Digital Manga Adds Exclusivity to Kickstarters

Digital Manga logo

This interview with Hikaru Sasahara, president of Digital Manga, the company struggling with how to publish more works by Osamu Tezuka after their massive Kickstarter failed, has some new information I found surprising and troubling. Near the end come these paragraphs:

The failure of DMP’s ambitious Kickstarter does not mean the end of DMP’s Tezuka program. Sasahara has planned all along to publish some Tezuka titles digitally via DMP’s Digital Manga Guild. In that system, the publisher, licensor, and localizing team (usually a translator, editor, and letterer) all defer payment until the book is published and then take a share of the revenue.

Digital Manga logo

Oh, good. Let’s have fans handle translation for these most-important books. That’ll make for quality, consistent releases.

There’s one more twist: DMP’s Kickstarter funded books will only be available to purchase directly from DMP. However, once books are in print, Sasahara told PW, DMP will look to find a distributor to get the books into the library market.

“Outside of the library, we are thinking to limit Tezuka books only to our direct-to-customer channel, [meaning] all the backers of the Kickstarter campaign would be the first ones to get the book,” he said. DMP has excluded the Tezuka titles from its usual distribution contracts; Sasahara said they will not be distributed to retail stores or to Amazon but will only be available directly from the publisher.

This is stupid, short-term thinking, although I can see where it would seem desirable to blackmail fans to get those Kickstarter pledges up. If Tezuka works are so important to share in English, making the books available for purchase only through them is counter-productive. Avoiding the usual retail channels means that Digital Manga makes a lot more per book, but it makes these books seem like specialty products, not suitable for a general audience. Maybe that’s the right way to go, but it seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. And one bound to create declining audiences, as the same few customers eventually get tapped out.

Marketing to a wider group increases potential for sales, but it is another cost associated with the product. If a publisher can’t afford to market a major new line of releases, though, then the question once again arises: how much of a real publisher are they?

And if you try to keep books from Amazon, here’s what will happen. Someone will start buying books from Digital Manga and then reselling them on Amazon at a higher price to catch the customers who would rather shop there, from a known quantity that meets its deadlines.

By the way, the latest Digital Manga Kickstarter is about halfway there, and scheduled to end right around Christmas, so they likely won’t get a big last day bump. If this one fails, I don’t know what will happen.

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