Kodansha to Open U.S. Subsidiary; Manga Pricing to Change?

Currently, Del Rey Manga is mostly titles licensed from Japanese manga publisher Kodansha. Now, as Brigid reports, Kodansha plans to open their own American office.

Many questions result. Del Rey isn’t concerned — their licenses are proceeding as planned. Chris Butcher reports that Tokyopop cancelled Beck, a Kodansha title, but that might also be due to lower sales or Tokyopop’s own problems.

The most interesting aspect of this for me so far is the speculation on what this might mean for manga pricing. Comments at Brigid’s site bring up the question, and it’s something I’ve been wondering about as well. While re-reading manga reference books this past weekend, I noticed that many of them brought up the fact that manga might sell so well in Japan because it’s so cheap. In the U.S., digests are $8-11, but in Japan, the collections are one-third or one-half that price.

When Del Rey entered the market, they established a standard price for their books of $10.95 when others were $9.95. DMP prices at $12.95 for a larger-sized book with slipcover. New publisher Aurora copied Del Rey’s price of $10.95. Viz was the only major publisher to go the other direction, with titles at $7.99 (for boys) or $8.99 (for girls).

Now, a Japanese publisher is coming over here. Is it possible that prices will decrease? I’d welcome it, but most customers who buy multiple titles are cheap that way. (They want more books without spending more.) Others have speculated that IF they decrease prices, they’ll have to give up paper or book quality.

I guess the question is whether manga buyers really want high-quality presentation (yes, if they read and reread their volumes) or cheaper prices (yes, if they want to keep up with lots of series). Or maybe, through economies of scale, Kodansha could provide both. Or maybe neither, if they have a different strategy or just want to cut out some of the middlemen. For now, it’s wait and see.

23 Comments

  1. Viz only offers cheaper prices for manga they publish under their Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat imprints. Additionally, aside from DH’s higher quality paper, Japanese books are actually better because:
    1. Most American publishers follow TP’s rigid, slipcover-less style (and TP designs their own horrid covers)
    2. Japanese manga are printed on smoother newsprint; American manga on rough newsprint
    3. Most importantly, Japanese printing is of a much higher quality than American, which is pretty awful.

  2. Isn’t a big part of the pricing scheme for Japanese manga because they originally offer the stories in magazine, subsidizing the cost of everything with advertising? I mean, the volumes of Shonen Magazine that I picked up while I was over there are made from cheap-ass paper. I’d have to imagine that printing those, especially with very little color, has to be cost-effective.

  3. It’s true that the US versions of the manga magazines are printed on better paper, but they are consequently more expensive.

    I don’t know whether the adverts subsidize or not, but I would like to know. Still, comics that had never been serialized are still generally cheaper in Japan than the US. At any rate, US pricing is still much too high, especially considering OEL manga (whether you think the OEL is too expensive, or the manga is too expensive, they should not share the same price). Plus, US gets a decent amount of exposure, considering the recent “comics are not just for kids” movement, although obviously it is not on the same scale as Japan’s advertising.

    I heard a statistic once that roughly the same percentage of the US population reads manga as the Japanese population. Can anyone verify this?

  4. @nakano I’d find that rather hard to believe.

    I can understand the US price point, beacuse you’re adding in licensing and translator costs. The only cost you’re cutting out from this is the licensing. While that’s a big chunk of money, that’s only up front costs. I don’t think they could push down the price much lower than what viz does for Shonen Jump/Shoujo Beat.

  5. @DickMcVengeance: true. I’m trying to figure out where I saw that.

    As for US prices, how does that explain other countries low price points (e.g. Korean translations are pretty much the same price as Japanese originals)? I suspect it might have started with one company starting off with a high price (when manga was rarer) and everyone just followed that.

    BUT, assuming the US prices for translated manga are justified, I can’t understand why I would have to pay the same price for a OEL manga (maybe the artist gets a bigger cut of the profits? I have no idea).

  6. Uh…American graphic novels usually cost 15 or so. Less people in American read comics at all, whether Japanese manga or amecomi…so both cost more than they do in Japan. When I buy a volume of manga in the US, I don ‘t compare it to the prices of the Japanese market, I compare it to the prices of the American market.

    It’s largely an issue of scale. Just as Viz’s Shounen Jump can be sold for 7-8, Marvel can sell it’s Runaways or Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane tankobon-sized volumes for 8 (including color pages), since they have a wider appeal.

  7. […] for the day: Simon Jones ponders Kodansha’s plans to publish manga in the United States. Johanna Draper Carlson, meanwhile, wonders if the move will lead to lower manga […]

  8. […] maybe, just maybe, they know what they are doing. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson wonders whether this move will cause prices to drop across the board. And here’s an interesting […]

  9. @anonymous: It’s true that American GN are more expensive, but the US comics industry is different from the Japanese industry.

    Besides, when I buy a tankobon, I’m not happy with the price because it’s fair compared to other American comics. I’m irritated because it’s pricier than that same comic translated in other countries, and two-to-five times more expensive than the original, for significantly worse quality, and usually a large number of mistakes.

    Additionally, I bought Watchmen last year for 1.5x the price of a tankobon (list price is 2x), but it is over twice the size of a manga (thicker than one volume and roughly twice the size), full color with better print quality on better paper and no mistakes. I also remember as a kid paying less than five bucks for Betty and Veronica and Archie digests and double digests, which at 200 or so pages are the same number of pages as manga, but in full color with no mistakes, and many more (credited) artists and writers than a volume of manga. (I just saw the newer style, which is a strange turn considering the old feel of the comics, and the new Sabrina is hideously unacceptable.)

    So comparing it to US comics, I still believe the pricing is unjustified.

  10. 3. Most importantly, Japanese printing is of a much higher quality than American, which is pretty awful.

    That’s actually untrue. Japanese GN use a lower quality, high acid paper that yellows quickly with age, the pages are smaller, the cover stock is thinner and prone to bending, the binding is cheaper and prone to breaking, and US b/w illustration printing has improved to the point that it’s on par (and often even SURPASSES–just use a loop and see) the Japanese versions. The only reason you get fuzzy b/w printing anymore is a result of publishers new to b/w illustration printing not knowing what they’re doing yet.

    However, I’d still take that for the lower price point in sacrifice of quality ANYTIME. I have Sailor Moon, Utena, and You Higuri graphic novels that are all over ten years old, and even though they’re yellowed and bent and the binding is broken in spots, it doesn’t detract from my re-reading enjoyment. I’m not an archivist; they don’t need to last fifty years.

    I also like the idea of removable slip covers because then book stores can return them by removing the sleeve instead of ripping off the cover, though quality-wise, I think the printed non-slip covers in the US are a higher print and paper quality as well, especially the ones that have the special sealant inside that keep them from bending in high humidity or overuse.

  11. “That’s actually untrue.”

    I should probably have said, “This is currently untrue.” The first several months of most new GN publishers in the US have all had bad printing, Tokyopop being the worst culprit in their first year (though IMHO, they now have the best printing of anybody) and even including Del Rey in their first few runs of Othello. But it seems most everybody has learned the hard way and caught up in print quality.

  12. And don’t forget that many publishers are now printing collected omnibuses, usually containing three volumes for $12.95 which are actually a BETTER deal than the Japanese versions. Unfortunately, they seem difficult to come by outside of bookstores. I don’t seem to see them listed either on Amazon or publishers’ websites. I’m not really sure what’s going on with that.

  13. @Rivkah:
    I agree that Del Rey is a really great publisher. But aren’t omnibuses only released after the original publication reaches completion? The only exception I’ve seen is a title originally run by CMX (I think) but was picked up by Tokyopop.

    While I was talking about Japanese printing as opposed to US in general, I think the ink is still a little heavier than Japanese printing, and feels a somewhat gritty. I think that US technology is probably just not there yet, which is why art books etc. are usually printed in Japan (although admittedly, I haven’t done any research into this topic). I agree that US quality has improved significantly, largely thanks to companies like Del Rey and (feel free to disagree) Viz. On a side note, I think ICE Kunion does a nice job as well, despite being hard to find (Hissing??), choppy translation, and nonexistent website.

    My comments on the covers is really just my personal opinion, because I think the slipcovers look a little nicer and the US covers get ruined too easily (which is why I can’t buy manga at B&N often). Also, since the volumes are larger and thicker on average, they take up more of my precious bookshelf space (I double-shelf now) :).

    Sorry, can you explain what you mean about ripping off slipcovers?
    And yes, lower prices are a definite must.

    Random question: are you Rivkah the cartoonist?

  14. “But aren’t omnibuses only released after the original publication reaches completion?”

    Depends on the publisher. I know that Tsubasa and Fruits Basket both have omnibus editions and neither are completed yet.

    “I think that US technology is probably just not there yet, which is why art books etc. are usually printed in Japan”

    That used to be the case, but a lot of US companies go to Canada for high quality printing now and since the value of the dollar has plummeted, I wouldn’t be surprised to see much of what’s being printed out-of-country imported back to the US, which means increased demand, which means more money for printers, which means (hopefully) more money for better equipment. A lot of US printers are still functioning on equipment decades old . . . but not all.

    The majority of US printers are used to printing either b/w text or 4-color CMYK books. Until a decade or so ago, the idea of B/W illustration printing was relatively foreign to publishers and printers alike and few new how to handle it well. So even while many may have had the equipment to print truly stellar b/w illustration printing, few knew how to process it. Color is handled at 300 dpi in a computer while b/w illustration is handled at 1200+ dpi, but many publishers and printers handled those b/w images at 300dpi, as though they were color. When color is printed at 300 dpi, that means EACH CHANNEL is 300 dpi, making four channels (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black), meaning that 300 dpi in color is actually 1200 dpi. Any higher, and the colors start to muddy. But if you’re working in b/w, that’s only one channel at 300 dpi, not four. To compensate, b/w should be printed/scanned at NO LESS than 1200 dpi, and I’ve seen far higher because you can actually benefit in b/w printing from some of the dot gain (when droplets of ink start to get so close, they begin to bleed into each other).

    Anyway, it’s actually all far more complex than that, but you get the gist that it isn’t so much that we aren’t capable of very fine printing in the US so much as this particular type of printing still being a relatively new and previous rarely used process. :)

    “Sorry, can you explain what you mean about ripping off slipcovers.”

    When bookstores return books because they aren’t selling, they often rip off the covers to indicate they’re returns. What sucks about this is that publishers then can’t resell the books. Using slipcovers (as they do in Japan and for hardcover books) enable bookstores to remove the cover (indicating a return) without damaging the actual book. The publisher then receives the returned book (sans slipcover) and if they wish to turn around and resell it to another bookstore/distributor/etc, then they can either print more slipcovers or print new slipcovers (to make them seem different and new).

    “Random question: are you Rivkah the cartoonist?”

    LOL. Yes. But I ran a publishing company for two years before getting into graphic novels, and six years before that working in the print industry in general. Print is my passion. :)

    As for why OEL is the same price point, according to TP, our books were theoretically more expensive to produce because of cost of time with editors, promotion, etc. Considering my (previous) editor didn’t once give me feedback on my books and that there were over 150+ mistakes (ALL of them TP’s fault, btw, and not all of them typos: wrong characters speaking, missing dialog and balloons, pages missing, etc) in my first book, I’m not sure what they were talking about.

    IMHO, I’d have preferred all three of my books in a single, cheaper edition as well. The story was really written to be read as a single volume, not three.

  15. (on quality of printing manga in the US:)

    I forgot to mention as well sometimes with licensed properties, there are no digital files (not everybody’s in the digital age!), and the publishers (or creators) aren’t about to send the originals overseas for rescanning, so all that was left to the publishers to use were to scan the printed versions. You can imagine the trouble with that already . . .

  16. “Depends on the publisher. I know that Tsubasa and Fruits Basket both have omnibus editions and neither are completed yet.”
    But aren’t the omnibuses for previously published volumes?

    “They often rip off the covers to indicate they’re returns.”
    Ah, how infuriating. I used to obsess over the little warnings in books that said if you bought a book with no cover, it was a stolen book. I could never understand why anyone would rip off a cover… until now. And it sounds like it only screws over the publisher, to boot.

    “LOL. Yes. But I ran a publishing company for two years before getting into graphic novels, and six years before that working in the print industry in general. Print is my passion.”

    Interesting, and interesting. I’ve always wondered what TP’s OEL cartoonists had to say about the job.

    I tried to do some research on print several years ago, but my math skills aren’t that great, so the correct combinations of the image’s dpi with the printer’s dpi tired me.

    “Our books were theoretically more expensive to produce because of cost of time with editors, promotion, etc.”
    I kind of figured that would be the reason, but it seems like they spent the most time and money on Keroro Gunso, Princess Ai, Meg Cabot’s stuff, and Fruit Basket, so I couldn’t understand the price. It’s nice to hear an explanation (^-^)

    “wrong characters speaking”
    Oh man, that’s the worst! It took me years to figure out why some of the scenes in Mars and Marmalade Boy (my first TP comics) didn’t make sense. It must be really frustrating that they added so many mistakes. I make enough on my own, so to have even more would drive me nuts _

    “Scan the printed versions.”
    Yeah, I used to wonder how publishers did that stuff, especially when you could see some of the Japanese in the text bubbles they forgot to erase. After seeing some Japanese originals (which, as you would expect, have the text on a separate sheet of paper to be typed up), I kind of figured that’s what they do some of the time.

  17. *nuts.

  18. If anyone rips the cover of a manga in the US, They’re Doing It Wrong. At Barnes & Noble, and I’m sure it’s the same at other major bookstores, all manga is coded as a Vendor Return, not a Strip Cover. So when we return manga, we send the whole volume back.

    Strip Cover returns are mainly Mass-Market Paperbacks, like the kind you’d find in a grocery store. It’s very rare that a Trade Paperback is a Strip Cover (usually Kensington romance novels).

  19. @carpboy: Very cool to hear how they actually do it. Can you explain what coding as a Vendor Return is? Thanks.

  20. Nakano:

    Publishers that sell books on a returnable basis can accept returns on those books in one of two ways. Either they require that the retailer return the entire book in order to receive the return credit, or they require that the retailer strip off the front cover and return that for credit (trusting that the retailer will destroy the now-coverless books.)

    From what carpboy describes, Barnes & Noble records which books are to be returned in which way. So something that is coded as a “Vendor Return” would be returned as whole copies, and something that is coded as a strip return will have stripped covers returned.

  21. interesting. Thanks!

  22. […] of the commenters points out that Kindaichi is a Kodansha title, so with their US branch opening, maybe there’s hope yet to see more translated into […]

  23. @DickMcVengeance

    Japnese manga magazines don’t feature that many advertisements and usually do not make much profit, some are even in the red.

    Manga magazines are not supposed to make any money in Japan. They just are a way to advertize the content that will be published in collected volumes later. -That- is where the money is.

    So unlike US publishers who have to promote and series they publish, Japanese publishers only have to promote their magazines and a few flagship series to lure people to buy/read the magazines, then hopefully the’d like one of the minor series too.

    Japanese mangas are not subzidized by the magazines. It’s the other way around.

    Manga magazines is like TV and tankobons are the DVD’s. Series like Heroes were a hit on DVD because millions of people saw them on TV before. Same reasoning with manga magazines. You buy a cheap magazine with 12 to 20 different series and then buy the tankobons of the series you really like.

    So it does not matter if the magazines make the publisher lose money as long as they earn more with the collected volumes.

    As for the US, I think it is more that
    publishers don’t see an incentive to lower their prices unless the competion starts first (a la Tokyopop) so they will continue selling manga as if it was a luxury item until a courageous publisher decides to further slash down the prices.

    Manga will not become much more popular in the US unless it becomes truly cheap with a price range of $2 to $6.

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