Tonight we are joined by Publisher’s Weekly Senior News Editor and PW Comics World Co-editor Calvin Reid. For the past three months I’ve followed Kodansha Ltd.’s subsidiary Kodansha Comics. Ideally I would love if An EPublisher Confesses inspired you to at least try a manga. Better yet if it got you to discover more about Kodansha. Nonetheless, I know my knowledge is limited, so I asked Mr. Reid to join us and help fill in any blanks.
Calvin Reid can be a helpful resource. Anyone interested in furthering your manga education can read his articles and follow up with him through Twitter @CalReid. Reid’s articles have taught me so much over the past three months. Trust me when I say, I had no idea about this Kodansha USA, until I he broke it down.
Tonight’s about celebrating an end to The Kodansha Files. Hopefully tonight’s interview will mark a beginning to your journey into manga.
Latesha Goodman: Mr. Reid can you give our readers a little background about yourself? I’m curious about what drew you towards manga?
I cover general book publishing news for Publishers Weekly, but I’ve always loved comics. In the U.S. comics have historically been a periodical industry, rather than a part of the book industry. At PW I’ve had the chance to raise awareness of graphic novel and comics publishing in the book industry. Indeed PW has been directly instrumental in making graphic novels an acknowledged part of book publishing. My interest in manga began to grow in the mid-1990s. I began learning more about Japanese comics and the differences between how Japanese created manga and the way they thought about comics. I noticed there were profound differences between the U.S. and Japanese manga/comics marketplace.
LG: Can you give readers a brief overview about manga in the U.S? When did manga “arrive”?
CR: U.S. manga publishing grew out of fan interest in anime in the 1980s.The initial focus of U.S. publishers was to publish comics they thought would work in the U.S. market which is dominated by superhero comics.
In the late 1990s publishers like Tokyopop, began to publish manga in its original right to left format and began releasing works like Sailor Moon, aimed at young girls, then the category took off. Thanks to growth of retailers like Borders, driven by Kurt Hassler, its graphic novel buyers at the time, Tokyopop and its “authentic manga” strategy, the growth of the internet, and the growth of a general worldwide interest in Japanese pop culture, the category began to expand, finding new readers.
LG: Kodansha Ltd is a large manga publisher in Japan, but it also has a presence in U.S. Why do you suppose this is?
CR:Kodansha is one of the largest publishers (manga as well as prose) in Japan and for many years it only licensed its manga to publishers like Tokyopop and others. However as the market has changed and declined, Kodansha appears to have taken a bigger interest in reviving the market for its titles in the U.S. It now is directly publishing its titles here and its books are distributed in the U.S. by Random House Publisher Services, the distribution unit of Random House. Although the US market for manga is a fraction of what it is in Japan, I believe Japanese manga publishers believe they can reverse some of the declines in what had been a growing manga for manga in the U.S. We will see.
LG: Let us talk about scanlations because this term seems to be thrown around quite a bit. Please tell us what it is and why publishers blame it for the decline in U.S sales?
CR: Scanlations are works of Japanese manga photo scanned, posted online and translated into English by fans on the Internet. It is also a violation of copyright. Many people believe we have created a generation of young fans who do not buy manga in stores, but instead read the latest manga from Japan online for free.
In recent years the scanlations fan sites have been taken over by commercial interests (sites like MangaFox) who offer illegally scanned manga to read for free and sell advertising to the site to make money. This is why scanlations are often blamed as the reason for the decline in manga sales in the U.S. They are not only stealing content, but making money off of it from online advertising.
LG: Mr. Reid, it’s impossible to ignore the introduction of new technologies such as the iPad and Kindle. Do these technologies help or hinder the manga reading experience? Does the format matter?
CR:Like everything else, digital delivery of comics is growing because it is a convenient and vivid way to read comics. I personally like reading comics on the iPad as well as in print. This does not mean print comics are disappearing or going away but digital comics of all kinds will become a bigger factor in the market.
LG: Do you have any favorite iPad manga apps? Or all they all created equally?
CR:All iPad apps are not created equally, but they are all pretty good. I think Viz Media has one of the best, but I also read manga on the Yen Press app. There is now a Kodansha app as well, but remember this is all very recent. Most Japanese publishers have been dragging their feet on giving their U.S. licensees digital rights but the decline in sales and competition for readers from pirated scanlations sites seems to have had an impact.
LG: Censorship is a hot topic for foreign publishers looking to expand into the U.S. Why is this? How do you think Kodansha is handling it?
CR:Yes, Japan has different cultural standards than the U.S. on things like sex and fan-service (panty shots are frowned in the U.S. but are no big deal in Japan) and nudity and can cause problems. Kodansha has much more experience after working closely with its U.S. licensee and I think they believe they can have an impact by publishing directly into the U.S. rather than through licensees.
LG: Last question: Do you think Kodansha Comics (or Kodansha USA) will help get titles into U.S consumer’s hands faster?
CR:I believe Kodansha having a U.S. office will help get more Kodansha titles into the U.S. and hopefully it will be faster. We’ll have to wait and see.
LG: Calvin thanks so for agreeing to this interview. I for one have learned much more about this intriguing publisher. Much appreciation!
I am indebted to Calvin Reid and other news outlets who dedicate their lives to educating publishers about Kodansha. Again If you wish to follow up on tonight’s blog, please follow on Twitter @CalReid . He loves Twitter, so he’ll respond.
An EPublisher Confesses