After its founding, PULP was featured in various pop culture media as well as reviewed by famed British comic book writer Warren Ellis as being “amongst the best things currently being published in the English language.” A well-known U.S. comic book and pop culture writer said it was “some of the coolest, most subversive manga being translated into English today.” I remember being very happy that not only was this new approach of compiling high-quality Japanese manga in a magazine being recognized but also that our efforts were being accepted.
However, how it did from a business standpoint was not necessarily a great success story. Of course, the publication continued for several years so it wasn’t a failure. Plus, it became the cornerstone of the SigIKKI seinen manga category which launched as a new label under VIZ in 2010, and of the VIZ Signature line. So it was a magazine that made great contributions in that aspect. Then how come this wasn’t reflected in the business aspect? There were many reasons, including many detailed ones, and there were more efforts on the production and sales front at that time than can be written here, but here are some of the major reasons.
Major Reason #1
Since there was no manga section in general bookstores and manga was almost exclusively sold at comic book stores, it was impossible to expand sales channels.
If each of the approximately 500 comic book stores were distributed ten copies of the magazine, a total of 5000 copies would be distributed. Although this is not a small number, and core fans always bought a copy, we couldn’t expect an explosive increase in sales.
Major Reason #2
Limited social networking publicity.
Since the magazine was not aimed at a mass consumer audience, advertising methods were very limited in terms of cost-effectiveness.
Major Reason #3
Since the main goal was to reach readers at the lowest possible price point, it was difficult to absorb the costs.
The 200-page magazine was sold for 6 USD. In comparison, one manga volume which also consisted of roughly 200 pages was sold for 16 USD at the time. The cost of labor such as translating, rewriting, and lettering were all the same, but because of the stark price point difference, it was difficult to turn a profit.
Major Reason #4
Magazines are larger than a volume of manga, so the cost of materials, printing, and transportation is also higher.
Major Reason #5
Advertising revenue couldn’t be expected because the characteristics of manga magazines make it difficult to insert advertisement pages.
Putting it extremely simply, major U.S. magazines such as TIME and TV Guide consisted of almost half advertisement pages. Slightly on a tangent, these major magazines have a business model based on subscription plus advertising revenue. However, because the revenue from advertising alone could cover the production costs, retail prices could be kept low, and annual subscription fees could be heavily discounted. As I recall, the annual subscription fee for TV Guide was 80% off of the list price.
Even in a cursory recollection, there were so many headwinds.
However, the passion of the staff was inspiring, and despite the fact that this was the first time for Americans to produce a manga magazine, they were earnestly working hard to learn, using Japanese manga magazines as references. That kind of passion and love of manga will always translate onto the pages and be conveyed to some readers. In reality, even sales staff members who didn’t have that much interest in manga, began saying “Hyoe, I want to read what happens next already. What if we switch from a monthly to a bi-monthly magazine?” (That would mean I would have to be up 24/7 so I politely declined haha…)
I am repeating myself here, but there is no question that PULP has been the bottom line support for the North American manga industry.
As I write this column, I am beginning to remember those days vividly, so in the next few chapters, I will write a little more about the manga situation in North America while citing specific topics as well.
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.