ICv2 recently spoke with Gonzalo Ferreyra, Viz Media Vice President of Sales and Product Marketing, to get his views on the state of the manga and anime markets and their trends.  In Part One, of this four-part interview, we talk about the over-all manga market, changes by channel, and the evaluation a year later of  the “Naruto Nation” release surge.  In Part Two we talk about the widening sales gap between top and other manga titles, Viz’s plans for OEL projects, the changing demographics of manga readers, Borders' role in the manga market, over-all anime DVD market trends, and the state of anime on TV in the States.  In Part Three, we talk about the widening sales gap between top and other anime titles, the mainstreaming of anime, and trends in online delivery of anime and manga.  In Part Four, we talk about Viz Pictures, anime time lags, and some of the company's most exciting release plans for 2009, including a new science fiction publishing imprint.


You’ve recently taken an expanded role at Viz, can you tell us more about that?

I’m VP of Sales and Product Marketing, so essentially that incorporates all of our revenue-generating groups with our marketing group.


Starting on the manga side, can you give us an overview on how Viz sees the manga market this year?  What’s the status of the market and over-all trends?

Over-all it’s been a tremendous year in terms of our growth and our expansion.  We’ve seen the mainstreaming, to some degree, of many of our titles.  I choose that word over “mass market growth” quite purposefully because it’s really more of what it’s about.  These titles are becoming part of the standard repertoire of what it means to be a teenager in the U.S. today.  They’re riding their skateboards, they’re taking tae kwon do classes, and they’re reading the occasional manga.


And we’ve expanded into several new channels; we’ve had wonderful growth through some large big box retailers; certainly the traditional growth in the chain bookstores as well has been quite solid; and then also on the comic book side, where I’m very happy to report, after many years of working closely with the folks there, we’re seeing some tremendous growth these past few months.


Do you have any feeling as to whether your experience is typical, or whether that reflects over-all market growth or just gain in share?

Over-all market growth within manga?  I think for the most the most part, that’s the case.   I want to believe that we may be leading the pack in some respects based on what we hear back from the retailers. We’re very fortunate to have several of the major titles in the category right now and those continue to form the cornerstone for entry of many new retailers and channels into manga.  If they’re going to start somewhere it’s usually with Naruto, Bleach or Death Note, then we can expand them into a broader selection...

To be clear, I still feel like we’re still firmly in a non-compete mode in our category;  we’re all growing together.  There is a debt that all of the publishers owe each other to essentially gain readers to the category.


You mentioned that you’ve seen growth in the comic book stores.  We reported in 2007 that comic book store manga sales may have slipped a bit.  Do you feel that trend changed in 2008 and manga sales are picking up?

Speaking for us, we are seeing good double-digit growth this year through that channel.  We’ve actually made quite an effort this past one to two years to work closely with the folks there to really start addressing the needs of those retailers, which we recognize are in many cases are quite different from the needs of the retailers that we’ve worked with in the past.  Helping them fine-tune their selection, in many cases it’s really wonderful for us because it goes beyond our greatest hits; it goes beyond Naruto and Bleach and Death Note and really gets us into some of the more mature titles, some of the more sophisticated storylines that are part of our Signature line.  It’s very exciting to see the response there.


One of the things we hear comic store retailers talk about is the time of delivery vs. the book store channel.  A recent example is Naruto Vol. 31, which showed up as #12 on the BookScan bestselling graphic novel list for August, but comics stores didn’t get it until September.  Are you looking at those problems, and what can you tell retailers about that?

We look at it constantly.  We’re distributed by Simon & Schuster and they’ve been extremely attentive to it.  It’s always a challenge.  You always run the risk of hurting someone’s feelings, and obviously we don’t want to hurt anyone, so yes, we never cease to look at it and tweak the process one way or the other to hopefully find the right fit.  The reality is that we’ll never be able to make everyone happy, but we’re sure trying our best.


You mentioned you’re getting new retailers and channels for manga.  Can you talk about that a little?

We’ve had strong growth this past year at Books-A-Million and Hastings, which is especially encouraging to us and especially interesting to our Japanese parent companies because it really does represent a move into the American heartland and areas that I think really do help emphasize that kind of mainstream growth that we have seen.  It isn’t just big cities or kids on the coast; it’s gone well beyond that.


They’ve been tremendously supportive.  I think they’ve also seen an opportunity for growth in this category and have supported it with innovative merchandising--combining both anime and manga in their stores.  And then outside of that, some notable mass merchant retailers have made quite an investment this past year in both anime and manga; they’ve represented us quite well, and continue to look at the category.


We talked to you in 2007 about the  surge of new Naruto volumes and the goals for that (see “Interview with Gonzalo Ferreyra”).  How did that play out and what was the impact, from your perspective?

It really did play out as beautifully as we could have hoped, beyond our expectations.  The support that we saw on the increased number of releases in that fourth quarter was extremely encouraging.  The sell-through numbers held quite consistent and in fact showed growth over previous volumes.  Clearly the entire program, which we dubbed “Naruto Nation,” even attracted new readers at that stage of the series.  Mind you that was ramping up through volume 27 to bring us up to speed and then make way for the arrival of volume 28, which heralded the new storyline that was separated by two years from the end of volume 27.  And we’re now several volumes into that new arc and still seeing unprecedented growth, volume over volume, in terms of our sell-in and sell-through.


So I do think it really did pave the way.  It attracted new customers to the series who then seem to have in many cases climbed on board for the new storyline and are supporting it in unprecedented numbers.


Click here for Part Two