Broccoli International USA, which includes the manga imprints Broccoli Books and Boysenberry, a planned line of yaoi manga, will be officially shutdown at the end of year, according to president Kaname Tezuka. Tezuka said the closure was the decision of the Japanese parent company, Broccoli Co. Ltd. “The corporate group in Japan evaluated the current U.S. comic book market and the U.S. economy as a whole, and decided that it would be best to concentrate their efforts in the Japanese market for the time being,” he said.

Broccoli Books launched in 2004 with a line that was mostly shojo manga titles such as Juvenile Orion. “We noticed that the sales for our shojo manga line started declining in 2007,” said managing editor Shizuki Yamashita. “Around the same time, our multi-media properties, such as Disgaea and Murder Princess started doing well. Those titles were targeted to older teens and to young adults.”

The closure will affect the publisher’s five full-time staffers as well as a number of part-time employees and freelancers. “We have stopped printing all books in progress, and will not be releasing any new titles for the rest of the year per our licensing agreements,” she said. Fourteen series, including Kamui, Galaxy Angel II, and Koi Cupid, are still unfinished. “We are working with our licensors and have offered to assist them and any future U.S. publishers by providing them with all the production materials necessary,” said Yamashita. “One title is currently in the process of being picked up by a U.S. publisher, but we haven't been contacted other titles yet.”

Other manga publishers offered their perspectives on Broccoli’s closing and the current U.S. manga market. Simon Jones, of Icarus Comics, which publishes sexually explicit ero-manga, said the quality of Broccoli’s products was its strong suit. “From what I've heard, they had a great rapport with fandom,” he said. “Broccoli was a company that people loved.” And while he doesn’t dismiss the current economy, Jones said Broccoli Books’ biggest limitation, was being subsidiary of Broccoli Co., Ltd. “Their licenses were pretty much limited to their parent company,” he said, noting that “Broccoli Japan is a retailer first and foremost. There's just not a lot of depth in their catalogue.”

As a “specialty publisher” Jones said Icarus has a more stable audience than a manga publisher with a broader line, noting that his readers are “are more predictable, and dependable.” And because Icarus manga are sold in comics and specialty shops, the recent troubles and inventory cutbacks of the major book chains don’t have much of an effect on his business.

In fact the shutdown of Broccoli comes in the midst of a U.S. economic downturn that is challenging book retailers of all kinds. But as Jones suggests, manga publishers may be feeling the pinch just a bit more. Manga, particularly shojo manga aimed at teen girls, is dependent on sales through the major bookstore chains—Borders and Barnes & Noble in particular—which are reporting drops in sales as well as drops in consumer traffic linked to the current distress in the broader U.S. economy. Indeed, Borders, which pioneered sales of manga in US., is in the midst of reorganizing and the chain has become more selective in its buying, aggressively reducing the size of its inventory. B&N is behaving much the same and this is having an effect on all book publishers.

While sales of manga and graphic novels in general have been rising steadily since the late 1990s, growth in the category has slowed in recent years. However, most comics publishers attribute this slowdown to the maturation of the category. In a recent interview, Kurt Hassler, publishing director of Yen Press, Hachette’s graphic novel imprint, told PWCW that a slow down was “inevitable. It’s impossible for [manga] to maintain the same rate of growth that we’ve seen for the past years.” Hassler emphasized that there has been no “contraction of the manga market. There’s still growth, but growth in a much more mature category that went from nothing to what it is now in less than a decade. People are predicting the bust of manga—that’s not going to happen.”

While some manga and comics publishers declined to comment for this story, others expressed a cautious optimism about the comics market, acknowledging that a tough economy is going make consumers as selective as retailers. Kuo-yu Liang, v-p, sales of Diamond Book Distribution, which distributes graphic novels and other pop culture material, says “B&N and Borders are putting pressure on mid-sized publishers. They are cutting back across the board, stocking less and returning more and considering the economy I can’t really say that that’s wrong.” But he said that retailer cutbacks are likely to affect manga publishers more than conventional comics publishers. “Other publishers can fall back on comics shops and internet sales,” says Liang, noting that these channels represent a smaller market for manga publishers. “Teen girls buy their shojo at the chains.”

Erik Ko, CEO of Udon Entertainment, a Canadian manga studio that produces manga adaptations of Capcom’s Street Fighter videogame series, acknowledges reduced orders from Borders as well as the likelihood of a tough holiday season for manga publishers in general. "The buyers at B&N and Borders are only buying sure-win stuff," Ko says. But he’s also optimistic. He notes that sales of Udon’s Street Fighter comics have not been affected, “kids always find money. Right now the key is how to get the kid’s attention to your books and at the same time convince the bookstores to carry your books.” And he emphasizes that flagship titles, like Viz Media’s bestselling Naruto series, continue to do well.

Viz Media, one of the largest U.S. manga publishers, expressed confidence in the U.S. market with plans by an affiliated company, Viz Pictures, to launch the J-pop Center, a multi-complex entertainment center, this summer in San Francisco. It will feature a cinema, café and retailing tied into its film and publishing products. Viz Pictures CEO Seiji Horibuchi told PWCWOur products have always been strong against a downturn in the economy. This change will affect any business related to Japanese popular culture in a good way. The value of art and any cultural exchange will be appreciated even more.

Gonzalo Ferreyra, Viz Media v-p, sales & product marketing, agreed that the economic downtown will affect Viz “to some degree.” Looking to the holiday season, Ferreyra says, “I suspect we'll see the softening sales that the rest of the retail market—books and otherwise—is sure to experience. We have little doubt that retail traffic and consumer spending will be way down.” But he also emphasized that “manga (and graphic novels generally) remains a very bright spot in the industry. We’ve achieved healthy growth this past year by both expanding our product offerings—in terms of format (e.g., Boxed Sets, Collectors’ Editions) and genres (Viz Kids)—and by broadening our customer base.”

Liang also points to a conflict between cutbacks in retail orders and continuing signs of consumer spending for manga, emphasizing that “consumers still want our product even though growth is slowing down.” According to Liang, “consumers are buying more manga and other comics than ever before, but the store buyers are being cautious. That’s why I’m confident that the market and the buyers will come back.” Liang says manga was still showing “double digit sales growth from January-August of this year,” and even when, “sales went down in September, right as the economy got worse, manga was still showing single-digit growth. The holidays will be the key. I think retailers may not have enough stuff on the shelves.”

Like Ko, Liang says it's all about great products and great content that fans really want. “I don’t think Watchman, Naruto, Haruhi Suzumiya or DarkTower will have problems finding sales,” Liang says. “If your product is great, people will want it.” However, he adds, “will consumers buy the incremental stuff; one more copy of something else after they get Secret Invasion? Probably not.”