Opinion: Digital Manga Publishing Need To Learn From Their Own Past

With the change in seasons comes yet another Kickstarter campaign from Digital Manga Publishing.  This time it's for classic 80s seinen romance Kimagure Orange Road, the fourteenth campaign in what marks the company's fifth year of using Kickstarter.  You'd think that this would be a campaign that both manga fans and older fans nostalgic for the manga's animated adaptation would be excited for, yet the collective reaction is pretty much the same as it has been for any DMP campaign from the last couple of years.  If anything, though, they are frustrated, disappointed, and exasperated with what they perceive as DMP exploiting Kickstarter to keep itself on life support.  I understand (and share) many of these feelings, but I can't get mad at DMP any more for using Kickstarter to fund manga.  No, my issue is that DMP is so focused on rolling out these campaigns that they are overlooking data that is far more valuable to their future than any dollar amount they might collect.  Even a quick examination of their campaigns would let them pick up useful information about whom their audience is, what kind of books and materials they want, and how to better manage and distribute their campaigns.

First and foremost, let's look at the books they want to fund.  Looking over the history of their Kickstarters, it's pretty clear what kind of books DMP's audience want, and that is not 'more Osamu Tezuka books' for the most part but instead 'plenty of sweet, sweet smut.'  That's not to say that there is no audience for the Tezuka books at all.  After all, Vertical did a great job at putting out excellent editions of some of Tezuka's more notable works and helping them reach a larger audience.  For DMP, though, it's an audience that's not grown much over the years.  Most of the Tezuka-focused campaigns struggle to get 500 people on board.  The major exception to this was the Unico campaign, and that's in part because Unico is a property that is known and loved by a wider audience in general.  Meanwhile, hundreds more have clamored for their BL-focused campaigns and over 1000 people were happy to offer up money for over half a dozen hentai manga. You don't have to be a statistician to look at this and determine that the larger and more profitable audience doesn't lie with their prestige project, but instead with the smut that company has long been known for.  On the other hand, we're talking about the company that's so ignorant (willingly or otherwise) of this information that they consider reprints of popular series too risky to tackle on their own, works like that highly successful Unico collection or the bestselling BL series Finder. They should have a perfectly good idea of the size of the audience for these books between the campaign of the former and the sales of the latter, yet not even these are safe enough bets for them.  DMP's audience knows what it wants, but DMP itself simply can't or won't listen to them.

Honestly, I'm surprised that so many of their campaigns have been successful considering what a mess they tend to be.  They started off strong, but it seems that since the Tezuka World fiasco DMP's campaign tiers have turned into a nonsensical grab-bag of merchandise and it's become increasingly less and less related to the properties they are trying to fund.  I suspect that DMP has been using these campaigns as a clearinghouse for Akadot, their proprietary storefront where countless bits and bobs of anime merchandise, piles of older discount BL works, and their occasional new releases go to collect dust.  It can sometimes take some serious digging just to figure out what tier will let you get the book(s) you want with a minimum of nonsense.  Most of the time, those needless piles of merchandise seem to be there simply to justify some of the more expensive tiers.  The weird thing is that DMP has been able to improve on this at times.  The tiers on their BL are for the most part well-focused, offering mostly a handful of imprint-branded items and passes for YaoiCon.  Something else that the BL and hentai campaigns figured out was that the most desirable add-on they can offer is MORE BOOKS.  A big part of the reason that the most recent BL campaign and the hentai one were so successful was because they offered to add on a number of related books for those who had already pledged.  People snatched them up left and right, and those additional books helped make these two DMP's most successful campaigns to date.  Yet with the current Kimagure campaign, they're back to a lot of random things like repro cels from Naruto and Bleach along with more obvious choices like Kimagure figurines and artbooks.  When it comes to their campaign tiers and the rewards they offer, it seems to be always taking one step forward and two steps back.  The chaos in their campaigns doesn't end there, though.

These are not impossible problems to solve.  All it would take is a bit of communication, a bit of analysis, and a consistent staff who could use their past experiences to hone future campaigns.  The problem is that level of communication is not present, or at the very least not present on a regular basis.  I'm far from the first person to point out how much DMP's staff have struggled to sell their Kickstarters to larger audiences.  They seem to struggle to find a balance between keeping up communication with the donors and with a wider audience through social media.  It's a problem that only gets more aggravated in more recent campaigns thanks to those oh-so-profitable add-ons.  When only one or two people are in charge of communication, it's easy to get swamped when you have to sort out hundreds of requests for additional goods.  That's not to say that you can't manage a Kickstarter properly with a small crew.  After all, Ann Yamamoto of Pied Piper Inc. has managed to run two very successful anime Kickstarter campaigns more or less on her own.  If she can do it, then certainly an established publisher like DMP can do the same.  If they can't, then it suggests that something is lacking.  It might be a lack of interest or priorities from the higher-ups, a lack of good management available, a lack of funds to pay for the kind of experience they need, or some other combination of these and other factors, but eventually those lacking qualities will catch up to them and threaten far more than just their Kickstarters.

DMP is a company that has always traded in wild, even risky ideas, right from their very conception.  Their use of Kickstarter to fund manga is one of the few risks that has paid off.  While there have been failures, they've mostly been able to move on past them, but therein lies the problem.  DMP is a company that could stand to learn from their past when it comes to Kickstarter and to use that information to better focus the campaigns and the company as a whole on the audience and works that will serve them best.  In doing so, they might even be able to start winning back some of those frustrated former customers and maybe even make a profit without the use of crowdfunding.  If they don't, then they will remain a publisher clinging to the brink of oblivion until it is too late for anyone or anything to save them.


Popular Posts