June 28, 2018

The publishing industry in Japan

In the course of my Internet research about publishing costs in Japan, I collected three white papers and a Robert Whiting interview (all were posted for download on non-gated websites). Also recommended is mangaka Shuho Sato's tell-all retrospective about his own profession.

"An Introduction to Publishing in Japan" by the Japan Book Publishers Association: JBPA.pdf

"The Field of Japanese Publishing" by Brian Moeran: BrianMoeran.pdf

"The Japanese Way! Relationships between Authors and Publishers in the Context of Developing Works into Diverse Forms" by Tetsuro Daiki: TetsuroDaiki.pdf

"You've Gotta Have Wa If You Want to Get Published" by Robert Whiting: RobertWhiting.pdf

Manga Poverty by Shuho Sato (translated by Dan Luffey): ebook

The following are a live-action drama and three anime. Antiquarian Bookshop may be the coziest cozy mystery series ever. In the process, you'll learn a good deal about the used book trade in Japan. Shirobako is an "inside baseball" account about how an anime series is made.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun and Bakuman feature teenagers who want to be professional mangaka when they grow up, a subject that constitutes its own genre. Bakuman in particular pays close attention to the technical details of the profession. It debuted on NHK Educational TV.

The Sakuga blog provides a good explanation of the "production committee."

Related posts

The proof is in the printing
The actual value of the written word

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June 21, 2018

The proof is in the printing

A while back on the ANN website, Justin Sevakis asked, "Why Does Manga [printed in the U.S.] Turn Yellow?" That question raises the obvious antithesis: Why do Japanese tankoubon (manga published in perfect bound format) and paperbacks age so well?

A "light novel" (novella) I purchased back in 1989 for 360 yen ($3.25) has grayed and faded a bit but the paper remains pliable and the spine hasn't lost a bit of flexibility. Manga and paperbacks I ordered from Japan over a decade ago remain in near mint condition.

Despite a consignment system and resale price maintenance laws, paperbacks in Japan often cost much less than mass market paperbacks in the U.S. The Chihayafuru tankoubon I recently purchased are 429 yen each. Less than four dollars at the current exchange rate.

A 350 page short story collection by Fuyumi Ono is priced at 637 yen. That's about $5.75. The paper, full-color dust cover, and binding are comparable to the higher-grade "trade paperback" category. So what accounts for these differences in quality and cost? Shouldn't English-language publishers be able to leverage enormous economies of scale?

To start with, Japanese publishers don't dole out advances. Instead, they pay up-front at the time of the print run. Japanese publishers were essentially printing-on-demand before POD became a thing (though short print runs also mean that books can go out of print pretty fast).

According to Tetsuro Daiki, general manager of legal and licensing at Shogakukan (a major publisher), "The full sum [of royalties] is paid one month after the release of a book." And all those royalties go straight to the writer.

Publishing contracts in Japan are so standard that agents are rarely used (except when licensing foreign translations). This is in large part because the writer retains subsidiary rights by default. In the land of the doujinshi, Japanese publishers know that if you love something, you set it (sort of) free.

To be sure, when negotiating subsidiary rights, the publisher typically steps in as the agent, often with a seat on the "production committee." Again, as Tetsuro Daiki explains, "the authors as well as Shogakukan stand side by side in the contract negotiations." He believes, of course, this is for the best.

If authors try to keep all the [rights] to themselves and regard publishers as enemies, they [have] to confront all the odds single-handedly, leading to negligence of their essential creative activities. It is better if the authors devote themselves to writing, painting and creating new works, leaving business to publishers. This is the choice of the majority of authors in Japan.

The upshot is that publishers like Shogakukan can make available to their authors media formats (including manga, anime, periodicals, video games, television and theatrical adaptations, and even radio dramas on CD) rarely if ever offered to mid-listers in the English-speaking market.

For example, the Bakuman manga series (Shueisha) by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata has been adapted to an anime series (NHK Educational television), video game (Bandai), novel (Shueisha), and a live-action film (Toho). The extensive cross-ownership inherent in the production committee system results in extensive cross-promotion and pooled risks.

Which is all well and good. But as bestselling manga artist Shuho Sato explains in Manga Poverty, his autobiographical exposé of publishing industry finances in Japan, the "average" mangaka can still spend years in the red and never earn enough to cover his out-of-pocket expenses.

The market for print magazines in Japan has contracted sharply over the past decade. Publishers regularly lose money on first serialization rights. Reading the writing on the wall, when Shuho Sato renegotiated with Shogakukan, he transferred the secondary rights to his own company.

Shuho Sato's story ends with him adopting a hybrid approach. Shogakukan prints and sells the paper product while he publishes electronically through his website and shares that platform with other mangaka. After all, he asks,

If you truly believe that [authors] should feel indebted to publishers for making [their books] sell, then doesn't it also make it the publisher's fault if they don't sell?

One of Sato's more interesting revelations is how much it costs to produce a perfect bound book in volume. He secured from an industry source a quote of 150 yen per copy on a print run of 50,000 units that included a 10 percent royalty based on a list price of 500 yen. (Remember that Japanese publishers pay out royalties at the time of the print run.)

Subtract the royalty payment and the unit cost falls under a dollar. This again raises questions about the costs of manufacturing perfect bound books on this side of the Pacific and what exactly all the "overhead" is paying for.

A safe prediction is that hybrid or self-publishing will become the predominant economic model for mid-list writers and artists capable of producing all their own IP by the sweat of their own brows. The future of "traditional" publishing may well be a return to its roots primarily as printers.

Related posts

Manga economics
Manga circulation in Japan
The manga development cycle
The publishing industry in Japan

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June 14, 2018

Family Gekijyo (month 3)

The program schedule of Family Gekijyo (Dish) is beginning to resemble a shrunken version of Family Gekijyo (Japan), which is basically ION TV. It needs a website and a program guide, and current programming other than news updates and the occasional shogi tournament, but progress is being made.

Kasoken no Onna (科捜研の女) "Woman of the Science Research Institute" (1999).

Although this Kyoto-based police procedural predates both CSI and Bones, it compares well to both, with Yasuko Sawaguchi as Mariko Sakaki in the Temperance Brennan role and Kouji Naitou as Kaoru Domon in the Booth role. It's been on the air for 17 seasons (201 episodes to date) and still going.

Abarenbo Shogun (暴れん坊将軍) "Rough Justice Shogun" (1978).

Along with Mito Komon, one the longest-running series in the genre, totaling 831 episodes. Mito Komon ran on TBS and Abarenbo Shogun ran on Asahi TV, but they share the same premise: a high Tokugawa official dons a disguise and mingles among the commoners to bring ne'er-do-wells to justice.

Rinjo (臨場) "Scene of the Crime" (2009).

A police procedural based on the novel by Hideo Yokoyama. Seiyou Uchino plays forensic pathologist Yoshio Kuraishi in an updated version of Quincy, M.E. This rerun is an actual rerun for me, as I saw the original broadcast of the series on TV Japan. But it's worth watching twice.

Uchu Senkan Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト) Space Battleship Yamato (1974).

Directed by the legendary Leiji Matsumoto, the influential first series begins with the WWII battleship Yamato getting turned into a starship to save the Earth. A dubbed version was syndicated in the U.S. as Star Blazers. New series and movies are still being made.

The Yamato was the first of Matsumoto's anachronistic spacecraft, which include steam locomotives (Galaxy Express 999) and Spanish galleons (Captain Harlock).

Family Gekijyo is broadcasting an HD remaster but its age shows. Working with what little he's got, Matsumoto tells a compelling story of survival and ingenuity. Imagine that the aliens in Independence Day mostly succeeded. Earth must strike back (as in Ender's Game) before they finish the job.

Garo: Makai Retsuden (牙狼-魔戒烈伝) "Garo: History of the Makai" (2016).

This time around it's an anthology series. But I'm bored with it and don't watch. Too much of the same thing can run some shows right into the ground. At the rate they're going, that could soon include the whole Family Gekijyo channel too. It still can't hold a candle to TV Japan.

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June 07, 2018

The streaming chronicles (1/4)

In which I expand my Japanese media options with a Roku.

At minimum, switching from Dish to DirecTV (the new home of TV Japan) would add another ten dollars to the subscription price (at least $46/month plus numerous taxes and fees), on top of a new set-top box ($60) and a 24-month commitment (ugh).

A Roku Express costs less than $30 (no additional taxes or fees) and nobody has to commit to anything. Hey, I'm already saving money! The picture quality on my 720p screen is better than I expected, almost as good as a solid 1080p OTA signal (the gold standard).

Here are a few of the Japan-specific channels available on the platform.

NHK World is a remarkably complete news and information service. Many of the features are original NHK productions with English voice-overs or subtitles, including the all-important highlights during sumo tournaments. Frankly, NHK World alone justifies the cost of the Roku.

Even better, it's a free service, as is the Roku app.

The other big draw for me is Crunchyroll. The annoying ads can be removed for $9.99/month (or $99.99/year), a great deal for the biggest source of anime anywhere. Like Netflix, they use embedded subtitles, which is vastly superior to the closed captions approach.

A free ad-supported Roku channel worth adding is Tubi. It's got a well-stocked anime section, though the quality is all over the map and the search tools are entirely lacking.

The same thing goes for Tubi's surprising number of live-action offerings. which range from art-house films to schlocky tokusatsu series.

Now the sole remaining independent anime service, HIDIVE carries anime and a few live-action exclusives from Sentai Filmworks for $4.99/month. That leaves Funimation as Crunchyroll's only other competitor (Funimation has since acquired Crunchyroll), but for $5.99/month it'd hardly break the bank to get both.

At $9.99/month, dLibrary Japan is a VOD service run by NHK Cosmomedia (also responsible for NHK World and TV Japan). It licenses recent live-action content (some titles can be up to a decade old) for only a year or two, so there's no backlist to speak of. But the catalog is updated on a regular basis.

Most of the movies on dLibrary Japan are subtitled. Fewer of the television series are, and I've noticed an increasing use of machine-translated closed captions (that at times resemble an infinite number of monkeys trying to type Shakespeare).

Netflix is the latest streaming service to discover there simply isn't a big audience for localized Jdrama in North America. On the other hand, I am very impressed with the quality and quantity of the Netflix anime catalog.

That leaves Rakuten Viki as dLibrary Japan's only competitor, though the two services are aimed at quite different audiences, and Rakuten Viki employs an innovative approach to the challenge of subtitling.

Then again, Netflix recently added a kabuki play and a whole suite of filmed theatrical productions that take place during the late Warring States period. I imagine they initially licensed the videos for distribution in Japan and ended up with worldwide rights in the bargain.

Also free on Roku, J1 Radio streams popular Japanese music from the postwar Showa era up to the present.

Related posts

The streaming chronicles (2)
The streaming chronicles (3)
The streaming chronicles (4)
Anime's streaming solution

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