With more than 30 years experience in the pop culture business, Milton Griepp manages to combine the passion of the comic book geek with the marketplace savvy of a serious businessman. Griepp is the CEO of ICv2.com, a daily trade news Web site focused on comics, manga and anime specifically and the pop culture industry in general, offering both daily news reports on the field and in-depth analysis. Besides generally being the tallest guy in the room, Griepp is easily one of the most knowledgeable when it comes to understanding the pop culture marketplace.
He’s also the organizer of the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference held each year at New York Comic-con, offering an annual graphic novel white paper, which provides a detailed look at the past year in comics publishing, in addition to offering panels featuring key executives from across the industry. This year he’s organized “The ICv2 Anime and Manga Conference: Inside the Otaku Generation” to provide similar analysis and reporting on trends in anime and manga, featuring such industry executives as Viz Media senior v-p Liza Coppola, B&N buyer James Killen and Yen Press copublishing director Kurt Hassler. The conference (Publishers Weekly is a cosponsor) will take place Thursday, December 6, at the Javits Center the day before the opening of the New York Anime Festival. PWCW had a chance to talk with Griepp about the new conference and the current state of the anime and manga market in the U.S.
PW Comics Week: What is the preregistration like for the inaugural Anime and Manga conference at the New York Anime Fest in December. How does it compare with the first year of the Graphic Novel Conference you hold each year at New York Comic-con?
Milton Griepp: It’s tracking like the first year of the Graphic Novel Conference at New York Comic-con. We had about 125 people the first year. But it’s not the number of people that attend, but who comes. We’ll have great people from anime producers, manga publishers and licensors—in the audience and on the panels. There will be a lot of key people to learn from.
PWCW: How strong is the connection between anime on DVD, TV and cable and sales of manga. Does this connection still matter in today’s marketplace?
MG: There’s a very strong connection between TV exposure of the anime and sales of all products, including DVDs and manga. One of the things we're going to be talking about at the Conference, in the “Marketing to the Otaku panel,” is the difference between manga and anime properties that remain niche properties and those that break out to become true mass properties, and TV exposure is definitely the most important of the factors. The broader questions are what manga become anime in Japan, what anime get on TV in the States, and whether there are alternative routes to success (e.g., videogame exposure).
PWCW: The U.S. anime market is more mature than the manga market and generally anime DVD sales are said to be flat over the past few years. What’s the state of the anime industry and marketplace in the U.S. right now?
MG: When you look at the full context of the category within the rapid expansion of Japanese pop cultural content into the American market, it’s hard to say that anime is really flat. The market is in a state of flux. There’s a dichotomy in the anime market between the overall popularity of the category and the sluggish state of DVD sales. There’s even more anime on TV now and the ratings are high, but the viewers are not buying DVDs.
Pricing is one issue—the prices of DVDs of anime TV shows are too high on a per-show basis. Consumers are revolting at the old pricing of $30 for a DVD with three or four episodes. And with all this pressure on the business, licensing costs for anime haven't come down yet. The increase in broadband is also increasing the amount of illegal dowloading—although no one knows how big the piracy is. U.S. anime producers are reacting—offering legal downloads and getting new anime releases to the market earlier to blunt illegal downloading.
PWCW: Where do you see the anime DVD market in the short run?
MG: There’s a great future but the old model for DVD sales—single episodes on a $30 DVD released every three months—is breaking down. These days you can’t wait that long to release the episodes, and the price is just too high. There’s a shift to DVDs offering a full-season collection, which lowers the per episode cost. The market is in transition, split between the two models, but it will eventually go straight to a season DVD collection.
There will be more legal anime material on the Web, which will help cut into the illegal download traffic. And anime companies are differentiating the content and the extras they sell on DVD, so that may help evolve that business model. The bottom line is that digital delivery is becoming more important than ever, from video on demand to streaming video and downloads, and how that affects DVD sales is an open question. What is the impact of digital delivery on the sale of physical products? We'll be looking at all of this at the conference.
PWCW: What’s the broad state of the manga market?
MG: It looks like it will be another good year for manga. But there are more open questions, more new factors, to consider about the category. Naruto Nation [Viz is releasing three Naruto titles a month through the end of the year ] doesn’t seem to be causing lost any sales yet, but we’ll have to keep watch on that. One area of concern is the number of manga releases. The projected number of releases is rising again. Where is the rack space coming from? Omnibus editions may be an answer to the space problem. Once again titles at the top of the sales list continue to be powerful sellers, but it’s tougher to break into the market with new series.
PWCW: And what about digital delivery for manga?
MG: Will readers read manga online or on screen? Will they steal content online or buy it? What effect will digital delivery have on the trade? But the future of the manga market looks good and retailers seem to be happy.
PWCW: As the manga market matures, are you seeing any changes in the popularity of different genres?
MG: There’s more sexual material coming and that could be a problem. There’s more seinen and josei manga [manga aimed at adult men and adult women respectively] coming, and yaoi also remains a strong category.
PWCW: One of the highlights of the graphic novel conference at New York Comic-con is the release of your annual white paper on the details of the marketplace. What will you cover in this year’s anime and manga white paper?
MG: We’ll have title counts for the categories covering the past three years and projections for next year. We’ll cover retail trends, and we’ll have mathematical analysis of the market and what it means for the future. We’re bringing together the most powerful people in the business. That’s what this conference is about. The market for anime and manga is moving quickly. There is so much change going on and so many opportunities.