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Comic Shop Confidential: Meltdown Talks About the Challenges of Selling Manga

By September 18, 2009

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According to their blog, Meltdown Comics and Collectibles in Los Angeles is hauling out over 2,000 volumes of manga that has been gathering dust on their shelves and in their warehouse, and holding a massive $1 Manga Sidewalk Sale on Saturday September 19 and Sunday, September 20 at their store at 7522 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

While this sale offers big-time bargains for manga fans, it's also a sign of a store that is dealing with a problem that many comic shops encounter: how to deal with unsold manga and keep ordering new manga for readers who want the latest releases. Book stores have a different distribution system that allows them to return unsold books. Comic shops mostly get their manga through direct market distributors that don't take returns, so each volume of manga ordered is a gamble: Will it sell or will it be in the store's dollar bin years later?

Gaston Dominguez-LetelierI decided to get the story behind this sale from the owner and founder of Meltdown Comics, Gaston Dominguez-Letelier. Since 1993, Dominguez-Letelier has been offering SoCal comics fans a diverse array of comics, manga, graphic novels, French bande dessinée, art books and toys. It has been recognized as Best Comic Store in L.A. by Los Angeles Magazine, the LA WEEKLY, and was honored with the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award -- so this is clearly an experienced retailer who knows how to sell comics.

So how did Meltdown get stuck with so much unsold manga? What's selling well at this Hollywood comics emporium, what can be done to make it easier for comics shops to sell more manga in a tight economy? Here's Dominguez-Letelier's replies, sent via email.

Q: First off, 2,000+ manga for sale! That's a lot of books to have lying around in a warehouse, and you're selling it for $1 each. How did you accumulate so many volumes, and what inspired you to have this sale now?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: A lot of it is dead stock, the result of bad ordering decisions, movie studios reneging on purchase orders that were placed... There are so many ways for a comics shop like ours to get stuck with books in a Direct Market, non-returns world.

Q: Movie studios reneging on purchase orders? I know Meltdown, by virtue of being located in the heart of Hollywood, has a strong base of customers who work in the TV, movie and animation industries. Do you mean they place bulk orders through you via purchase orders and then cancel them after the fact?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: Yes, you got it. Some junior execs, assistants, others 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.

Q: Also, now that I think of it -- you DO have a lot of movie studios, writers, directors, actors and producers who buy from you on a regular basis. I know they look at your comics and graphic novels selection for ideas for movie properties -- Are they also looking at manga for movie ideas, now that the new Astro Boy movie is coming out, or is it still kind of a wait and see kind of thing?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: Scoping out manga properties for movies was huge in the late 1990's, but even the top studios have had trouble getting any ANY Japanese publisher or creator to trust them with their properties. Lots of top talent have tried, including Hollywood's most elite actresses and actors, to A-list directors, writers and producers. Even with that, these projects all get stuck in development hell.

The ones that do get green lit and made seem like flukes (Think Priest). Some things just stay in development limbo, like Santa Enoue working with MTV. They've been trying to adapt Akira as a film since the late 1980's. Don Murphy, the producer of Transformers 1 and Transformers 2, to name just a few of his big films, tried to do Astro Boy for 12 years with Sony before they gave it to Imagi Studios. The list goes on and on.

Q: Wow. That'd be a whole 'nother interview, so let's bring it back to Meltdown's massive manga sale! Can you give some examples of some of the titles that you'll be selling at this sale? Are these all older titles, released within the last 1-2 years, 3-4 years, or 5+ years or older?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: These books go back to the mid-1990s. I have titles from all publishers: From Battle Royale in Japanese to the latest and greatest titles. The sale includes all manga from the CMX Manga imprint. 90% of TokyoPop. Lots of of that "manly man-on-man" manga (a.k.a. yaoi manga). Exciiiiting stuff….

Q: What are typically the best-selling manga titles at Meltdown?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: The fine and classy books by Vertical and better Dark Horse Comics books, the VIZ BIG phone-book-sized reprints. Anything by Fanfare - Ponent Mon. 20th Century Boys… All the better stuff. Oh yeah, Every new release of Naruto still is MASSIVE for us.

At this point manga in our store is that tends to sell well are the more critically-acclaimed, higher quality stuff, the greatest hits of manga and seinen manga that appeals to older readers. We have a lot of women readers who pick up manga -- more than men. All of them are professionals in the work force types -- not many college students.

I get the occasional "casual capes" readers who are curious about manga, and want check out a must-read title like Akira, kind of like in manga's golden days when it was really doing well in comics shops. Maybe when Akira comes back, we will see more superhero comics fans and video gamers picking up more manga in a small way in our stores.

Q: Do you like to read manga? if so, which current titles do you like? Which titles do you often recommend to your customers?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: I've loved everything by Osamu Tezuka since I was a teen -- I read Astro Boy in Spanish when I was growing up in South America! (Or maybe I'm dreaming this! )

I love all the grotesque horror books by Hideshi Hino and his peers. Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki is awesome, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, M.P.D. Psycho, horror stories by Junji Ito like Uzumaki and Gyo.. Anything by Naoki Urasawa - Monster, 20th Century Boys, which I mentioned earlier, and Pluto. By the way, Pluto is our new "gateway book" for the New Yorker reader set.

Anything by our pal Felipe Smith… anything! (Dude is great and is just a fucking CAN DO type of guy. His WILL is Jedi level.) Truly enjoying the food manga that's coming out now like Oishinbo. The Yoshihiro Tatsumi books that Adrian Tomine is currently editing for Drawn and Quarterly are fantastic and are also top sellers. Anything by Santa Enoue (Tokyo Tribes) is appreciated in any language and format. The dude is a rock ( hiphop star?) in his manga pocket-verse.

Q: Does the typical Meltdown Comics customer ask for / pre-order much manga? Why or why not?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: Sad to say, no. We have tried and have a library program for buyers and schools -- we try to give them a crazy deal so they can peep new books. But that hasn't created any significant amount of pre-orders at the Business-to-Business level or just us selling to our regular customers.

The only books that get continually asked for complete sets of Hayao Miyazaki anime /manga. I wish there was a nice, prestige-formatted Naausica book to sell at the moment; you know, with a new PR campaign and reintroduction of his manga now that Ponyo is out in the U.S.

Q: What's the biggest challenge that a comics retailer like you faces when you order manga for your shop?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: That time (when we order any and all manga) has passed for us. We are left with 2,000 over-stocked books and we learned a lesson. We've since curbed our appetite for taking risks on unproven titles and are just stocking the greatest hits now.

Nowadays for us, it's all about getting books that appeal to the more sophisticated readers out there and figuring out how best to cater to them.

Q: What can manga publishers do to make it easier for you to order (and sell) more manga in your store?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: It's kind of ass-backwards but I'd like to see a massive quarterly anthology kind of like what you see in the train and subway stations in Japan. I think a sampler that readers could pick up for 10 bucks with just the best bits of content in it and a web link to Comixology, to their own sites or to 1-800 COMICBOOK link) would kill.

We feel the time has finally come for this. Like NOW. Not 15, or 10 years ago when Gutsoon or VIZ or whomever tried to do something like this, and all and any of the old publishers' carcasses were left laying by the side of the direct market path of destruction.

The time is now for a pulp-paper, phone book-sized, best-of everything anthology! Get a company like Toyota or Yoshinoya Beef Bowl or Asahi Beer or Nissan or to sponsor it to a certain extent. Think of something like DC Comics' Wednesday Comics, with a suggested retail price of like 11 bucks, tops.

Why not create comics that showcase what manga does really well -- Horror comics, soccer comics, gay comics, and fantasy comics, slice of life stories, hip hop-themed series. Dance comics… The goods!

Someone should reprint Mazinga-Z and some of the more way-out Go Nagai books! (Devil Man, Cutey Honey) Where is Akira?! How about a giant omnibus edition of Ghost in the Shell or a compendium of the most awesome manga battles? Someone would make a mint if they reprinted a Sailor Moon or a Pokemon giant-sized omnibus book.

Q: You do know that Kodansha is releasing new English editions of Akira and Ghost in the Shell this October, right?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: We know about those editions, and its like, YEAH! AKIRA FOR SURE! That was huge news for us! The visibility that these new editions will generate will be killer for comics!

When I mentioned Akira, it was more of a rant to say how frustrated we have been not to have had good versions of such great evergreen gateway books in the mix for close to six years. It's been frustrating to not be able to keep those books in stock.

Q: So this weekend is a big cleaning out of this backstock of your manga inventory, but after this sale, will you continue to stock manga at Meltdown?

Gaston Dominguez-Letelier: Yeah, for sure. As I mentioned earlier, we'll still have manga on our shelves -- just a little more selective selection of what we know our customers like.

We have always loved the books. I think I would get kicked out of Barnes and Noble or Borders if I plopped down on the floor and read my weekly/ monthly stack for free, like all the high school kids do! Ha!

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Meltdown Comics' Massive $1 Manga Clearance Sale will be held on Saturday, September 19 through Sunday, September 20, 2009 at Meltdown Comics and Collectibles, 7522 Sunset Blvd (between Sierra Bonita and Gardiner) in glamorous Hollywood, California. Store hours are Mon - Sun 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call 323.851.7223 or visit the Meltdown website at http://www.meltcomics.com/.

Image credits: Meltdown photos, logo © Meltdown Comics & Collectibles, © 20 SEIKI SHONEN © Naoki URASAWA/Studio Nuts, © PLUTO © Naoki URASAWA/Studio Nuts, Takashi NAGASAKI and Tezuka Productions, © 2008 Nibariki - GNDHDDT

Comments

September 23, 2009 at 12:09 am
(1) ed says:

Why not create comics that showcase what manga does really well — Horror comics, soccer comics, gay comics, and fantasy comics, slice of life stories, hip hop-themed series. Dance comics… The goods!

Strange cause all the sales data suggests none of those genres sell well in the retail market. The directm market didnt do much for the Guin Manga either. And seriously does Whistle! even sell in the direct market?

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