Wednesday, March 17, 2004

On the Raijin hiatus... 

Well, everyone is talking about how Raijin's anthology and graphic novels are going on hiatus due to lack of enough sales. It all started here, and got picked up by Newsarama and bloggers Franklin and Sean.

I agree with most of the people that while there will certainly manga won't keep growing at the current rate forever, there isn't going to be a massive bloodbath right around the corner. Beside the fact that the bookstore market isn't the same as the DM and that manga series come to an end (keeping a particular series from dominating), there is also the mistakes of Gutsoon itself and also some things perhaps out of its control. I think Alex Scott sums things up the best on Newsarama's board:

Athalus has it right. Gutsoon's been making a series of mistakes since day one. This is what I, as a casual observer, think the problems are:

* Publishing mostly adult comics for a fanbase that mostly consists of teenagers. Fist of the Blue Sky has VERY limited appeal to someone who's mostly read stuff like Love Hina and Kare Kano.

* Mismatched content--why are cutesy manga like Bow Wow Wata and Guardian Angel Getten in the same magazine as First President of Japan and Revenge of the Moufflon? As was said before, Shonen Jump has a much more consistent focus, focusing on action, adventure, and humor. If the first issue included a chapter of Eagle inbetween One Piece and Dragon Ball Z, a lot of people probably would have been scratching their heads.

* Poor distribution. I'm probably just speaking for myself, but I never, ever saw any issues of Raijin outside of a comic store until just two months ago. But I've been seeing Newtype on mainstream shelves for half a year, and Shonen Jump at Blockbuster since issue 3. This ties into...

* Recklessly entering an untested market. If any market is relatively untested in America, it's a periodical manga anthology. If any market's even more untested, it's a WEEKLY one. Raijin went in way over its head.

* Graphic novels. I don't know why they didn't come out sooner. I didn't start seeing them until sometime last fall or winter, and the magazine's been out, what, a year and a half?

* Poor graphic design. This is just my opinion, but most of Raijin's covers that I've seen are just ugly and overbearing, trying way too hard to emulate to the last detail the look of a Japanese anthology. This carries over to the trades, too, which, instead of looking like pleasant paperback volumes that'll look nice on the shelf, look more like digest versions of the magazine.

Anyway, I definitely don't think this is any sort of sign of a harbinger of doom for manga. After all, Raijin failed in Japan, too (where I understand it was mostly to teach English), and I don't see their comic book industry collapsing. Besides, there are plenty of new companies like ADV and Broccoli and to a lesser extent, ComicsOne and Vertical, that are building their own place right alongside Viz and Tokyopop.

The idea that bookstores will get saturated with two big publishers and high profile titles gobbling up everyone else assumes that they work the same way as the Direct Market. I think part of the problem that newer publishers face in the DM is simply that the Big Two have saturated it with so many ongoing superhero comics that'll never end unless sales dip low enough. Almost all manga, on the other hand, is finite, which pretty much ensures that the companies will have to come up with new books (not just imported from Japan, but from American creators as well) to keep sales going when older titles become less popular or go out of print; this includes coming out with more titles aimed at older readers as the current fanbase gets out of high school, and more titles for very young readers who may find manga on the shelves but might not currently find enough aimed squarely at them (though it's only a matter of time before someone finally licenses Doraemon). Larger bookstores and media stores can always expand or rearrange shelf space, as the local BAM! and Media Play have; and used bookstores and online stores can help; and manga specialty shops could always pop up to handle the larger amounts of books that the bookstores can't handle and store the older titles you can't find. You know, pretty much how any other section of the bookstore seems to work.

It's not like the direct market, where previous booms and busts were driven by collecting fads and the market is dominated by a relatively rigid audience and genre, with relatively few options for those who 'outgrow' superheroes (if you want to call it that), and fewer options for newcomers. Manga's appeal tends to be very fluid, otherwise it wouldn't have saturated pratically every market in Japan over the past 50 years.

randy r on AoDVD's thread also has an interesting theory:

I'm going to beat a dead horse some more. Raijin/Gutsoon, ComicsOne, Dark Horse, IronCat- in fact, any of the manga companies served by Diamond as their bookstore supplier, are totally getting left behind at the bookstores like Borders and Waldenbooks. Why? This is a suppisition, but Diamond concentrates on their core business-getting books into the comic book stores. Their record of getting titles into the bookstores isn't the most encouraging. Those companies, ie TP, Viz, and DH Pub, who use a book distributor, are getting much better penetration of their product at the bookstores.

The only way I can get some of these titles is to store order or special order the titles. And yes, many times when I sell one of these titles, the buyer will replenish it. Those companies that use Diamond need to push them to get their titles available at Ingram, as well. ALL of Waldenbooks special orders go through Ingram, and I have run into the wall of the titles not being available at Ingram. After all, they are a competitor with Diamond, and we know companies don't like to support or make it easy for their competitors.

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