At the recent “State of the Manga Industry” panel at NYCC, representatives from manga publishers from Del Rey, Viz. and Tokyopop talked about the health of manga sales and fielded questions and concerns. As a whole, they agreed that the industry was “strong and healthy”, with titles shaking out into one of three categories; the “definitely will sell” or A list titles, the “probably will sell”or B list titles, and the “must compete to sell” or C list titles, which is where the majority of titles fall. The big issue is of course with the last category; how to get these books into the right hands. Promoting awareness of titles was mentioned as a problem for all publishers.

Why? Even if most of the sales of titles come from brick and mortar retail, getting the word out about titles shouldn’t be such an issue in the internet age. If manga publishers would make better use of their online resources, C list titles would have a better chance. Here are some things I think they should consider.

1. Put volumes online to read

At the panel, ANN reported that “In fact, Tokyopop has found that, after it launched an online promotion that made each volume of Loveless available to read online for one day during the week leading up to Valentine’s Day earlier this year, bookstore sales increased for all of the volumes in the series.” This isn’t an isolated incident. Other authors such as science author Scott Sigler and Excel expert Bill Jelen have shown that making ebook versions of printed titles available have increase sales of the printed version. Most publishers do have previews of some of their titles online, but it’s mostly their A list titles. These aren’t the ones that need the addition promotion.

Putting up half or all of volumes of C list titles will give readers a chance to peruse the book, just as they could if they were at the bookstore. Worrying about piracy shouldn’t be an issue at this point. With kids sitting in Barnes and Noble reading the books for free anyway (and making them unsaleable in the process, another cost to manga publishers I believe), little is being lost. So, no DRM, and don’t limit it to just Internet Explorer. Not everyone is on Windows. And, let’s face it, a Google search of “online manga” will find a lot of titles available to read for free anyway. I get hits everyday on my blog from people looking to read manga online. Manga publishers should be driving these hit to their websites though, where the publishers can have links to buy the titles and others, get the eyes for their own inhouse/sponsor ads, and reading official translations, and not scanalations of licensed manga. Come on guys, there are programmers out there that are writing and selling software for viewing manga online because they see it as “very unsaturated and a great oppoprtunity to make money”. Everyone else can see it, why can’t you?

2. Organize Your Website for Easier Navigation

Tokyopop used to have good site navagation, until they went to their “2.0″ version, which screwed everything up. Manga was easy to search and navigate, with visitors able to search by title, genre, and age rating. A search for a title would give you a title’s main page with links to other volumes. Of course, in their infinite wisdom, they “updated” the site and completed lost all these options, and users had to fight to get them back. But, I’ll leave that for another post. I’ve got ALOT to say about TP’s website. These three categories are the ideal options for visitors looking for a title. Like a library or bookstore, you go to the section that has the books you want to browse. A publisher’s website should be set up the same way. Keep the surfing experience similar to the shopping experience. Visitors shouldn’t have to be searching through your website to find something. Parents should be able to search by age rating to find titles appropriate for the child, and not click every single link to see what the rating is (CMX). The same goes for genre. A sci-fi fan shouldn’t have to wade through all the shojo to try find a title they’re interested in.

Viz brought this up, and I’ve been saying it since the problem of mature manga first came up sometime last year. Manga needs to get out into the general population in bookstores and not tucked away in the back past the sci-fi/fantasy. Stocking by genre will get the right books infront of the right eyes. Right now, it’s just a sea of books with different logos for different companies on the spine. Get the romances into the romance section, mysteries with the mystery section, horror in the horror section. Manga covers such diverse topics, that lumping it all together in one section makes it very difficult to find what you want unless you already know.

Organizing your website and letting visitors search through it in a way they are comfortable with will also help to educate them on the diversity of manga. On most sites, it’s just an alphabetical list of titles, that may or may not have age ratings. That isn’t going to tell them anything, and not everyone has the free time to click every link. Making searching on your website fast and convenient will get repeat visitors instead of Google getting it.

3. Keep Your Website Up-to-Date

It’s amazing how many websites haven’t been updated. Sure, links might be thrown up for new titles, with covers plugged in, but there’s not real data about the title. I wanted to find out more information about the new pokemon manga, so I first went to Viz’s site, thinking they would have the most current information, since it was their book. How wrong I was. There was no cover, and only a sentence or two of basic information. A search on Amazon.com got me more information. I at least got a description and cover image of the volume.

I’m sure I’m not too different from other people, when I don’t want to buy a title without knowing something about it. And it shouldn’t be too much to presume that the publisher of a title would have the description, cover and release date. No matter when the final sale takes place, the web has become the first place people go to research about future purchases. If they can’t find the information they need, they probably won’t buy it. And in a recession, being sure about a purchase becomes more important. This doesn’t just apply to new releases. Current releases need to be updated, especially if things like age ratings change (Viz).

4. Get the Word Out

Don’t wait for people to come looking for you. Another issue mentioned at the panel was educating parents and retails about manga. There are a lot of misconceptions about manga that have to be overcome. Publishers need to become proactive to accomplish it. Working with schools and libraries is a good place to start. These places are very influential with what kids read, and can get more to be more accepted with parents. But to really make sales, you have to reach out to parents directly. The best way to do this is through mommy blogs.

Parenting blogs have been around for a while, but with the kids that grew up with the internet now starting to get married and have families, the growth of “mommy” and “daddy” blogs have really exploded. Bloggers with kids are writing about and recommending everything from baby toys and products to books and music for kids and families. Many also include recommendations for just the parents who need a quick retreat from all the kids stuff. Publishers should reach out to these blogs just as they do manga review sites. Find some parent blog that reviews books and send them some age appropriate manga for them to review. If there have been some good kid friendly reviews of your books done on a manga review site, send them links, so they can blog about it to their readers. Make a section on your website for useful links for parents. Include things that explain the basics of manga; where it comes from, what it does, how it’s different. By debunking the myths about manga, parents may become more receptive to it.

Honestly, I could just keep going on about this, but I think I’ve ranted enough. I don’t know if any manga publishers will pay attention to this, but I hope at least some of them read it and think about it. The internet is a great tool if used properly.

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4 Comments for this entry

  • You raise a lot of excellent points here, especially about how manga is shelved. I’m beginning to see critically acclaimed works like Maus and Persepolis turn up in other aisles at Barnes & Noble and Borders (i.e. Biography), so I think it’s just a matter of time before that starts to happen with manga (besides With the Light, which is usually found with other books on autism).

    I do think, however, that making “C list” titles available online probably won’t help much, at least for titles aimed at the teen market. If you compare the number of hits on the various Loveless pages at Tokyopop with those on less popular pages, you’ll notice a significant difference in the amount of site traffic. For titles aimed at a more mature audience–say, DMP’s newly acquired Swallowing the Earth–I think your suggestion makes more sense, as these are the folks most likely to use the Internet to actually research a book as opposed to, say, finding pictures of hot male characters from the book.

  • But, how many of the manga publishers would put their mature audience as a “C-title”? I would say all of them. Look at Dark Horse and their constant complaints about next to no sales for their mature titles. I would really like to know how sales of Shaman Warrior are doing with the chapters available for free online. That could be an answer to their dragging sales.

    Yes, exactly. By making the volumes available for free, they upped the hits and site traffic on Loveless over other titles. You can see the same pattern with Fool’s Gold vol 1, Pantheon High vol 1, and My Cat Loki vol 1, all of which were made available for free to read online. The question would be, did making these volumes free to read up their sales as well? I would say so, since I bought vol 1 of Loki after reading it online.

    The problem is we won’t know how much it will help unless we get some of that information from the publishers, and they don’t see too forthcoming with it. I would disagree that teens don’t look online. The teens of today are spending more and more time online, and are coming to expect to find content online. They are already doing it with CDs, movies and TV. It stands to reason that they would be the same with their books. The advantage books have over music and video, is that the physical experience is still better than the digital. That’s why I think online manga would still work.

  • I’m not saying that teens aren’t online, just that their browsing habits are quite different from adults. If you look at how browsers use the Tokyopop site, for example, there’s a big difference in the way that adults use the site vs. younger users. The majority of complaints about the “navigability” of the site, for example, came from older bloggers who wanted specific information about books in Tokyopop’s catalog; young users tended to gripe about the social networking functions.

    I’m not surprised that you purchased a book that you’d sampled online because I’ve done the same thing. But again, I think that’s a function of our age–we like books, and are willing to spend money on them for the sake of actually having physical copies. When kids have so many avenues for sampling these books for free (i.e. scanlations, squatting in Barnes and Noble), I can see why publishers are reluctant to invest the time, money, and energy into posting significant amounts of material online. It’s a significant IT investment.

  • But isn’t the point becoming to get more people than just teens buying manga? If publishers JUST want to cater to teens, than what there doing is working. But if they want to reach adults, both as readers and as purchasers for their younger children, they need to adjust to an adult way of doing things. Adults research. Adults aren’t going to sit on the floor and read a book, but will want to peruse it. A parent looking for a book for their child will want to be able to look through it to make sure there’s nothing objectionable.

    Part of the point of the Industry panel was to say they need to reach out beyond Teens. That means making some changes in the way they’ve been doing things. Don’t get stuck on the idea that it’s only teens that need to be marketed to. They don’t. They have the social networks to find things. Parents and young kids don’t.

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