Last month, on October 21, Digital Manga launched a Kickstarter to publish in print many of Osamu Tezuka’s lesser-known works (since the best-known, like Phoenix, Black Jack, Princess Knight, and Message to Adolf have already been handled by other publishers, mostly Vertical). It was incredibly aggressive, seeking $380,000 in a month, to put out 31 books in six series. They ended up with just under $27,000, or about 7% of their goal, a significant failure. Given that their previous most successful Kickstarter only raised $49,411, this isn’t surprising.
Digital Manga first began running Kickstarters three years ago, first to reprint a traditionally published Tezuka work, and then, when that was successful, to publish a new book, Barbara. This strategy caused a good amount of debate. Later that year (2012), they put all releases on hiatus, before returning to publish in 2013. As far as I know, their previous Kickstarter promises were fulfilled. (And they were trying to move funding to their customers even earlier, offering preorders to secure sales as far back as 2009.)
This latest effort, though, stunned fans and commenters in its audacity and the amount asked for. There’s a catch, too — the $380,000 would only cover two of the titles, 20 books. To actually get all the books that were being promised as rewards, the company wanted stretch goals that totaled $589,000. That’s ridiculous, and it makes the campaign appear to be launching with false advertising. Sure, some Kickstarters have made that much, but those were ones with a much more widespread, current audience and more modern works.
All 31 of these books were promised to appear next year, an ambitious schedule for a company that has only put out 20 releases in 2014 so far, with nothing coming out since September (based on comic shop data). The books were promised with a cover price of $14 each, which adds up to a total of $434 if you were to buy all of them as a bookstore customer.
The reward tiers are rather complicated, as can be seen by the company having to use spreadsheets to indicate what promised items would be sent to whom depending on how much money they got. Many of the tiers used goodies and giveaway-style items — keychains, tote bags, posters, and other ephemera.
Quickly, the company added a reward of just all the printed books — but you needed to pledge $750, or about $24 a title. (I’m unclear on whether the tiers included shipping. If not, that makes for an even higher price. And at holiday time, when money can be tight, between gifts and travel costs.) That’s a lot for standard paperback format manga, without hardcovers or other upscale packaging. They later added a tier with $420 for all the books in digital, which comes a lot closer to cover price, and changed the all books level to $650 for print and digital.
This was stated to be based on feedback, which I read as their response to fans saying, “I’m not paying that.” While it’s a good thing to be responsive, this thrashing about gives the impression of a company that doesn’t quite know what it’s doing, or at least hasn’t thought things through. They seem to be wanting to see fans as a bank for their desires instead of a community that needs to be nurtured and might revolt. Many potential buyers complained that while they would support the release of all the books, they couldn’t commit such a large amount all at once.
The company president, Hikaru Sasahara, released a video and a statement, which began
We have recently learned that some of the backers voiced a concern that our tier pledges are too pricy and we would like to address explanations to this particular issue as we firmly believe our pricing is appropriate and legitimate.
That’s not helpful. If potential customers are saying, “no, I won’t pay, it’s too much”, responding, “is not!” doesn’t address the issue. I suspect that point is when many fans simply gave up on the effort. This chart from Kicktraq supports that assumption, with very little activity after the first week:
The president’s statement continued:
There are certain technical issues that are involved in our current endeavors of bringing the entire Osamu Tezuka manga library to the world and that may be difficult for the majority backers to understand.
So not only are people not supporting them wrong, they’re also ignorant. Someone get this guy a competent PR person, stat! You think I’m joking, but one of their project updates was an ad for a Sales Marketing Manga Specialist.
Seriously, the “invisible costs” he talks about are those that are typical of a publisher’s responsibilities — enough staff to do a good job, travel costs to work with the property owner, and so on. He also emphasizes how they want to get out all of Tezuka’s works in 5-6 years instead of 50-60. That’s admirable, but it may not be a goal the market can bear, and your accelerated schedule isn’t my problem. Perhaps your company, at its current size, isn’t the right venue for this, although I know that’s not an option under consideration. He acted as though customers weren’t flocking to the project because they didn’t understand, when the case was that they disagreed with the strategy and approach.
Another bobble — a week into the project, they noticed that Kickstarter rules prohibited “coupons and gift cards” so they had to change their rewards from an online bookstore gift card to a digital book.
Digital Manga Kickstarters have succeeded in the past with a relatively few number of backers. They have deep, not wide, support, which meant that they were trying to distribute a much greater amount of money across relatively few people. Given their $650 book level, they would have needed over 900 backers to pledge at that level. They got 115. Were they expecting the loyal to subsidize production (and pay extra per book) so they could price the individual releases lower later?
Their followup FAQ says, “we will rethink our overall kickstarter strategy in terms on tiers/stretch goals, etc, to meet the needs of our backers.” Let’s hope so.