(Full Disclosure: I’m not a big fan of ADV. I’ve seen them ignore their customers’ legitimate complaints over things ADV did with releases far too many times. Still I’m trying to be objective here, and the reasons I don’t care for them have contributed to the problems leading to their current layoffs.)
Publisher’s Weekly has put up a report about ADV laying off and restructuring its manga unit. Reportedly up to 40 employees have been laid off, although ADV won’t confirm those numbers, only confirm that layoffs took place. Some quotes from the article and my comments are below, along with a final summation.
John Ledford, cofounder and president of ADV, says the company faces a saturated market and more discerning customers. “Anyone can see that there’s only so much shelf space available to manga and to anime. We’ve adjusted our schedule to keep pace with the opportunities for shelf space.”
Truly I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry in response to this. Frankly it sounds like Ledford’s placing the blame on the market, retailers (shelf space) and customers. True all of that played a part, but what he fails to comment on is why ADV tried to muscle into the very firmly established Manga market in such a big way (around 80 titles last year). When I saw the first ADV Manga titles at the bookstore my first thought was “are they nuts?” Most of the titles weren’t big name titles, and ADV was a virtual unknown to Manga fans who don’t like/bother with Anime. Sure Del-Rey/Bantam Books also made a highly publicized, and largely successful, push into Manga as well last year but they’re already a very well known name to book buyers as well as readers. (Being known to buyers is highly important, as bookstores are more likely to devote shelf space to a publisher they know and trust.) Even so Del-Rey, wisely I think, decided to differentiate themselves with top tier titles and a more meticulous approach. While there has been some inconsistency in translation, all of their titles have excellent liner notes, cultural references, extras and full explanations of honorifics, justifying the higher price of $10.95 vs. the more standard $9.95. Del-Rey also published far fewer titles than ADV did, another wise move (especially looking at it in retrospect now.)
ADV is refocusing its manga publishing on “winners,” Oarr says, and . . . will focus on properties “where we have both sides”–both the manga and anime licenses–pointing to the upcoming release of the much publicized Cromartie High book and anime series.
If I worked in what’s left of ADV’s manga division I’d be printing up resumes and job hunting fast! Some of ADV’s titles will do great, but thats for older, established series that already have a huge fanbase. Things like Cromartie High are not likely to do as well as ADV hopes. Had anyone heard about this title before ADV started advertising it? Has anyone, besides me, seen the Manga preview in this month’s Anime Insider? It wasn’t that good. Perhaps it’s because they took chapters out of context, but it doesn’t appear to matter much, it’s non-sequential humor. I’m predicting it’ll do poorly, maybe not an absolute bomb, but nowhere near what ADV is hoping for it to do.
ADV also publishes NewType magazine, a category leading anime/manga fan periodical, and much of the editorial and production work for the manga books has been shifted to the staff producing the magazine in a new publishing division.
ADV certainly could use some help on NewType USA! Most of the “Now Playing” episode synopsizes aren’t even close to what happened. I can tell this from watching raws on my own and I understand almost no Japanese at all. Whoever’s being paid to write those doesn’t even seem to be watching the episodes first. NewType USA is also highly ADV-centric. Try flipping through one sometime, the majority of the shows showcased, and even the advertising, is all for ADV titles. If I was a company in competition with ADV with Anime titles I wouldn’t want to pay to advertise in Newtype USA. Why bother when the majority of magazine caters to the publisher’s titles?
I should note that ADV has caused plenty of ire in the anime industry. ADV had a tendency in the past to grab up rights to portions of series that another company had already started doing the distribution for. Normally this might seem like a good business move, but it annoyed many customers too. Having the distributor change mid-series leads to mismatched cover art/naming/etc. While their competitors have never said so publicly, they’re only human and I doubt they cared for this strategy either. In more recent years this has been less of a problem since companies are moving to license the whole thing at once, but it may come up again in cases like Girls Bravo which has separate 1st and 2nd seasons, and likely separate licensing as well.
I think the scariest thing is that all indications are that ADV doesn’t realize they dug their own hole with this. Since there’s still things wrong (Newtype USA and counting on new, relatively unknown titles) they really need to take a good look at what they’re doing and fix the problems. Otherwise this will likely be only the first of many reports of bad news from ADV.
I also don’t understand why ADV is trying to hype Cromartie High. It is like a prime example of a series that will not do well, especially in translation. A much better example would be Chrno Crusade, where they have both the anime and the manga, and the manga is much stronger. On the other hand, you have not mentioned that they carry the plushie mechazawa, and this by itself could be enough to propel manga sales.
I’m not so sure about that, I know I wouldn’t mind having a plushie mechazawa, but even if I buy one I’m not going to be getting the DVDs or Manga so they’re still going to be losing money on those.
Actually the plushie stuff in general is an example of them doing something smart. There’s not really much anime goods available in the US outside of imports. I don’t have any facts to support this, but I’m betting the plushies they already have been selling have done well. I know I want one of the dog from Excel Saga (I can’t remember its name, just that it was the emergency food supply. )
That would be Menchi. (mmm! Menchi dogs!) And they have Jonathan from Kaleido Star as well.
And yes, I happen to know that they have these courtesy of the inserts in the DVDs I just got today.