Yesterday, Right Stuf announced that they will release the first three volumes of the Hetalia manga. While the third volume was never released in America, the first two will be reprints of TOKYOPOP’s previous releases. The first run of volume 3 will include eight full-color pages, though these pages will be replaced by black and white versions in subsequent printings.

This isn’t the first time that TOKYOPOP or Right Stuf have ventured into the realm of on-demand publishing. In 2007, Right Stuf served as a sales broker for ImaginAsian’s on-demand lines. The lineup included Orguss, Nobody’s Boy – Remi and Cat’s Eye, with individual volumes retailing for 12.99 each. In March 2010, TOKYOPOP began distributing Rave Master through on-demand channels via CreateSpace. In both cases, the companies ceased production less than a year after their initiatives began. In 2010, TOKYOPOP dabbled in the print-on-demand business, as they began resurrecting older titles through their online store.

On-demand printing is a double-edged sword for many customers. On one hand, the prospect of being able to obtain harder-to-find titles is something that many fans would appreciate. The opportunity to nab long-lost copies of those titles that have climbed to $60, $70 a volume is the absolute best case for customers. On the other, though, on-demand publishing is a fairly expensive process. What would normally retail for $10 or $11 now becomes $15.95, as the company needs to cover the expense of running a small batch (which costs more by nature), and ensure some sort of profit.

While I don’t doubt that there will be a number of people lining up for the initial release of Hetalia (which currently retails for $60 per volume as of publication), I do have to question how the title will perform in subsequent volumes. After all, previous on-demand efforts were met with tepid response at best, though they were arguably for low-demand properties or franchises that were well past their prime. Hetalia is the first real test for such a model with a property that is still in demand.

The real test of the model will come in the months and weeks that follow release day. Will the sales continue to rack up, or will we see a sharp drop-off in sales? Will the momentum continue through the series, or will we see the same downward trend that seems to haunt all other titles? And if there is a downward trend, how quick will the drop-off be? Will it be faster than the norm or will things remain the same?

There are far too many questions at this point for us to form an educated prediction. However, I do have my suspicions that the higher entry price, and limited storefront will scare a portion of the potential market away. How much of the market is up in the air, and I’ll withhold estimates due to the nature of the situation. While the ideal outcome would be the the title soaring beyond expectations, the many challenges the title faces should leave observers skeptical.