The time when I think it was right to do 200 – 300 books a year like how TokyoPop or VIZ is does... Well, I look at the market as it is now, and I think that's a little… tricky to do that amount of books with the amount of shelf space that's out there now. It's all a big balancing act. It's trying to figure out how to put out the right books at the right time, and in the right amount. You don't want to do too many, you don't want to do too much…. It's very complicated. (laughs)
Q: Since you're coming from the publishing world, I do have to ask a question that many manga buyers might have for you about the cost, the cover price for manga. Like many people who trip over the teens who sit in the aisles of the bookstore reading manga versus just buying it and taking it home to read, I have to wonder if that happens because teens can't afford to buy all the manga that they'd like to read. Are there any plans to lower the cover price for Del Rey Manga titles, or are there ways to make manga more accessible to this market, given this audience segment's limited budget?
DM: Well, that's an interesting question. The short and simple answer right now is no, we're not planning on lowering our prices on our books. We look at a lot of different factors when we determine our prices. And in all honesty, we base our prices on what we think the market can bear, and what is going to still be profitable for us. To lower prices on some books, in my opinion, would not significantly increase the sales, but would result in us making less money and in all possibilities, not make a profit at all.
The profit margins in publishing are a lot slimmer than people realize. When you have a $10, or in our case, $11 book, the typical discount for the book, when it's sold to a retailer like a Borders or a Barnes and Noble is 50%. So right away, $5.50 is gone. And when you start to add in costs for everything, that amount of money you get back is just smaller and smaller.
But I'm also curious about the question – why do you think that they're too expensive? There was a time in 2000 when manga cost between $15 to $20 a book, and it's come down substantially since then.
Q: I guess I ask because the manga publishing business seems to be so different in the U.S. than it is in Japan, where they have anthology magazines, weekly serializations of series, and even the tankoubons (graphic novels) cost about the equivalent of $5 - $6 per book. So at the current price, it's harder for some readers to take a chance on a new series.
DM: Oh, of course. I understand that. That's why we try to put the first chapter of any series on our Web site, so we can give readers an opportunity to read it online for free, to see if they're interested before they buy that first volume. (Note: View Del Rey's free online manga previews here)
But that's an interesting thing. Most people do question why the books are so much more expensive than they are in Japan. There are two reasons for that, one that most people are aware of, and the other that most people don't know. The most obvious reason is economies of scale – (Japanese publishers) print a lot more copies of a book. When you print more copies of a book, the per book price comes down substantially. So that has a big, big effect.
The other is that 50% discount that I mentioned earlier. That 50% discount, in Japan, it's more like a 30% discount. So the Japanese bookseller is only getting a 30% discount (off the retail price of the book), so the publishers in Japan use that to price their books cheaper. And that, unfortunately, is not the way things work here.
OVERLOOKED GEMS AND COMING ATTRACTIONS
DM: We go back and forth on that a lot, so all I'll say is, yes, we've put some thought into that. (laughs)
(Note: Since our interview, Del Rey Manga announced plans to publish Faust, a prose / manga anthology magazine from Kodansha in the U.S. in 2008.)
Q: Given that you're the guy who keeps a close eye on such things, what are Del Rey Manga's most successful titles?
DM: Negima and Tsubasa, no question. We launched with those series, and both of those series continue to do incredibly well. We have found that sales have gone up with each new volume, and those are hands down our most popular series.
Q: There's a lot of great stuff on Del Rey, so I'm glad to get the box of manga from you because I get to discover some overlooked gems, some titles that I normally wouldn't have picked up if I was just browsing through the bookstore. Is there an overlooked gem in Del Rey's lineup that you wish more people would pick up?
DM: I wish they would pick up ALL of our books, but if I were to single out one title.... Well, I told you earlier that my tastes run more toward the seinen manga style books that often have more trouble finding an audience here. Mushishi and Parasyte are two of my favorite books that we're putting out now.
Mushishi is just spectacular, and I've seen some clips from the live action movie and the anime version, I met the director. There's just so many wonderful things happening with that series, and at the core of it, it's just really excellent, well-drawn manga. And while that's doing well for us, I would really love to see that one break through and become a big, big hit.
Q: I love it too, but to be honest, if I saw it in the bookstore not knowing anything about it, I probably wouldn't have picked it up.
DM: Well, that's a tough one, isn't it? The story is fairly understated, and the cover design reflects that. The cover design looks like a watercolor painting, which the original (Japanese edition) was. I think that's very appropriate for that manga, but it's not necessarily one that screams out to the legions of Naruto and Negima fans, 'pick me up.'(More on Page 3)