The main floor at this year’s was smaller. The big booths of Tokyopop and Viz Media are a memory. Spectacle is out, B2B is back in. No longer the buzzword or newcomer to the show, manga publishers at BookExpo America 2010 got down to business. While most manga publishers did not exhibit, representatives from most houses circulated on the show floor and held meetings in distributor meeting rooms.
Betsy Mitchell, editor-in-chief of Del Rey Manga, attended the show, as well as a representative from Kodansha USA, and one from Fanfare/Ponent Mon. For the second year in a row, Viz Media did not exhibit, but Viz CEO Hidemi Fukuhara was in attendance with representatives from Viz Media and Shueisha.
"There will always be spectacle,” Del Rey Manga marketing manager, Ali T. Kokmen said. "But that's not the main purpose of the show."
In light of the recent events in the manga industry (Viz Media laying off 40% of its work force, DC Comics closing down its manga imprint CMX, overall manga sales down by 20% for 2009 as reported by ICv2.com) publishers in this sector of the book industry were doing business and faring reasonably well. "We wouldn't be here if there weren't a demand," Moneka Hewlett, director of sales, marketing, and home entertainment at Viz Media told PW Comics Week. "Retailers continue to be supportive and our numbers continue to be better compared to what we're being told by the retailers and distributors" she said. Hewlett also pointed to the overall market and retail climate, "It's a different time in retail and manga is no exception."
Despite the overall perception that manga is faring poorly in a flat/down market, manga publishers are reporting successes. Michael Martens, Dark Horse director of new development, told PWCW that manga sales at Dark Horse are up 13%. "We're holding steady on the adult manga, Beserk and Gantz. And the CLAMP titles [Clover omnibus, Card Captor Sakura, and volume one of Chobits] have sold really well."
At the Yen Press booth, cloistered in the booth of its parent company, Hachette, Yen Press publisher Kurt Hassler said that the imprint has had great success with their licenses Black Butler, the CLAMP series, Kobato, and Yotsuba&! "We're performing great in the market and showing phenomenal growth." Yen Press's hardcover adaptation, Twilight, has also topped the New York Times bestseller list. The company rolls out its Gossip Girl graphic novels in August, while the first Clique graphic novel (adapted from the teen novels by Lisi Harrison) comes out in July. Hassler says that the publisher will also have news to announce at San Diego Comic-con International in July.
Fantagraphics gave away hundreds of galleys of Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream, a book that Fantagraphics founder and co-publisher Gary Groth is excited about. "I'm really proud to publish this," He said. "I'm astonished at how good the work is and I'm not predisposed to liking manga. I'm 100% behind this," Groth said. Hagio will be a guest at this year's San Diego Comic-Con International in July. Groth is skeptical of BEA's relevance in 2010. "We're in touch with [industry] people constantly and we have instantaneous communication with them,” Groth said. "Is it worth the $10,000-$20,000 for a publisher to exhibit here and could you put those resources to other use?"
At their booth in the graphic novels alley, Glen Kardy, president and CEO of Japanime Publishing, which specializes in non-fiction and educational manga publishing, had copies of the Manga Cookbook which has continued to be their bestseller, as well as Samurai Confidential, about the role of the samurai in feudal Japan, which has become popular in academic circles and in museums. "We're always looking for digital opportunities," Kardy said. Japanime has iPhone and iPad applications for a few of their books as well as Kindle versions. Kardy said that the small publisher sells 100-150 copies for the Kindle per month, and a couple of hundred for the iPhone. "We're still here and we're still at BEA,” Kardy said of the show, calling it a place where publishers have the "potential to move a lot of product."
Over at Kodansha America (an extension of Kodansha International and not to be confused with manga publisher Kodansha Comics, Kodansha's new U.S. office) had advance copies of their August book, Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential. Co-written by Brian Ashcroft, who has a column in Wired magazine, the book takes a look at trends, styles, and fashion started by schoolgirls in Japan. Kodansha America has also set up a Facebook page to reach their readers and people interested in Japanese culture.
For manga publishers, BEA continues to be an important show. However, exhibiting at BEA has become less relevant than capitalizing on its function as a trade show and the business-to-business opportunities it presents.
"Folks are still interested in manga and business is being transacted," Kokmen said. "It's just not happening on the exhibition show floor."