Bringing People and Manga Together
On the last episode of Manga Insider, we questioned Mr. Etsuhiro Ishikawa about the role of the Sales Team. His answers revealed a sound knowledge of the industry, and made me realize that sales is definitely more complicated than I thought! Mr. Ishikawa clearly has strong beliefs which motivate him in his day-to-day work.
Today, we’re going to ask him about his professional policies!
– What is the most difficult part of your job?
Well… there isn’t anything that particularly stands out. Because I was an editor, I can say without a doubt that the ones under the most pressure are the artists. Knowing that it makes me realize that my burden isn’t so heavy compared to theirs, and that makes it much easier for me to throw everything I have got, at my tasks as a sales agent.
I do regularly have regrets though. Looking back, there’s always something that I think “I could have done better”. Of course, at the time I thought I was taking the best possible course of action, but with the benefit of hindsight, you can always find something to improve on.
That’s why whenever possible, I ask my colleagues in the editorial teams or even the artist themselves, to get involved in the sales strategy, to the level that won’t interfere with the daily routine of producing the ongoing series.
– Well then, what is the most fun part of your job?
When I know that we’ve gotten through to the readers. For example, when a manga is getting an anime adaption, and the orders are pouring into our office via fax, or at an autograph signing event, when one of the fans tells me how much they enjoyed the manga.
I honestly believe that manga can change someone’s life. When I was a kid, I started playing football after reading the football manga “Shoot” by Tsukasa Oshima. And after reading a travel manga called “Zipang Boy” by Takashi Iwashige, I took a solo trip to Peru! It’s experiences like that that made me want to become an editor. Since then, I’ve even had the opportunity to work with Oshima-sensei, which was a great honour!
All those things happened to me, thanks to manga, and for everybody in this world there is a manga or two, that is awaiting to make life better for them. When I feel that I made that “Happy Encounter” happen to someone, I feel ever so glad and proud to be working in the Manga industry.
Back when I was working as an editor, Mr. Horie told me “People only spend money on things that they believe will make them happy. So for every manga book that you sell, you’ve potentially made another person happy!” I really believe that this is the case.
Of course it’s always nice to know that there was financial gain as a sales agent, but there is more to it than that. If our manga sells 100,000 copies, that means we’ve potentially made 100,000 people happier! that makes me proud. This “Happiness”, is the most important aspect of working in Manga as entertainment business, the single rule that keeps everyone involved, to be “Working happily ever after”.
– What is the most important thing to remember in your work?
To not betray the other party’s trust. Our job is basically asking people to sell our books. We believe all our books are great, but for the bookstores, there’s still a risk that they won’t sell. If they have to return unsold books, then there’s a penalty, so they can’t just blindly accept any products that an agent recommends. However, we try to build a good relationship with them, so they’ll trust our judgment. We want them to say “If you say so, we’ll give it a shot!” Just like how an editor wants to be trusted by the artists, we try to earn the bookstores trust, so that they’ll sell our products when we ask them to. So you can never lie to them. If you lie and the product still happens to sell, that’s still a betrayal of trust, so nobody’s happy. After all, we know that all the manga at Zenon are blast to read, so there’s no need to lie.
Of course, different people have different tastes, and sometimes there might be a manga that you may not see its virtue at first. At times like that, we try to be as objective as possible. We try to advise the bookstores what kind of readers might be interested in buying that manga.
It’s important that we don’t just say everything is “Good to read”, but rather try to explain to whom and how each manga might appeal. After all, it should go without saying that a manga isn’t good at all it won’t be published in the first place!
Just like the editors, who try to draw out a manga’s strengths, we in the sales team do our best to show the manga in the best possible light. So when I recommend a particular manga, it won’t be just based on my own preferences, rather, I try to find the good points of each manga, and maximising its appeal.
I know very well that the artists are putting blood, sweat and tears into their work. We have high praise for their effort, and do our absolute best, that each and every artist on Comic-Zenon deserves.
Hmmm, I think it’s precisely because Mr. Ishikawa has worked as an editor that he feels so strongly about this topic. The sales team tend to meet more people than the editors, so they can probably sense how their work is changing people’s lives.
Creating books is a very important job, but it’s clear that selling them is just as important!
Next time on Manga Insider, Mr. Ishikawa is going to tell us about the future of the manga industry, not just in Japan, but all over the world! What will be necessary to survive in the manga industry of tomorrow? How do the editors need to adapt?
And how much potential does SMAC! have for the future?
Don’t miss the next episode!
Mayu’s Point!! The circulation of books in Japan
In the article, Mr. Ishikawa mentioned “returning books”. To properly understand his comments, let’s discuss how books circulate in Japan.
In Japan, regardless of which bookstore you go to, the price of a new book will always be the same. The idea behind this is that all customers should be treated equally, and be able to buy books at a fair and consistent price.
Of course, both the publisher and the bookstore want to sell as many books as possible. In an ideal world, the publisher would send as many books as they could, and the bookstore would sell them all.
However, sad reality is that sometimes books don’t sell. And because of the rule of “equal prices”, the bookstores can’t just sell them at a discount price to clear the stock. Instead, when books don’t sell, stores can simply return the books back to the publisher.
– So they can return the books and get fresh stock? What a convenient system!
Yes, but means extra costs in transport and unrecovered royalty (paid upon printing) for the publisher. This is where the distributors come in. They act as intermediaries and decide how many books should be sent to each store.
– What are the advantages of going through a distributor vs. doing business directly?
The distributors act as an impartial observer, who looks at the situation of both sides (the publishers and the bookstores) and moderates the circulation of books.
For example, if a bookstore says “We’ll sell 100 copies of this popular manga!” but they only end up selling 50, and send the rest back, then the publisher loses out. To prevent a situation like that, the distributors will only send a reasonable number of books that they feel confident the bookstore can sell out.
Additionally, if the bookstores can’t sell out the stock, then the next time they place an order, regardless of how popular they think the product will be, they’ll probably be sent less than they requested. That’s what I meant by “there’s a penalty for returning the books”. With this system, if the bookstores over-order, then they’ll be penalised later, and lose future business opportunities.
So the stores have to consider how many books they can realistically sell, and be cautious with their orders. Even more so if the product is a new manga.
So we have to be responsible when we recommend books.
The publishers have each unique ways of promoting their works to the bookstores and the distributors. At Comic Zenon, our approach is to bring the editor-in-charge of the manga, to work together with the sales team, in meeting distributors and doing presentations. This way, we have an open line of communication right from the readers in bookstores, right to the core of manga creation.
“Knowing you readers” is one of the most effective assets of creating manga, and we use this “sales opportunity”, also as an “Opportunity to gain valuable insights to the readers’ mind”, that will surely help in creating the next masterpiece!
Ishikawa-san is not only passionate, but insightful and a deep thinker when he works on his duties. I can’t wait to see him making the next “Happy Encounter”, to come in thousands and millions!
Have you ever experienced the joys of “becoming happy by a manga”? What kind of manga has influenced your life? Please voice your opinions in the comment below!
Encouragements and loveletters also welcome 😉
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