Manga Answerman - Do Foreign Manga Sales Matter to North American Publishers?

by Deb Aoki,

It's well known that not all manga are smash hits in the US, but when a previously "unknown" manga starts doing well in another country, shouldn't that catch other countries publishers' attention? An example is Yoshihiro Takahashi's catalog being picked up for publication in Finland starting in 2010. Punainen jättiläinen (Red Giant) has translated over 85% of his work at this point with no signs of slowing down. From a 2017 sales list, it showed that Takahashi's books were only second to Akira Toriyama in terms of sales per book; 496,000.

Well, it's hard for me to say exactly what goes into the specific yes or no decisions for an individual title with N. American manga publishers, but I'll try to explain a little bit about the some of the reasons why this particular author may have caught fire in Finland, but does not have any manga published in English (yet).

Yoshihiro Takahashi is the creator of many long-running manga series, including several featuring a dog named Gin, and his offspring over several generations. Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin was originally published by Shonen Jump / Shueisha in 1983, and most recent chapters have been published by Nihon Bungeisha. Sequel series Ginga Legend Weed was published in English by now defunct publisher ComicsOne back in 2001, but at 60 volumes for the series, it was never completed in English, print, as far as I know.

So if you recall a column I wrote recently explaining factors that might count against a manga getting licensed in N. America, there's a few factors that weren't included in that list that are worth mentioning here.

For starters, past performance of a manga creator's other works is a factor in licensing decisions. If sales for that creator's work was mediocre, then that gives publishers fewer reasons to believe that there's a strong enough fan base for this creator's work to justify picking it up for publication, no matter how well it's selling in other countries. Add to the mix that this is an older series with over 60 volumes(!), the Ginga series is a hard sell for the N. American market.

Also taken into consideration is how well similar stories of this genre have sold, and who would be the target audience for this manga.

Another factor that comes into play is if the series has some recent or upcoming anime release. If not, or the anime adaption was more than 5 years ago, (as in the case of Ginga Legend Weed, which was adapted by Studio DEEN back in 2005), then the anime's impact on potential manga sales is lessened significantly.

Of course, manga publishers pay attention to what's being licensed and what's selling well in other countries, in addition to keeping their eyes on what's new and creating a lot of buzz in Japan. But as I mentioned in the earlier column, it's hard for editors and publishers to justify placing a big bet on an older manga series with many volumes that may or may not sell versus putting those same resources toward publishing newer or more popular titles that have been frequently requested by readers in their market.

You may yet see Ginga in English someday, never say never, after all. But from how things look based on what I know about this series, and how the market is now I'm going to say that the chances of seeing this picked up for publication aren't that great. Digital publishing is of course an option, but this would also require having a publisher willing to take on the financial burden of licensing, translating and localizing 60 volumes of manga, which for now, makes this a very long shot indeed.


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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for About.com Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.


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