After working as a so-called manga editor at Shogakukan’s weekly manga magazine, Big Comic Spirits, I transferred to VIZ in the U.S. 26 years ago in 1996.
At the time, although in decline, Spirits was still publishing one million copies. Its retail price was about 250 yen if I remember correctly. One manga volume was 500 yen, give or take (sidenote: this price has not changed much since then). The decline in circulation was said to be due to readers moving away from manga plus people started playing mobile games on the train instead of reading manga. In hindsight, it was the beginning of the electronics business.
When I moved to the US and started translating and publishing manga in English, there were three major things that took me by surprise at the time. Back then, VIZ’s best-selling manga was Ranma ½.
Major Surprise #1
Even Ranma ½, the best-selling manga at the time, had a circulation of 10,000 copies, with which the staff was overjoyed.
Back in Japan, I was taught to “aim for 1,000,000 copies!”
Major Surprise #2
One manga volume retailed at 16-17USD.
Ranma ½ retailed at 400 yen per volume in Japan. The price was about 5 times more in North America. If you were to collect all 38 volumes of Ranma ½, it would cost you over 600 USD; incredibly difficult for a child to afford.
Major Surprise #3
Can’t decide on a release date!?!?
The thing is: North America is absolutely massive. Printing took place in eastern Quebec, Canada and transportation were by train or truck. So then, for example, imagine the time it would take to have a book be delivered from New York in the northeast to San Diego in the southwest, plus taking multiple days to line up the shelves of bookstores. If we were not careful, we could have had a time gap of an entire week, rendering us unable to decide on an exact release date.
But, if you give up, the game is already over. So. What was my secret strategy…?
Next time… Chapter 2: The First of Its Kind in North America
About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists
In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. Aiming to bring new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription-based service.
Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account.