In June 2009, VIZ Media announced that they'd be discontinuing the print edition of their shojo manga monthly, Shojo Beat. Many fans were dismayed, but VIZ explained that their decision was based on "today's difficult economic climate," and that they "felt the need to place our resources elsewhere at this time."
A few months later, I got word of a new American shojo manga magazine, ShojoBerry:
"While Shojo Beat magazine may have been discontinued, that doesn't mean that something else cannot fill the hole it left. Currently there is no English magazine that focuses directly on shojo manga. We are attempting to start a magazine project, named ShojoBerry, to do just that, primarily due to the demise of Shojo Beat."
"It will be several months before we have anything ready, but if you're interested, it might be worth checking out! You can find us at:
Shojoberry Facebook Page
Shojoberry Homepage (under construction)"
On the ShojoBerry Facebook page, I saw enthusiastic responses from fans, but was also left with a few nagging questions.
I tweeted about my reservations about this venture -- would ShojoBerry be a fanzine or a professionally-produced magazine? Would it include licensed manga from Japan, original comics by US creators or both? Perhaps the biggest question from many industry watchers was this: Why start a magazine like this when so many established print magazines are folding?
To get the answers to these and many more questions, I sent an email to Garrett Boast, the publisher and one of the founders of ShojoBerry. Here's what he had to share about this new shojo manga magazine and their plans for their 2010 debut.
SAYONARA SHOJO BEAT, KONNICHIWA SHOJOBERRY?
Q: Can you share a little about what inspired you to start this venture, especially now when the U.S. print magazine industry is having a hard time, business-wise?
Garrett Boast: Essentially, as you noted on Twitter, the creation of ShojoBerry was a direct reaction to Shojo Beat discontinuing their monthly print magazine. I was a Shojo Beat subscriber. When I received the letter from VIZ about the magazine being discontinued, I was severely disappointed (as were most fans). I started looking into what it would take to launch a similar format magazine.
Oddly enough, I managed to win Shojo Beat's "Vampire Knight/Kanon Wakeshima at Otakon 2009" contest and got to meet with the Shojo Beat brand manager as well as their Japanese licensing contact. I discussed my idea with them, after expressing my dismay about Shojo Beat's fate.
For about three months, nothing happened with the project beyond my own personal research. I began recruiting members for staff in September. That's when work on the project officially began.
We have not taken the economic climate and health of the print magazine industry into account, primarily because this project does not have to be self sustaining initially. If we maintain a smaller staff, I believe we will be agile enough to survive. And if not, we won't have to lay off 50+ staff members (not that anyone is currently relying on the magazine as their primary source of income).
If the magazine were to fail in its print form, there is no reason that we cannot either go to an online-only format to reduce overhead, or even convert to an exclusively straight-to-graphic novel/trade paperback publishing company. That would be quite a change in project direction but would not be an unreasonable move if it comes down to it.
WHAT WILL READERS FIND IN SHOJOBERRY?
Q: What kind of stories will you be publishing in ShojoBerry? Licensed Japanese manga or Korean manhwa? Original comics from North American / European creators? Fan-fiction? Articles about fashion, crafts, food and games?
Garrett Boast: In terms of articles, we are going to have a wide variety of articles covering topics such as crafts/DIY projects, Japanese cuisine, music/band reviews, convention highlights and schedules, Gothic/Lolita and J* fashion, Asian ball-jointed dolls, and more. We are hoping that the articles grow an audience of their own, potentially drawing more readers to the magazine even for that sole purpose.
Regarding manga, we have several routes that we are exploring to get content for the magazine. Our first path was to put feelers out to amateur manga-ka and/or doujinshi artists in an attempt to license them directly. We are still leaving this route open and are going to ramp up recruiting to see if any viable options come of it.
We are also hoping to engage in sub-licensing talks with other US publishers as most have licenses to series that they do not utilize, whether due to lack of resources to devote to them, having previously dropped the series, not having a viable platform to launch them from, etc.
We also have not closed the door on original English language (OEL) manga and are going to have open submissions for manga-ka regardless of origin. We are planning on opening up submissions soon after our submission guidelines are established and website is launched.
Q: Will this be in black and white? Color? Or both color and black and white?
Q: Will it look the same as Shojo Beat or Yen Plus, or will it be a more like a fanzine format?
Garrett Boast: Discerning whether ShojoBerry is a fanzine or a magazine really comes down to the primary intentions as well as the business model. It is being developed by several fans of Shojo Beat, for fans of the shojo genre. (Although we have team members that are not fans of the shojo genre, and some that aren't into anime/manga/J-pop culture at all!)
We are not corporate-funded or owned but have a fair amount of capital dedicated to the project. While we don't anticipate the magazine to be self-sustaining instantly, it would be nice to see it return a profit. Most likely we will end up relying on the typical magazine revenue stream of advertising + subscriptions + issue sales (and possible merchandise, depending on the licensing situation). Is this a fanzine? I would say that you can call it one, with aspirations of being a full production in the not-so-distant future.