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Anime Expo 2009
Keynote, Day One: Austin Osueke on Manga in a Struggling Economy

by Zac Bertschy,

Thursday's keynote address was given by Austin Osueke, Publisher at EigoMANGA; Osueke spoke about the challenges of introducing new and independent manga in a struggling American economy.

Osueke opened the panel by discussing the consensus attitude among publishers currently in the field; according to Osueke, there's a shared notion among all manga publishers that the big-picture goal is to push past the niche market for manga and introduce the material to the market as a format rather than a genre, which is what manga is currently perceived as among the general buying public.

Osueke then shifted focus to the current challenges in the market, with specific regard to the impact the troubled US economy has had on publishers. Citing a few solid numbers, he mentioned that manga sales dropped 17 percent overall in 2008, with a drop in revenue from $210 million in 2007 to $175 million in 2008. A discussion of Diamond then began; the company's recent decision to cancel any title that didn't do at least $2500 in sales has apparently had a heavy impact on all manga publishers, especially more independent studios like EigoMANGA.

Osueke contended that this was a direct effect of the struggling economy, with a few major retailers claiming bankruptcy and Borders Books & Music cutting overall manga stock. The Vice President of Purchasing at Diamond was then quoted as saying that the industry overall is hurting and the reality of the new American economy is that Diamond simply cannot afford to be friendly to independent publishers, and that it's up to those publishers to come up with new and innovative ways to get their product out there.

Osueke then spent some time discussing what the possibilities were – ranging from using smaller distribution outfits, like Haven Distributors or Slave Labor comics, which are both independent-friendly companies but still struggle against the giant advantage Diamond has when it comes to getting books into mass market retailers. He then discussed the potential of online comics distribution, using tried-and-true sites like Drunk Duck and Kingspot, and also the emerging world of social networking, like Facebook and Twitter.

Osueke's idea was to develop an application for Facebook that would allow users to share comics between one another using a simple interface, along with a potential iPhone application that would integrate a comics viewer with an e-commerce feature that would enable users to purchase books after reading a sample on their phone, and mentioned that EigoMANGA hopes to have something along these lines to show at San Diego Comic Con later in July.

He closed out the keynote by offering a big-picture strategy, saying that the business plan for manga should focus on producing IPs that can be adapted easily into video games and films rather than simply putting books on shelves.

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