We recently caught up with Associate Publisher of Del Rey Manga Dallas Middaugh.  In Part One, we talk about the state of the manga and graphic novel market so far this year and Del Rey’s place in it as well as the challenges of limited shelf space.  In Part Two we talk about Del Rey’s mix of original English language and Japanese licensed material, the Del Rey and Del Rey Manga imprints, the impact of Kodansha’s plans to publish in the U.S. and thoughts on digital distribution of manga.  In Part Three we talk about the upcoming Marvel-Del Rey projects, Del Rey's publishing plans for books about manga, and the definition and categorization of manga.


What is your overall impression of the manga and graphic novel market so far this year?

Our experience so far is the market has been good; it’s been stable.  We’ve seen our top titles continue to sell in the numbers that we’re used to.  We’ve seen some of our launches do really well. I think like a lot of manga publishers we’re feeling the pinch of the economy, we’re feeling the situation at Borders, but overall, even bearing that in mind, we’re really on track to hit our numbers for this year so far.


In that context, it’s starting to look like the number of manga releases per year may have crested or be cresting, what are your thoughts on the overall size of the release schedule, both for the market and for Del Rey?

I think that the Tokyopop implosion has made clear what we’ve all known for some time--that there is a limited amount of shelf space available for manga. I was at Barnes & Noble just today and virtually every book on the shelf at this point is spine out.  There are very few face-outs on the shelf just because the book sellers are trying to cram as many as the books in there as they can fit.  So for the market overall, I think we’re reaching the point now where there are a lot of books that are not being carried at the major bookstore chains.  This is the year where we’ve started to see some of our own books being skipped by the major chains for the first time--just a few series.


We keep a pretty tight hold on the number of books that we do, and I don’t expect that number over the next year or so to go any higher than about 140-150.  We’re really trying to control our growth at this point.  We always want to bring new manga to the American audience.  We’re always looking for new and exciting licenses.  Sometimes it’s things like Fairy Tail, which to be honest, was really a no brainer for us; it was very easy for us to see that it would achieve the level of success that it has.  But at the same time we’re still out there trying to pick some stuff that fans might not be as aware of, trying to keep the market as broad as we can, all while doing this with the limitation of shelf space in mind. 


You said some of your titles are now being skipped by the major chains, is that sort of a deal breaker in terms of publication for a titles (if it isn’t accepted by the major chains, that’s something that you’re not interested in doing)?

No, not at all.  We don’t really look at our program in terms of single books, we look at it as a broader program.  Every book that we bring over is not necessarily guaranteed to be a big hit success.  A lot of them are, which is way we have such a strong program, but on those rare occasions when we do pick a book that doesn’t really connect with the audience as much as we’d hoped, still in the overall sense of things, it’s just a small part of a larger program that’s really working for us.


You mentioned the problems with shelf space in book chains (which is also a problem in comic stores).  Do you think it’s a problem of consumer demand, or a problem of allocation of space relative to that demand by those stores?

That’s a tough one for me to answer.  My personal feeling is that right now we’re at a pretty stable level as far as new consumers, new customers coming to look for manga.  We have a pretty stable audience right now.  And there is quite simply a limit on how many books that audience can buy.  At the same time, I really wouldn’t presume to discuss how Borders or Barnes & Noble are managing their shelves; I have to believe that what they’re doing is working for them in terms of how often the books turn and how big the sections should be.


To clarify our own situation, every series that we launch goes into the major stores.  When I mentioned skips before, what I’m referring to are extended ongoing series where the book stores may have decided not to bring them in anymore.  I can only speak for Del Rey in this regard, when we launch a series, it has a shot.  The first several volumes absolutely do go into the store, are there on the shelves.  We are doing things on our Website to promote them, we are putting out displays in-store, trying to get key placement for the launches that we think have a really good shot.

The important thing to understand is that really manga is now just very much like any other category in the bookstore.  We were fortunate enough several years ago when the category was really just starting to explode, to have the opportunity to have virtually every single book that was labeled as a manga make it into the stores on the shelves--every single one, because at that point we had not met consumer demand, the bookstores wanted more and we all wanted to give it to them.


At this point I think there is still demand out there, but it does take a little bit longer now to really build up the interest in a series.  But that’s coming back to what you were asking doesn’t it: do those new series have the opportunity to build the audience?  For Del Rey, I’m going to have to say yes, because again the first several volumes of every series that we launch does make it into the bookstores and does have the opportunity to sell through there.


So it’s more a matter of getting off a series that seems to be slowing down where they might have stuck with it in the past?

Yes, that’s the case.


Click here for Part Two.