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Vertical Inc. is a small publisher with an eclectic line. If someone says “I don’t read manga, except for X,” X will more often than not turn out to be a Vertical book (and over half the time, it’s Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha). In addition to a long list of Tezuka titles (Ode to Kirihito, Dororo, A Message to Adolf), the company has also published some classic and modern sci-fi (To Terra, 7 Billion Needles), the wine-tasting manga Drops of God, Moyoco Anno’s geisha story Sakuran, and the cute cat manga Chi’s Sweet Home, which is probably its bestseller.
So what’s next? Vertical marketing director Ed Chavez, a former blogger himself, often teases new licenses on Twitter, but earlier this month he went further and posted a survey asking fans what titles they would like to see licensed for summer 2013 release. It’s an impressive list that includes Billy Bat, the new manga by Naoki Urasawa (Monster, Pluto, 20th Century Boys), Coppers by Natsume Ono (not simple, House of Five Leaves) and March Comes in Like a Lion by Chika Umino (Honey and Clover), as well as Usamaru Furuya’s Our Light Club, which I assume is a followup to his Lychee Light Club, previously published by Vertical.
Equally interesting is the list of the types of titles Vertical won’t consider, which gives an idea of the publisher’s editorial direction as well as the constraints under which it operates: no adult manga, doujinshi (fan comics) or webcomics; no titles released before 2000; and no manga from the publishers Shueisha or Shogakukan (the parent companies of Viz Media, which gets the lion’s share of their output) or Akita Shoten.
On Twitter, Chavez clarifies that this is really a wish list for fans, and that Vertical hasn’t made overtures for most of these titles — and isn’t that interested, either. He talks pretty openly about sales numbers on Twitter: “success in manga is relative. 3000 copies sold is a success. not a hit. but a success. most of our tezuka make it eventually.”
(That’s in line with what I have heard from other publishers over the years.) Chavez also notes that most manga readers are casual readers who tend to know brands, which is why newer titles with anime or video game tie-ins tend to do better. Case in point: The manga adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s 5 cm Per Second, which has already sold through its first printing. Hard-core fans (the kind of people who follow Ed Chavez on Twitter) have different tastes, but there aren’t enough of them to make a big impact on the market. Thus Naruto outsells Naoki Urasawa by orders of magnitude, even though Urasawa’s manga wins Eisner Awards and critical acclaim. As a case in point, Chavez notes that most of the respondents during the first few hours of the poll have read Vertical’s worst-selling manga, some of which only moved 200 copies.
But, as Chavez notes, that’s how the business works: “we don’t make money with every book. But some do great. That’s publishing. I wish we were profitable. But that’s why we reach out.”