To help catch us up on the state of the manga market, ICv2 spoke to VIZ Media Senior Director, Sales and Marketing Kevin Hamric as part of our Manga Week coverage.  In Part 1 of this two-part interview, we drill down into manga sales trends across channels, talk about VIZ’s new hit, and talk about what’s going on in the streaming scene, and the scale of its impact on manga sales.  In Part 2, we discussed piracy, the pipeline of Hollywood productions featuring Japanese properties, the top prospects in VIZ’s 2016 line, and the reasons for the global growth in manga sales.

How was the manga market in 2015 from your perspective?

Absolutely wonderful, the best it’s been in years since the huge decline and pre-Borders [shutdown] days.

Were there any differences in growth between channels? How did the comics stores compare to the book stores, for example?
Both were up roughly the same percentage.  Bookstores may be a little more just because of Barnes & Noble and Amazon.  We were very happy to see that the direct market increased. Looking at the library channel, that increased as well as did the mass merchandisers.

On the bookstore side are you seeing an impact from the increased display space at Barnes & Noble (see "Barnes & Noble Adds New Release GN Displays")?
Absolutely.  That was an immediate impact and we’re quite pleased with what they’re doing with their stores.  It’s sort of becoming a one-stop shop for pop culture.

Can you quantify a percentage change in sales before and after the displays went in?
Our fiscal year isn’t over yet, but it’s high double digits from what we’ve seen so far.

Wow, that’s amazing.
And we’ve got the lion’s share of the manga market, so it’s really nice.  Plus having two or three really good series this past year helps a lot as well.

Let’s talk about that.  We’ve heard retailers raving about One-Punch Man, which seems to be a cross-channel hit.  Can you talk about what’s been happening with that title?
We knew it would do very well because of the anime and also what happened in Japan with it, and it did surpass our expectations.  You’re exactly right—it’s across channels.  We just got back from ComicsPRO’s annual meeting in Portland and the retailers were raving it about it there as well.  We haven’t had to go back on press or print this many books in many, many years.

Did One-Punch Man end up bigger than Tokyo Ghoul?
It’s bigger than Tokyo Ghoul.  That one did surprise us.  We knew the anime was strong.  We knew the manga would do well, but it really outperformed what we thought it would do.  The third one that really did better than our expectations was My Hero Academia.

You mentioned the anime on those first two.  Those are available by streaming, not on television, correct?

How has the streaming scene changed in the past year, and what kind of an impact has that had on manga business?
Streaming is up and it does have an impact on the manga.  I wouldn’t say it has the same effect as if it gets on broadcast or cable like on Toonami or Adult Swim or Cartoon Network, not those types of impactful numbers, but it is having impact.  We do think streaming has become more popular and broadening its reach will have a bigger impact in the future.

We’ve heard that Netflix and Hulu are picking up more anime, is that true?
That is true.  We hear rumors all the time where they’re going to create their own or they’re going after some of the anime that’s out there, that’s traditional, or people in the past have.  We’ll have to see how everything plays out.  Everybody seems to be paying attention to pop culture right now and manga and anime and the whole ball of wax.

So the anime you’re talking about in terms of impacting sales is really the subtitled versions on places like Crunchyroll?

How were digital manga sales last year?
Digital has increased as well, very well with all of our partners.  Kindle, iBook, Nook, comiXology, Google Play—all have seen increases with us this past year.  We’re confident we’ll see an increase this year as well based on our release schedule and what they want to do with the category on their sites.

Are you doing anything with the "all you can eat" services?
No, we’re not doing any subscription models yet.

You mentioned three titles.  Can you tell us more about My Hero Academia?
It has an anime tie-in as well.  It’s all superhero-based. It’s high and middle school students who want to be heroes so they go to U.A. High School which is a high school for budding heroes and learn how to take on life and everything that goes with it-- the good, the bad and the ugly.  It’s pretty funny and it’s an offtake of all the superhero worlds that we grew up with.  It’s very well drawn, very well written, and really good for manga readers of all ages.

Can you compare the sales of One-Punch Man to titles in the past to give us an idea of how big it is?
Back in the heyday, comparing it with things like Naruto when it first came out or Blue Exorcist, but still that really big book feel is behind these where everyone’s reading it, everyone’s talking about it, everyone can't wait to get their hands on it.  We’re distributed by Simon and Schuster; even they are saying 'we haven't had a hit like this in a long time.'  The warehouse is going nuts trying to get the reprints in and process them out the door again.  So it's cross-channel, it's cross culture, it’s cross-industry.  It's really a fun time right now.

You said One-Punch Man has also done well in Japan.  Is it that kind of [Naruto-scale] hit there, too?
Yes, absolutely that kind of hit.  It's a big hit in our magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump.  It's a digital first release (the digital books come out prior to the print books) so we had an idea it was going to do pretty well based on those sales.

Click here to go to Part 2.