What's With All The Omnibus Releases?
by Deb Aoki,
Why does omnibus volumes seem to be increasingly common for US manga publishers nowadays? Not that they don't ever release the individual volumes, but it seems like whenever there's a modern re-release, or a never-before-released English edition of an older manga, they always choose to release them in omnibus volumes and never provide the individual volumes as an alternative.
There definitely is a move toward omnibus releases, especially for re-releases of long series, (such as Yen Press' new edition of shojo manga fave Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya), new releases of fan-favorite series that have more than 10 volumes already out in Japan (60+ volume-long bicycle racing manga Yowamushi Pedal from Yen Press and 21+ volume viking action-drama manga Vinland Saga from Kodansha Comics are good examples of this), and “never-before-released English edition of an older manga” as you mention, with Seven Seas' recent releases of manga by Gō Nagai (Devil Man and Cutey Honey) and Leiji Matsumoto (Space Battleship Yamato and Captain Harlock).
Other examples of omnibus releases include Viz Media's “VIZ Big” prestige re-releases of historical drama Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue and classic shonen series Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama, which are presented in a larger page format and nicer paper quality than the original single volume releases. Their hardcover editions of the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manga series also gave this series new life in the market, as it presented both previously unreleased earlier arcs of the series and new editions of The Stardust Crusaders arc (that was published as single volumes many years earlier) in a new design that made it more attractive to collect, and numbering it in a way that made it easier to follow the adventures of several generations of the Joestar clan.
Kodansha Comics' “colossal”-sized editions of Attack on Titan and Fairy Tail Master Edition collection and Vertical Comics' Master Edition of Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei present the English version of the manga in a larger size that sometimes isn't even available in the Japanese market.
There's also VIZ's 3-in-1 releases of shonen and shojo manga series like One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Hana-Kimi, and Skip Beat!, and Dark Horse Comics' multi-volume editions of Berserk and Blade of the Immortal, which offer a lower-cost alternative to buying single volume editions of very popular, but also very long series.
These omnibus editions serve different purposes – in some cases, publishing them as high-quality multi-volume hardcovers give readers / collectors a chance to have a physical reading experience they would not get from reading authorized (or unauthorized) digital versions of the same material. In some cases, it tempts a reader who may have purchased the series before to buy a second copy of the same story for this enhanced reading experience, which means that the publisher sells more of a title that has been in the market for a while, and sometimes at a higher price point than the usual single volume edition of the same material.
In the case of the Kodansha Comics' Sailor Moon Eternal Edition, going with a new omnibus edition gave them an opportunity to publish this shojo manga classic in a larger format, better quality paper, more color illustrations, AND a new translation too. This gave this new edition of the series a few advantages: It looked distinctly different on the shelf than previous editions of the series, so fans knew that it was the new version. If they had simply re-published the series in the same size as the prior edition with new translations, it would not be as easy for readers or booksellers to distinguish the older translated version with the new edition with new translations and extra pages.
“I think the 2-in1 or omnibus trend is growing. It seems the consumers are more willing to pay a bit more for thicker volumes than buying single books.”
Hardcover editions are also attractive to libraries, which are also a big market for manga in N. America. Hardcover books are more durable than paperback books, and that's a plus for library books that get borrowed, read and re-read over and over again.
The lower cost per volume for some 3-in-1 or 2-in-1 manga make picking up a long series feel less intimidating and costly for a new reader.
And of course, omnibus editions help address two well-known problems with selling manga to bookstores, comic shops, and to consumers in general: limited shelf space, and limited attention spans of readers.
This is a sentiment that Ko acknowledges as well.
“It seems the shorter manga series will enjoy better support from both booksellers and fans. We all know the longer the series goes, the harder it is to keep the customers' interest. Also, stores are being selective on stocking long-running series. Most of the time, book stores and libraries have limited shelf space, so to shelve a full 30+ volume series can be tough. Combining multiple volumes into a thicker book could be a good way to make the "investment" less intimidating to both consumers and stores.”
It's a pretty well-known fact that the first volume of any given manga sells best, and each subsequent volume sells fewer and fewer copies. This is partly due to natural attrition – maybe someone picks up the first volume and the story or art doesn't keep their interest long enough for the reader to want to buy the next one and the next one. Sometimes the attrition is due to the time between release dates – sometimes, readers just forget or don't know that the next volume of a series is out, especially if it has been several months or even years since the last volume has appeared.
In any case, the bottom line is that the more volumes of a manga series, the greater the risk is the series will reach the point where the latter volumes sell poorly, even to the point of making the series unprofitable, and in the worst case, making completing the series in print unfeasible financially to the point where they discontinue / cancel it in mid-story. More frequently, what happens is that latter volumes of the series get smaller and smaller print runs, and these latter volumes go out of print and become harder to find later.
Releasing fewer volumes of a manga series lowers the financial risk for publishers who are putting out a series that may have multiple volumes. This is especially so if they're not completely sure that the readership will be there to continue to purchase / support the series over many volumes through a longer period of time.
Of course, reprinting / repackaging a series as an omnibus is not a given. VIZ recently reprinted Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida to coincide with the release of the Banana Fish anime series. They simply printed a new run of individual volumes of this older series so that fans who may have been missing a volume or more from the original release of the series could complete their set.
So what's the lesson here? Omnibus editions can keep longer series in print, make them attractive and more accessible to new readers, and can lower the financial risk for publishers – so for “riskier/less-than-a-sure-thing” manga series, that means they have a better chance of being picked up for publication. Overall, I think that's a plus for manga readers because that means more manga and more variety of titles and genres available in English.
And if you're in love with collecting single volumes of a given manga… well, you'll just have to buy them as they come out, especially the latter volumes, because if they go out of print, you may end up paying a premium purchasing them on used book market (if you can find them) later.
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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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