Viz In 2014: Eberhardt and Hamric On Digital, Print And Multimedia
The manga business has seemed like a rocky sea over the several years, but if there's one publisher that's gotten in front of the waves to surf with the changes it's been Viz Media. The first major manga publisher to debut a content-loaded app with less-than-print pricing on the iPad back in 2010, Viz continued to expand its efforts in the digital space on top of its print foundation and now offers a continually growing list of material on everything from the Kindle to Google Play. The business has continued to shift, however, and the following year Viz implemented a digital price increase to facilitate its own needs as a publisher as it looked ahead to 2014 and beyond. To learn more about how Viz spent 2013 and its publishing plans the coming year, CA got in touch with Eric Eberhardt, Senior Digital Marketing Manager and Kevin Hamric, Sr. Director Publishing Sales & Marketing. Read the full interview, after the jump.
ComicsAlliance: VIZ Media openly announced its digital manga price increase a few months back, which not all publishers are as upfront about. What made that level of transparency a priority? Has VIZ seen any noticeable sales shifts since the increase?
Eric Eberhardt: Our pricing for digital manga has stayed constant since the 2010 debut of the VIZ Manga app for iPad. Since then, we’ve grown from 10 volumes across 5 series at initial launch, to now over 1,700 volumes covering 170+ series. We’ve also expanded the VIZ Manga app to iPhone and Android, as well as built a very robust and continually growing website at VIZManga.com for online access. We’ve also forged partnerships with Nook, Kobo, Kindle, iBooks and Google Play.
There is always some amount of initial sticker shock with any increase. But by pre-announcing the $2 increase, we sought to minimize any long-term aggravation, and smooth the way for an easier transition for our readers. Our fans appreciate knowing that the new price also goes to support the manga creators and the all the staff that help bring the manga to North America.
Every platform has its own distinct audience, and we're doing our best to support as many of them as possible. It's hard to know in advance which titles will be top performers, but in general we've noticed a very strong shojo readership on platforms like Kindle and Nook. It seems like this is less of a "shift" from the VIZ Manga platform, and more a case of reaching an audience that was previously untapped, so we are very excited to add even more new platforms and territories because we believe that the manga medium will continue to grow in popularity.
CA: Two of my favorite Shonen Jump serials of the year have been 'Jaco the Galactic Patrolman' and 'One Punch Man.' Has VIZ made plans to collect these stories digitally or in trade paperback yet?
EE: There are so many fans for both of these great new series – stay tuned for updates!
CA: Google Play has recently become a player in the digital comics market, with VIZ and other publishers offering their materials there. What's VIZ's strategy in that space?
EE: Our overarching goal is to expand as many digital platforms as possible, so readers have more options in the ways to access our manga content. We want to provide the greatest degree of flexibility to our fans, whether your preferred platform is an Android or iOS tablet, your phone using the VIZ Manga app, PC access with VIZManga.com or any number of other digital devices!
CA: 10-15 years ago there was a certain element of "manga education" that the industry faced in North America in terms of content and basics like reading from right to left. Has the target audience for VIZ’s various titles become more sophisticated over time or is this a process that demands renewal every few years?
Kevin Hamric: There will always be an element of education as new readers discover manga. But what’s great is that the generation we first “educated” 10-15 years ago have become evangelists for the medium and helped to spread their love to new fans. Each year our job does become a bit easier in this area – back in the ‘90s, it was still a challenge to introduce buyers and readers to titles like Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, which both went on to eventually become massive hits. It’s wonderful nowadays to meet people and have them say, “Naruto? One Piece? Yeah, we know and love those manga and now my kids are also discovering them!”
CA: Quite a few Shonen Jump Advanced titles have yet to get digitized. Any word on when more books like Ultimate Muscle might cross over? What are the main considerations when it comes to porting printed material to digital?
EE: Our digital manga catalog is still growing at a great clip, and the majority of the titles we debut in print also debut digitally on the same day. We also debut several legacy series each month and our challenge now is to ensure that we can maintain the release pace without ever sacrificing quality.
There are a lot of factors, but the most important remains demand from customers. We regularly encourage fans to contact us via Twitter and Facebook, as well as use tools like the "Request Kindle Version" button that's available on the Amazon site to let us know which titles and series are most important to them. Reader feedback and communication are vital, not just for VIZ, but also for the original manga creators and publishers in Japan to know how their work is being received in North America.
CA: What are some of your personal favorite titles VIZ is putting out right now?
EE: I love One-Punch Man and some of the other new Shonen Jump serializations like World Trigger, Cross Manage and Nisekoi. We hope people continue subscribing to Jump to support these titles as they grow into the next generation of worldwide hits!
CA: What do VIZ's customer demographics look like these days? Is there a perpetual base or have things expanded to grow with readers who came into manga during the bookstore boom some years back?
KH: Our customer base has remained solid – we have a strong base of loyal and hardcore fans for many of our most popular and long-running series, including Naruto, One Piece, Bleach and Vampire Knight. The goal is to acquire appealing new series to allow us to grow as a company and continue to cultivate the manga medium internationally.
Along the same lines – our new offerings also need to bring in casual readers and those who are new to the manga genre. Series such as Blue Exorcist, Black Bird, Demon Love Spell and others have been hits in that area – and there’s excitement for each new volume that debuts!
CA: What's coming up for VIZ in 2014?
EE: More platforms, more international territories, and more new series! Plus new products like the Shonen Jump "Jump Pack" to help bridge the gap between print and digital releases, and also introduce the new generation of readers to all of the great series featured in Weekly Shonen Jump!
KH: We also have a wide array great releases coming up during the first-half of 2014 on the print side!
RANMA ½ in 2-in-1 omnibus editions debut in March, and for the first time they’ll be in the original right-to-left reading order! The gender-bending martial arts comedy from Rumiko Takahashi kicked off the manga boom in North America in the ‘90s and we’re very excited to celebrate its return!
Another classic manga comes that out February in a new edition and format will be Dragon Ball Full Color. Fans will get a chance to experience Akira Toriyama’s influential series in a whole new way – colorized and in an oversized edition!
The edgy Terra Formars also has a lot of fan support, and we’ll be releasing the first volume in July! It’s a combination science fiction / horror story in the tradition of the Aliens trilogy, The Thing and Prometheus.
We’re also really excited for Monster: The Perfect Edition. It arrives July in an oversized 2-in-1 edition and each volume contains 18 full-color pages. This gripping thriller is a must-read for any manga fan, and is perfect introduction for new readers to the edgier side of manga and the award winning works of Naoki Urasawa!
In March, the magical-girl fantasy Phatom Thief Jeanne launches and will be a hit with fans of Arina Tanemura’s shojo titles. The rom-com My Love Story will debut in July and is getting some well-deserved attention too!
For our Haikasoru sci-fi literary imprint, we’re really excited about the Edge of Tomorrow movie debut in June, which stars Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton. It’s based on our novel, All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and we’ll be releasing a special movie tie-in edition of the novel as well as an original graphic novel adaptation in May!
Finally, the pop culture phenomenon Battle Royale turns 15 next year, and we’ll celebrate with three new releases! An all-new “Remastered” edition comes out in April with brand new translation! The Battle Royale Slam Book debuts at the same time – it’s a companion book of essays from some of today’s best sci-fi, horror and thriller writers, including Catherynne M. Valente, Brian Keene, and many more, exploring the depth, details, and controversies of the visceral series. And also not to be missed will be Battle Royale: Angel's Border, a side story graphic novel focusing on a group of students from the original story that debuts June!