Kickstarter: The New Model of the Micro-Niche?

While I was busy preparing to host the Natsume Ono Moveable Manga Feast Digital Manga Publishing Inc. announced a Kickstarter project to bring about another print run of Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing The Earth, a one-shot tome of early Tezuka work from 1968 that had received a very short print run due to publishing costs. The book has been praised by many in the blogosphere, and its short-printed status means that currently, a first print copy of Swallowing the Earth will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 USD – that’s double-plus MSRP (originally $24.95 in 2009). This is actually cheaper than it was 6 months ago, before the Kickstarter was announced – a “new” copy of Swallowing the Earth in March was running more around the $75-80 mark. Which is frankly absurd. But Tezuka fans will be Tezuka fans, and I, being one of those fans, had been building up a small budget for the book, until the DMP announcement.

Other bloggers have talked about Kickstarter – Johanna Draper Carlson being the most prominent, having voiced her opinions about the platform multiple times. While I agree with some of her cautionary words, I also am interested in crowd-sourcing as an idea, and the idea brought onto the consumer’s stage by DMP is the idea of niche-publishing.

Ben Applegate of DMP has gone on the record in this Kickstarter video, saying:

So in order to get [Swallowing the Earth] back out there, to let people read this really important book, not only in the history of Osamu Tezuka, but in the history of manga as well, we’ve come to Kickstarter as a new way to fund manga publishing in the United States. If this Kickstarter is successful, and we’re able to get this book back out in to people’s hands, you’re going to see more, not only reprints of older titles, but also possibly even new titles coming over from Japan aimed at a niche audience in the United States that would never have been brought over by a publisher otherwise.

The emphasis here is my own, but I think it is safe to say that Digital Manga has high hopes for a Kickstarter-like crowd sourcing model. I have high hopes for it too, which is primarily why I backed the Kickstarter (as you may have noticed from the image of the site above.) Kickstarter is a unique tool that allows a publishing company with ties in the Japanese manga business to attempt to bring manga to the United States in a way that puts relatively little risk on the publishing company. I can understand why this is important – small companies like DMP that have small operating budgets need to invest in titles that can sustain a business. For Digital Manga, that means the niche audience of yaoi, and the occasional non-yaoi comic.

As a person who reads more independent and niche manga (Bunny Drop, A Bride’s Story, Velveteen and Mandala), I am interested in seeing more content from Japan that meets my tastes and expectations. I would love to see more josei manga printed in the United States, and am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Digital Manga if you publish josei manga on Kickstarter – you have a loyal customer in me. I understand that josei is a micro-niche of manga – but this is the type of content that can thrive in  a crowd-sourced publishing system, where those that want it can buy into it, and create that opportunity for publishing that so many josei titles have been missing.

Now, I think it’s a fair criticism to ask- if you aren’t going to publish a book using your own budget, do you really need to be a book publisher? The answer here is a resounding “not necessarily.” With the appropriate contacts and contracts, it is within the realm of possibility for me to license and sell manga through the platform of Kickstarter. The thing that Digital Manga brings to the table is an honesty and a reliability as a company that has and continues to publish quality manga.

Also safe to say here that DMP‘s views on crowd-sourcing are not necessarily the same as my own. They may use Kickstarter to fund reprints exclusively, or print more yaoi manga. But my hope is that the company lives up to Ben’s words and uses the success of this first Kickstarter project to fuel the licensure and publishing of underrepresented content.

Digital Manga Publishing is on the bleeding edge of publishing. The Kickstarter initiative, in addition to the Digital Manga Guild, are two projects that may not succeed in the long term – but this type of innovation is bringing content to readers in a way that no other publisher is trying, and it is this sort of innovation that may become the new and best model for the micro-niche in years to come. I am looking forward to the results.

Especially in February of 2012, when I get a brand new copy of Swallowing the Earth shipped to me because of this Kickstarter pledge.