The Difficulties of Advertising and Promoting Manga

November 16th, 2008

A few months ago, I wrote a little essay detailing some, but not all, of the many problems faced by publishers and fans when it comes to the process of publishing, selling and distributing manga. One of the themes that came up in the comments was that readers felt that if only companies promoted their manga more, sales would be better. I felt that the misunderstandings driving this issue were worth a whole separate essay.

Let me begin by once again apologizing for being confusing when I mean to clarify and for oversimplifying complex and multipartite issues. Also, this is once again kind of long….

One of the least actionable suggestions on the previous essay about distribution was that companies should not even start to do anything unless they have “enough” money. This is not only very childish, it’s simply not doable. I’m fairly certain that very few fans have the vaguest idea of what it costs to license, translate, edit, retouch, letter, layout, publish and distribute a book. I’m equally certain that very, very few fans have the slightest idea of what would be “enough” money for a comprehensive advertising campaign. With multitrillion dollar companies failing every day, I think it’s safe to say that no one ever has “enough” money.

The core of advertising is saturation. One of the tenets of advertising is that repetition is the key. The ad for XYZ car may annoy the heck out of you, when you see it on TV, hear it on radio, see it in a magazine and on billboards, but chances are, you’d recognize the car if I showed you a picture. Buying *one* ad won’t make a difference. A company has to buy many, many ads to establish in our thick brains that a series is out. :-)

For the moment, let’s set aside the issue of selling manga to a non-comics reading audience. It’s a whole different can of beans.

Let’s just go over the most common forms of promotion in the anime and manga world:

1) Press Releases (which go to news sites and bloggers)
2) Company Forums/Website
3) Social networking
4) Reviews
5) Articles on and off-line
6) Ads on websites
7) Ads in print

As soon as they license a title and can officially announce it, most companies send out a press release. These go to on- and off-line media sources and will likely to be posted on the company’s website. A company might send this to several dozen media outlets, maybe even hundreds. Not all of those will publish the press release. Online sources are usually pretty good about that, and something like ANN will have forum space to comment. Of course, most companies have forums as well, and will gladly encourage discussion about the upcoming title.

People who read those press releases or visit those forums will know about the series. Perhaps a magazine or blogger who aggregates news will mention that the series has been licensed. All of those will expand the news out to a wider audience. There’s also word of mouth and other consumer-generated media such as mailing lists, groups on social networking sites, twitters, etc. Anyone mentioning a license in those spaces will spread the word that much more.

All of this goes for when a series is released, as well – at which time it also has the added advantage of being listed in Previews and books catalogs, which might raise awareness another notch.

And then there’s articles, and reviews. Companies send out review copies as early as possible. Magazines and online sites review their books. Perhaps someone will write an article about the company, the artist, the genre. There’s no guarantee that the review will be positive, however.

The problem with this is that you, a potential reader of this series, have to *be* in one of these spaces. You have to read a newsite, a magazine, a forum, a mailing list, a group, a blog, to hear that news. Which is why most manga companies rely heavily on fan advocates. One blogger with a larger or more targeted following might spread the news faster than a press release to ANN or a review on AoDVD.

My wife makes a good point here – she said, “Up until now, there’s no outlay of money.” She’s wrong, but the fact that she didn’t know that means you might not, as well. The press release is written by and distributed by a person who is being paid for doing that job. And, if the company has hired a professional marketing firm, they may in fact be paying to get the press release out there. Not all PR sites are free. So it’s not a direct buy, but it isn’t free, either. And while the cost of sending out a review copy isn’t back-breaking, you’re still paying per cost of book and the shipping, so it’s not free, either.

Then there’s advertising. There is an entire career one could make doing nothing but buying media space for advertising. It’s not a simple task.

It’s been proven over and over that most people who are at least vaguely familiar with the Internet simply tune ads out when looking at a page. I’m not making it up, trust me. And, like real estate, in advertising everything is location, location, location. If my ad is above the cut, in the reading space, you *might* notice it. Chances are, not unless you see it a dozen times though. If you have an adblocker, are a member of a site which gives you an ad-free view or, like myself, steadfastly refuse to look at ads on a webpage, the money for that impression just went {poof}.

When was the last time an ad popped up on a webpage and you went “Oooh! I wanted that!” and clicked through and bought it? How many times are you paging through a magazine or newspaper, see something for sale and run right out and buy it? You see my point.

Big ads on websites are expensive. Ads in magazines are prohibitively expensive, even though anime/manga magazines are super cheap compared to national print media. (For example, I could very seriously spend more to buy *one* smallish ad in The Advocate than I actually make on a book in a year.)

Little ads placed on the lower portion of websites might never be seen. Cheap, yes. But how *many* impressions do you think XYZ store needs to serve to make one sale? Thousands.

And advertising *still* is predicated upon the simple fact that you read the magazine or website and actually look at the ads there.

Now, given the fact that most companies promote and advertise at least their major, likely-to-sell-alot new series on heavily trafficked spaces online and in print, can you think of any other reasons why you might not have heard of a series before?

I can.

Because you are not *on* those spaces. You hang out at ABC forum, where the ads are either adult to pay the bills, or semi-related, like games or, also likely, has no ads because the space you’re on is private, subsidized, lives by donation and/or talks about illegal activities like warez, scans and subs. Perhaps you hang in irc, or on a private mailing list or group.

Companies have limited dollars and are likely to advertise on, not only the most seen spaces, but the spaces where the readers are most likely to convert their passion for a series into sales. ANN is more popular, but AoDVD readers tend to buy more. If you’re company Z, which site are you throwing your money at? 4chan is undoubtedly a massively popular site. And in some ways, culturally significant. But not in terms of sales. Channers are not an audience likely to buy a series. So, even though an ad buy there might be seen by many people, its another {poof} of money. It’s far better to sink money into a print magazine (already a higher likelihood of buying, because they *buy* the magazine) or a blog or website where the readers are likeliest to convert into buyers.

Now, all that having been said, when I read “companies don’t promote enough” what I actually hear is “companies don’t beam relevant information directly to my brain.” Because it’s not that hard to bookmark the maybe half dozen companies that release material that interest you, or one or two news sources that track relevant information. You can’t expect a company to send press releases to the irc channels you’re in, but you can expect them on the company website – and many companies offer informative forums, lists, and email newsletters with *news* that get beamed directly to your email box, that you will, sadly, still have to read in order to know.

In the comments of my last essay, Seven Seas detailed the multiple ways in which they had promoted a book and the response was, “well I never heard about it.” There is no fix for that. If you are not reading reviews, looking at ads, checking forums or news, following on Twitter, or somehow actully collecting information in some way, there is *no* way the company can reach you. It is next to impossible to inform you about a new series you *might* like, unless you’re paying attention to places where things you like are promoted.

Do companies promote enough? No. There is never *enough* promotion. There will always be some person who just walked in from the rain, who looks around and says, “I never heard of this before,” even after the largest freaking media blitz on the planet.

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12 Responses

  1. neohrtgdv says:

    I think people isn’t on the right channels because they don’t actually want the right channels.

    When they think about an anime they want to see they don’t go and see if someone, anyone licensed it, they go and check the subs.

    When they want a manga they go to imageboards and ask for the rapidshare link of it.

    I believe it is a cultural problem, people wants to see and get anime and manga, buying and/or downloading, legal or illegal makes no difference to most; they care little or nothing at all for the authors, translators, and all the people who are trying to bring material to them, they just turn and look for a free and fast way of getting it.

    Just look at all the people watching anime a few hours/days after being released in Japan, or people reading scanlations a few weeks after it is released. An even if companies sub and translate fast people will still want to get it for free, I remember someone uploading strike witches from BOST on torrent and when BOST asked him “I would just like to know why are you are uploading it to BT? what are you hoping to achieve by uploading it?” he replied he wanted to “help share what was shared with me.” So I guess its some sort of spontaneous organization or weird net ethics where one shares official material with millions of people, just because.

    Oh, the links are here if you want to read the full letters both from BOST Aaron Lai and GoldenCrater

    http://www.datorrents.com/torrent/39633-strike-witches-12/

  2. Thanh P. says:

    Quite an enlightening piece. I must admit, I was not aware of all the work that goes into advertising in the manga industry.

    I do have one, albeit stupid, question (I’m only fifteen, please forgive me):

    I’ve noticed that the ads in my issues of Shonen Jump are usually shonen-esque in nature. I also notice that some ads usually go something like this: “Dead Pilots volume 1 is on sale now!”. Thus I’m wondering: are advertisements geared, usually, towards already established fans of the licensed work or are they geared towards fans of the genre, or fans of manga in general? Are ads meant to draw out sales from people who are mildly interested (perhaps made so because of the ad?) or people who are already hyped about it / are established fans?

  3. @thanh – Shounen Jump is a well established magazine brand. So you’re looking at advertising targeted to a specific age and genre audience. In other words – towards young men, just like yourself.

    The publisher is trying to sell you other titles that might be appealing to you, since you like the stories in this magazine. Some might be established – others less popular or maybe even brand new. That depends on the ad. :-)

  4. Mara says:

    Advertising should not be necessary for an interest as esoteric as ours.

    I check the web pages of all the publisher’s I have an interest in every month to see what is coming out and buy them then. As long as a publisher has a presence that should be enough for us.

    As Konota would say: these people who need to be told when something is available should have more love! they should be waiting for whatever it is they want to buy.

  5. Draneor says:

    Personally, I’ve always felt it was my responsibility to find products I’m interested in. Granted most people aren’t willing to spend several hours a week researching goods to purchase for their hobby.^^U In any case, I wouldn’t buy anything just because I saw an advertisement for it. Before I made a purchase, I’d still need to research a franchise anyway (get recommendations, read reviews, look at images, and (sometimes) preview it). Hence, I rarely impulse buy.

    Still, no matter how informed you are, franchises will always slip through the cracks. One example for me was Hayate no Gotoku, which I had never heard of until it aired in Japan. After researching the manga, I was surprised to find that Viz had already published the first three volumes in English. For whatever reason, I had never heard of what is now one of my top ten favorite franchises. For the record, I’m buying it in both English and Japanese.^^U

    While I hardly expect Viz to put financial emphasis on promoting a moe property–even if that’s what I like to buy, this is hardly the only case where seeing the broadcast version of a show alerted me to the existence of an English version of the manga. As for why, I think it’s because I filter out properties I haven’t heard of because I’m not interested in them. Also, I’m sure my general lack of interest in the scanlation scene is a factor too.

    As far as release dates go, I just pre-order what I want during the publisher’s studio sale at RightStuf. Works by smaller publishers who do not have RightStuf sales do slip through the cracks though.

  6. BruceMcF says:

    @ neohrtgdv … for the purposes of the discussion, those people who download fansubs or scanlations only exist if they also buy the material in some way. The motivations of pure leechers are neither here nor there as far as the advertising and promotion of manga for sale.

    And while there may someday be some small revenue flow from streaming official subs of broadcast anime soon after Japanese broadcast … its hard to see the equivalent for manga.

    Getting someone who goes to the bookstore for a related genre to make the left turn to the manga rack is more likely than getting a scanlation downloader to head to the bookstore. That’s why one of the things we can do to promote a series or manga/anime in general is donate to the local library … library users are a good concentration of the people that are already walking into bookstores.

  7. @brucemcf – perhaps we’ll see phone-released manga for a small fee. As cellular devices become more capable of receiving them (and we’re pretty far behind on that here) you’ll see more companies off that. Japanese companies have phone-only manga series already.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great essay. There are still so many unknowns about the current anime and manga phenomena I would be more than a little nervous about committing any significant $$$ to advertising.

    BTW, how much is it just to acquire the licensing rights to a manga property?

  9. BruceMcF says:

    I’d not thought of a cellphone … I’m not sure I can imagine it now, but then my cellphone is not the latest and greatest. But thinking back to the days of my rail commute down-under, in that context I could definitely see upgrading cellphones to get access to light entertainment on-demand on the ride home.

    It does occur to me that if Amazon’s Kindle or something like it becomes established, then it may well be possible to out-convenience the scanlators.

  10. neohrtgdv says:

    I think it would depend largely on who is the intended target of advertising, like thanh p. said, who is the advertising aimed at? new fans? casual readers? hardcore fans?

    Certainly the way of reaching each of those is different, there’s a good chance hardcore fans already saw it and might not buy it, casual readers might not be too interested and instead go read Twilight (because everyone is reading it <.<), maybe new fans have the best potential since they are still confused and don't know much about new or old cult series.

    As Erica and Bruce pointed out, getting manga near people by donating to libraries, making manga read groups (why not?), and enterprises selling manga for cellphone or other portable devices people is getting to know manga, and get interested in it, and eventually of course, buy more manga.

  11. grace says:

    i feel like whether the publisher is big or small – marketing and advertising still boils down to grasroots methods. sure, Viz has money to spend for ads and such, but i know i get the bulk of my manga/anime info from blogs and forums, lists, especially for new and future releases – whether it’s from a big or small publisher. i feel like it’s my responsibility to keep up as much as i can if i consider this one of my favorite hobbies.

    it’s like when i read about “Hanjuku Jyoshi” on the Yuri mailing list – i was, like, what? what’s that? if this title wasn’t mentioned, i’d have not known about it even though i pride myself on reading up as much as i can on manga/anime sites and magazines (in both English and Japanese). and then i went out and bought it. we need to rely on each other for recs and suggestions and support Yuri as much as possible – and often, that’s through word of mouth.

  12. frea says:

    *grins hugely* good show.. you summed up my B.A. in advertising and my two years of college beautifully. Advertisers have a reputation for being rich bastards and having a love of misleading the public into buying stuff they don’t need when really, it’s a tough gig. Advertising at its best is a push into the ‘right’ direction and at its worse is a shot in the dark.

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