March manga in the DM

I haven’t looked at manga numbers in the Direct Market in a while, so let’s see what happens when we extract the manga and manga-influenced work from ICv2’s Top 300 Graphic Novels Actual – March 2010, shall we?

(I hope that’s readable. Thanks to Dirk Deppey for the helpful suggestions on how to get a table into a blog post without plunging myself into coding hell.)

It’s not particularly surprising that Young C. Kim’s graphic-novel adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (Yen Press) has been topping the Hardcover Graphic Books list over at The New York Times since its release, but it’s a little unexpected that it would crack the top ten in the Direct Market. Perhaps it was narrow-minded of me to assume that the property’s audience wouldn’t seek it out in local comic shops, or that local comic shops would be particularly inclined to carry it, or that there wasn’t much crossover audience between Twilight and your average comic-shop inventory.

Manga from Dark Horse continues to do well, and I’m pleased to see such a high ranking for the final volume of Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto (Viz). It’s also nice to see all five of last month’s volumes of Eichiro Oda’s One Piece (Viz) crack the top 100. It would have been nice to see higher rankings for the classic titles, but some of them came out late in the month, so maybe that’s the explanation.

Extras, extras

In addition to really good free comics, Viz’s SIGIKKI site also posts some fun supplementary content. Senior Editor Eric Searleman asked a bunch of nerds (me included) to describe that moment when they knew they were irretrievably lost to manga, and the results (with photo evidence) are here.

And for a company known for its professional decorum, the site’s blog is pretty freewheeling. It even recalls the glory days when Anne Ishi was tearing things up for Vertical. By way of example, here’s a piece by Senior Editor Leyla Aker on her attempts to purchase a trade paperback that ended up spanning two coasts and running the gamut of unfortunate things that can happen in a comic shop:

“Stand in front of guy at desk for a minute. He’s reading. No reaction. Out of curiosity I continue to stand there, shift my bag/jingle my keys so I’m sure he knows I’m there. No reaction. Finally I hazard human speech, excuse myself, say I’m looking for a certain DC compilation, and ask if they might have it. Without lifting his eyes, he’s says ‘No.’ The end.”

It might be safest for comic shops to assume that someone with a blog is visiting their premises at all times, you know? But the main point of Aker’s post is a nice hands-across-the-water story:

“But, like mom always said, you need a balanced diet to stay healthy, and at some point I’d fallen into the blinkered trap of disparaging superhero comics. I became U.S. comics anemic.”

I thought the comic that inspired this quest was kind of awful, but I appreciate the overall sentiment.

Shop talk

Over at About.Com, Deb Aoki has a terrific interview with Gaston Dominguez-Letelier, owner and founder of the highly regarded Meltdown Comics & Collectibles in Los Angeles. They talk about the various hassles of selling manga in a Direct Market comic shop, even for retailers who really want to sell manga.

There’s also some jaw-dropping detail about the specific challenges for a retailer in L.A., including this tidbit:

“Some junior execs, assistants, others [entertainment] industry types order tons of books from us, then find out that they can download them for free via fan translations from online share sites.

“It’s not really something I can definitively put a dollar value on, but these free download sites have really impacted our manga sales to the college set and our younger readers-base. This kind of this would be the death of the book publishing if it wasn’t for buyers who prefer to have a physical book to read and collect.”

Seriously, go read it.

Shop of dreams

This week’s Flipped started with a visit to one of those excellent comic shops that demonstrates a healthy appreciation for manga. It got me thinking about what qualities add up to making a comic shop great for manga fans. It’s fairly easy to find all of the shônen and shôjo one could want at a chain bookstore, so it always behooves a specialty store to go beyond that and offer something different.

Instead of looking at the underlying qualities and philosophies that make a comic shop a great manga shop, I decided to go the lazy route and come up with a frankly arbitrary checklist of specific comics and categories that add up to represent a generous and discerning view of this corner of the comics world. Feel free to add your own and mention shops you really like. (Mine include Alternate Reality Comics in Las Vegas, Midtown Comics in Manhattan, Laughing Ogre Comics in Columbus, OH, and Big Planet Comics in Georgetown, DC.)

Here’s my checklist:

  • Shelf copies of at least three volumes of Eden: It’s an Endless World and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Bonus points for shelf copies of either volume of Tanpenshu or Ohikkoshi.
  • Shelf copies of at least two books from Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Bonus points for shelf copies of each additional title.
  • Shelf copies of at least three volumes of Genshiken, Mushishi and Nodame Cantabile. Bonus points for shelf copies of any volume of Love Roma and/or Me and the Devil Blues.
  • Shelf copies of at least one Japanese comic published by Last Gasp. Bonus points for each additional shelved title.
  • Shelf copies of volumes of at least three series by Fumi Yoshinaga.
  • Shelf copies of volumes of at least four series by Osamu Tezuka. Bonus points for copies of the Black Jack hardcover.
  • Shelf copies of at least two volumes of Dragon Head, Planetes and Tramps Like Us.
  • Shelf copies of at least three volumes of Nana. Bonus points for shelf copies of any volume of Paradise Kiss.
  • Shelf copies of volumes of at least five series from Viz’s Signature line. Minimum requirements: two comics by Naoki Urasawa and Uzumaki. Bonus points for any volume of Oishinbo. Double bonus points for three or more volumes of The Drifting Classroom.
  • Shelf copies of at least two volumes each of Emma, Gon and Crayon Shinchan.
  • Shelf copies of at least one out-of-print title.
  • Rack copies of Yen Plus with the other monthlies.
  • A prominently displayed sign that says something like, “Don’t see what you’re looking for? Ask us, and we’ll try and order it for you!” Smiley-face optional.
  • And for extra credit:

  • Bonus points shelf copies of Sexy Voice and Robo.
  • Bonus points for a clearly identified section for yaoi and boys’ love titles.
  • Bonus points for Rica ‘tte Kanji.
  • Bonus points for shelf copies of two or more out-of-print titles.
  • Bonus points for a selection of ero-manga from Icarus Publishing.
  • Friday nattering

    At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald rounds up the discussion of the New York Times Graphic Books Bestsellers list. I have to admit that I don’t really see why these lists are any more problematic or opaque in their methodology than any of the other sales rankings. I always assumed that the odd or counter-intuitive products that sometimes show up on the lists were more a function of the fact that there are 30 slots posted weekly than of the way the entrails came out of the goat or how the 30-sided die landed on Friday morning.

    I guess what I’m saying is that just about all of these bestseller lists seem at least partly suspect, random, or susceptible to manipulation. With its greater frequency and wider scope, I at least find the Times lists suspect, random, and susceptible to manipulation in ways that are a little more interesting than the monthly versions.


    Has Barnes & Noble hired a new graphic novel buyer? I stopped at the local store during lunch yesterday and was surprised at the number of unusual suspects present on the shelves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Gantz in a chain bookstore before.

    As a side note, have you ever been to a bookstore and seen a theoretically sealed-for-your-protection title that actually had its plastic wrap intact?


    This week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory was hilarious. Penny accompanied the geeks to a comic shop. I particularly loved the bit where she innocently tried to buy a Spider-Man comic for her nephew. I think they should do an episode where Sara Gilbert’s Leslie is revealed to be a hardcore fujoshi, adding another layer of conflict to her acrimonious relationship with Sheldon.


    I absolutely appreciate Bryan Fuller’s desire to finish the story he meant to tell in the wonderful Pushing Daisies. I don’t think many of the things that made the show so special will translate to a comics page, though. Comic timing and chemistry made up a huge chunk of the show’s appeal. I’d still buy them if they added those greeting-card chips that would allow me to hear Olive Snook bursting into song.

    (There used to be online comics featuring the characters, but ABC seems to have removed them.)

    I guess it's not forever

    Reading comics retailer Brian Hibbs’ reaction to comics retailer Chris Butcher’s reaction to Diamond’s de-listing of a lot of Viz’s back catalog has me thinking about monopolies, or at least businesses perceived to be monopolies.

    The thing that strikes me is that objections to Diamond’s recent decisions (and I’m in total sympathy with those objections, don’t get me wrong) stem in large part from the perception that Diamond is behaving in ways that suggest that the company cares less about the medium of comics than the salability of product. (If I’m reading Tom Spurgeon’s piece on the subject correctly, I think that’s kind of what he’s saying as well, or at least that emphasis on short-term gain is limiting and damaging to the comics industry as a whole.) In a world where Diamond wasn’t perceived to be the only comics distribution game in town, that wouldn’t be a problem, because there would be competitors on a similar scale that would be able to fill whatever gaps emerge.

    But since Diamond is perceived (not unfairly) as the only meaningful comics distribution game in town, well, then, the only meaningful comics distribution game in town has a certain responsibility to care about comics as a medium, which means making more examples of the medium available, not less. If Diamond wants to have a stranglehold on comics distribution, that stranglehold should be as tender and loving as possible. There should be a dial tone when you pick up the phone to call someone. The train should arrive at the station on time. If a retailer wants to order a volume of the final, unfinished masterpiece of one of the greatest cartoonists who ever lived, then the near-monopoly comics distributor should say “It will ship Tuesday” instead of “You should have stocked up when we had our fire sale.”

    So when Diamond behaves like a business that doesn’t exist in a relative vacuum, making decisions that may result in limited availability of non-mainstream new product and big chunks of back stock, they look like they’re abusing the power that their status as a relative monopoly has afforded them. And in a niche market with a very dedicated audience, that is a very, very bad perception to create.

    Also, de-listing Iou Kuroda’s Sexy Voice and Robo is just stupid.

    Safe Haven?

    Carnal Comics checked in the comments of a previous post with an update, noting:

    “We are currently working an arrangement with Haven Distribution who sepcialize in carry the unique cutting edge comics. So we may still have a presence in the comic shop marketplace.”

    Haven Distributors also came up this week in Rich Johnston’s Lying in the Gutters column at Comic Book Resources and in a wrap-up at Anime News Network. Newsarama’s Rick Offenberger interviewed Haven’s Lance Stahlberg earlier this week as well:

    “Part of our mission is to help bring independent comics to the market. We give deserving titles a chance when Diamond won’t. We still have a submission and approval process, and you may get taken on consignment, but we boast a wide range of titles that cater to many tastes. Every new book we offer is treated the same.”

    It would certainly be an interesting development if Diamond’s cost-cutting measures turned Haven into a major rival. Haven already seems like it’s in a good position for the “Offered Again” market sector.

    Benchmark watch: Fanfare/Ponent Mon

    I don’t think any manga publisher is immune to fallout from Diamond’s new policies, but some strike me as more vulnerable than others. One that I associate most closely with comic shop distribution is nouvelle manga specialist Fanfare/Ponent Mon, which releases books of extraordinary quality largely through specialty stores. In my experience, pre-ordering through Diamond is the most reliable way to get a Fanfare book in your hands (though they have secured a bookstore distributor, Atlas).

    So, since I’m nosy and since I very much want Fanfare books in my hands promptly and regularly, I pestered Stephen Robson for his response to the new benchmarks. Robson worked in comics distribution in the United Kingdom prior to going into publishing, first for Titan, then for Diamond after it purchased Titan in the 1990s. Robson hasn’t communicated with Diamond directly as yet, but he shared some general thoughts on the development.

    “From a Fanfare/Ponent Mon point of view I am not too concerned about the effect on the front list in Previews likely to be caused by this shift,” he said. “Bizarrely, if the catalogue choice is curtailed because of this policy, our books may even notch up a few more sales on first offering! No, the general economy scares me much more!!”

    One point of concern would be re-lists. “The deepest effect would be felt in re-lists if Diamond do implement this policy rigorously,” he said. “[P]ublishers in our position live as much from back list perennials as we do front list – even some of the longer established ones. Whilst I do receive a continuous trickle of orders from Diamond each month for my back list, there is no substitute for having an image with description and an entry in the order form to boost those numbers!”

    And while he’s sympathetic to Diamond’s position in a difficult economy, he shares a widely held concern about the fates of small publishers. “My sadness would not come from any decline through Diamond of my own sales, I will cope with that somehow, but if this quantum change did cause the demise of even one good creative comic publisher, however humble, who currently feed only at Diamond’s table because it is the only one. I, for one, would be much more appreciative if the process could be slowed somehow to allow such fledglings time to find alternative means of selling their produce to their audience or for an alternative means to spring up.”

    Following up

    In the comments section of a previous post, a representative of Carnal Comics weighs in on the likely fallout of Diamond’s discontinuation of Previews Adult:

    “We have no illusions about what this will do to our sales to Diamond. For us adult publishers its a double hit. Not only is their adult catalog going to be very hard for consumers to get to, but the higher benchmarks make it very unlikely for almost all the adult publishers to get Diamond to carry our new products. We have always been a niche in the larger market. That niche has for all intents and purposes been wiped out as far as Diamond is concerned.”

    Over at the Icarus blog, Simon Jones continues to track reactions and offer commentary.

    Diamond makes it rough

    Diamond Comics Distributors is apparently raising its minimums and discontinuing the print version of its Preview Adult catalog supplement, switching over to a PDF. While the development is worrying on a number of levels, especially for smaller publishers, I find myself fixated on the Previews Adult issue. I’m all in favor of minimizing pulp in the waste stream, and going electronic seems like a reasonable way for Diamond to cut expenses. BUT…

    Simon Jones indicates that his understanding is that “retailer would have access to the PDF, which Diamond expects retailers to PRINT OUT themselves.”

    There’s just so much that seems wrong with that system, given what I perceive to be the realities of that sector of comics publishing. Here are my concerns:

  • It’s a bad idea to put the onus on retailers, who have their own concerns. Printing out paper copies of the catalog PDF for interested customers takes time and costs money, and many retailers might end up doing a perfectly sensible cost-benefits analysis that tells them that their profits from the comics listed in Previews Adult aren’t sufficient compensation for the inconveniences and expenses of the new system.
  • It potentially inconveniences consumers in any number of ways. Comics consumers are creatures of habit to begin with, so limiting access to the catalog is already a hurdle. (I’m not saying it’s a huge hurdle, but given the general shrinking of disposable income, you never know what hurdle is going to be huge enough to convince people to change their buying habits.)
  • The percentage of comics shops stocking shelf copies of adult material already seems small, and I swear I remember Simon telling me that individual customer pre-orders were a key part of any adult comics publisher’s sales. Hindering a consumer’s ability to pre-order comics promises to compromise the publisher’s most reliable revenue stream. And with higher benchmarks coming into play at the same time as new barriers to consumers, publishers of adult comics seem to be facing a double bind.
  • If Diamond wants to switch over to an electronic version of the Previews Adult catalog, they should really make it more accessible than the print version, rather than less available. And they should educate their consumers about the change well in advance of the change-over, so they know where to go to get the information. Buying any kind of niche comic can be challenging, and buying adult comics can be awkward. The retailer-PDF strategy seems designed to exacerbate the hassles that publishers, retailers and consumers already face. The plan seems like it would inconvenience everyone but Diamond.

    Here are some other links on the development:

  • Two pieces from Simon Jones of Icarus
  • Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter
  • Johanna Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading