I’m going the online serialization route first. That’s a great promotional tool. (I’m very much looking forward to your article on promoting.)

    It’s a time to try and push the boundaries a bit while, at the same time, hunkering down to see how the market plays out as a whole. It used to be there were “comics” and “manga” and their situations were totally different. Now there are “superhero”, “indie”, and “manga” categories with many overlapping issues. That extra splitting of the market may bring about drastic changes as the old system is transformed into the 21st century. As long as it doesn’t kill too many of the small publishers in the process it will be a good thing.

  27. BruceMcF says:

    A quick followup from Japan – an online acquaintance of mine has pointed out perhaps the most obvious thing that we have all missed. He says that 20 years ago, it was the same in Japan – very hard to find books. But now, because otaku culture is so much larger, there are many more opportunities to buy and sell.

    Perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong – not to try and fix the technical aspects, but simply to go out there and grow the market.

    Which is to say, the technical aspects to fix are those that stand in the way of growing the market.

    Print on demand (supposing a print on demand system that was flexible enough to support good manga) is only a technical fix to the back-issue problem. It doesn’t solve the “problem” of relying on a mass printing to put the manga in front of people’s eyes.

    But, on the other hand, there’s something to be said for picking the lowest hanging fruit. For any other marketing and promotion aside from in-store promotion, if the customer looks for the manga on Amazon or tries to order it through their local bookstore / comic book store and cannot get it, there is a potential customer who is less likely to try the next time.

    Crack the back issue problem, and a platform is there that permits a range of promotion efforts to enjoy better success.

  28. kieli says:

    I sense a business opportunity here. O_o

  29. Jarlath says:

    Perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong – not to try and fix the technical aspects, but simply to go out there and grow the market. If only 5% of fans buy, (again, I’m making up numbers)right now that means there’s 5000 buying out of every 100,000 fans. If there’s 100 million fans, those number rise to a high enough levels to make the issues most non-issue.

    Doesn’t that come back to promotion again? You need to let people know something exists and is available in order to get them to buy it. Make them know it’s there, let them get hooked, and then they’ll put money into it… which means there’s a market for the product.

  30. BruceMcF says:

    Blogger Jarlath said…
    Doesn’t that come back to promotion again? You need to let people know something exists and is available in order to get them to buy it.

    … and that comes back to the foundation level of distribution, that when they find out that it exists and is available, it actually is available.

    And if the licensing terms are not in sync with whatever is the sweet spot between print economies and inventory economies, then license fixed costs can still kill off series, despite the fact that some license fees from some sales in the US market is more than no license fees from a series being dropped in the US market.

    Distribution, rights, and promotion … all three have to work up to a minimum threshold for the whole system to work.

  31. sandman7 says:

    Hello Erica.

    This article was really informative. and as a buyer of manga I can understand the frustrations of the others.

    I live in Montreal and here the problem you mentioned about stores only stocking the titles that they believe will sell is true.

    It makes sense as you pointed out in your article.

    unfortunately a lot of the titles I like are the ones not stocked on the shelves.

    So I find that the solution is to keep an eye on the stores web site for the titles I want and then when they show up I go to the store and order it to be delivered to the store for pickup. And with the big stores like Indigo here in Montreal if the title falls to the wayside I will at least get credit towards another title. It is frustrating but no real money lost.

    Unfortunately it is a lot more work, and only works for the dedicated researching Otaku. It doesn’t fix the problem for those who don’t have time to troll online or read Preview and see what is coming up in order to make sure they order a copy.

    It seems to me one problem is getting the average worker who might be interested in a certain manga to know that it is out there. I know it is out there because I spend time looking and checking, but not everyone has that kind of time.

    Is that also a problem? Or am I just not seeing it right?

    Stuff is out there and available to order, (I know i do it all the time now) it just seems to me that sometimes it is a little more complicated than it needs to be.

    Or am I missing something here?

    But you are right. it is not any one person or companies fault and we are not being screwed because they hate us. That would be like me saying that speed limits were created by the government to personally annoy me. Not to keep everyone safe.

    Too many Otaku sometimes act as if they are personally being singled out by these companies, when the company doesn’t even know who they are.

    Thanks again for the article.


  32. Joe Willy says:

    Nice article. As a comics reader I suffer the frustration of not wanting to pre-order but not wanting books I can get unless I pre-order. It’s a horrible system but there is no easy fix, despite some comments trying to make it appear so.

    POD is a fix for some of the problems but one new problem I see is that the more affordable it becomes the harder it will be to get noticed as everyone will be getting their books printed. Good books will be crowded out by every amatuer’s horribly written and crudely drawn efforts (think black and white comics boom of the early 80s multiplied by a very large number. Publicity costs will drive up the cost of the books as publishers attempt to get noticed and we’re right back where we started.

  33. J says:

    A quick followup from Japan – an online acquaintance of mine has pointed out perhaps the most obvious thing that we have all missed. He says that 20 years ago, it was the same in Japan – very hard to find books. But now, because otaku culture is so much larger, there are many more opportunities to buy and sell.

    The fandom is also relatively geographically concentrated in Japan. Growth of ‘otaku culture’ will indeed have contributed to the change of availability over time in Japan, but we can’t expect exactly the same results here. There are no Akiba/DenDen Town/Otome Road equivalents in North America, and I doubt such places will develop in the near future. We’re way more spread out.

  34. RC says:

    I just wanted to throw out there that Asahiya in NYC allowed me to place an order for a manga or any book as long as I had the ISBN number. They would call me once the book came in and I would pick it up soon after. This is how I got my hands on Strawberry Shake Sweet without having to pay for shipping. :) I’m not sure if Kinokuniya functions like this, as this might be the exception.

  35. Just a note regarding print on demand publishing.

    The problem with POD, aside from the quality issues you mention, Erica (art quality would drastically suffer in POD format) is that bookstores are becoming disinclined to deal with the format.

    POD titles feature bad discounts–less than ten percent, whereas most standard books get a discount of about 40-50%. These books are typically pretty expensive anyway, and often feature new and untried talent (so-called vanity publishers use this format) and in most cases POD books are not returnable for stores. This makes for an all-around bad package for POD titles in a retail context.

  36. comicsstructuralist – Agreed. POD is fine for chapbooks, journals and trade paperbacks that don’t need national distributorship and are low on art. It might even be the way to go for webcomic artists trying to monetize a popular strip. But it’s just not a realistic option for a publisher looking to distribute high-quality manga worldwide.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t Seven Seas an imprint if Macmillan these days?

  38. @Anonymous – This post is from 4 years ago. In the meantime, Seven Seas and Tor/MacMillan have gone their separate ways.

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