After the failure of an ambitious Kickstarter campaign organized by Digital Manga Publishing to release the backlist of the late manga artist Osamu Tezuka, DMP CEO Hikaru Sasahara is changing publishing strategy. Responding to critics of the initial campaign, which sought to raise more than $300,000, Sasahara has launched a new and far more modest Kickstarter campaign to fund a forthcoming two-volume Tezuka release.
The new Kickstarter is the first step of a reconfigured program that will publish Tezuka's 400 title backlist over 20 years, rather than the 5-6 years in DMP's initial publishing plan. Immediately following the failure of its $300,000 Kickstarter campaign, DMP launched a new Kickstarter on November 26 with a goal of $21,600 to publish the two-volume Ludwig. In the introductory paragraph, Sasahara writes that he now plans to publish 20 to 30 volumes per year also to be supported by Kickstarter campaigns: "Under this revised schedule, we would still need to run each Kickstarter campaign with 1~5 books while leaving 1~2 weeks breathing period between each campaign in order to reach our milestone of rolling out over 400 books within the given time frame.
Despite the failure of DMP’s original Tezuka Kickstarter campaign, DMP's new Kickstarter highlights the rise of publishers who are structuring their publishing budgets strategically around the use of crowdfunding. Rather than using Kickstarter to fund a single title or event some independent publishers like Fantagraphics, and more recently Last Gasp, are using it to fund entire publishing seasons.
Crowdfunding the Massive Tezuka Backlist
When Digital Manga Publishing made a deal with Tezuka Productions to release all of the late manga artist Osamu Tezuka's manga works that had not already been published in English, DMP president Hikaru Sasahara realized he had a problem. "There are more than 400 Tezuka books that have not been published outside of Japan," he told PW in an e-mail interview, "and if we are to take our usual route of publishing four or five books a year, it would take 100 years."
So Sasahara turned to Kickstarter, which DMP had already used successfully to finance the publication of several Tezuka manga. While DMP’s earlier Kickstarter campaigns raised tens of thousands of dollars to publish individual titles, this Kickstarter was designed to fund every aspect of the first stage of a publishing program, going far beyond the production costs of the books themselves to cover costs such as staffing and travel.
That didn't happen. When the DMP’s omnibus Tezuka Kickstarter ended on November 20, less than $27,000 had been pledged—only 7% of the initial goal.
Tezuka, often referred to as “the godfather of manga,” is a revered in the U.S. as well as Japan and any efforts to translate his massive backlist into English will attract global scrutiny from fans. The results of DMP's earlier Kickstarters suggest there is a strong market for his work in English. The first one, in December 2011, was a $3,950 campaign to raise money to print a new edition of Tezuka's Swallowing the Earth, which had gone out of print. The total raised was $8,806, more than twice the initial goal. In January 2012 they launched their first Kickstarter for a new book, Tezuka's Barbara, and again, the amount raised, $17,032, was much more than the initial goal. DMP ran two more successful Kickstarters after that.
The Failed Tezuka Kickstarter
The failed "Tezuka's World Release" Kickstarter was very different in scope. If fully funded, it would have allowed DMP to simultaneously publish 31 volumes, comprising six different series, in both print and digital formats. The basic goal, $380,000, would fund two series, The Three-Eyed One (13 volumes) and Rainbow Parakeet (seven volumes). Then there were two "stretch goals": If the Kickstarter raised a total of $475,000, DMP would add two more series, Wonder (three volumes) and Alabaster (two volumes), and if the total reached $589,000, they would also publish Vampires (four volumes) and Birdman Anthology (two volumes).
Unlike the earlier Kickstarters, this one included all the publisher's expenses, including some that had already been incurred, such as Sasahara's travel to Japan to secure the licenses. "Overall it took me a good ten years to consummate this 'entire Tezuka library' partnership, including numerous visits to Tezuka Productions in Tokyo as well as paving the way by publishing our Let's Draw Manga Astro Boy back in 2003," he said. In addition, DMP is recruiting new employees specifically to work on the Tezuka books and has assigned existing staff to a special "Tezuka Team."
The higher cost is also due in part to the size of the project: "A lot more books to work on leads to a lot more licensing fees, a lot more localization fees, a lot more reward products, a lot more labor, a lot more distribution and PR cost, and a lot more HR," he said.
It also cost much more for fans to be involved and back the project and the fans complained. (Initially, backers had to pledge a minimum of $150 just to get two printed books, but DMP later added some lower-priced reward tiers that included books.)
One of the most outspoken critics of the DMP Tezuka Kickstarter was Alex Hoffman, who published a three-part critique on his blog, Sequential State. Hoffman told PW in an e-mail interview that his issues included the fact that DMP was using the funds to defray costs not directly associated with book production. "I don't think it's fair to ask backers to pay you back for work you've done previously, or for work not associated with the product that is being backed," he said.
Hoffman also pointed out that unlike in previous campaigns, Kickstarter backers would pay at least $24 for each print book, while the publisher’s MSRP was only $13.95. In retrospect, Sasahara admitted, that was a mistake. "We should have focused more on books rather than other related reward products," he said.
The failure of DMP’s original Kickstarter does not mean the end of DMP's Tezuka program. Sasahara has planned all along to publish some Tezuka titles digitally via DMP's Digital Manga Guild. In that system, the publisher, licensor, and localizing team (usually a translator, editor, and letterer) all defer payment until the book is published and then take a share of the revenue.
Sasahara acknowledged that he has rethought his Kickstarter strategy for the future. "We will simply change gears to run the campaign a few books at a time, to reflect backers' wishes," he said.
There's one more twist: DMP’s Kickstarter funded books will only be available to purchase directly from DMP. However, once books are in print, Sasahara told PW, DMP will look to find a distributor to get the books into the library market.
"Outside of the library, we are thinking to limit Tezuka books only to our direct-to-customer channel, [meaning] all the backers of the Kickstarter campaign would be the first ones to get the book," he said. DMP has excluded the Tezuka titles from its usual distribution contracts; Sasahara said they will not be distributed to retail stores or to Amazon but will only be available directly from the publisher.