Digital Manga Turns to Kickstarter to Bring Book Back in Print

Digital Manga published Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth back in 2009, and once the initial run was sold, the book went out of print. Now, they’ve set up a Kickstarter drive asking for money to reprint the book. If they raise $3,950 or more (they’re well on their way after just a day of posting), then contributors will get copies, as well as bonuses of other manga, either print or digital. Their reasoning, as posted on the site, is this:

… we’re a small company, this is an expensive book, and we can’t afford to put up the cash to reprint it. Because we love this book so much and we want Tezuka to be around in English for everyone to enjoy, we are hoping to raise funds for another printing of this important book through Kickstarter instead. All of the licensing and production work is already done, and printing and delivery should take just 30-60 days.

Congratulations to them on finding creative ways to get projects done, but my old-fashioned side says, “If you can’t raise just $4000 for a book reprint with guaranteed sales, how do you call yourself a publisher?” How close to the bone are they running things over there? Fans don’t seem to mind, though, since the highest reward level (promising, among other things, “VIP treatment at ALL future convention events we run”) has already sold out.

20 Comments

  1. I see this as bordering on abuse of the Kickstarter model. It’s not supposed to be for investing in startup companies, and this dances on the edge of that.
    I’d like to see Kickstarter take a harder line on projects like this.

  2. I wondered about that. It’s tagged as “a fiction project”, which is probably the closest category that applied, but it’s not at all similar to someone trying to get their first book published, is it? This isn’t trying to fund creativity, which is Kickstarter’s mission, but just to get people to give them money for what should be standard operating costs for a publisher.

  3. I’m running the Kickstarter for Digital Manga. I know that this may look like an unusual move, and I wanted to reassure/respond on a few points.

    1. This book is two years old, and though it would be great if we had enough cash on hand to print, store and ship all the books we want to right now, as you know that is not the place the publishing industry (and manga in particular) is in right now.

    2. This is not a charity drive. Right now this book goes for about $65 secondhand. If this campaign is a success, we will be putting new copies in people’s hands for less than half that. If it’s not a success, we move on. DMI’s survival does not depend on this campaign.

    3. This is also partly a trial for bigger and better things, which will be more in line with Kickstarter’s ideals. As I noted on the campaign, we are using this to test the waters and judge the appetite for manga on Kickstarter. If it’s there, we are considering using Kickstarter to bring new niche titles over the United States – titles that publishers would never otherwise take a chance on.

    Tough economic times mean less of a variety in manga. This could be a great way to combat that.

    I’ve read your other articles on Kickstarter and I understand your skepticism, and we’re certainly not looking to abandon the “old-fashioned” way of doing things. But right now you have to try to get ahead of the curve at the same time. Either way, thank you for giving this idea your consideration.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Ben. I was trying to indicate that some of my reaction may just be due to “that’s not how things used to be done”, and I hope that came through.

    But as a business, I would expect a printer to have a line of credit they could use, or the ability to get a business loan to cover the funding until the profit from reprinting came in. I wouldn’t expect to see them using what’s supposed to be a crowd-sourcing outlet for small, individual creators.

    Yet tools get used all the time for purposes beyond what their originators intended, and that’s sometimes how growth occurs.

  5. Thank you for posting and discussing this campaign!

    I will admit that we are doing something unusual with the site, but on the other hand it is pretty much impossible for an individual to license, produce and publish a manga from Japan on their own (legally, that is), even if that individual is the artist him/herself. To get manga onto Kickstarter will mean stretching a bit in this direction, and to get the kind of niche titles we’re considering into the States will definitely take a crowd-sourcing tool like Kickstarter.

  6. Interesting idea. I’m on the fence for self-indulgent Kickstarter campaigns — I’ve seen A LOT of those recently — and I do value the fresh approach to reprinting. Having said that, I’ve been religiously buying each and every Tezuka reprint in the last ten years, as they come out, including ‘Swallowing The Earth.’ Thanks for taking it on. I don’t know the financials on archival stuff, but I’d assume multiple reprint would be, sorta, par for the course, esp on something so important as Tezuka.

  7. ps, Ben —

    I want to say I’m on board for any true Kickstarter deal to bring over some new material. I’ll gladly drop some coin to get that over here. :P

  8. So what exactly is the problem people are having with this move? The fact that it’s a “print-on-demand” thing, or the fact that it’s a print-on-demand thing using the kickstarter platform?
    DMP is putting it simply as “we don’t have the cash flow, period” but I think it’s more likely “we’ve got money but we don’t have the luxury of incurring losses.” So printing on demand is a good strategy to make sure their costs are at least paid for upfront. I think of it as a partnership between the readers and the publisher, especially when these titles have such a small market. It’s something I wish other companies would do for their OOP volumes as well. But of course doing this is a hassle to begin with, and it brings little profit if any. So I’m kind of thankful DMP even bothers to do anything. That’s not to say I want to pledge for every friggin manga volume I’ll be getting from now on. I’m just saying it may not be such a bad compromise for obscure titles.
    As for using Kickstarter, I think it’s a matter of convenience right now. Whatever Kickstarter’s mission may be, their platform is perfect for DMP’s purpose and it’s also already established. Since this is DMP’s first pleding venture, I’m okay with it using Kickstarter since it’s better to use something that’s already up and running. If this works though, I say DMP should invest in its own pledging website for other projects. And who’s to say Kickstarter wants to restrict itself to independent projects forever? Ebay started out as an auctioning site for individuals to get rid of their junks but now we’ve got full-time businesses putting up store fronts. Evolution is key to existing.

  9. I bought this manga last year on Amazon for about $16, it’s surprising how much its spiked since then. But if this strategy were used on a manga I really want but didn’t manage to get the first time around, I’d probably participate as well. AND you’d REALLY get participation on something like this from me on a series that was dropped in the U.S. and the company was offering to revive it. Unfortunately that situation would be a lot more expensive than simply re-printing something already completed.

  10. Ashlie Patil

    Hmm…I really like this idea, and I would really support the idea of licensing obscure titles in this print-on-demand sort of way. The thing is, what does this mean for people outside the US? Not just people from Canada, but let’s say I’m living in India or something and I want Swallowing the Earth in English. I could just go on amazon or whatever and pay exorbitant amounts of money, or I could support this Kickstarter thing which would be the more complicated and frustrating option.

  11. I’m not entirely sure why this bothers some people. DMP clearly is putting its money into other big projects, but would still like to bring out another print run of Swallowing the Earth. This way, they don’t have to stretch themselves too thin financially and fans have a big say in what gets published.

  12. Hamster (hee hee), I don’t have a problem so much as questions about how this redefines the role of publisher. Traditionally, it’s been very easy to self-publish in comics, so one of the few things a publisher provides is up-front capital. If the publisher isn’t even able to do that, then what benefits do they provide? Why are they needed? Admittedly, this situation is more complicated because of the translation and license setup from another country, but it just struck me as perhaps showing us that publishers aren’t really all that necessary any more. Or at least another sign of changing times.

    From a purely customer perspective, prices are higher on Kickstarter, and there’s no way to get the discounts you get buying through Amazon or a friendly local retailer, so I prefer the choice and flexibility of traditional retail. I did send Kickstarter a query asking if they had any comment on this use of the site, but I haven’t heard anything back from them.

  13. Johanna:
    As a buyer, I also don’t want to go through this process too many times. I agree that I want my books ready to be bought and at a lower price point. I certainly don’t want the days when we’re expected to pledge for a line of things they put out because that can’t be healthy. But I give DMP the benefit of the doubt in this specific case. They could be tied up with new releases and can’t divvy their resources for a reprint. Or a reprint isn’t going to bring them profits (considering StE’s small readership share not to mention most should already own a copy the first time around). So if we want the book again we’ve got to help them help us. Maybe I’m being naive but I still see this as them going out of their way to work with the readers.
    I have to confess that I don’t really know how the publishing world operates nor do I know the financial situation at DMP. But I’d imagine this pledging thing to be a special case, so that even if it were to repeat in the future, it’d be reserved for similarly obscure titles that weren’t going to be published otherwise (as said by DMP rep). If you think of it as a system for only collector’s titles, it’s not so tedious anymore. A small price to pay if they bring over, say, Rose of Versailles ^_^’

  14. I’m not sure what they’re planning for the future. Their patten so far (back from the days of asking fans to preorder through them through the Guild free labor situation) has been shifting the risk to their buyers. From their perspective, that makes perfect sense — why risk money they don’t have to? This seems like more of a sure thing than future choices, though, since they have back issue prices as an indicator that there’s still active demand.

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  16. […] the success of their Swallowing the Earth Kickstarter to bring a licensed title back into print, Digital Manga Publishing has launched a new Tezuka […]

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