For my own reasons, I like to think about what makes certain manga publishers successful, especially in hard economic times when it seems like a lot of publishers are cutting back or teetering on the edge.
Vertical Inc., one of my favorite publishers right now, is doing quite well in comparison to larger competitors. In addition, they recently scored the financial backing of Kodansha and Dai Nippon Printing, which will hopefully mean more and more great stuff from the company in the future.
Here’s a little bit about why I think they’re successful.
1. A small catalog of quality stuff-
A lot of manga publishers like to focus on what’s new and popular in Japan, putting out a lot of titles that may sell quite well, but aren’t going to make it into the list of manga greats. On top of that, a lot of these titles don’t have much appeal beyond anime and manga fans.
Verticals relatively small list of titles tend to be long-established classics or manga with appeal to people beyond just plain old manga fans. There’s plenty of cartoonists and other artists who are well-known admirers of Osamu Tezuka, a repeat mangaka in Vertical’s catalog. Naturally, the good word about these mangaka have spread to comics fans who would not stray into manga for just anyone. The rest of their catalog is chosen with extreme care to appeal to this audience, as well as hardcore manga fans, specifically the type that actually buy manga.
To top it all off, Vertical finishes each volume with high print quality and excellent cover designs. I bought Dororo Volume 1
recently and I had to stroke the cover multiple times just to be sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me.
2. Reprinting and repackaging-
Whenever Vertical sells out of a particular volume, I’ve noticed they tend to re-print it. This actually solves a problem that a lot of other publishers ignore: people still want to read certain titles well after they’ve first been published. Titles go out of print and get hard to find. Not with Vertical’s catalog! It seems like Vertical’s print runs are relatively small, making it possible for them to sell out and reprint easily. Of course, when you have larger print runs and poor sellers, this practice is extremely hard to pull off. It seems like Vertical fans really appreciate being able to get their hands on all of Vertical’s catalog, which is why it’s such a plus for them.
Occasionally, Vertical will repackage a book, for example, Tezuka’s Ode to Kirihito, MW and Apollo’s Song recently got new editions for 2010. Hardcovers of Tezuka’s Buddha are coveted by collectors in comparison to the paperback editions.
3. Smart audience participation-
One thing that I have always admired Vertical for is the fact that they ASK their readers what they want. Directly. On a regular basis. This not only an idea what their devoted readers want to buy, but makes those readers feel like they do have a legitimate say in what gets published. (And Vertical doesn’t have to gauge how successful a series might be just by looking at how popular the scanlations are.)
Of course, any reader suggestion is subject to the taste and vision of Vertical’s staff and the permissions of the Japanese rights holders, but it’s fun to see what Vertical is likely to consider.Vertical’s twitter will also let followers know when a title is going out of print so that readers who’ve been holding off know that it might be their last chance to pick up a certain volume for awhile.
It’s very hard to say any two Vertical titles are alike. Even amongst Tezuka’s works, I don’t feel entirely comfortable saying that MW is very similar to Ode to Kirihito. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, there’s Chi’s Sweet Home. (Which despite it’s seinen heritage, is marketed to kids by Vertical.) Twin Spica and To Terra… are not even remotely close to each other or a title like Peepo Choo. In that sense, I think Vertical personifies, as a company, what manga fans mean when they say there’s manga for a just about anyone willing to read a comic.
Vertical is a great company that happens to publish more than manga too. They have everything from novels to cookbooks to puzzle books.
All of this is just speculation as to why Vertical is successful, but I know many people love what the company puts out there. I hope that Vertical will continue to bring fans more classic and eclectic manga for a long time to come.