On today’s Manga Insider, I’d like to move away from the editing side of things for a while, and take a look at the actual selling of manga.
You can’t just print the manga and then hope for the best! You have to think about the people who are buying the manga: your readers. There are various tricks for bringing the manga to your readers’ attention, and this is where the sales team comes in! They are our manga selling specialists!
For this article, I interviewed Mr. Etsuhiro Ishikawa, a member of our Comic Zenon sales team, and questioned him thoroughly about his work selling manga.
Mr. Ishikawa was formerly the vice-chief editor at Comic Zenon, and the knowledge that he gained during that period no doubt helps him in his current work!
So what is he doing now? And what kind of tricks does he have up his sleeve? Let’s find out!
-What exactly is the sales team all about?
To put it simply, we tell the bookstores about our products. To do that, we visit various stores and do public relations work.
-We also have a PR Department at our company, right? What’s the difference between what you do and what they do?
Basically, you get two kinds of marketing. The first kind is spreading the word about your product. The second is increasing the amount of places that your product is sold. The PR Department works with the mass media and tries spread the word about our products. But our goal is to increase the amount of places that our products are sold, so we mainly work with the bookstores.
Did you know that there are over 13,000 bookstores in Japan? That’s amazing when you think about it! And depending on where the store is, the range of customers will differ. The people who work in the bookstore, or the “manga sellers”, must first understand what kind of customers they get, like whether there are a lot of students, or a lot of businessmen etc. Based on this, they then decide on product placement. So we tell them things like “this manga is popular with people in their 20s” or “this manga will probably be popular with women” etc. In this way, more stores will be able to market our products, more effectively.
-So the PR department is aimed directly at the customers, but the sales team gives information to the bookstores. And what kind of work do you do, Mr. Ishikawa?
We’re always thinking about “how can we tell people about our products?” or “what can we do to sell more products?” So its marketing aimed at the bookstore. For example, we might send some promotional items to help the bookstores promote. By promotional items, I mean things like posters or pop-up cards. We send these together with the order forms to the bookstores.
They look at the promotional items and they get an idea of what kind of people might buy the product. When it comes to the products vs. promotional items ratio, Zenon is the best in the business! And together with the order form, we also write some reasons why the bookstore should sell the product. For example: “This manga is getting an anime adaption soon, so it will definitely sell!” or “This is seinen manga, but it’s also really popular with women, so it will appeal to a wide range of customers!” etc.
It’s also very important to keep an open line of communication with the bookstores. Communication isn’t limited to just sending them the latest information and then asking them to sell our books. Sometimes we actually ask them for advice. Like “What could we do to sell this book?”, or the opposite, they might come to us and say “how should we display this product?” Or “We want to promote this book, please send us some promotional materials!”
By the way, my wife made the second display! (Note: Mr. Ishikawa’s wife works at a bookstore!) Sometimes the bookstore employees go out of their way to make special displays for us. That’s why it’s important to build a good working relationship with them!
-Why is marketing so important?
Well, of course it’s important to create something the readers want, but more than that, it’s necessary to get their attention!
According to a certain study, there were 7,824 new comics released in the year 2000. By the year 2014, that number had increased to 12,700. In other words, there was a 60% increase. That shows just how much the manga market in Japan is prospering! However, there’s no way that a single reader can read everything. There’s actually so much choice that the readers don’t know what to buy!
Originally, manga magazines acted like a sort of catalog: you read the magazine, decided which comic you liked, and then bought the book. However, these days, there are lots of places where people can read manga for free, like ebook samples etc. Now people are not even sure which manga magazine to buy! We’ve gone from an age where you first read a magazine and then bought what you liked, to an age where you have to suddenly choose from thousands of comics. Among those, there are some works that are really amazing, but they flop just because people don’t notice them!
In short, there is too much manga on the market, so we help the readers decide what to read. We try to find the good points of our products and display them in such a way that people will see those good points. That’s what we think about when we’re selling manga.
-I see. They say the publishing world is headed for a revolution, so I’m sure that there are many new things that you have to take into consideration. What do you focus on in your work?
When I worked as an editor, I was always wondering “Why isn’t this book selling?” After I joined the sales team, I understood that there are lots of series that end, without being realized by the readers. If people know about a series, but it still doesn’t sell, then you can probably figure out a valid reason. But what do you do if a series doesn’t sell just because people don’t know about it? That’s where our work come in.
In the old days of Jump, you had the popularity survey. The popularity of the each manga in an issue was ranked, so you could see immediately what the readers wanted and what elements we needed to emphasize. Also, there were few numbers of magazines, so in most cases the readers tended to read the same thing. That made the “boring” manga be reduced.
But nowadays, there are lots of magazines, and the readers tastes have diversified, so a good spot on the popularity survey doesn’t necessarily mean that something will sell. The readers now have to look for the interesting manga. In this age, if you want to find a manga’s selling point, you need marketing. What is your target market? What do they want from a story? What should the packaging look like? To find the latest trends, you have to directly study the places where manga is sold.
–I see. This is a period when we need to “adapt or die”!
A job that requires that much thinking is definitely worth doing! After speaking with Mr. Ishikawa, I could tell that his passion for manga is genuine. What makes him so passionate? Details to follow in the next article!
Mr. Ishikawa gave us the idea of what a bookstore in Japan is like. How is your bookstore like? Do you find anything interesting about it? Let me know in the comments!!
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