How Do You Solve a Problem Like Light Novels?

February 6th, 2011

There have been a lot of conversations on forums about the issue of why Light Novels do not sell well here in the West. Tokyopop discussed Light Novels recently on their editor’s blog and Seven Seas talked a little bit about the Strawberry Panic! Line when they put the third LN on hold.

Fans, of course, are sure that it’s all the publishers’ fault. They don’t sell them right, advertise them right, censor them, change the covers, don’t have enough babies who grow up to be people who buy Light Novels.

It’s well established that manga has a swiftly growing audience, but that the market has not grown with the same verve. Online aggregators of manga distributed without permission gain hundreds of thousands of readers, while those very same titles struggle to break even in sales.

Light Novels are a special problem. In Japan they primarily exist as franchise extenders. Of course there are some exceptions – and those exceptions are always the ones that are successful enough to turn the formula on its head. However, for a large number of LNs, the audience for the series/author/imprint already exists. There rarely is any need to promote beyond an ad or two in the magazines in which the the stories are serialized.

Here in the West LNs don’t have:

1) The magazines that serialize chapters monthly
2) Any other media tie-ins (unless they do and then the title is much more expensive to license)
3) The audience – LNs are, for the most part YA/older teen…maybe young adult… material. There are rare series which transcend this, but mostly it’s teens and early twenties.

In Japan, readers already know the material from Number 1) and 2) or follow the author. Here – this is rarely true. LN readers are, realistically, a niche of a niche, mostly because of other media tie-ins, like anime, games or manga. Most regular novel readers don’t know LNs exist and if they do, they don’t care. On top of that, you have the same problem as all other media in the anime/manga world – the audience is orders larger than the market.

Yes, there’s a teeny little problem with marketing and shelving. Let’s look at that rationally:

First, there’s the issue of marketing.

Let’s say you have an unlimited budget…where do you place a print ad to sell this great new book? You probably don’t know…because there really *aren’t* too many good places where you can put that ad. Name a good magazine for Teens. How about Older Teens? How about Young Adults? If you named a magazine, think about how many people you know who actually subscribe to it and read it. If you named something niche, like a Gaming magazine, imagine how many people who read that magazine might really want to curl up on the sofa with, say, Gosick. Okay, so I picked a magazine at random. GamePro, and checked their advertising rates. One ad – an ad that will run in one issue – for a 1/3 page ad is…$12,750. Name a LN that’s likely to sell to the readership of Seventeen magazine.

How many ads do you see when you read a magazine? How many make you call the number or buy the product?

Advertising only works if you can saturate the audience. That’s a lot of $12K ads.

And if you put in an ad on magazine/website, you only reach the people who see it, and notice it, which is a small fraction of people.

You might say – well, advertise it online – but of course that compounds the problem, because where people go for information is fragmented into thousands of sites, ad systems are fragmented into hundreds of affiliate systems and you still have the problem of people tuning out ads. For more on this see my discussion of promoting manga.

The conclusion – there is no way publishers of Light Novels can effectively advertise their products to reach a larger portion of a potential reading audience. They *could* advertise to librarians…and I believe some do. And then the problem becomes the Libraries’, to try and attract readers of those novels.

So that’s the problem with fans’ exhortations to “advertise more.”

Now, let’s look at the common wisdom that LNs would sell better if they were shelved in the fiction section, or with the YA novels.

The first thing that *has* to be said – bookstores are dying. Distribution without permission has become so widespread that children today have never been in a library or a bookstore before. They just assume they can get things for free online – and they don’t really know that it’s illegal or immoral. (When you do something wrong, you get punished. If no one punishes you…it must not be wrong to do.)

So, the idea that a book will sell better if it shelved properly in a bookstore is a fallacy from the start. YA audiences aren’t using bookstores that much in the first place. Nonetheless, YA fiction is a hot commodity, what with Twilight and Harry Potter and all. So you get your LN shelved in the YA or fiction section.

Now it’s competing with millions of other fiction titles. How are you going to get it noticed? There are *way* more fiction novels published every year than there are manga – even when Tokyopop was cranking out 10 titles a week. How many publishers are putting out manga regularly now? Viz, Tokyopop, DPM, Vertical, Yen, Seven Seas, maybe a few others. If every single one of these was popping out a lot of books – let’s say 50 books a week. There are (very roughly) 6000 books a week being published in America. Of course not every book ends up on a bookstore shelf, but fiction is a very, very competitive field – and YA lit, which is incredibly hot right now, is no less competitive.

Perhaps you decide to go for a row end cap display. This will separate your books from the pack a little, but then you’re back to the fact that bookstores are a dying breed. Only people who walk into that bookstore will see that display – which means you need to position those displays in high traffic stores, probably in major cities. These will have to be coordinated through your distributor – they are not cheap.

If you shelve the books with the Teen Lit or the Fiction, they will simply get lost in the rows and rows of authors whose name have some meaning to the audience. How well will Hasekura do compared with Meyer?

So you shelve it in with the manga. Now it gets lost in titles that are shelved alphabetically. How are people going to find it? Either way you go, you’re “wrong” according to fans.

Speaking of Meyer and Hasekura, let’s take a look at Yen Press for a second. Kurt Hassler has probably the most intimate knowledge of the book-selling industry in the manga world right now.

Yen licensed Spice and Wolf Light Novels. The “audience” for these novels have been hostile – very vocally – in every possible way. I have seen accusations that the novels were censored (they were not) that the new cover destroyed the artistic integrity of the books (this despite the fact that a slipcover with the original art was available…and that the original art was pretty basic.) The reality was that those fanboys – the established audience of the series – had no intention of buying the novels no matter what Yen did. All their complaints these were justifications of the behavior they were going to do anyway.

Yen then licensed and created a manga for Twilight – this instantly blew away any records of manga sales in America to date. It had weird looking typography, word balloons that obscured faces and above all, it was Twilight, an already much-maligned series. The fangirls who were the audience for this manga were also the market. It sold like the proverbial hotcakes.

There are two defining factors here: one, I believe that girls buy what they want more than boys do. In conversation last night about this topic, Sean Gaffney noted that all but one title on this week’s New York Times Best-Seller list of manga is “for girls.” Black Butler (also from Yen) has an astounding four volumes on the list and Hetalia has both of their released volumes. Naruto is the only series not explicitly “for girls” but it also has wide cross-over appeal…as most Shounen Jump stories do.

The second fact is the one that is most relevant to today’s discussion – to put it simply, Twilight had an a priori market. These fans know Twilight, they are devoted to Twilight and will buy Twilight materials.

The difference between marketing and selling a novel by Hasekura and one by Meyer is the difference between selling a novel you wrote vs one written by Stephen King.

The problem with Light Novels is this:

How do you promote and sell a book that 1) no one has heard of 2) has no *mainstream* media tie-in 3) no *where* to effectively advertise it 4) an audience that doesn’t want to pay for it 5) immense competition from domestic authors backed by larger companies with high-recognition names and major media tie-ins.

Figure that out and you have the winning formula for selling LNs.

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35 Responses

  1. Sean Gaffney says:

    One issue is that ‘fans’ tend to be satisfied that a work is available and that they can point to it. They don’t buy it, of course, having already downloaded it, but they feel an odd pride knowing “I like it, and it’s out here, and therefore I am, in a way, a cool person.”

    And of course many don’t buy LNs as the tendency in anime today is to adapt very closely. Several FMP fans said to me that they got the first novel and “it was just the anime right on the page”, so they didn’t plan to buy more. The Suzumiya Haruhi books are the same, probably.

  2. @Sean – That’s such an excellent point, Sean. As I’ve discussed before, fans often have a belief that their love of a series is worth something, even if they don’t support it with actual money.

  3. @Sean – I think that’s another reflection of the differences between American and Japanese fandom. We don’t much go for tie-ins because of the redundancy, but it sounds like Japanese fans enjoy them for precisely that reason: it gives them another venue in which to experience something they enjoy.

    Most of what I want from light novels are things we can’t experience in any other format because they don’t exist — e.g., “Guin Saga”, which up until recently didn’t have an adaptation at all. (The TV adaptation only covers the first 8-10 books in the 120+ book series.) I’d like to see more of that kind of material. “Vampire Hunter D” is another example, and it looks like Dark Horse has found enough success with it (based, no doubt, on some existing familiarity with the property after many years) to keep the books coming out Stateside.

    What I would also like to see of is more translations of works that were influential on anime generally, like Futaro Yamada’s fantasy (and even crime) novels. There’s been one such adaptation already by Del Rey, but he was quite prolific — there’s dozens more to choose from.

  4. @Serdar – Thanks so much for weighing in! Yes, I agree – Japanese fans show loyalty *by* buying franchise extenders…and even some fans here will buy whatever new media/item is put out in order to spend more time with characters they love.

    I’m interested by your example of Vampire Hunter D, which of course is largely considered to be the first successful Japanese LN franchise. The LNs that seem to do the best are ones that have a long history or those that appeal to an older audience. In VHD’s case, you’ve got both. Fans that remember VHD as an anime are old, because that came out ages ago, even since the last reboot. 2002 is a million years ago in anime time. And the series itself has been around forever, so anyone over 12 probably has at least heard of it once – especially in arguments about shiny vs kick-ass vampires.

    Selling to adults is a better deal in the short term – we have discretionary income and will by off-brand titles. But if we can learn *anything* from the American comics industry, it’s that selling to adults is a slow death.

    The question the western manga/anime/LN industry has to face is – how do they capture and train the young audience to grow up to be the market?

  5. Eugene says:

    Abandon the old publishing model. Release the ebooks first (at $2.99 or less a pop) and POD the print editions. Joe Konrath is the go-to guy here. Dean Smith straddles both worlds, but also argues that the vast majority of book promotion efforts are money-losing propositions, and the best thing authors/publishers can do is build and maintain a backlist. Konrath returns to this point again and again: stop trying to “sell”; instead, give your readers something to buy at an “impulse” price.

  6. Ichigo69 says:

    Erica, I love you, but I think you misinterpreted something about Yen’s Spice and Wolf. Yeah, the cover they replaced the original with was kinda horrid, but that actualy wasn’t even the real issue. The issue is that there wasn’t even a choice as to whether or not to have the original, if you wanted it. Yes, I know sometimes covers are changed a bit from Japanese to English, but usually not THAT drastically. Now, granted, Yen actually listened to their customers and did a dustcover, but it was not really that easy to get. You either had to have a subscription to Yen Plus (which I had) or go buy the issue from somewhere, or buy S&W Novel 1from Rightstuf. Borders didn’t have the slipcover and neither did Barnes and Noble. In fact, you couldn’t even go to yen’s site and even print out a copy of the slipcover for yourself or even buy it from them. Now, granted, they fixed this with books 2 and 3 (which I also bought), but that’s what the MAJORITY of people were upset with regarding S&W book 1. Now, granted, there will always be a loud vocal majority who are complete and total fuckwits and are only trying to stir up stuff. You just don’t pay attention to those idorts, obviously.

    Also, people don’t always ILLEGALLY download books. Plenty of people have Kindles and iPhones and Androids and actually pay for these online. Unfortunately, for us bound paper lovers, brick and mortar bookstores might be going the way of the dinosaur. I hope not, but they seem to be closing in record numbers. Just make sure you don’t get into Ignoring a Common Cause or This-is-That logical fallacies. Your article seems to be saying that illegally downloaded files are killing the entire bookstore industry, when there are MANY more factors besides that. There are quite a few of us who have a lot of downloaded stuff, but also have an extremely sizeable library of books we’ve bought (I have about 1000 volumes of just manga and light novels, both Japanese and English). So, yeah, try to discourage people from downloading stuff – ESPECIALLY when it’s been licensed, but don’t go too far and blame people downloading things (who were most likely not going to buy it in the first place) for the entire downfall (or perceived downfall) of an entire industry. ^__^

  7. C. Banana says:

    From what I can tell, scanlation of light novels is significantly lower than scanlation of manga. There may just not be a demand for it in English speaking markets.

    Of course, there’s also the fact that North America doesn’t have anywhere near the commuter culture so conducive to light novels and manga that Japan does.

  8. Anonymous says:

    My opinions of light novels are only about as deep as my experiences with them. Having only bought about a half dozen light novels — Ghost in the shell series, SP!, .hack//, Kamikaze Girls etc — I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak, but upon reading these novels, I always felt they were fairly vapid and shallow. I’m not sure if it was the translation or merely that they are intended for a younger audience. The graphic novels that captivate me are those that reveal the emotions of the human condition. Ghost in the shell, the manga, was amazing! So why didn’t the light novels have the same depth? I bought them because I love ghost in the shell so much, but is it wrong to have expectations? Could you imagine Nananan’s Blue being adapted to a light novel? I know I’m part of a minority in the market,so maybe I’m not reading the ‘good’ light novels.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “3) The audience – LNs are, for the most part YA/older teen…maybe young adult… material. There are rare series which transcend this, but mostly it’s teens and early twenties.”

    …and the market for *novels* aimed at this market is booming compared to some other sectors of publishing. So, why not just market the English translations of these novels as *novels* instead of trying to market them as some separate “Light Novel” category? :)

    “Let’s say you have an unlimited budget…where do you place a print ad to sell this great new book? You probably don’t know…because there really *aren’t* too many good places where you can put that ad.”

    Are there any good places where you can put an ad for any book? I don’t know. :/

    “So, the idea that a book will sell better if it shelved properly in a bookstore is a fallacy from the start. YA audiences aren’t using bookstores that much in the first place. Nonetheless, YA fiction is a hot commodity, what with Twilight and Harry Potter and all. So you get your LN shelved in the YA or fiction section.”

    And this begins a much better approach than beginning with the assumption that it’s a completely different product. :)

    “Yen licensed Spice and Wolf Light Novels. The “audience” for these novels have been hostile – very vocally – in every possible way. I have seen accusations that the novels were censored (they were not) that the new cover destroyed the artistic integrity of the books (this despite the fact that a slipcover with the original art was available…and that the original art was hardly anything to write home about.) The reality was that those fanboys – the established audience of the series – had no intention of buying the novels no matter what Yen did. All their complaints these were justifications of the behavior they were going to do anyway.”

    Maybe treating those fanboys as the target audience for the novels turned out to be a bad approach?

    What would have happened if Yen Press had done things a little differently and marketed the novels to a larger group of readers, some subset of the readers who hadn’t already watched the anime or read the manga? I don’t know what the results would have been, but I can imagine someone thinking “hey, Harry Potter sure wasn’t marketed to people who already watched HP, there weren’t any people who had already watched HP! and those people who’d never watched or read a story about Harry sure bought the books…”.

    “How do you promote and sell a book that 1) no one has heard of 2) has no *mainstream* media tie-in 3) no *where* to effectively advertise it 4) an audience that doesn’t want to pay for it 5) immense competition from domestic authors backed by larger companies with high-recognition names and major media tie-ins.”

    Excellent questions!

    Figuring out how Rowling succeeded in marketing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone back when it *didn’t* already have fans and tie-ins, or how Meyer succeeded in marketing Twilight back when it *didn’t* already have fans and tie-ins, or how King successfully marketed Carrie *before* his second book and the Carrie movie, could be like catching lightning in a bottle…

    “Figure that out and you have the winning formula for selling LNs.”

    …and the winning formula for selling all kinds of other YA fiction too!

    “From what I can tell, scanlation of light novels is significantly lower than scanlation of manga. There may just not be a demand for it in English speaking markets.”

    And/or translating pages and pages and pages packed full of text takes a lot more work than scanning pages and pages and pages of mostly pictures and translating the words in the speech balloons. Maybe most scanlators are too lazy to do the extra work it takes to translate non-graphic novels? ;)

  10. Anonymous says:

    “Selling to adults is a better deal in the short term – we have discretionary income and will by off-brand titles. But if we can learn *anything* from the American comics industry, it’s that selling to adults is a slow death.”

    What ever happened to marketing different titles in the same format to different age groups? Selling to adults too instead of only to kids definitely has not been a slow death for non-comics books, nor for movies, nor for live theater, nor for TV, nor for music…

    For that matter, remember the difference between how the American comics industry reacted to the Comics Code and how the American film industry reacted to the MPAA ratings?

    “What I would also like to see of is more translations of works that were influential on anime generally, like Futaro Yamada’s fantasy (and even crime) novels. There’s been one such adaptation already by Del Rey, but he was quite prolific — there’s dozens more to choose from.”

    Good point! I also look forward to The Lake, the next novel of Banana Yoshimoto’s to be published in English translation.

    “Unfortunately, for us bound paper lovers, brick and mortar bookstores might be going the way of the dinosaur.”

    BTW, what about online vendors of print books, like Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com that sell a lot of titles as e-books but sell lots and lots more titles on paper too?

  11. Social media could answer the problems of 1, 2, and 3 ;)

  12. larethian says:

    sorry to point out, but being an avid light novel reader (in native Japanese), your statement about “light novels primarily existing as franchise extenders” is grossly inaccurate. there are way too many manga and anime which spawn off light novels these days, though admittedly, they do help boost the original light novel sales.

  13. Richard Beaubien says:

    I think part of the problem as well is that a lot of the anime/manga market in North America is not interested in reading novels based on anime.

    A lot of the early marketing of the genre over here was based on it’s unique visual appeal. LN’s lose that and it probably hurts them. So even for stuff that sell over here well in anime form (Slayers/FMP/Haruhi) don’t do well in LN form. Add in the other big problems the publishing and comic/manga industry faces and it’s probably a losing battle.

  14. Atarun says:

    @OnlyInJapan.org
    “Social media could answer the problems of 1, 2, and 3 ;)”

    “could” being the operative word, I presume.
    The competition is even tougher and wider in social media than in other more traditional forms of media.
    There is no sure way to make anything viral. Not even with funny cat pictures and awful spelling.

    @ALL
    I think there are two separate issues behind the whole audience vs. market problem:

    – How can anyone call themselves “fan” without ever contributing to the franchise?
    That is beyond me. I simply am not part of that culture. How can we teach teens nowadays that posting “I luv seriz XXXXX 4 REAZL” on a forum is in no way showing your love to the people who made series XXXXX? I honestly have no clue. How do you teach something that is completely obvious?

    – How can non-Japanese distributors make a buck out of localizing and distributing Japanese stuff?
    I have bought hundreds upon hundreds of localized (in French) manga. I have had a whole range of issues with French distributors of manga… the exact same issues that pirates would use to justify not buying even though they never intended to… except I bought stuff, a lot of stuff.
    The thing is, when you can obtain better service and quality for free than you can when paying, the only thing that keeps you paying (excluding fear of being found out doing something illegal) is the feeling of “contributing”. Problem is: what is the portion of the money I’ve spent on French manga that went to Japan? To the actual creators of the series I love?
    It’s pretty hard to get the “If I don’t contribute, they’ll die” feeling, when the whole industry is abroad and ultimately what you do only matters to local go-between companies that could collapse and not make a dent on the industry itself…
    I’m not saying the answer is to become a pirate, read whatever you want for free and feel validated as a fan without contributing. At least my answer is: really contributing by buying the stuff directly from its source, through companies like beNippon.
    And to those who tell me “you can do that because you can read Japanese”, I usually answer “you read that stuff 3 times online anyway, what’s stopping you from buying it in any language?”
    The thing is, I’ve contributed to French (relatively poor) distribution and (catastrophic) translation of manga for years and I feel better now that I skip the go-betweens and contribute directly to the Japanese industry.
    The thing is, if true fans tend to react like me (and I’m not saying they do, just that I know some who do, including me obviously, and that maybe we’re not alone) and fake fans never pay ever… is there really ever going to be a market for go-betweens?

  15. @laethian- I am also an avid LN reader and I *do* mention there are exceptions – but my point was that the reason there are more successful Light Novels is that they have established magazines or series or author. These are franchise extenders – the franchise may be the magazine, not an anime/manga series specifically.

  16. Great points, Erica! I’m glad to see a post that focuses on the practical realities of distribution; too many fans only have the vaguest notion of how expensive it is to license, translate, and publish a book here in the US, let alone promote it. Social media can help, but with so many other businesses competing for Twitter and Facebook users’ attention, how could a manga publisher hope to reach an audience of any critical size?

    I’m also glad you discussed the brand-extension aspect of light novels. There are plenty of equivalents here in the US; Del Rey and Dark Horse have made a fortune with novel and comic-book series that take place in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer has lived on in several franchise-extending formats. But all of these properties had large, enthusiastic fan bases, cultivated over many years through movies and television shows. Manga and amine just don’t reach enough Americans for the Full Metal Panic novels to be more than a blip on the radar.

  17. Arya says:

    “In Japan they primarily exists as franchise extenders.”

    I’m not really sure what you mean, but it seems to me that it goes both ways. Successful mangas will get anime/live action adaption and novel adaptions. Successful animes will get mangas and novels. And successful (light) novels will get mangas and animes/live actions.

    And it seems to me that, while of course there will be a lot of people who already know the series and want to check out an adaption, these different “incarnations” are first of all aiming to get new readers / viewers. So they’re not really relying that much on an existing fan base.

    Also, while of course, an adaption will get many interested in the source material, a lot of the japanese do either read/watch mangas or novels or animes or live actions, but not all of it. At least that’s my experience, as in “oh, I like that manga, but I never watched the anime and I don’t intend to do so”.

    So I’m not sure whether they’re so much different from the foreign fans, who aren’t interested in seeing the same story in different ways. I realize many manga readers simply don’t care for normal “text books” (and many anime fans don’t care for books at all) and as the anonymous poster already mentioned, I think novels should be marketed directly at novel readers and not at anime or manga fans, who are small in number and might not care for them.

    And the quality and “light” content of many “light” novels is of course another problem …

  18. @Katherine Dacey – That’s it in a nutshell. The few hundred buying fans of a series simply aren’t enough critical mass to support any efforts at promotion – whether traditional, online or social media.

    When I write about a Light Novel, I stimulate a few sales. When everyone who had read the novel writes about it – they stimulate a few sales. That’s all social media can bring in when the audience in is so small. It’s not like social media will suddenly magically add zeros to the ends of the number of people who will buy this thing.

    There is no critical mass in the west for this. Yet.

  19. Marc M. says:

    This was a very interesting piece.

    I have to agree with you on the fact that on-line advertising is not great and somewhat scattered and even ignored by many people.

    I bought the first two Strawberry Panic LNs when they came out, but I had a dickens of a time finding information on them about when they would be available and such.

    I also had trouble just trying to order them. I tried Amazon.ca (I’m in Canada) and they kept saying not available (which meant Diamond distributing in Canada wasn’t shelving it), and when I went to the big box bookstores (Chapters\Indigo) I found the title in their database. But when I asked about ordering them, no one had any clue about it and where surprised such a thing existed.

    I’m super happy that they are putting out the third and will be preordering it.

    But your right, You have to work really hard at finding information on line, which means you have to be a hardcore fan like myself to do all that work to buy one book.

    Most people won’t do all that, so they won’t know the book’s out there.

    And the fans who complain just so they have an excuse to not pay for it are galling to me, but it’s hard to change their minds. They are very stubborn.

    So I just keep looking for myself and try to buy as much as I can so that I can keep the publishers going and making sure they know what I like.

    But I’m only one person.

    Thank goodness for your blog and mailing list. It has helped me find many things I would never have found myself. My Google Fu is weak.

    Marc M.

  20. Anonymous says:

    “- How can anyone call themselves “fan” without ever contributing to the franchise?
    That is beyond me. I simply am not part of that culture. How can we teach teens nowadays that posting “I luv seriz XXXXX 4 REAZL” on a forum is in no way showing your love to the people who made series XXXXX? I honestly have no clue. How do you teach something that is completely obvious?”

    *Is* it completely obvious?

    What about when a teenager’s grown up with a father who calls himself a big Agatha Christie fan and reads a lot of Christie’s novels, but gets far more of the copies he reads from borrowing at the library or buying at used book stores than from buying new copies via vendors that send royalties to Christie’s estate?

    What about when a teenager’s grown up with a mother who calls herself a big Miami Dolphins fan and watches every game but watches far more of them at home by tuning the TV to local network television and occasionally buying tickets for Sun Life Stadium’s balcony seats than by buying tickets for Sun Life Stadium’s catered suites for every home game and tickets and travel fare for every away game?

    “And successful (light) novels will get mangas and animes/live actions”

    Successful novels in general, whether they’re “light” or not, often do. The Tale of Genji sure did. ;)

    “When I write about a Light Novel, I stimulate a few sales. When everyone who had read the novel writes about it – they stimulate a few sales.”

    …now I’m curious. What if you wrote a review of a Japanese-language product in Japanese? I can’t read Japanese so I can’t search this blog for whether you did or not. Did that stimulate more sales (since they’d reach more of the people who could use the product, as opposed to the way an English-language review wouldn’t reach people who could read the product in Japanese but aren’t literate enough in English to understand the review enough to be convinced)? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did! :)

    For all I know, you’ve already done the experiment of posting the same review of the same Japanese-language product (to control for those other factors) in separate Japanese-language and English-language entries and then checking whether the Japanese-language review or the English-language review got more click-throughs to that product’s page on amazon.co.jp. :)

  21. Anonymous says:

    the idea of your fandom being proportional to what you spend on whatever you’re a fan of’s been floating in my head for several minutes now…

    does it work both ways?

    Some Michael Vicks fans bought licensed jerseys that not only had the Atlanta Falcons logo and colors but the name and player number of Vicks himself. Then the dogfighting news came out, they stopped liking Vicks, and donated those jerseys to animal shelters: http://www.itchmo.com/vick-jerseys-being-used-to-clean-dog-and-cat-shelter-2336 (yes, some of them are used to comfort or clean up after dogs ;) )

    These people who don’t like Vicks anymore didn’t get refunds from the Falcons or the NFL for doing that, so are they still stuck being Vicks fans?

  22. Anonymous says:

    @ Marc M.

    I know Strawberry Panic got delayed at one point, but why didn’t you go to the publisher’s website for the release dates?

  23. Anonymous says:

    “So I’m not sure whether they’re so much different from the foreign fans, who aren’t interested in seeing the same story in different ways. I realize many manga readers simply don’t care for normal “text books” (and many anime fans don’t care for books at all)”

    Personally, I don’t care for being told the same story in more than one format even when I do like all the formats it’s told in. I took the Scrapped Princess manga off my to-be-read list when I found out they were based on text novels and now the first Scrapped Princess novel is on my to-be-read list instead. I was interested in seeing the movie Europa, Europa until I found out that it’s based on a memoir Solomon Perel wrote, so I ditched my plans to see the movie and read the English translation of the book instead (and now I highly recommend reading the book).

    “and as the anonymous poster already mentioned, I think novels should be marketed directly at novel readers and not at anime or manga fans, who are small in number and might not care for them.”

    That was me, and yeah the overlap of the anime market or the manga market with the “text book” market is going to be smaller than either market is.

  24. BruceMcF says:

    POD in support of ebooks seems more likely to be ready for prime time for light novels than for manga on both sides ~ the print on demand side and the ebook side ~ but there are still up front costs to cover.

    Crowd-financed for the license would require the rights owner to give a window where their work is pubicly on offer ~ and could fail to meet the “go” threshold. Crowdfinanced sites are already up and running for crowdfinancing projects like IndieGoGo … but IndieGoGo has a quit price for failing to meet your goal (I presume that involves refund expenses), so one or a few angels might still be required to guarantee the quit price. And then, up-front angel financing to guarantee 10% of the public target can be added to the pool when the crowd finance has hit 90% of the target, to take it over the top.

    A project where the translation and publishing are paid as work for hire obviously has a substantially higher strike price, but the unit owners get a much bigger share of the net earnings (supposing its established as units in an LLC) ~ that is, revenue paid by the ebook and POD distributors, less per sale royalties. Maybe 80%, with 20% as bonuses for the translation and publication work. Normally the crowd finance return on investment will be negative, which amounts to a sliding scale rebate on pre-orders based on how many additional sales are made.

    A labor of love project where the translation, editing, layout and mastering are done for unit participation ~ maybe 40% translation units, 40% publishing, 20% license financing units ~ means that the finance target is much lower ~ the up front license fee, the royalty on the unit holder ebooks, and the overhead set-up cost at the ebook and POD distributor.

    In the labor of love version, a unit might be set at $5, include an ebook copy of the project if it goes ahead (the reflowable pdf version for maximum portability), with personalized dedication page, and an equal share of net revenues, with additional units increasing the share of net revenues, with two or three levels of holding to feature in distinct blocks in the acknowledgements.

    Then the social media sales force are, of course, the unit holders.

    The professional worked for hire production is of course much harder to float, and at the same time the licenses where it seems most likely that the project could be funded are the ones where the rights owners may harbor hopes of conventional publication (however ill-founded those hopes might be for english language rights to Japanese light novels) ~ so it might be harder to persuade the rights holder to take a gamble on hitting a crowd finance target to license the work.

  25. BruceMcF says:

    @Anon2:54 (that’s easier if you click Name/URL and pick a handle)
    … they’ll be stuck with being former Vicks fans. Donating their Vicks jerseys so they can be used to clean up after dogs messes would, however, convince most people of the “former” part.

  26. Brand says:

    I think in the end you still have to spend money to make money but I fully understand that the money spent on magazine ads are not really worth it for light novels…for the most part.

    I think companies need to work on more engaging marketing campaigns for their consumers. Let us say a company has a novel series they are really behind. They know they have a good product and so they have to market it now. One thing is they need to start marketing it early, just a little to start with but building a buzz over time.

    Companies would need to create website and Facebook pages (and maybe twitter too) for just that book/book series. Now, advertise on Facebook (it is god damn surprisingly cheap). The ads can be sent out to certain users based on key words (based on users likes) to get those ads to the right people. Companies may need to be creative and do some research with these. In the case of Spice and Wolf I would in fact aim keywords for people who both like (for example) “anime and furries” and people who like “fantasy and economics.” There might not be many but they would most likely have a higher percentage of buying the books because more than one of their interest meets in it.

    Also giveaways contests on Facebook and twitter. Have it be that all that is needed to enter is to tweet about said book (with appropriate hash tag). Then you have the users advertising for you, for the cost of several of the books. Companies could even do an internet flash mob style of event where they send out newsletters, tweet, and post on Facebook that on XX day everyone should get on Twitter and post about said book to try and make it a trending topic for the day.

    Send copies of the book to various review blogs on the net. And not just anime and manga blogs but say for a sci-fi book send a couple of copies to like io9 or for the ICO book send some to Kotaku. Get people talking about the books.

    Take out one of those Anime News Network skins. Funi did say (in an ANNcast) those work really well for them. I can see it doing well for light novels and manga also.

    And if companies do have the money to spend on magazine ads then yeah I think those could be useful also. Much like the Facebook keywords companies need to be creative. I worked at an EB many years ago and I remember getting in an ATV game and all of us in the store were like WTF? Who would buy this? Until we had gotten in that day, none of us had even heard about it. Well, it sold like hotcakes. I finally mentioned to someone how surprised I was at how well the game sold while they were buying it and they mentioned they saw the game advertized in their ATV magazine. I didn’t even know there were ATV magazine; it was quite a revelation to me at the time. So I don’t think it would be outrageous to take out an ad for Spice and Wolf in an economics magazine (though with the more western style art used for it).

    In any case I don’t see it being super easy there still a lot of work that needs to be put into it but I think that is the case with any product. I also kind of feel at this point (while still important) to much anime is only advertised to anime fans. I do think some products would have some crossover appeal into other outlets.

  27. Eugene says:

    Joe Konrath addresses many of these issues in his latest post.

  28. Ichigo69 says:

    @Eugene My god, this man has got to be a profit. He makes the most sense out of anybody I’ve heard on this subject.

  29. Ichigo69 says:

    Erm… OTL…. I meant Prophet….. Sigh, Erica, if you can, could you correct that in my previous post….

  30. @Ichigo69 – Sorry, I don’t have an “edit comment” feature. Thank heaves, because if I did, I’d spend whole days editing. ^_^

  31. My personal problem with light novels is that I have so far found so few that I like, and every one that fails to grab me provides me with less of a reason to buy another one. I seem to dislike the ones based on anime/manga more than the ones that spawned anime/manga, but I still dislike most of them overall. I don’t know if it’s due to translation, but the writing just seems so bad/clunky in so many of them.

  32. pronkyou2 says:

    I just had this terrible thought that if one could market this to Oprah… Well, you know the rest.

    My other thought was that because our current market method relies upon defined sales more than supporting the authors directly despite the success of such art as Radiohead’s free download with an optional donation or the independent Ink movie accepting donations and using bittorrent for publishing, of course such outdated methodologies are going to produce the same worthless results by adding yet more to an already flooded market.

  33. @pronkyou2 There is one serious flaw with “pay what you want for it” that I’d like to address.

    Do you have a job? During your work hours, do you produce what you are paid to produce or complete tasks that you are paid to complete?

    Imagine if, when you were done with a report, or code, or a project, or cleaning the men’s room, or whatever it is you do, that you had to wait for other people *who do not understand what you do or how skilled you had to be to do it* to decide how much your work was worth.

    So you finish a PowerPoint slide and give it to you boss and the next paycheck is small…very small. You go to your boss andshe says, “Well, that slide didn’t go over well at the meeting, people really found it lacking compared to other slides, so we paid you what they thought it was worth.”

    Creative work is no less “work” than marketing, research, teaching, etc.

    I believe people ought to get paid for their work, not for what consumers of that work feel it’s worth.

    My guess is that your job is not creative or project based, because if you were a web designer or a writer, the idea of not getting paid until people decide what your worth would probably not appeal to you nearly as much.

  34. Anonymous says:

    “…3) The audience – LNs are, for the most part YA/older teen…maybe young adult… material. There are rare series which transcend this, but mostly it’s teens and early twenties…”

    Just saw a new article about this: http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2011/11/16/young_adult_novels_heating_up_the_charts/?page=full

  35. Anonymous says:

    “let’s take a look at Yen Press for a second. Kurt Hassler has probably the most intimate knowledge of the book-selling industry in the manga world right now.”

    That’s part of the problem.

    Look at it this way: aren’t you a better source of advice for selling manga than whomever has probably the most intimate knowledge of the manga-selling industry in the non-manga books world right now? Of course you are! :D

    Basically, when you want to sell X you shouldn’t rely on someone who has probably the most intimate knowledge of the X-selling industry in any non-X world right now. You should rely on people with intimate knowledge of the X-selling industry in the X world right now. :)

    Here’s an idea for the original Japanese authors and their novel publishers: sell the English-language licenses of their novels and comics *separately* despite the possible overlap (same way they already sell the English-language licenses of their comics and French-language licenses of their comics separately despite the overlap in Canada).

    This way, one can have the English translation of her or his comic sold by a company experienced in selling comics to English readers and the English translation of her or his novel sold by a company experienced in selling novels to English readers *even if they’re not the same company*.

    For example, perhaps if the Spice & Wolf or Strawberry Panic non-graphic novels had been sold in English not by Yen Press or Seven Seas but by an imprint such as

    Firebird of Penguin
    HarperTeen of HarperCollins
    Laurel-Leaf of Random House
    Push of Scholastic
    Razorbill of Penguin
    Simon Pulse of Simon & Schuster
    Speak of Penguin
    Strange Chemistry of Angry Robot

    or at least

    Haikasoru of Viz

    then maybe more copies of them would have been sold in English?

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