In part 1 of this 3 part series, I discussed prices of manga in some of Digital Manga Publishing’s Kickstarter projects. Their latest project to bring 31 volumes of Osamu Tezuka manga to print in English for the first time is looking for well over half a million dollars in funding.
Tezuka is a known quantity. As the proclaimed godfather (or god, if you prefer) of manga, his comics have a cult-like following. Many of his fans followed his work at a young age through the Astro Boy anime or came in from Viz Media’s early publication of Pheonix, Tezuka’s masterwork. Tezuka had a pop culture market penetration unlike any other comics/anime creator.
From my understanding of the manga market, Tezuka fans are generally older buyers with more disposable income. Importantly, they CRAVE new content. Tezuka created more than 700 series in his lifetime, and much of this content is unavailable in English. These customers are willing to spend larger sums of money for new professionally translated content.
Tezuka, then, is the Golden Goose of English manga publishing. His content is desired by a relatively wealthier market segment, there is a ton of unpublished material available, and published correctly, licenses of his content could be money making for any publisher to work with. There are many Golden Eggs.
Digital Manga Publishing is the most recent holder of Tezuka licenses, but it wasn’t always this way. As late as 2013, Vertical Inc, another boutique manga publisher, was publishing titles like MW and Message to Adolf.
Vertical Inc.’s general business strategy for Tezuka titles was to print them as collectors editions for the discerning comics collector. As such, many of their Tezuka titles are beautiful hardcover books with higher price points. DMP has not published a hardcover Tezuka book to date.
But later on, Vertical published reprints of their earlier editions as paperbacks for a mass audience. Let’s take a look at some offerings from the two publishers at similar price points – $13 and $25:
On the top are a second printing DMP’s Swallowing the Earth, (funded through Kickstarter)and ATOMCAT one of the books from their UNICO Kickstarter project.
On the bottom are The paperback omnibus edition of Dororo and Vol. 1 of Princess Knight both from Vertical Inc. Let’s take a different look to talk about quality.
Importantly, both of Vertical Inc.’s titles are substantially larger. Vertical is giving you about 400 pages for $13, and about 900 for $25. The same prices from DMP get you about 200 pages and 500 pages respectively. Not a huge concern at first, but then factor in Vertical’s books also have cleaner design and better quality paper.
Low-cost books definitely have their place in the manga publishing world – getting content out that is inexpensive is definitely something that is important for the younger reader base, who may have a limited income. This is why Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat titles have stayed in the ~$10 range for quite some time now, and while the quality of books like One Piece and Kimi ni Todoke leaves something to be desired, the price point makes up for that.
But the market segment that pays for low-cost books isn’t the Tezuka segment. The people asking for Tezuka want books that will last longer than a lifetime.
This is my second major concern with DMP’s Kickstarter. You and I as backers are asked to pay almost double MSRP ($24 per book, MSRP = $14), and the product you’re receiving is lower quality, likely a lower page count per dollar, and the design will likely be less attractive.
Even if you weren’t already losing 43% of your cash right out the door, this still doesn’t feel like a good solution. It feels like the Tezuka community is being milked.
Out later today is Part 3, where we’ll talk about the potential to kill the Golden Goose, and some follow up thoughts on how to right the ship at DMP.