Japanese publishing giant Kodansha Ltd. has joined with Japanese printing giant Dai Nippon Printing to acquire Vertical Inc., a Tokyo and New York City-based publisher of contemporary Japanese prose fiction and nonfiction and classic manga in translation.
Vertical marketing director Ed Chavez, a former manga editor at Kodansha in Tokyo and one of the few Westerners to have worked as an editor at a Japanese publishing house, told PW that Kodansha and Dai Nippon have both purchased 46% stakes in Vertical. The new acquisition comes as Kodansha is set to launch Kodansha Comics, a new U.S. manga imprint based in New York that will take over the Kodansha manga licences originally published in the U.S. by Del Rey Manga.
Chavez said that the deal has been in works for a while and in December Vertical moved its offices to the Park Avenue South offices of Kodansha Publishing USA, the publishing parent of Kodansha Comics in the U.S. Kodansha also releases English language nonfiction titles in the U.S. through Kodansha International.
Chavez said the acquisition will provide capital and support for the Vertical's publishing program. “We do more than comics and manga,” he said, “there’s fiction and cookbooks by big Japanese authors. None of this will change. We’ll have more support and flexibility to work on areas of our program—translating and editing genre fiction is expensive--that have been a little neglected.” Chavez said that the relationship with Dai Nippon Printing will provide production and printing support for its books as well as provide access to new licenses through DNP’s relationship with a wide range of Japanese publishers.
Founded in 2001 by former editor/reporter Hiroki Sakai, Vertical Inc. publishes a mix of contemporary Japanese genre fiction and nonfiction in addition to classic manga by such mangaka as Osamu Tezuka and Keiko Takemiya. Vertical publishes about 36-40 books a year with an emphasis on critically acclaimed Japanese genre fiction and manga. Chavez said the number of titles will likely not increase and that there are no plans to increase staff at the small house presently.
Chavez said that while the acquisition would give Vertical access to more of Kodansha licenses, he said he expected that the list will be about 50% Kodansha and non-Kodansha licenses. Vertical also plans to roll out a children's book line in June, publishing two to three picture books and/or manga aimed at younger readers. “Japanese kids books have been under represented on our list,” Chavez said, noting that the kids books licenses came through DNP.
According to Chavez, Kodansha Comics will focus on “big-name manga properties,” while Vertical will continue to release classic works by revered mangaka like Tezuka’s Black Jack, in addition to specialty manga series like the forthcoming Drops of God by Kami No Shizuka, a manga about wine-making, Chi’s Sweet Home, a popular comic manga by Konami Konata and the outrageous cultural satire, Peepo Choo by American mangaka, Felipe Smith.
Although Vertical has always received high praise for its mix of contemporary literature, the publisher has been chronically undercapitalized and has sometimes struggled on the financial side. “We’ve done well going directly to authors for licenses but now we can work with Kodansha and Dai Nippon to get better licenses as well as the printing and production advantages DNP offers. And DNP is also looking to get its publishers more access to the U.S. market. Otherwise nothing has changed: quality books are the key to what we do.”