Kodansha USA to Replace Del Rey Manga at Random House

Kodansha Comics logo

Looks like Andre’s speculation was right after all. Kodansha USA Publishing just sent out the following press release:

Kodansha and Random House Transform and Expand Their U.S. Manga Publishing Relationship

Kodansha Ltd. and Random House Inc. have announced their plans to change and expand their manga publishing relationship in North America. The companies are shifting from a licensing relationship to a sales and distribution arrangement as of December 1, 2010.

The current relationship between Kodansha and Random House began in 2003, with the first titles debuting in 2004 under the latter’s Del Rey Manga imprint. Since then, more 500 volumes have been published, including many bestselling manga series.

Kodansha Comics logo

Under the new arrangement, Kodansha’s subsidiary, Kodansha USA Publishing, LLC, established in 2008 and led by Yoshio Irie, will be publishing Kodansha-originated manga themselves directly in the U.S. English-language market with strong support from Random House Publisher Services (RHPS), Random House’s third-party distribution division. Del Rey Manga associate publisher Dallas Middaugh will remain with the program, transferring to RHPS.

“We are very excited to extend our relationship with Random House,” said Yoshio Irie, president and CEO of Kodansha USA Publishing. “Both companies see opportunity in the American manga market, and we look forward to working together to further the distribution and exposure of manga in the United States.”

“We are thrilled to have a publisher as distinctive as Kodansha USA Publishing join the Random House Publisher Services portfolio,” said Jeff Abraham, the division’s president. “Kodansha is one of the great worldwide publishing brands for the manga category, and we will do everything to support their efforts with our many booksellers and distributors who love selling manga titles.”

Del Rey’s ongoing manga titles which were licensed by Kodansha will be gradually taken over by Kodansha USA Publishing on a per-title basis.

So Del Rey Manga is going away in favor of the Kodansha branding beginning at the end of this year. That makes a certain amount of sense for Kodansha — this should buy them U.S. market presence easily. It remains to be seen which titles get transferred, or whether this change causes reevaluation of what should be released.

Update: This Publishers Weekly article has a few more details on the business structure and Kodansha USA history.

Kodansha USA will be under the direction of president and CEO Yoshio Irie, who is based in Tokyo. The US branch will be lead by general manager Kumi Shimizu in New York. This is the part that might be of concern:

While Irie emphasized that KUP will gradually take over Del Rey’s licensed manga, he also said that they will evaluate each series on a per-title basis to decide which series KUP has “the capacity” to continue.

For those sympathetic to anyone losing their job during these tough times, this part is also not promising:

Although a Random House spokesperson told PW that the new arrangement would not affect non-manga graphic novels published by Villard/Del Rey, they declined to comment on the status of remaining Del Rey Manga staff, such as licensing manager Mutsumi Miyazaki and editor Tricia Narwani, who have both worked with Del Rey Manga line virtually since its beginning.

Irie wants to “expand the manga market in the U.S.“ both through Kodansha US Publishing as well as “continued licensing of Kodansha manga to other licensees.”

Update 2: Reactions are fearful, for the most part, based on Kodansha USA’s iffy track record so far. Retailer Christopher Butcher says, “there hasn’t been a worse publisher launch in the last 5 years than that of Kodansha USA.” He bases this statement on their missing release dates, high prices, poor publication quality, and their lack of communication. The thing is, he’s right about all of that, and fans know it.

David Welsh, for example, wonders what will happen to Del Rey Manga’s backlist. Will those books be kept in print by Kodansha?

It gets worse, though. On Twitter, Butcher speculates that “30-40 percent of the Del Rey line is done.” Sometimes original publishers tend to have, let’s say, generous expectations as to how much money they should make from their works in new markets. If the decision-makers aren’t as familiar with the current state of the U.S. market as they should be, then we might be seeing higher prices and fewer releases.

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