How to Be a Manga Publisher

Erica Friedman, President of ALC Publishing (which puts out yuri, girl/girl manga), has written a very good analysis of the manga business. (It’s also applicable to any comic publisher.) She’s tackling the question of how to get books into the hands of readers.

Fans want to buy books without pre-ordering, but there are a number of factors working against them getting what they want that way, especially from smaller publishers. Distributor quotas and procedures get in the way, too, hurdles that customers may not be aware of.

She does make one error; she says, “[Diamond] can’t resell books that have been returned to them to another bookstore.” That might be the way things should be done, but comic store retailers have reported receiving books with stickers on them from large bookstore chains, so it obviously does happen.

But to get back to her comments, I would sum them up as saying that there’s innate tension between trying to get books to everyone who wants them and making a profit. There’s some discussion in the comments of the need to create demand and awareness, as well.

One outspoken fan ignores much of the detail to insist that publishers must keep every volume of a series in print regardless of profitability. In comics, it’s often the case that publishers declare something “sold out” when plenty of copies are still available at the retail level.

This fan also says that, “Distributors and shops are nothing more than middle men who have little impact,” which just isn’t true. For comic shops, if Diamond doesn’t carry you, you don’t get ordered. For manga, the Borders chain in the US is having huge effects on publishers. (First, for making titles possible, when they agreed to carry them; now, during their cutback, causing publishers to cut back their lines in response to the possible loss of that significant market.)

I think fans can make more intelligent cases for what they want to publishers if they demonstrate an understanding of the challenges faced by publishers instead of just saying “well, you *should*”.

6 Comments

  1. Actually, not reselling bookstore returns to other bookstores isn’t even the way that it should be done. It’s a standard of the bookstore business that bookstores are only supposed to return books that are suitable for reselling. Of course, it’s a standard that’s often been violated by bookstores that felt they can push it. On the other hand, many returns had never reached shelves in the first place; they may never have left the wholesaler for a retail location.

    Diamond’s stated policy was that they wouldn’t reuse bookstore returns in the direct market; I don’t know that they’ve ever said that they wouldn’t reuse bookstore returns in the bookstore market.

  2. Since Diamond has been caught sending bookstore returns to stores in the direct market, then they’re not living up to their own policy.

  3. Johanna you misubderstood my post. What i was saying is that if your publishing a series, and it’s current, you have to ensure that there are at least some copies of the previous volumes available.

    I’m not demanding that titles be kept in print regardless of profitability, i’m asking that publishers show at least a small bit of business sense.

    If your publishing volume 5 of a series, and volumes 1-4 are out of print, that alone should tell you you need to order a new run. How many you order is based on business sense, you lok at how fast they sold, what the uptake was over the previous releases, the market at the moment and so on.

    And yes, distributors and shops only have a small impact. I’m not and never said they don’t have none, i said small. And i’m talking from experience as someone who has worked in book shops.

    All i’m asking is that publishers use the brains they’re born with and work with the fans. Rather than just publishing a title and washing their hands of it. It’s not asking a lot now is it??

  4. Yes, they’ve been caught not living up to that policy. I’m just saying that I’m not sure where Erica’s getting that they don’t reuse bookstore returns in the bookstore market (as opposed to reusing them in the DM, which was your counterexample.)

  5. “If your publishing volume 5 of a series, and volumes 1-4 are out of print, that alone should tell you you need to order a new run.”

    Not necessarily, no. Getting a book back to press can be fairly costly, and doesn’t have the quick return of initial orders that printing a new volume has. If reprinting 1-4 will get you 2000 additional customers for those volumes and for 5-6, then yes, it makes business sense. If it will generate 100 additional customers, then no, it doesn’t. You settle for only getting the existing customer base from 1-4 for 5 and 6.

  6. Tiamat, we disagree on the impact distributors and stores have. In the US comic market, the impact isn’t small, it’s huge. By their choices, they can determine what gets published.

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