The new joint venture between Japanese publisher Kadokawa and the Hachette Book Group—which gives Kadokawa a 51% stake in the Yen Press, HBG’s manga and graphic novel imprint—strengthens the Japanese presence in the American market for manga.
Of the eight North American publishers who primarily publish manga, four—including the three largest—now have direct ties to Japanese publishers. Viz Media is owned by Shueisha, Shogakukan, and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions. Kodansha Comics is an imprint of Kodansha USA, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese publishing giant Kodansha. And Vertical Comics is an imprint of Vertical, in which Kodansha holds a 100% ownership stake after Kodansha USA acquired the shares of Dai Nippon, a Japanese printing company which previously held a minority stake in the imprint, last November. As part of the Yen Press joint venture, HBG is retaining a 49% stake.
“The advantage of setting up Yen Press as a standalone organization is that it gives us greater autonomy and versatility to make decisions about how the business should function within the marketplace,” said Kurt Hassler, the cofounder, managing director, and publisher of Yen Press.
The joint venture is a case of like meets like. Yen Press has expanded its list to include more light novels, a type of young adult illustrated-prose novel popular in Japan, and Kadokawa is known for a robust list of manga and light novels, many of which are adapted into manga and anime.
Hassler said it makes sense for Hachette to hold a minority stake in the joint venture: “Hachette has been materially invested in and responsible for Yen’s success since its inception, and its ongoing stake is representative of Hachette’s interest in continuing to foster and be a part of Yen’s growth in this new dynamic.” Hassler emphasized that “Hachette’s involvement and expertise will continue to be a crucial part of Yen’s organizational structure” and added, “Yen represents the point of intersection of both Kadokawa’s and Hachette’s visions for the future of this area of the market.”
Hassler characterized the joint venture as an expansion of the Yen Press publishing program, rather than a change of direction. He said Yen’s day-to-day operations won’t change much. Editorial, design, marketing, and publicity departments will be a part of the new Yen Press standalone business. Other components, such as sales and distribution, will remain with Hachette, and Yen’s offices will stay at Hachette as well.
In addition to continuing to license comics and prose works from publishers other than Kadokawa, Yen will produce its own original material and will have a first-and-last-look option on licensing Kadokawa’s manga. Meanwhile, the Japanese house will still license its manga to other publishers. Indeed, Hassler announced a new Japanese/English simultaneous publication: Yen Press has acquired the license to the light novel Goblin Slayer! by Kumo Kagyu, with illustrations by Noboru Kannatuki, as well as the manga adaptation. Yen will publish the manga simultaneously with the Japanese release on May 25; the light novel will be published in December. Neither is a Kadokawa property; the light novel is from SB Creative and the manga from Square Enix.
The deal will also bring more content to BookWalker, Kadokawa’s e-book retail platform. “We are very keen to partner with BookWalker and support everything they are trying to do,” Hassler said.
Kadokawa is also extending its reach into another growing distribution channel, online streaming, which is likely to benefit the Yen Press venture as well. The same day that Kadokawa unveiled the joint venture with Yen Press, the house announced a “strategic partnership” with the digital streaming anime and manga platform Crunchyroll; this will bring more Kadokawa anime to Crunchyroll and will also allow Crunchyroll to be part of the committee that will produce new anime projects under the agreement.
Hassler said the Yen Press/Kadokawa joint venture makes sense for both parties, especially with Yen’s recent focus on light novels. The house launched Yen On, a line of light novels in 2014. “We have had a very strong belief that the market potential for real success was there,” Hassler said. “And we have been biding our time waiting for the moment when it made the most sense to make a hard push into [the light novel] market.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Dai Nippon held a minority stake in Vertical.