To my mind, there hasn’t been a worse publisher launch in the last 5 years than that of Kodansha USA.
I realize that this is a harsh statement, and I’ve refrained from making it for a while now in the hopes that the bumpy path they’ve had would smooth out, and that they might acknowledge and visibly attempt to fix some of their many, many problems. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case as of yet, and today’s announcement of an increase in their responsibilities is, at best, baffling.
The problems with Kodansha USA (also known as Kodansha Comics), as I see them:
1. Every single one of their releases to date have missed their shipping date, and they’re already on a _very_ generous shipping schedule. The result is that some of the bestselling perennials in manga publishing–AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL have been unavailable for nearly 2 years now, and there are no answers to customer concerns why this is so.
2. The pricing on their work seems woefully out of touch with both the realities of the market, the popularity of the material, and their own Japanese pricing strategies. (Part of the blame on this goes to Dark Horse, who set those prices… nearly 10 years ago.)
3. Their reprints of AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL are inferior to the Dark Horse versions in terms of print quality (smearing, reproduction) and paper stock (thinner paper). For the same price.
4. They went back and released an older, less-complete version of Ghost In The Shell, hurting saleability of the title.
5. They’ve been utterly and completely uncommunicative to the press. They don’t even seem to have a website.
So the news this morning that Kodansha USA will take over publishing all of Del Rey Manga’s many bestselling titles? Disappointment bordering on dread. Del Rey’s Tsubasa, XXX-Holic, and Negima, continue to be some of our bestselling manga at the store, and the high-degree of care in preparation that goes into fan-favourite and critically acclaimed titles like Moyasimon, and Mushishi is phenomenal. I have my issues with their publishing set-up (mostly around their scheduling of less profitable titles) but in short, they’re a solid, professional publisher producing great work in a timely fashion and with a great deal of thought about the market and industry–everything Kodansha-USA has shown themselves not to be.
The only thing that gives me hope is this quote:
“In an e-mail interview with Irie, he said that while Kodansha USA Publishing will now directly oversee the publishing of Kodansha-originated English-language manga licenses, Kodansha still plans to “to work with local partners in foreign territories.” He said that Random House will continue, “handling much of the publishing side, such as editorial, production, sales and marketing.” Irie will be based in New York along with KUP general manager Kumi Shimizu.” - From Publisher’s Weekly
To me, that reads as though Random House will be packaging the books for Kodansha USA, which is very different, monetarily, than their current set-up. See, publishers generally absorb the costs of “editing, producing, selling and marketing” manga. If they’re producing that work for someone else, they get _paid_ for it, which is a real reversal! Also, if Del Rey is going to continue marketing, I’m curious as to why Ali Kokmen was let go…
Elsewhere in that interview it is mentioned that the head of Del Rey Manga, Dallas Middaugh, will be moving over to Random House Publisher Services to handle distribution of the line (and I’m glad they’re keeping Dallas Middaugh, he’s very good at his job). So in effect, things will continue more-or-less as they are, except:
- Kodansha USA will be making the publisher-type decisions, like which series get released and how often
- Del Rey no longer has to pay for licenses
- Del Rey is now likely getting paid to package the books for Kodansha
- Del Rey is making a cut on the distribution of the books but the majority of the money’s going to Kodansha.
It looks like Del Rey has divested themselves of _all_ of the risk of manga publishing, moving into a packaging and distribution relationship. Smart move for the bean-counters at Del Rey! And I guess Kodansha USA gets to call themselves a publisher, which I assume will impress someone back in Japan, but they’re not really doing anything other than putting their logo on the book, so far as I can tell.
On paper this looks like it could work out… but then on paper communism looks like a viable option on paper too–it all falls apart when you get to the real world. As I’ve shown, Kodansha USA has a terrible record at absorbing existing licenses and shepherding them to the market. Will Del Rey Manga’s professionalism counteract Kodansha USA’s track record? I honestly don’t know.
But going by that track record, it could be as long as a year before current titles resume their serialization, if AKIRA’s re-publication schedule is anything to go by. I guess all involved have got lots and lots of time to figure it all out?