Over the last two episodes of Manga Insider, we’ve been focusing on “selling manga”. During the interview, Mr. Ishikawa gave us some interesting opinions with regard to bookstores and the future of SMAC! Today, I’ll be presenting the gist of his ideas.
-So based on what you’ve told us so far, the sales agent is the bridge between the bookstores and the manga artists. It goes without saying for the manga artists, but what are the benefits of being on good terms with the bookstores?
Actually, in a way, the bookstores are the ones currently leading the manga market.
As I explained before, the Japanese manga market is overflowing with new titles. With all the titles to choose from, the readers aren’t really sure what to buy. If there’s a recommended title at their favorite bookstore, they might decide to give it a try. As such, it’s not an exaggeration to say that how the much a manga sells is directly related to where and how it’s displayed in the store!
In Japanese book stores, the staff are very conscious about how the books are presented. They don’t just randomly pack the books onto the shelves, they carefully select the best place to entice a reader to pick the book up.
With the increase in the amount of titles, the readers’ tastes have also become very specific. It’s no longer enough to simply lump the manga into broad categories like “seinen manga”, “shonen manga” and “shojo manga”. Since many categories nowadays intertwine with others, the traditional categorisation of “for the boys / girls” etc is now often insufficient, to effectively present the books to their potential audience.
The responsibility on the bookstore employees is increasing everyday, to act as “guides” who can accurately point the customer to a book that will suit them.
Through these activities, the bookstore staff become experts on the latest titles, and they know better than anyone else which manga will be successful. Once they’ve become an expert in manga, they are more likely to succeed in recommending something, the customer might buy. So these staff have a considerable influence on the manga world.
– So because the manga market is saturated, the local staff have a greater influence?
That’s correct. Originally, the distributors had the most power. They just had to distribute the stock throughout the country, and this would lead to sales. However, the more titles available, the less an individual title stands out.
So this is an era where we have to approach the people who are closest to the readers: the bookstore staff. They support the manga industry with their sales techniques, and the degree to which we work with them directly influences how much manga we sell. The amount of sales in turn influences how much we can give back to the artists.
However, that doesn’t mean that we can just leave everything to the bookstore staff. We have the pride and that we are creating good manga, and the responsibility to continue that creation. The sales agents, who understand the manga’s goods points, need to think like producers. We need to advise the local staff how we want them to sell our product. To become producers, we need to work with the bookstore, and find out what the fans want. Then we need to give feedback to the artists who create the manga. Therefore, at the moment, once every two months, Zenon and the bookstores hold a joint-event to read the latest manga from comic Zenon and discuss them in detail.
-Some time before, you told me that it we do things a little differently at Comic Zenon, compared to the other companies.
Yes, and we are rather fortunate to be in a position to act this way. We are a relatively small publisher compared to the major players, meaning we are more flexible to adjust our ways, to adapt to the changing environment. Our collaboration of “Sales and Editorial working together” may not work well, in other publishers where the sales, editorials and artists are all relatively isolated from each other.
However, I think that all publishers will have to adapt in the future. These days, there aren’t much people who buy manga just because it’s from Zenon or from Jump. They buy it because of the product itself. It’s a battle between individual titles. So each publisher needs to think about how they’re going to promote their titles. I think the correct way to do this is to work closely with the bookstores.
-It sounds like the sales team at Comic Zenon isn’t only concerned with selling books, but is also paying attention to the overall direction of the publishing industry. What do you think about business activities on the editor’s side?
The editors up till now have all been specialists on manga creation. Nothing else was really necessary. Normally, an editor wouldn’t even be involved in the business side of things. Because understanding the product and approaching the bookstores is the sales agent’s job.
However, I think it’s going to become increasingly necessary for the editors to get closer to the fans, to find out exactly what they want. The editors also need to go to the bookstores and see with their own eyes what is a hit and what isn’t.
Where do the readers buy manga? At the bookstores. So listening to the opinions of the staff that work there is the closest you can get to understanding the latest trends. The artist’s job is to draw what they love. But the editors are the reader’s representative. They need to be able to give an informed opinion from a reader’s perspective so that they can help the artist make something great. However, what usually happens is that somewhere during the process, the editors and the artists lose sight of what the readers want. To clearly hear the reader’s voice, the editors need to keep open lines of communication with the bookstore staff.
In the future, I think we need to overcome departmental boundaries so that we can be more flexible in our work. I think we’ve come to an era where the editors need to take on other roles besides editing. In this way, when they’re creating new manga, they’ll have a better understanding of what is necessary. In addition, we can’t just focus all our attention on a single chapter. We need to plan for the final book that will one day be released. Instead of editors, we need producers!
-As someone who has experienced both the editing and the sales side of things, what kind of manga do you think will sell?
To make a successful manga, the two keywords that you need to remember are “sympathy” and “admiration”. When I was an editor, I distinctly remember Mr. Horie telling me that “an editor needs to sleep with the trends” and “touch on the taboo”. “Sleep with the trends” means that you need to create a work that is in sync with the situation that people are currently dealing with. The mental state of the readers must be reflected in the manga. This will make it easier for them to sympathize with. “To touch on the taboo” means that your work needs to be at the very edge of what’s acceptable. Your protagonist must boldly challenge the common sense of his day. This will make the readers think “wow, I want to be able to do that!” So you need to both understand the current situation and then stretch it. That makes a good story!
But in the end, a manga is its characters. For example, let’s say that Ryo from City Hunter shoots a bad guy. The readers don’t actually want to see the bullet hitting a bad guy. They want to see their favorite hero, Ryo, overcoming the bad guy. They want Ryo’s story. So that even after the bad guy gets shot, they’ll want to continue reading.
Or in a soccer manga, let’s say the hero scores a goal. The readers don’t just want to see a goal, they want to see a story with their hero scoring. They’ll even wait another week to see that scene. Whether they’ll buy the next book or not depends on how much they love the characters, and how much they want to see the characters again. That’s why in manga, the title is usually the same as the name of the main character.
And the packaging of the manga is just as important as the story. To a reader who has no idea what a manga is about, an attractive cover makes it a lot easier to pick up. No matter how perfectly you’ve followed the rules to creating a good manga, if the cover and book design isn’t attractive, it won’t sell – that’d be an awful waste isn’t it? So after making an amazing manga, the next step is to design an attractive cover to sell it.
-When SILENT MANGA AUDITION was first launched, I believe you visited Germany and France to promote it. What do you think about the overall idea behind “SMAC!”?
I think that both SMA and the “SMAC! Web Magazine” have a lot of potential. We’re entering an era where people all over the world will read manga on their smart phones. They’ll have access to manga right at their fingertips. In that environment, there’s a good chance that new artists will become popular, and that people from all over the world will be able to debut. I think that digital manga will be able to overcome various barriers, and spread throughout the world.
When I was promoting SMA in Germany, someone asked me why we were doing this award. I told him “Wouldn’t it be beautiful, if a German artist created a manga for German people, and that manga actually becoming popular in Germany?” He seemed really happy with this answer. At the moment, even if you draw manga in another country, there’s nowhere where you can get it published. But if we spread the idea of “SMAC!” online, then eventually people will approach us, and offer to publish some of our manga, and then a business opportunity will be born. Drawing manga requires a lot of passion and dedication. It’s not something that just anyone can do. That kind of effort should be rewarded, regardless of one’s nationality.
I hope everyone will continue to draw manga with the desire that your work be exposed to a wide audience. And I’m not just saying that to artists outside of Japan. It applies to Japanese artists as well. Something a Japanese artist draws might be popular overseas. Some works that weren’t successful in comic books might be successful as digital manga. The publishers need more producing skills, so that they can include the whole world in their target audience. That’s why I said that we’ve come to the age when editors need to also become producers.
But I think it will be unrealistic for a huge company to implement these kinds of dramatic changes right now. That’s why it’s something that we have to do to lead the way! The Japanese market is definitely going to change from here on out, and Zenon needs to take on more novel ideas and strategies. So I hope that we can count on everyone’s support!
-Finally, can you say a few words for the readers?
I’m always really happy to hear you readers discover a good manga that brings you happiness. There is an incredibly large amount of titles out there, so I think it’s hard to choose, but I hope you’ll keep on trying! Give some new authors a chance! If you’ve ever thought “I’m so happy that I found this manga” then I think my job has been worth doing.
We’ve been looking at the “Sales” side of manga for three weeks now.
Selling your own books is actually a lot easier said than done! If the sales agents didn’t take care of this, the editors and manga artists wouldn’t have as much time to focus on creating great manga!
Through this interview, I learned that selling books is not just about dealing with money. It’s actually about the product and the people and how you connect them!
Next time you buy a book, I bet you’ll think about the sellers and how the book attracted your attention! And I’m quite sure that this perspective will also help you in your drawing!
Next time on Manga Insider, I’ll be jumping out of this office and visiting somewhere exciting! Don’t miss it!!
So, Ishikawa-san says that the future of manga is full of possibilities, and that we are facing a time of changes. I also think that E-Manga and online manga magazines are good next step, towards the future of manga!
However, at the same time, I do personally prefer books printed on paper… It’s really difficult to choose between the new and old ways of reading manga!
Which style do you like? Or what are your thoughts about the future of manga? How will they transform? Please let me know in the comments below!
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