In the aftermath of the Viz layoffs, there’s some great analysis out there this morning.
Gia Manry at Anime Briefs says “Don’t panic” while Brigid Alverson at Mangablog reminds us that manga sales are genre sales, and Melinda Beasie takes a trip down memory lane at Manga Bookshelf and reminisces over the time when Viz was scorned by fans and thought of as “a necessary evil.”
The idea that Viz laying off 40% of its staff is an indicator that the company is on its way out seems like an overly dramatic assumption, and one that I didn’t think of when Gia pointed that out as a possibility. I suppose it’s because other institutions from the New York Times (which has hacked and slashed it’s newsroom staff by 50% and continues to do so – I’ll find the link in a minute), to Random House, to Harper Collins, to Simon&Schuster, have all cut their staff. Hell, at Publishers Weekly, we went through our own bloodbath.
Is manga publishing any different? Of course it is. It’s a much smaller, younger industry, where its titans, Viz, TokyoPop, Del Rey, have all experienced some serious bumps in the road. Other smaller publishers have hit the bump and died (see yesterday’s post for Go! Comi news).
But while manga publishing is different, Viz Media is the exception. There’s a reason why I mention those century old institutions in the same graph with Viz and it’s because Viz is an extension of two of Japan’s most powerful and established publishers – Shueisha and Shogakukan. Okay, maybe they’re a decade short of a century in age, but the way I see it, the only way Viz would go away is if its parent companies pull the plug.
Japan’s publishing industry is flagging itself and the obstacles its facing in wrestling with new media mirror the challenges that American publishers and old media establishments are faced with. That said, manga publishing in Japan has begun looking outside of its local market for readers, addressing the popularity of manga abroad, and finding ways to capitalize on it. I doubt that Sho-Shu will be pulling out its American arm because the American market, as depressed and recessed as it is, is still a market that they’re interested in.
Last week, Anime News Network reported that 30% of manga from Japanese publisher Kodansha was rejected from Apple’s iTunes store. (Largely due to depictions of “excessive cruelty” and a bath scene where a character is topless. I guess most Americans bathe in their underwear.) While this news is sad, it does point to the fact that Japanese publishers are on their way to digital distribution, something that (given the number of pirated manga scans/fansubs online) publishers in Japan were wary of and resistant to.
Which is not to say that Japanese publishers are open arms about digitizing their content. Shueisha, Kodansha, and Shogakukan, as well as 31 other publishers in Japan, have organized to form the Electronic Book Publishers Association of Japan, largely, as it’s reported in the story, to regulate and slow the expansion of the e-books market in Japan. At the same time, 2010 has been dubbed the inaugural year of the e-book, especially with Amazon’s Kindle now available in Japan. As one of the above article points out, Japan has no lack of content with approx. 80k new titles published per year. (links via Anime News Network)
Will this save Viz? Will this save manga? Digital distribution could make all the difference in the world – especially as teens are given more credit-card-esque options for making purchases. Even once the economies in the U.S. and Japan return to a state of health, digital distribution demands a large number of eyes (you can only charge so much for e-content) and the wider the distribution, the better off these publishers are.
At this point, we all need to think like Jack and be both nimble and quick. I don’t necessarily believe that manga is going anywhere in either Japan or America, but I’d hate to see it hit some all new low.