Friday, April 29, 2005

INDUSTRY RANT: Manga's TRUE formula for success at last revealed!!

One of the regular columns over on Newsarama is Troy Brownfield's YOUR MANGA MINUTE, where Troy covers the world of manga on a regular basis.

Today in the column Troy posed some interesting questions, kind of the staple of manga talking points, and among them was the question:
The Ultimate Selling Point:
We’ve talked off and on about the pros and cons of manga vs. the American mainstream, and I’m ready to set my Cubs hat on one opinion. I believe that the ultimate selling point is one simple thing: finality. The grand majority of manga offers stories that end by a single creator or team, and I think that there’s something compelling about seeing that coherent vision realized. Granted, this isn’t an epiphany on the same level at that in James Joyce’s Araby, but I do believe that’s my final answer.


To which I respond:
I don’t agree that finality is the key either. I know personally, I’m aware that the finite nature of manga is appealing, but more in a rewarding sense, not a conscious one. That is to say, I didn’t first start reading manga because I’d heard there were stories with actual resolution, that payoff is what kept me coming back for more. Even though they’re finite, manga are still serial in nature.

Besides, I simply can’t envision the generation of young manga readers delving into the bookstores after hearing about these comic stories that have finite arcs. Nope, that’s not the key selling point.

I really believe manga’s selling point to the new market is it’s name. It has much more to do with it being called “manga”, and not “comics”. It’s uniqueness, or newness., the different format, styles, vibe, approach. Everything about manga is different from traditional US comics. That’s the key component, and that’s why it’s able to find this new success that comics lost decades ago.

That said, there are many other reasons that have contributed. Attributes or factors that have allowed the success to happen. It’s really the chicken vs the egg, but I think if you ask about the ultimate selling point, it comes down to marketing, and manga by it’s very nature, has marketed itself to the US marketplace better than mainstream US comics have in decades (the name, the format, the model, the content, etc, etc.).

What’s in a name? Everything!


This is huge for me, and relates back to some of what I feel most strongly about the comics medium. I'll just leave it at that for now, but suffice it say comics need a new name.

Check out the column HERE

UPDATE (4/29):

Okay, so after posting my comments earlier, and posing that manga’s namesake, or marketing uniqueness (name, format, style) was it’s ultimate selling point, I got to thinking as I was away at work…

And ya know what?
The name is key, the fact that manga differentiates itself from comics, in every way, right down to the name, that’s huge. And admittadley, there are a lot of other factors, with creative drive/ownership and finite/complete storytelling (thus allowing true character growth, as others have mentioned) a huge part of it (that must also be there). But none of that matters without something else, manga’s x-factor. It’s synergy with other media, namely anime.

Manga and anime are much more associated than comics and cartoons or comics and movies. For example, if you see an anime, and look to a major outlet for it’s manga counterpart, you’ll find a concise offering. Sure something like Dragonball may have scores of volumes, but they all relate very well to the anime. Not the case at all with US product. Not only does the US product differ wildly, there’s an avalanche of different versions (as mentioned), formats, etc. Take a look at how Marvel sets up properties that hit the big screens, they dump a wide assortment of material on the market to coincide with the film. For FF, you’ll have; regular, MK, Ultimate, Adventures, FF Foes, and oh yeah, the adaptation (just off the top of my head). It’s suicide. Not only does the market not have the ability, or need, to support this product, virtually none of it relates well to the movie property. Not to mention (as others have), it's confusing as hell. If this were an anime, kids could walk to the bookstore manga section and find one, or maybe a couple runs of manga that is very similar to the source, and any number of straightforward volumes per each, all in the same format and style (similar in style even to the anime). Try the same for comics.

That’s your formula, that’s the key. It’s synergy. Having other media that directly corresponds to your print material, and having concise offerings in print, that don’t vary from wildly from the interpretations, is what drives the audience to your product, or warms them up to it. Today’s youth wouldn’t be crazy for manga’s artistic sensibilities if they didn’t have reason to from exposure to the various anime…

Other media synergy (anime/cards) + marketing (name, format/price point, distribution) + content (creator driven, style, finite, etc.)

I submit, it’s those three keys, in that order, that have made manga successful. The penetration of anime and related merchandising, have opened the doors for manga. The way the Japanese system works, allows this to happen. Which is a key difference from how the US industry works, or rather doesn’t.

A perfect example where the US industry, or comics, got it right (and what a surprise, it’s not one of the big 2) is Sin City. Not only is the movie very much in line with the source material, the source material is very straightforward. Why? Cause it’s creator driven, just like manga. Just like manga across the board, and shock-o-shito, the Sin City trades are doing very well.

Other media synergy + marketing + content = success

Memo to the US industry:
Synergy!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jason

I found your comments concerning manga's popularity very valid and interesting. I just came back from Tower Records, and when I walked by the Graphic Novel section, I saw a young girl and boy (about 10-12) reading some manga! I thought to myself, " I never see a young girl in a comic shop!". Why was she reading a manga vs. a JSA tradepaperback? Or a Marvel Age tpb?

I didn't see the book she was reading, but after reading your blog, I' m wondering,"I wonder if she was reading a manga based on (or adapted into) an anime.?" Synergy? Hmmm....

However, I have to disagree with you about the name 'comics'. (again!) Manga, as we know, is just the japanese word for comics (I don't remember the exact translation). I don't think kids just go "Oh, it's called manga, I have to read it!" I don't think calling Spawn manga is going to get a bunch of 9 yr old kids sitting on the floor at Border's reading Spawn 'manga' trades.

I don't have an exact answer why manga does have such a huge following across all demographics. Some of the things you mentioned are indeed valid. But I think 'changing' the name from comics is totally avoiding the real issue.

The Beatles (and Metallica, for that matter) are available on CDs. So are songs from the Barney TV show, right. All are called CDs. We may think one is for kids and the other is real/adult music, but they're all CDs. Some comics are for 'mature' readers (Vertigo), others are for kids, or guys in their 30s who love superheroes! (Spider-Man, the Flash). They're all comics, no?

Are people not buying comics cause they're called comics? Or are they not buying comics cause to buy an issue of Spider-Man means not being aware of the 40+ years of history he's got. How many trades would it take someone to catch up on Spidey? And mind you, I'm not just talking about some 165 tpbs of Amazing Spider-Man, but Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, etc.

Where as Dragon Ball Z may be completed by reading (I'm guessing) say 15 trades (at only 8 or 9 Bucks) and watching 20 or 50 episodes (another guess) of an anime.

Maybe there is something about going in as a new reader knowing you'll get to the 'end'.

If I may quote you here:
"I really believe manga’s selling point to the new market is it’s name. It has much more to do with it being called “manga”, and not “comics”. It’s uniqueness, or newness., the different format, styles, vibe, approach. Everything about manga is different from traditional US comics. That’s the key component, and that’s why it’s able to find this new success that comics lost decades ago."

Comic books didn't start losing readers (or quit gaining new readers) because they were called comics. It's not like kids by the tens of thousands started saying, "Hey, I just realized I hate this name!". And at what point did non-comic readers say, "I ain't gonna try that thing cause they're still calling them comic books!"

Not trying to be a wise-guy, and I certainly can't form a theory as to why we have a fraction of the readers we once did. But going down the road of searching for a new name for comics seems like a lot of energy and time being take away from the issue of how to make comics accessable again.

You know, it's not like people don't like superheroes. Look at the box-office, the toy aisles, the saturday morning cartoon line-ups! For some damn reason, people aren't picking up the comics! Not because of the name 'comics', but maybe the convoluted history, the confusing multiple titles, the 'inconvenience' of having to come to the shop every month for the next chapter. Comic tpbs are reported to have risen significantly in the last several years, so that could be because of some of faults (that I just mentioned) monthly comic books have.

Javier

Jason Martin said...

Nah, nah, what I mean by the name “manga” playing well, is much more innate than conscious. I’m suggesting that even though it translates to “comic” or something similar, here stateside on a subconscious marketing level, it doesn’t register as comics, it doesn’t subconsciously suggest all of the misnomers and stereotypes that the term “comic book” or “comics” does to mainstream America. Consciously or not, most of America, even today’s kids, associate “comics” to kids stuff, stupid, superheroes, or to a dead medium that they don’t even know really still exists, because it’s not seen. After all, it’s only really available in specialty shops. Whereas “manga”, if associated with anything, is associated to anime, or Japanese culture, and doesn’t carry any baggage. I’m simply posing that the very name (though translating the same), carry a whole different meaning to mainstream America. Which very much works to it’s favor.

That’s what relates back to my theory on comics in general needing a name change. Because besides being thought of incorrectly and having stigmas attached, the name itself doesn’t describe the medium fairly. Which to me seems assanine, that we as an industry in the US, allow this to continue. If you can’t make the name of your product recognized for what it is, change it. Don’t spend umpteen millions, or infinite effort, trying to change peoples perceptions when you don’t even have a name that fits in the first place.

What percentage of comics are humorous in nature? It’s not the fucking majority. Sure, decades going on a century ago comic books got their start as reprinted comic strips or Sunday funnies. Uh, memo to the industry, YOU HAVEN’T FUCKING BEEN ABOUT THAT IN DECADES!

That’s all…

“The Beatles (and Metallica, for that matter) are available on CDs. So are songs from the Barney TV show, right. All are called CDs. We may think one is for kids and the other is real/adult music, but they're all CDs.”


Not at all the same Jav. “CD” simply suggests a form of media to the average person, not “those are for kids”, “those are superheroes”, or “they still make those”. Because that’s what the average person says about comic books. They don’t say anything like that about CD’s.

“Are people not buying comics cause they're called comics? Or are they not buying comics cause to buy an issue of Spider-Man means not being aware of the 40+ years of history he's got. How many trades would it take someone to catch up on Spidey? And mind you, I'm not just talking about some 165 tpbs of Amazing Spider-Man, but Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, etc.”


I argue the name is more prohibitive. The name is turning people off before they can even begin to fathom the complexities of the product. Think about it. Do you really think the average American adheres to that example? I suspect not. They’d much sooner give you one of the three replies mentioned above, than tell you how complex continuity is to them…

“Comic books didn't start losing readers (or quit gaining new readers) because they were called comics. It's not like kids by the tens of thousands started saying, "Hey, I just realized I hate this name!". And at what point did non-comic readers say, "I ain't gonna try that thing cause they're still calling them comic books!"


To true, and I’m not arguing they did. The direct market and other factors did that. It’s not about what lost the readers, because the product is so diverse and strong now, it’s not about content. The content SCREAMS, I MEAN FUCKING SCREAAAAMMSSS, why aren’t more people digging on this shit!?! I really don’t think it’s our content, sure one can make an argument about superheroes being the face of the industry, and that’s valid, but even the superhero shit has a broader appeal than it’s receiving. So, the name didn’t lose the readers, but the name contributes to the mass misconception towards what comic books are. The reality is folks don’t know, so they buy into the stigmas. Those stigmas exist for a reason, but that’s not to say they’re as real as perceived…

“You know, it's not like people don't like superheroes. Look at the box-office, the toy aisles, the saturday morning cartoon line-ups! For some damn reason, people aren't picking up the comics! Not because of the name 'comics', but maybe the convoluted history, the confusing multiple titles, the 'inconvenience' of having to come to the shop every month for the next chapter. Comic tpbs are reported to have risen significantly in the last several years, so that could be because of some of faults (that I just mentioned) monthly comic books have.”

All good points, and all perhaps valid. And give enough time and energy, perhaps they can win over peoples perceptions. I’m arguing if you have this huge hurdle, the namesake that turns people off from the get go, why not remove it. Then your other assets can work so much quicker. That’s also not to say that there aren’t other huge issues. I just think the product is so strong, that if people got over thinking of comics as shitty kids stuff, we could share this dying medium we love with so many more people. There’s certainly a lot of problems with the big 2 companies and they’re marketing, since they’re the face of the industry. And multitudes of titles isn’t helping anything but short term gains. It’s a very short-sighted industry because of it. The big two continue to try and squeeze as many dollars out of the existing, dwindling fan base, instead of making inroads to new markets.

On that topic, yes, Marvel and DC make efforts with their Adventures or cartoon comics, but they still put dozens of other iterations in the pipeline. Look at Marvel’s recent 7-11 initiative; they’re releasing several new format books, designed to grab new readers, but they’re putting multiple versions of their big properties in the line up. It’s not concerted, focused, or even in synergy with the other media! FUCK! Great, you’re trying, and hopefully through some miracle it will work, maybe the products so good it’ll make an impact, but DAMN, your confusing the shit out of people needlessly. WHY?!

But what do I know, I’m not a marketing professional. I’m just using common sense.

Any way, I appreciate your comments, and you make some good points. I just think I’ve got some valid counter-points…

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