Steven Grant has a really interesting installment of Permanent Damage up at Comic Book Resources, where he offers some useful advice to would-be comics publishers. It all comes down to a relatively simple set of instructions:
“Unfortunately in most cases it comes down to starting out with enough capital to support whatever your game plan is. But even if you have the money to run whatever size business you opt for at no return for several months to a couple of years, at this point it’s worth your while to study the market, figure out a potentially profitable niche that no one else is serving, and fill that niche.”
It makes me think of the Publishers Weekly Comics Week piece on Central Park Media’s new efforts in the field of josei manga. Now, CPM is hardly the first manga house to publish josei. Tokyopop has a number of works by josei high priestess Erica Sakurazawa in print, and one could argue that the manga of Ai Yazawa leans more in the josei direction than towards shôjo (even though Nana is serialized in Shojo Beat), not even counting all the examples cited by Ed Chavez at Mangacast (found via Brigid’s MangaBlog). But they do seem to be taking more of an aggressive stance on marketing the category of josei.
I think Chavez makes some excellent points that dovetail nicely with what Grant was saying:
“I guess my point in the end is that while I know some publishers like the idea of just publishing manga without labels, sometimes the labels can work. Look at Shonen Jump or Yaoi Manga (for Viz and DMP respectively). With more exposure to more josei, it might be about time to start specifically targeting that market.”
I’ve been wondering when someone would make a concentrated appeal to the potential audience for josei works. I’m not entirely convinced that Dark Horse’s Harlequin line (even the “racy” Violet category) is the vehicle for it, given how dated some of the material seems. It demands that the audience be invested in graphics novels as a storytelling medium (or at least open to them as a vehicle for stories they like in prose form), fond of the Harlequin style of romance, and, in perhaps the biggest stretch, fond of Harlequin’s house style from something like a decade ago. Niche marketing is one thing, but wow, that seems to narrow things rather excessively.
I’m still disappointed that Tokyopop abandoned its “Manga After Hours” idea. With rights to Sakurazawa’s books, Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, Yayoi Ogawa’s very popular Tramps Like Us, and a bunch of other works, they could very easily have repackaged books from their existing holdings into a josei line without having to license anything new. It also would have presented them with the option of categorizing future OEL offerings in the josei line, giving them an extra bit of marketing distinction.
In the PWCW article, it’s interesting to see the comparisons between CPM and Fanfare/Ponent Mon. CPM obviously isn’t interested in matching F/PM’s production quality or the resulting price point (which has kept me from buying Blue, one of the few F/PM books I’ve seen at a chain bookstore), and I think that’s entirely sensible. I was flipping through the latest Previews, and noticed that F/PM had re-listed The Building Opposite, which was initially due out some time ago, at $22 for 168 pages. And, given my experience with F/PM books, it’s pretty much a given that it will be exquisite, but it’s still a luxury purchase. (When I was a the comic shop yesterday, I was sorely tempted by the fabulous Sgt. Frog cover on the latest issue of Newtype, but gas prices have reduced my discretionary spending.)
It’s not clear from the article if CPM will be making a concerted effort to open up the josei market; they seem more focused on making their release of Kiriko Nananan’s Cream and Red Strawberries. There’s nothing wrong with that, though I’d love to see a manga publisher make that kind of josei-centric effort, and it could help give CPM a more distinct identity in the market. Still, there’s nothing wrong with approaching something cautiously. Go! Comi has taken a very measured approach with its initial line of shôjo titles, in spite of strong demand for the category, and it’s paid off handsomely for them.
I’m not entirely convinced that there’s a correlation between the audience for yaoi and potential fans of josei. Yaoi is striking me more and more as a genre of male-male Harlequin stories, while josei has more emotional complexity and nuance. But the success of yaoi does indicate that there’s potential in manga niches, even ones that don’t seem intuitively full of potential. (I’m stunned by the ever-increasing volume of yaoi being generated by Digital Manga, but it doesn’t seem to have led to market saturation… yet.)
But I really do want to see a publisher give shôjo fans someplace to go next. If CPM can generate more momentum towards that end, even if it’s just through the publication of one title, more power to them.
Now, when are we going to find out more about new manga player Aurora Publishing?