Digital Manga Tezuka Kickstarter Fails Miserably

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 Tezuka Kickstarter

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:

Kicktraq Daily Pledges

Kicktraq Daily Pledges

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.


Yen Press Rescues Kaoru Mori’s Emma

Emma by Kaoru Mori

This was announced last month at the New York Comic Con, I think, but the book is now available for pre-order. I’m thrilled to hear that the manga Emma is coming back into print from Yen Press. They currently release A Bride’s Story by the same author, Kaoru Mori, as well as a one-shot of her shorter pieces, Anything and Something.

Emma was previously published in the US from 2006-2009 by CMX, the now-defunct manga imprint of DC Comics. It’s the story of a Victorian maid and the young man of good family who falls in love with her. They struggle to overcome class differences while Mori draws the details of their life and her work in attractive, well-researched detail.

Yen will be publishing it in hardcover volumes. The first is due out next May. The list price is currently $35, which is a lot, but I’m unclear on whether it will contain the equivalent of two or three paperbacks. There were 10 volumes published previously, plus a related single volume, Shirley, which contained short stories done before the longer series. Yen might be doing five two-book volumes or four three-book ones with extras. Either way, I’m glad to see it available again. It’s a good read that I’m sure more people would like to enjoy.


We Talk Recently Read Manga in Bookmarked!

I was honored to be asked to participate in this week’s Bookmarked!, a column where Kate Dacey, Brigid Alverson, and a guest talk casually about what they’re reading this week.

Learn what I thought about the fifth volumes of the series What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Genshiken Second Season, and Judge, as well as a quick take on The Garden of Words. There’s also talk about Legal Drug and some other Vertical titles.


Vertical Announces Digital Tezuka Coming

On their Tumblr, Vertical Comics has announced that all of the titles they publish by Osamu Tezuka will be available digitally in coming months. They plan to start with the out-of-print titles, Apollo’s Song and Black Jack (17 books).

Unlike other manga publishers, Vertical doesn’t have their own app nor do they use ComiXology. Their digital books will be available through “the Apple iBookstore, Kindle, Nook, and hopefully Google Play”. They’re planning for 2-3 books added every 2-3 weeks. Future titles include:


How Manga Pricing Works

Over at the Diagonal, the Vertical Tumblr, Ed Chavez, the Marketing Director for the notable manga publisher, has put out some insight into how manga volumes are priced. (I’m assuming that Ed handles the Tumblr. It’s not credited.)

Vertical logo

First, in relation to an announcement of two upcoming titles, a fan complains that the seinen titles (those manga aimed at adult males) are priced at $13 instead of $10. The response includes some key facts about Vertical’s pricing:

  • All seinen releases are at least $12.95. This is due to the inclusion of color pages and the bigger format size.
  • Hardcovers are priced at $20 or above.
  • The price points for the company have stayed the same for six years.
  • Shonen and shojo titles are priced at $10.95
  • In Japan, seinen titles are also usually more expensive that shonen and shojo.
  • This is due to seinen generally selling less than the younger-focused genres.

A later post lists all of Vertical’s titles, with prices, since 2009. There’s a good discussion of pricing decisions there, based on the success of the market. I’m impressed to see a publisher being so open.


Sherlock Bones Book 7

The series comes to an abrupt end in this final volume of Sherlock Bones.

Book 7 starts by wrapping up the plastic surgery case from Book 6 with help from friend and journalist-in-training Miki. I wish we’d seen more of her work, but she’s treated like an information source, a way to explain Takeru getting certain bits of data without having to pound the pavement himself.

As usual, the detective team with dog doesn’t do much deduction — instead, they hypothetize and then find proof for their assumptions. The driving impulse is to confront the murderer with enough evidence that he confesses (a strategy I’m told is typical of Japanese crime investigation). That’s the standard wrap up to these stories, with Takeru and the criminal playing verbal ping-pong with bits of evidence and contradiction until the bad guy gives up.

There are two more cases in this final volume, making it jam-packed with crime. The first focuses on former classmate Nanami, who’s become a policewoman. She’s working the traffic beat with an older mentor when she’s framed for causing an accident. The few chapters are also an indictment of texting while driving.

The last case, an abbreviated one, involves a murdered actor, but the real drama comes when Takeru’s partner becomes suspicious of why he’s bringing a dog everywhere. He says, “I notice that every time you make any astute observation, it’s after that dog barks or makes some other sound.” Amusingly, the partner goes on to assume that Takeru isn’t smart enough to make the successes he’s achieved, so the dog must be of genius level. Sherdog will magically become just another puppy if he’s discovered, so Takeru has to tackle this one on his own.

The final, rushed chapter explains what’s going on with Sherdog and throws in plenty of fanservice on top. (Particularly Takeru’s well-built sister, who rushes in strangely wearing a shirt that says “Interrupting Boobs” all over it.) There’s a substantial setup for a historical mystery, dealing with Sherdog’s origin, but it will never be resolved, as there’s a brief author’s note at the end mentioning that “Sherlock Bones had to get put on hiatus” and hoping that there’s opportunity for a sequel some day. I don’t know what the circumstances there were, but I’m guessing low sales or better opportunity elsewhere for one of the creators. At least everything wraps up reasonably well.