We recently caught up with Viz Senior Vice President Liza Coppola to discuss the current state of the manga and anime markets, and what's coming from Viz.  In Part 1, we talk about the manga market in the states, where it's sold, the number of releases in 2007 and 2008, and OEL manga.  In Part 2, we talk about Viz's manga anthologies, the plans for Naruto in 2008, the 'next Naruto,' and Viz's fiction program.  And in Part 3, we talk about the anime market, including the relatively nascent shojo market, the sales channels for anime, Viz's live action program, and the comparison between the Japanese and American markets. 


Let's start out with the manga category.  What's the view from Viz on the manga market so far in 2007?

Well, we're pretty happy with it (laughs). If you look at Bookscan, we're happy for a few different reasons. One, Naruto is doing very well, but also the fact that we've got Hana-Kimi on there, and got we've Gentlemen's Alliance. So it's not just the Shonen Jump titles and that demographic landing on there, Hana-Kimi Volume 19 has popped up on Bookscan in the top 10.  So it's nice to see that there's that really strong shojo fan base out there.  We're very happy with the manga market.


Do you feel that overall the growth rate of the manga market and the available pockets in stores is keeping pace with recent years?

We've got the whole Naruto Nation launch happening. When we went out there and said we were going to do this accelerated publishing program and drop three volumes of Naruto in one month on the same day, we had a lot of retailers who said 'Wait a minute, what are we going to do about shelf space? We don't have enough shelf space as it is.' Then they came back and said 'OK, that's fine.  We'll do dedicated corrugation, we'll do dedicated displays. We'll build that shelf space for you.' I don't think any other category could really go in there and say 'We've got three titles dropping the same day, we're doing this crazy accelerated publishing program, please make more room for us.'


The retailers have been fantastic and very accommodating. The response has been 'Yes, we definitely want to do this, we think it's going to do very well.' I think there's a lot of product going out there, but the fact that we have this whole accelerated program for Naruto, and they haven't really flinched at that means there's definitely demand out there.


That leads to the next question. In addition to the heavy Naruto publishing schedule, the fourth quarter has an unprecedented number of new series launching from all publishers combined. Do you think that has the potential to expand the consumer base or exhaust the consumer base?

The example I like to use internally is that years ago we were clumped in with science fiction/fantasy/horror, and then a couple years ago we were clumped in with graphic novels. Just in the last year to year-and-a-half, we're now manga. We have our own manga section. Not only do we have our own manga section, but there's a lot of discussion about segmenting it out from there, and building a mature manga section, or building a kids manga section, or maybe even building dedicated Shonen Jump sections.


A lot of the retailers are now coming to us and saying 'OK, we get it, we understand manga. It doesn't belong in the overall graphic novel area or even (God forbid) science fiction/fantasy/horror. We understand the appeal; we understand it should have its own dedicated area.'  The nice thing is that we're actually migrating to this area where we're starting to segment within the manga category itself. It's so different from the old days where you'd go in there and people had absolutely no idea what manga was. They just said 'Oh well, we'll just put it in the sci-fi/fantasy section.'


What are your thoughts on the OEL manga trend?  Do you think that's appealing to the same consumers that the imported material does, or is it developing new consumers -- is it competition for you?

We don't really see it as competition.  We look at Bookscan every week and the OEL on there; it's kind of an interesting thing to watch because I do think there's value to the OEL, but I don't think it's drawing fans away from pure manga. Even High School Musical, which is not even remotely close to what we consider our category, but I would have thought with such an amazing phenomena as High School Musical that it would have debuted much higher on the list. It's not something we really look at as a threat, and I think the numbers are reflecting that.  It is a little bit of a different audience.


What are you looking at for 2008 in terms of your manga output versus 07?

For 2008, we're looking at the same number of titles. What we're looking at doing is really honing down the titles, and it's not going to be a sampling of every single category. We're probably going to concentrate on a few different segments of the market.


We're really looking into what exactly are Shonen Jump titles, what exactly are Shojo Beat titles, and just really trying to define what that strategy would be to appeal to that market. I think a lot of the problems that publishers have is they do the whole 'slash' thing (it's a romance/horror/science fiction/fantasy), so we need to learn how to segment down a little better.  At Viz, something we're looking at for 2008 is building a much more overall rounded program.  It's not just dropping a title out there in publishing and finding that audience, but it may be finding a different distribution channel for the anime, it may be that the manga comes to you in a completely different format. I think for 2008, we're taking a really good look at our properties and really building them more as brands versus one-off properties.


Click here for Part 2.