Monday morning quarterbacking

November 6, 2006

Commentary on Kurt Hassler’s departure from Borders for Hachette Book Group’s new graphic novel imprint, Yen Press. ICv2 picks up the story, noting the varying reactions Hassler’s Borders stint inspired. Diamond Book Distributor’s Kuo-Yu Liang offers this perspective:

“People say he only supports manga, but actually he pushed everything from Marvel to Top Shelf to Bone. People complain he was a hardline gatekeeper and would only bring in books that would sell. Well, yeah, isn’t that the fiscal responsibility of a buyer for a $4 billion 1,000+ store chain?”

At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald, one of the advocates of the “hardline gatekeeper” characterization of Hassler, confirms the difference of opinion on what the impact of Hassler’s departure will be.

At MangaCast, Ed Chavez chimes in, taking a look at the evolution of manga offerings in bookstores during Hassler’s tenure and what his departure might mean for readers:

“Could this lead to the potential, long-awaited, second-phase of growth in book stores? Could we see a change for shelving according to age or genre? Will we finally see something done with light novel placement? Could we see a real push from bookstores for a better rating system? So many questions really. This could go either way too, because Hassler’s decisions were not always the most accommodating for pubs or readers.”

At Guns, Guys and Yaoi, Tina Anderson points to some interesting discussion at Kethylia’s LiveJournal, which features input from a Tokyopop editor:

“I don’t think anyone will be able to replicate the explosive early days of TP. VIZ has their own thing going now, and they’re frighteningly good at what they do, even if I don’t personally agree with some of it, but any new company that thinks it’s going to make it to being even 2nd in the industry is sorely mistaken. Sticking with a niche is the way to go in my mind. Hopefully the bookstores will continue to appreciate those niche readers, too. That’s my only fear.”

I think I share that fear. “Hardline gatekeeper” or no, my experience shopping at various book chains led me to conclude that whoever was responsible for Borders manga selection was collecting a wider and more interesting range of books than either Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million. I’ve found books from a larger number of publishers at Borders than elsewhere, and I appreciate that. (For example, Borders is pretty much the only place I’ve ever found titles from Fanfare/Ponent Mon on the shelf.)

Updated to add: Dirk Deppey offers commentary and points to this entry from David Doub at Manga Punk. I’m particularly interested in Doub’s argument that more localized responsibility for graphic novel buying might result in some benefits for publishers and readers:

“Personally I don’t like how the buying pattern of entire chain is decided by one person. I feel that regional or local mangers would naturally have a better feel for what does or doesn’t sell well in their area. Also it would be easier to work with smaller publishers to make local Borders feel more special and unique because they would have product that no one else has.”

And there’s an excellent comment that suggests the best way to educate your local bookstore is to let them know what you want:

“Perhaps the way to get the stores to change is to encouraged readers to go to their local store and request them to order comics they dont carry. If enough people do that, the higher up’s may get the message to have a more diverse selection and not favor certain publishers?”

Updated again because Simon Jones makes so much sense:

“Of course, the seemingly opposing images of Hassler as a heroic champion for manga or the evil gatekeeper to the book market are not exclusive. In fact they’re probably one and the same; the line between iron-handed rigidness and disciplined decision-making is paper-thin, after all.”

Updated yet again: Tom Spurgeon looks more at where Hassler is going than where he’s been at The Comics Reporter:

“Anyway, the Yen Press line seems set up with the leeway to publish whatever’s popular, and one thing you can say about Hassler and Johnson is that within those parameters neither man seems to have ever displayed a bias against anything that will serve the bottom line. A clear editorial point of view or lack of one guarantees nothing in terms of the final result, but there’s a thin line between art and art product, and it’s becoming thinner in comics all the time.”