I had another talking point subject that I wanted to discuss with you today, but in light of a conversation I had with Sean (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Gaffney yesterday morning about the ending of my Sasameke review, I thought it might be prudent to talk about the role of a reviewer and how we interact with publishers (and to a lesser extent, artists).
In case you missed my review, I panned Sasameke pretty hard. I really didn’t like the book at all, and in most places, I have seen fairly negative reviews of the book, so I know I am not alone. As part of the end of my review, I asked Yen Press to not publish the second (and final) volume of Sasameke, because I believe that the content would be a loss, financially.
After reading my review, Sean pointed out that he did not think it was very prudent to ask publishers to cancel a series. I thought about this for a while, because I was interested in the idea of the relationship between manga publishers, who source series for licensure, license, and then print books from Japan, and the customers who read and sometimes review published work.
Reviewers often act as the mouthpiece of a community of consumers. We talk about what we liked and disliked, and many reviewers do so with the intent to tell other readers if they believe the reviewed work is worth purchasing. This is, and will always be, the way that I write reviews for Manga Widget. I enjoy analyzing a piece of work with a more critical eye, but oftentimes I feel that does not support my core audience, the people who are looking for a yea or nay vote on a book they might be considering for purchase. They are looking to spend a portion of their entertainment budget on a book, and I feel that it is a reviewer’s duty to inform (and hopefully entertain) the consumer so that they can decide whether or not that purchase will provide the entertainment they are looking for.
Being a part of that community is exhilarating, for multiple reasons, but the reason in contention here is that being a reviewer or a critic gives a person an amount of power to sway public opinion. If I pan Sasameke, there are people out there who might read my review and decide not to purchase that title. Others might discredit my review and decide to purchase it anyway. Regardless of the outcome, that voice is power.
Does the power that comes from influencing consumers extend to the companies creating the goods which those consumers purchase? The ending of my review of Sasameke turned away from the normal reader of my content to send a message to Yen Press about my thoughts on the financial success of a second volume of Sasameke. My intent for this part of the Sasameke review was not to gain some sort of personal satisfaction from attacking Yen Press as a business or publisher, but rather to express my thoughts about canceling the second volume of Sasameke as a monetary measure. Printing books is fairly expensive, and to print a book that I didn’t feel would sell would be a waste of money that could be used to license, translate, and print books that might do better. This is my opinion.
I am not involved in the business of manga publishing; I do not know the specifics about the Sasameke licensure agreement, nor do I have an intimate knowledge of how much it costs Yen Press to publish a book. My thoughts about the financial success of Sasameke could be complete garbage. I merely review some of the content that Yen Press provides on a regular basis. However, I feel that expressing the opinion about a company’s business platform is an essential part of the consumer process, regardless if I also review that company’s products.
For the record, I think that Yen Press does a pretty good job at producing comics for the manga consumer. Certainly the New York Times manga listing shows that they are doing things right, with multiple volumes of Black Butler hanging out in the top 10 list week after week. In this niche market, they are also producing material that has a passionate fan-base but offers little monetary gain; this is evident in a series like Bunny Drop, one of my favorite series in print.
Still, do I have the right to tell Yen Press what I think they should do with their money, including canceling a series? In my mind, absolutely.
Are they free to ignore me? Absolutely.
These questions are not what really matters though. The question that matters, at least for reviewers, is whether or not that right should be invoked during the review process.
Ultimately, I cannot decide. There is a part of me that says that my blog is the way that I interact with the readers, writers, and publishers in the manga niche. Posting my thoughts here at Manga Widget is probably the best vehicle for my opinion, and presenting those opinions during a review of the work is probably one of the clearest ways to do that. Another part of me says that perhaps that message would have been a better presented as its own topic, that while I have the right to question the business sense of publishing a second volume of Sasameke, that the right to say “don’t publish another volume” does not have a place within the review process.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you feel that asking a publisher to stop publishing a certain series is bad form? Do you think it can be a valid part of the reviewing process, or not? Or is this issue something that is different for every reviewer? I am interested in your thoughts.
(Thanks to Sean for bringing the subject to my attention!)