Publishers Weekly is reporting that Random House is preparing a lineup of manga titles that it will release in the spring of 2004. Ironically Random House has just dropped the line of graphic novels from its Doubleday imprint (see 'Doubleday Axes Graphic Novel Line'), but then manga titles dominate the BookScan list of graphic novel sales in bookstores with 40 out of the top 50 spots on the most recent list, so manga is clearly a better bet in the current market. According to the story by Calvin Reid, who broke the story of the Random House manga line for Publishers Weekly, '[T]he Kodansha venture will allow Del Rey (a Random House imprint) to get a first look at popular Kodansha series.'
In January Random House formed a co-venture with Kodansha, Japan's second-leading manga publisher. A new company, Random House Kodansha, was formed and set up in Japan. Initially the emphasis of the joint venture was on publishing original works by Japanese writers and Japanese-language editions of books published by Random House and its various imprints and subsidiaries, but the growing popularity of manga in American bookstores has obviously opened up avenues for Kodansha's manga creators to get their books published through Random House.
What effect will Random House's entry into manga publishing have on the other U.S. manga publishers? Thanks to its ties to Shueisha and Shogakukan, Viz will be largely unaffected. Dark Horse and especially Tokyopop have imported the most Kodansha titles, but the impact on them is unclear, although the good news is that even if Kodansha titles became unavailable to them, there are a lot of other manga lines in Japan from which content could be licensed. .
We asked Tokyopop for a comment on the story, and President and COO John Parker first stressed Tokyopop's existing relationship with Kodansha. 'We sincerely appreciate our relationship with Kodansha,' he said, 'as well as our other partners in Japan, and have worked with them to develop the manga category in the US for many years.'
Focusing more directly on the story, he said, 'If the story published in PW is indeed accurate, we see this as further vindication of our long-standing belief in the manga category. Should Random House desire to assist us in building the manga business in the US, we're happy to share in expanding the consumer base for this wonderful Japanese art form. As pioneers and market leaders in the distribution of the manga industry standard price and format, TOKYOPOP intends to continue to aggressively grow the manga category with all of our partners, including Kodansha.'
Also it remains to be seen if a major publisher such as Random House is nimble enough to compete with companies like Tokyopop and Dark Horse that know all the various channels for manga and how to deal with them. The long lead time for the launch of Random House's manga line does not bode well if the publisher intends to dominate the field.