Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why large publishers fail with Manga

About two years ago, the largest Dutch publisher of magazines and other media came to me for advise. They saw that manga was coming and wanted a piece of the cake. I advised them not to, even when it would have made manga known throughout the whole country.
Why? It would have ruined everything we worked for.

As I said, some time ago Sanoma came to me for advise. It was not long after talking to some of their colleagues/competitors in Germany, France and Belgium that they came to this idea. One of their German colleagues, Egmont Manga und Anime, had stepped into the manga market three years before that. It took some getting used to, but eventually good titles were licensed and manga was becoming more known by the general public. Not before long they put manga in all stores that had books, including gas stations, local foodstores and kiosks. In just a few years the manga situation had changed completely, instead of only being sold from comic stores and a few book stores there was general availability now. The business was booming.

As Sanoma talked with Egmont, they saw that manga was booming. In Germany about 70% of his sales were from manga. Sanoma was missing out on something that not only hot in Germany, but in France, UK and Belgium as well. Time to do something about it. They had only one problem: they wanted profit, fast!

We met. We talked. He realised how manga works, I realised it was never going to happen. Their idea was to take a series that was wanted by the public, publish three to five pockets, sell lots of them and then quit the series. They never considered that most series have 10+ pockets and some way more than that. Initially they still wanted to publish only the first few pockets and then let the public plunge into a big gaping hole since the end of the series would never be published.
A second phenomenon they heard about was the anthology. Apparently they thought that these weekly or bi-weekly bundles of manga stories could be read separately. They never thought that if they started with an anthology, they would have to continue to publish it for some years to come.

They didn't like what I told them. I said that if they wanted to start publishing manga, they first had to commit themselves to published it several years. At that time, and still, manga wasn't very well known. They would have to use their PR to make manga known, interesting and marketable. And that costed more money than they wanted to spend. As I said, they thought it was an undiscovered market for Holland and if they were the first to enter that market, profits would be high and quick. My largest objection was that they thought the manga market was ripe for plucking for a year or two and then drop it entirely. Such methods are typical for large companies.

Now, other companies are starting to publish manga as well. If Sanoma started now, they would not be the first anymore and that would lower their profits considerably. I'm glad they decided not to start with manga. Though it would make manga known throughout the country quickly, it would also be just a hype. Come and gone in a year. After such hype, it's very difficult to keep a market running.
Therefor, I liked a slower approach much more. With AniWay we gradually introduced anime and manga to a public not familiar with the Japanese entertainment. AniWay took a big step by going to the general book stores instead of only the comic stores, but it is too early to tell how much impact AniWay has had on the general public and if manga will continue to become just as important in Holland as it is in Germany.

Next time, I'll tell why I think Kana can succeed in introducing manga to the general public.


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