We caught up with VIZ Media Vice President Publishing Sales Kevin Hamric to find out how manga’s been doing in the COVID era, and learned about binge reading, box sets, volume 1s, and other recent trends.

ICv2:  Where do you see the manga market right now?  How's VIZ been doing during the pandemic period
Kevin Hamric:  VIZ has been doing extraordinarily well during the pandemic period.  Our sales are beyond expectations.  We started off the year strong, and then the pandemic hit, and we took a look at our business.  We even had talks about, should we revise our revenue budget and our goals?  And should we revise our publication schedule?

We did neither.  We released everything on schedule. We have not touched our revenue budget, and we're beating that and then some.

It seems that our manga readers are very resilient.  They're going to get their manga one way or another.  Even though the brick and mortar stores are closed for a while, we did see a huge shift to online sales, whether it was Amazon, BN.com, BAM.com, or even Right Stuf.

We also noticed that there seemed to be this binge effect, people were binging on manga, like they were binging on Netflix, because our box set sales exploded.

We could see from which books were selling, people were buying sequential volumes within a series.  And the number of volume ones that we sold during this period is just crazy, even deep, deep backlist.

I had that fear going in with the stores closing. How are people going to discover new series?  In-store shopping is quite a big part of that.  That played out because our backlist sales are extremely strong.  We flipped those, our backlist to frontlist sales during this period.

People are either getting into a new series that they had heard of before, or their friends recommended, or they've had great reviews online, or something they've always wanted to start getting into.

For VIZ, it's extremely good, but the manga market is strong as well.  We outperformed the book trade during the COVID period, that critical period of nine weeks.  We outperformed that.  We did not drop as much as the category did. We propped up the category with our sales.  So, we're very happy right now.

Any comments on what's going on in the comic store channel?
We're ahead of last year, even with the disruption of Diamond.  They came back roaring out of the gate with our books in particular.

We talked to some of the bigger comic shops, and they're very happy that we were continuing to publish our books, and that the books were available.  The supply chain was full. Several of them found that they could open accounts with Simon & Schuster, or Ingram, or Baker & Taylor, or even Bookazine and get our books.

Like I said, our readers are very resilient.  I think the Direct Market was also very resilient.  I know here in San Francisco they found ways to ship books to people.  They found ways for curbside pick-up.

As long as the demand was there VIZ made the decision to keep the supply chain going.  Through Simon & Schuster and our printers we were able to get books in and get books out.

Diamond has been reordering books that they just placed orders for two months ago when they got back open. And now they've reordered some similar titles again.  So books are selling through.

What do you attribute the interest in manga to?  Is it less competition from other forms of entertainment?
I think it's cost-effective; it's a cheap way into entertainment.  Our manga is $9.99, and discounted online almost everywhere.  For the price of a month of a subscription service you can read the majority of a series, or at least a few volumes.

Also, people can't go to movie theaters.  There's that money that they're not spending in theaters.  I think it's just very cost-effective.

Were there any particular content trends that you are seeing as far as particular kinds of series that people seemed to be gravitating toward in this period?
My Hero Academia still leads the pack.  It seems to be the Shonen Jump-type things, with My Hero Academia and One Punch Man.  Anything with Junji Ito's name on it has just incredibly high sales right now.  So, horror manga seems to be strong.

Spy x Family just came out, Volume 1, and those sales are very strong.  So the Shonen Jump stuff and the Shonen-type series seem to be leading the pack.

So really just a continuation of past trends.
Exactly, exactly.

Anything that shows up on Netflix or on TV.  So Dorohedoro, which has been a long-running series from years past, shows up on Netflix, and all of the sudden we've got to reprint every volume.

Any other series that's happening to?
Beastars.  The Netflix series for Beastars has really, really helped the sales of that.  People have discovered that, and we've had to reprint all those volumes as well.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year in terms of big releases from VIZ?
For the rest of the year?  One of our VIZ originals is coming out, Fangirl, which is the manga adaptation of the YA New York Times bestselling novel.  The orders for that from the trade are extremely strong.  So, we're very happy about that.

We've got Tokyo Ghoul: re Box Set, coming out in October.  We've got Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition Box Set coming out in October.  Which we're flipping those trade paperbacks to hard covers for the box set only.  You can't buy the hard covers loose.

We've another Junji Ito in December called Remina, which should do extremely well.

From the Jump side of things, Chainsaw Man Volume 1, which was on our Jump service and trended very high, so we flipped that to print.  Looking forward to that.

I'm forgetting one.  Yeah, the last of the Art of Magic the Gathering, the art book from the game.  We've got War of the Spark coming.  That will conclude the series.