Earlier today, Kodansha announced that they would join Dai Nippon Printing in the purchase of Vertical. Neither details on the price paid for Vertical, nor details on the acquisition as a whole were disclosed. As a fan, I can’t help but show some concern. And, as a news commentator, that concern hasn’t gone away.
I can’t say the company is a stranger to the US market as a whole. After all, they were integral in the foundation of Del Rey Manga in 2004. Through cooperation with Random House, the imprint became America’s fourth-largest manga publisher in its six-year existence. With this in mind, things sound hopeful, even positive at first glance. However, a deeper look is all that is needed to show where the worries begin to arise.
On one hand, I am glad to see Kodansha is taking a large interest in the American market. Their Kodansha USA titles are feature good translations, and they tend to treat their products well, as a whole. Ghost in the Shell and Akira were both released in gorgeous oversized editions with plenty of colorful pages. These editions also came at a premium price, of course. Technically, we haven’t seen any of the company’s Del Rey inheritances just yet, which does give pause to a large portion of the fanbase. Vertical, on the other hand, has always had a focus on the niche – they’ve picked up smaller titles that most large houses wouldn’t touch, such as Chi’s Sweet Home, Black Jack, and and Twin Spica. At the same time, they’ve done a hell of a job with the titles they put out, and built up both a reputation and a fanbase in their years of operation.
My largest fear is that the company is trying to expand their influence too much, too fast in the western market. They’re pushing bullishly into a weak market that, in just a few weeks, is going to become far weaker as Borders closes over 200 stores. Profits are down, the usual doom and gloom are starting to be kicked up. My worry in this is that, if the going gets tough, Kodansha would be at little loss to just cut their losses, and return to the licensing game, leaving us two publishers down in an already-small market.
Frankly speaking, the best thing Kodansha can do with Vertical is just let them be, at this point. Let them work pseudo-independently, as the company has a talented and passionate staff, and plenty of know-how regarding the western market. Vertical’s people have mentioned that they were feeling the strain of growth (“working themselves dry” is the term Ed Chavez is using on Twitter), so a larger umbrella to fall back on could relieve some of the strain, and just let the company do what they do best.
There are still far too many unknowns to really get worked up on at this point. After all, things could go great, or they could go horribly all the same. I wish the new partnership the best, and hope that Vertical can maintain that something that makes the company so special, even as Kodansha takes them under their wing. Who knows? Maybe they’ll teach the giant a thing or two about the western market, at the same time.