Announced at the beginning of the year in conjunction with its distributor S&S International, Viz Media is expanding distribution of its English language print manga titles into India. This is the first time Viz Media manga has been legally imported into India and follows a similar expansion by Viz into the Philipines in Fall 2013.
The new initiative will launch with about 75 series from the Shueisha side of the company—Viz is the U.S. subsidiary of Japanese manga houses Shueisa and Shogakukan. The distribution deal is limited to print only at this point and will include fan favorite series like Blue Exorcist and Death Note. “We didn’t want to overwhelm the retailers, so we’re seeding key series now and then we’ll add more of the backlist,” says, Kevin Hamric, Viz Media, senior director sales and marketing, during a phone interview. Retailers include Indian online booksellers Flipkart, Landmark and Crossword, the later two also have physical stores.
India has a large domestic English language publishing market, says Hamric, “English is the second language. There’s no problems with a dialect or in conversation at all.” As a result, in the absence of legal Viz titles, a “big” semi-legal gray market—unauthorized importation of Viz manga by some retailers—has grown in India to supply the demand. “Some of our inventory has been brought into the country by retailers, and it gave us a sales history on our top titles, like Naruto, Bleach and One-Piece,” Hamric says.
Hamric has been traveling through India, working with S&S India in New Delhi and meeting Indian retailers. “We get hundreds of requests a month for our books in India,” he says. Distribution was launched at the recent Mumbai Film and Comics Convention in December (attendance 35,000) and Comic Con New Delhi (attendance 50,000)—there are three Indian comic-cons. Hamric said, “It speaks volumes that the cons are growing so fast. Our books were selling briskly and our booth was so mobbed it caught the S&S India staff off-guard.”
India fans are well versed in Japanese and U.S. comics, Hamic says. “Marvel and DC have been in India for a few years,” he says, noting that what the fans want is not very that different from what he would see at a show in the U.S. “It’s not that different. Indian fans are just hungry for product. There is Indian manga but it’s just not that popular. Anime is also strong in India, there are three or four cable shows devoted to it. Fans already know the product.”
“We plan to do the whole Viz Media catalog [in India], after we get some numbers back,” Hamric says.