Borders Group graphic novel buyer Kurt Hassler, who was recently named the #1 Most Powerful Person in the American manga publishing industry (based on an ICv2 poll of publishers, retailers and distributors), told ICv2 that he was unable to comment substantively on his acceptance of a position with the Hachette Book Group's new Yen Press imprint until he leaves Borders to become co-publishing director at the new company on November 27th.


As its name indicates, Yen Press will concentrate on licensed manga from Japan, though the new imprint also plans to publish OEL manga titles as well as more traditional American graphic novels.  The focus on manga makes sense given manga's dominance in the bookstore market -- the very market where both Hassler and co-publishing director Rich Johnson, who spearheaded DC Comics into the bookstores (see 'Rich Johnson to Head Hachette Graphic Novel Imprint'), have most of their experience and contacts.


Hassler is moving from a position as the most important gatekeeper in the graphic novel category to the other side of the fence where he will have to choose and perhaps shape material that will intrigue his current peers who decide which books to stock in the major bookstore chains where the majority of manga is now sold. 


Yen Press is almost certain to face increasing competition both in acquiring licenses to translate manga for the North American market on one end as well as in acquiring shelf space at the retail level, since the number of manga and graphic novel releases, after briefly leveling off in 2005, will, from all indications, continue to grow in 2006 and 2007.


Although everyone in the graphic novel business recognizes Hassler's importance, not everyone approved of the way he wielded his power. One industry figure, who wished to remain anonymous, wondered if Hassler would be able to make the transition to publishing, telling ICv2, 'We'll see how his skills translate to selling.'


But the statement from Kuo-Yu Liang of Diamond Book Distributors was far more typical of the reactions ICv2 received from industry figures concerning Hassler's career move.  'I think Kurt has done a lot more to grow the graphic novels and manga category than most people realize,' he said.  'He consistently made himself available to meet with publishers, no matter how small.  He was always willing to try things, and not afraid to admit he made a mistake and quickly re-order a book he missed.  People say he only supports manga, but actually he pushed everything from Marvel to Top Shelf to Bone.  People complain he was a hardline gatekeeper and would only bring in books that would sell.  Well, yeah, isn't that the fiscal responsibility of a buyer for a $4 billion 1,000+ store chain?  I wish Kurt & Rich success at Yen Press and looking forward to handling their books for the direct market.  He will be missed at Borders.'