Playing Manga Catchup

VIZ’s manga series One Piece dominated the NYT manga best seller list last week, taking up five of the total ten positions. But, come this week, none of the One Piece titles showed up on the list. What does this mean?

Last week’s spike is due to VIZ’s aggressive One Piece publishing schedule.  Since January of this year, One Piece has been published in five volume sets instead of the usual one volume per month. Volumes 21 through 53 will be published by June allowing VIZ to get closer to the Japanese release schedule.

VIZ  is no doubt trying to meet fan demand and to battle the continuing appeal of instantaneous access to series via illegal scanlation sites, where fans translate Japanese manga titles and make them available on the internet. In 2007, VIZ worked to catch up with the Japanese releases of their best-selling series Naruto. Over four months, three volumes were released a month, allowing VIZ to finish out the current storyline of Naruto and be ready to launch the new story arc, referred to as Naruto Shippuden, marking a two-year break in the tale’s narrative. Then, early in 2009, VIZ once again began a blitz campaign, releasing four new volumes a month in February through April, to catch up with both the Japanese release schedule and to stay in line with the animated Naruto TV series arriving in the US.

For the best seller list, this accelerated publishing rate doesn’t necessarily mean much.  Naruto dominates the manga list whenever a new volume is published, and similar spikes happened during the bulk releases in 2009.  One Piece, on the other hand, has not been an automatic best seller for VIZ.  This series, which follows the slapstick-filled and charmingly oddball adventures of a pirate, Luffy, who has been cursed (or blessed) with a rubberized body, has never been as strong a presence as other popular shonen (or boys comics) titles like Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, or Bleach.  Last week’s arrival in force on the NYT list indicates the fan base is growing and we should pay attention to it in selection.

In a time of tightening budgets, sudden increases in releases can wreak havoc on a library’s orders especially if you have a standing order plan. In my library, both Naruto and One Piece are on standing order, and while I wasn’t forced to cancel the plan when the publishing schedule changed, I was lucky that my budget could accommodate the shift. However, this year’s One Piece push was a dramatic increase.  Instead of five new volumes, I suddenly had to pay for thirty. VIZ sent out press releases informing consumers and library publications about the increase, but my own warnings came from comics sources and individual librarians, not from vendors or standard library publications. So far, VIZ has been choosing wisely, only accelerating series that are in high demand. Libraries need to keep up to satisfy their readers, so it’s important to keep tabs on VIZ’s press releases and publishing schedules.

The other major issue that affects libraries is publisher’s fighting the widespread ease and appeal of scanlation sites.  Publishers acknowledge that they will never catch up in print with the scanlations that are released within a matter of days after the source material hits the magazine racks in Japan.

A hullaballoo over the weekend, smartly broken down by Robot 6‘s Brigid Alverson, noted a new iPhone app available for download that cheerfully makes the most popular illegal scanlation sites available.  Just yesterday I chatted with a favorite adult patron who revealed that, now that he’s discovered scan sites, he’s been checking out fewer titles from the library. Scans feed his desire for instant reading. Some titles are available to library users digitally via Overdrive, such as Tokyopop’s, but most of them are older and US-originated titles and thus not likely to keep fans away from the scan sites. Librarians need to work with publishers and digital media vendors to get what our users are looking for, or we face losing them.

One Response to “Playing Manga Catchup”

  1. Books for Mushishi fans, the One Piece surge, and translating humor « MangaBlog Says:

    […] the librarian site EarlyWord, Robin Brenner explains why there were five volumes of One Piece on last week’s NYT best-seller list and none this […]