Yuri News This Week – January 3, 2009 and Sage Marketing Advice for 2009

January 3rd, 2009

A couple of interesting items to start the year off!

Yuri Manga

Erin is excited to share the news that a *new* Yuri manga magazine is jumping on the bandwagon. I’m going to quote Erin from the Yuricon Mailing List because not plagiarizing would require work…lol;

Tsubomi (Bud) is coming out from Houbunsha (the publisher that does Manga Time Kirara). It will be quarterly, and the first issue is due out February 12. The artists include:
Morinaga Milk
Yoshitomi Akihito
Ugawa Hiroki
Ootomo Megane
Oogawa Hidari
Kigi Tatsumi
Kizuki Akira (who did “Needles and Oranges”)
Kuon(?) Aki
Tsurimaki Nodoka
Nawoko
Hattori Mitsuru
Hoshiai Hiro (who did “Shining Mars” in Yuri Tengoku)
Mizutani(?) Fuuka
Miyauchi Yuka
Yoshinari Atsushi

So, some familiar names and some new ones. Yuri na Hibi speculates that Morinaga’s story will be a continuation of the NanaxHitomi series, but I guess we’ll see.”

I’d like to add that Kirara supplies a significant portion of “4-koma comics with Yuri” to the free world, so this isn’t a humongous leap into the unknown for them. :-) Thanks Erin for the great news!

Also an interesting catch from the back of Yuri Hime S, Ichijinsha is reprinting Pure Marionation by Takagi Noboyuki, who is doing Cassiopeia Dolce for YHS, and just finished Magie Paire for Gum. I think this is a wise move. You can take a look at my reviews for Volume 1 and Volume 2 some years ago. Clearly that series was printed before it’s time – now the audience that can appreciate it is a little more consolidated. If you like his service-filled, hyper-cute style, consider getting this title when it comes out again.

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Yuri Anime

The first episode of Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th season aired. If you haven’t watched it already, of course I recommed you do. Because it’s back to TV format, it’s very fast paced – much faster than the novel from which it comes. The OP embodies “whimsical” and the EP shoves the Yuri firmly up our noses. And…get used to Touko. She’s not going away any time soon. :-)

For something *entirely* different, the Queen’s Blade anime trailer can be watched on YouTube. Honestly, set your expectations on “low” then notch them down just a bit and you should be good to enjoy this series! :-) On the positive side, this series does that thing which I thought we’d lost forever – making women look like adults, with adult bodies, rather than infantilizing them. So that’s a bonus.

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Advice to Anime/Manga Companies for 2009

This last thing is someting I’ve been thinking about for a while. In a sense this is advice for companies seeking to enter the “Yuri” market here in the US. Japanese companies are now starting to really take some chances with their Yuri and trying to develop the market. But here, we’re seeing disppointment and retraction of company interest in the Yuri market. Obviously ALC Publishing has always been a boutique publisher. We’re publishing what we want, at our own pace, the way we want it. I can’t afford to – nor do I wish to – compete with companies like Tokyopop or Seven Seas. But where they are all pulling back from forays into Yuri, I have no intention of doing so. That having been said, I think a lot of this advice is relevant to any anime or manga publisher who is considering marketing a niche title to a western audience.

So, here’s my advice for any company seeking to enter a niche manga/anime market in 2009:

“Audience” does not have any relationship to “market.”

If you see 10,000 posts saying “I want series XYZ,” that does not in *any* way translate into sales of 10,000 copies.

I think most fans and probably a lot of the less business intelligence-focused companies have serious cognitive dissonance about this. Fans genuinely believe that the Yuri market is tens of thousands of people strong, when in fact, outside Japan it is tens of dozens strong. A good, strong book sales for a purely niche title is about 2000 copies. (This is based on business intelligence I have gathered from a number of sources.) I can think of several “highly anticipated” releases that did so poorly – less than 500 copies – that the company has killed the series. Which brings me to;

It’s no one’s fault. No matter what the “anti-guy” says.

You know the “anti-guy – s/he’s the person who posts and posts and posts all over forums and blogs about how s/he’d buy that book/series “if only” the company did something else/better/different. But in reality, for all the noise s/he makes, at best s/he only buys 1 copy of any given book, and most probably doesn’t buy *any.* Do NOT listen to the anti-guy. In fact, ban the anti-guy from your forums. S/he sows discord and misery and adds nothing at all helpful to the mix. Ignore the anti-guy. Don’t respond to his/her posts, do not follow his/her swath of fantastic claims and unreasonable demands around the Internet. Do not legitimize him/her. (Other bloggers, that goes for you, too. Stop giving people like this legitimacy as “press.”)

The reality is that the buying audience – the “market” – for niche anime and manga is infintesimally small. No, the market for anime and manga overall in the west is infintesimally small, and niche anime and manga is a microniche of that.

So, please, companies, do not expect to make grazillions in Yuri. If you want to grow the market, there’s a big audience out there. But it will take time – you need to work with them, communicate with them, get to understand where they live online and what they are willing to pay for – and how to gauge potential sales correctly. You also need to be willing to support a series that has potential to move outside the niche with some genuine advertising and promotion. (Thanks to Simon from Icarus Publishing for adding that it’s not enough to temper your own sales expectations, but those of the Japanese publisher as well. And that requires a *very* deft touch. which is absolutely crucial as well.)

Which brings me to my next piece of advice.

It’s time to stop thinking “word of mouth” is good enough.

There is a series I like. I’ve written about it a lot here. I write about it everywhere. But I’m only one person. Perhaps my going on and on sold a few more copies of this series. I’ll be absurdly generous and say that directly or indirectly, I may have been responsible for 100 copies sold.

That’s nowhere near enough.

The thing is, there is a reasonably cheap way to advertise this series at point-of-sale. It involves a radical change of thinking about advertising, and an incorporation of some Japanese-style promotion. Comparatively, it’s not expensive and would absolutely get more people to see this book on the shelf.

It won’t ever happen. (Although, Company X, if you want to know what it is, and how it can be done, feel free to contact me and I’ll tell you how. lol)

I’ve commented on this many times here – in Japan, the collected volume of manga or box set of anime is the *end* of a long stream of promotion and distribution. Here in the west, it’s the beginning and the end. Volume comes out, volume gets bought, volume goes away. There are a few magazines that have serialization, and few series get TV releases, but for most Yuri titles – most anime and manga titles – there is no Cartoon Network, no Anime Network, no Yen Plus, no Shoujo Beat. Book comes out, Company ABC relies on fans to talk about it, runs a few contests, sends out some press releases, review copies…and that’s it.

Stop. Please. You’re forcing me, a fan, a reviewer, a person of influence, into browbeating people for *you* so *you* can make a profit. Do your own business intelligence – find out *where* to make announcement, find out *who* to turn into advocates and for god’s sake – look outside the anime/manga world. I can think of half a dozen series off the top of my head that would easily be marketable to any “person who doesn’t read manga or watch anime.” (For example – why the hell doesn’t the Black Lagoon anime advertise on Spike TV? I mean, seriously. There’s a HUGE audience right there. I know, I know…money. But there’s an old business adage “To make money you have to spend money.” Nowhere is this more true than when you are trying to grow an audience into a market.) I market *my* manga to the GLBT audience. Why aren’t you out there markteing yours to children/teens/adults who like similar non-manga/anime stuff?

I don’t expect too many companies to come running, singing paeans of thanks for my advice, but if you happen to be a company and do want to understand what I am saying, I have 20+ years of marketing and business intelligence background I bring to this issue. I’m not blowing smoke – there are answers for all these issues. They just might take time – and possibly a complete rethinking of everything you’re doing right now. :) But, it’s not impossible. Call me.

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So that’s my thoughts for the first week of 2009. Here’s to a terrific, Yuri-ful New Year!

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15 Responses

  1. Katherine says:

    Wow, what a fabulous week for Yuri fans! ^^ Finally, the 1st episode of the 4th season of Marimite, and a new Yuri manga magazine! I wonder what types of stories it will run. (More like Yuri Hime or Yuri Hime S, or maybe something more mixed?) Either way, I’m excited about it for Milk Morinaga’s work alone.

  2. Erica, your business advice is quite sound and I really hope the Yuri friendly companies (that we shall not mention by name) will take your advice and change how they market and distribute their goods. Their mantra of freaking out the second a series starts off with sluggish sales (not to mention discontinuing the series while still sitting on the licensing rights) is appalling! These companies are prematurely pulling the plug on some excellent titles/series before they’ve had time to saturate their niche market and trickle outward into broader markets.

    I just so happen to be one of those lesbians that did not read manga or watch anime prior to discovering there was such a thing as Yuri manga and anime! Had some of these mind-blowing series I’ve been turned on to recently been marketed outside of the nearly microscopic Anime/Manga community I would’ve discovered them sooner. I mean, let’s be honest, manga and animation as a form of entertainment is a way of life in Japan but that’s not the case over here so marketing an “alternative” title to the tiny group of US otaku is naturally going to result in light sales since the majority of that market is not interested in such titles!

    As you mentioned you do with your titles, marketing Yuri (and yaoi) to the GLBT community is the way to strengthen sales. After all, shouldn’t the community to which the characters in the series reflect truly be the genre’s intended audience? While series such as Strawberry Panic, Simoun and Maria-sama ga Miteru are old news to US otaku, the GLBT community is just barely realizing that such things exist! These titles are VERY new to the domestic market and the potential for fans (read: sales) here really is unknown and therefore unlimited. Someone has to take that first step and decide to start advertising these titles outside of their comfort zone in the anime and manga section and put them in with the larger section of the GLBT market!

    Here’s hoping that 2009 will bring more Yuri to the masses!

  3. GregC says:

    Wow. Brilliant advice. And it’s good for ANY niche comic category. I wish more publishers would catch on.

  4. In the same vein, it also makes sense for television broadcasting companies to think twice about buying broadcasting rights for anime, and consider about taking the time to deal and cooperate with the fandom — understanding their realities and needs, because each episode has a pricetag. I’ve seen such companies waste so much money on the wrong titles, titles that their audience will not watch.

  5. @Katherine – We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the “odd-numbered year” blessing strikes again. :-)

    @Audio Erotica (Tecate) – Thanks. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any “Yuri-friendly” companies left other than ALC, because it’s just hard times and no one has time, money or energy to deal. But we’ll see what the year brings.

    @GregC – Thanks. I always feel as if I’m in a unique position – I can speak from point of viw of the company, the creator, the consumer and the marketer all with some reasonable amount of sincereity and knowledge. Some of what I’m trying to do is educate other companies, who are so locked into looking at things one way that they miss obvious things – and also educate consumers as to the issues that companies face all the time.

    @soulassassin – You’re talking pipe dream. TV has no incentive at *all* to rethink anything in regards to anime. It makes so little money comparatively, other than the stuff that’s tied into games to just about anything else that it’s a non-entity. And most anime distributors are moving towards online distribution and completely bypassing TV altogether, so it’s wasted effort.

  6. Motormind says:

    Well, I am glad I finally got to see that first episode of the 4th season of Maria-sama ga Miteru… it feels like I had to wait forever. It was good, although I get the impression that they managed to mellow the atmosphere even more. Even Sachiko softened up quite a bit since the previous seasons.

    They also put down the Yuri vibes down a notch, making the mood between the girls more sisterly overall. Perhaps that is why they throttled the Yuri-ness again in the ending credits. I am especially curious about that last picture with Touko and Yumi in it. Very suspicious indeed…

  7. @Motormind – the whole mellowing thing is on purpose. All the characters are a year older and have matured. Sachiko now, and Sachiko in 6 months are definitely not the Sachiko of the first episode.

  8. neo_hrtgdv says:

    Erica! As always with truly helpful advice. I honestly think you should collect them all together, maybe add more, and publish an e-book about it. It might or might not have a big impact, but I know that many people is willing to read, know and think more about the subject from someone who is in the play (not to mention your influence on the Yuri world) and, who knows? maybe someone in the right position at the right time will read and consider it and just maybe, we could begin to see some change, some thought and action from the enterprises, we *all* want the same thing, we just need to figure out how to make it work.

  9. @neo_hrtgdv – I am working on a site for my “Microniche Marketing” consultancy in which I will address these and other issues with clients that may be interested.

    An e-book isn’t a bad idea though.

  10. I’ll just chime in with another vote of thanks for your advice. Interesting and helpful as always — for all of us.

    I look forward to the next installment. :-)

  11. @Alex – Thanks for the thanks! Maybe it’s time for us small publishers to create a consortium and see if we can’t change things together.

    If you guys are ever looking to expand your market, let me know – I’m sure I can help with “Microniche Marketing”

  12. I might just take you up on that offer — I’d certainly fit in the demographic of your clientele… :-)

    I will definitely keep an eye out if you create a new Web site devoted to this (I thought I had read that you wanted to do that somewhere — but maybe I’m just crazy). Regardless, I’m glad to see you’re putting your experience in this market to good use — I think you’ll be offering a good service.

    I also like the idea of a consortium — definitely when I have for-pay comics, I can certainly think of ways for us to pool our resources (perhaps a group-buy of ad space in Out Magazine?) Right now, I’m busy with setting up my own model of a “stream” of promotion/distribution by releasing chapters of my books for free online in installments before collecting them in volumes to sell. It’s an experiment (as everything needs to be, I suppose), but I’m having a lot of fun with it. The first chapter of “Tough” should be up this spring, and then they should be coming out fairly regularly after that. We’ll see — I’ll keep you posted.

    So… any chance of letting me know about the secret “reasonably cheap way to advertise this series at point-of-sale” that won’t ever happen? Inquiring minds want to know… :-)

  13. @Alex – Drop me a line at anilesbocon01 at hotmail dot com and we can definitely talk. :-)

  14. Ishak says:

    I am not really a big Yuri-type of mangas but after reading this article, I will definitely give it a try.

    There is actually a Kinokuniya bookstore in San Francisco, where I am at. The manga section in Kinokuniya differs greatly from the manga section we all see at Borders. I think if local bookstores start doing that it might help improve the sales. I am different from most consumers ( I like reading my manga at the comfort of my home….so I buy them ). Just a thought :)

  15. @Ishak Yes, Japanese bookstores arrange manga dofferently, because in Japan manga is sold according to gender and age. In American bookstores the concept of a “Manga” section is very, very new- only a few years, and the audience is mostly teens. There’s not enougn of an audience to make it worth it for B&N to break it down by age/gender – and darn little incentive for them to learn the differences, as the audience is *microscopic* compared to other genres.

    Ten years from now, this won’t be an issue. One way or the other.

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