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Why Cancel One of the Bestselling Comics in the U.S?

Viz, Shueisha Execs Answer

Published: 10/25/2011 03:01am
After the stunning Viz Media announcement at New York Comic Con that it was canceling its North American Shonen Jump magazine in favor of a weekly digital edition, Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha (see “Viz Launching 'Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha'”), many questions remained.  One was why Viz was canceling a comic title that’s the bestselling comic in North America many months of the year.  ICv2 had the opportunity to ask additional questions about the company’s plans.  We spoke to Alvin Lu, Senior Vice President and General Manager at Viz Media, and Hisashi Sasaki, who runs Shonen Jump at Viz co-parent Shueisha in Japan. 
Why are you canceling the print version of Shonen Jump in North America?
Alvin Lu:  Once we had the possibility of doing a weekly publication digitally, it made the print magazine, not obsolete, but the content is not as fresh.   We feel that manga in its native form is a periodical, a sort of live performance, as it were.  We went with the print magazine in the first place because it was the closest we could get to that given the limitations that we faced at the time.  Once the possibilities of digital came into play, doing something much more live and fresh came into play, having a print magazine lagging behind that became less essential.
What’s the circulation of the print magazine?
Alvin Lu:  About 125,000 right now.
Wow, that’s a lot.  Have you done any research on how those readers feel about migrating to digital?
Alvin Lu:  We have.  Obviously there will be a segment of the readership that will miss the print magazine; we will miss the print magazine.  We also understand that some of the subscriber base and the readers won’t want to move to a digital format.  At the same time, I think what we saw here was the potential for something much larger.  We want to give the current readers every opportunity to try out the digital magazine.  If they don’t, we’re definitely respecting that. In some sense, our subscribers to Shonen Jump magazine are our most treasured fan base and we want to give them all the respect we can.
What’s the relationship between print and digital Shonen Jump in Japan?
Hisashi Sasaki:  We don’t do it in Japan digitally; it’s print only.
Why?
Hisashi Sasaki:  We don’t think it’s necessary in Japan.
Why is digital more necessary in the United States than it is in Japan?
Hisashi Sasaki:  In Japan there are about 20,000 bookstores in such a small area.  There are more so-called convenience stores everywhere.  People are so used to reading Shonen Jump magazine weekly, weekly, weekly--just go out of the home and just buy it.  At the kiosk at the station, at the convenience stores, book stores, it’s much easier.  That’s their kind of lifestyle.  Instead of turning on the computer, starting up the Web browser, Japanese people are so used to reading paper print magazines.
We understand the digital market for manga there was about $600 million dollars last year, so some must have a computer.
Hisashi Sasaki:  The $600 million dollar market was for graphic novels, not magazines.  We don’t see the necessity to introduce magazines digitally in Japan.
Are you hoping this will have an impact on illegal downloads?
Alvin Lu:  Yes, definitely. I think having the price point, the convenience of use of the platform we’ve developed (which I don’t think should be understated, with our ability to reach younger readers online, I actually think with that 99 cent price of entry it’s easier to get your favorite Shonen Jump titles every week this way than to go out of your way to an illegitimate source.
How, if at all, does this affect your strategy for graphic novels here in the states, the collected editions?
Alvin Lu:  It’s complementary.  Our digital and print strategies are moving toward a complementary model, but this in particular allows us, again, through the combination of the convenience, the breadth of reach, the price point, to really reach a larger potential base of new fans than we’re currently reaching.  We’re hoping it will serve as a converter to get people hooked on the stories and for the ones that they really like they can get the permanent versions in the graphic novels which are available in print or in digital.

As you know, 125,000 copies of Shonen Jump makes it one of the best-selling comics in the United States.  You said you expected to do better in the digital form; what are your sales goals for the digital edition?
Alvin Lu:  They are quite aggressive.  We’ll have to watch and see, but one of the immediate goals is to hope that we can bring along as many of the current readers of the Shonen Jump magazine as we can.
How are you going to get new readers?  You said you expect it to be bigger ultimately than the print edition; what kind of marketing other than social media and PR and so forth are you doing?
Alvin Lu:  We have a number of marketing options. We’ve developed our online marketing capabilities in a number of ways.  The Viz family of Websites itself draws a very significant amount of traffic.  That will be one of the major entry points, and from there we will build a base. We’ll basically grow our marketing strategy from there.
Are you going to do any free sampling?
Alvin Lu:  We’re doing some free sampling right now for a lot of the graphic novel titles.  We feel that the 99 cent price point, that first introductory point of entry, that’s pretty close to a free sample.  We’ve also found when people pay for that first taste we get a much better conversion down the road.  That’s something we’re also hoping for as well.
There will be free content as well.  The basic package is paid for, but like any magazine publication we’ll be explaining more details as we go along.  There are other components to the digital, to the magazine publication, a large part of that will be open to the public.
Are you going to sell this to any other platforms other than the Viz proprietary platform?
Alvin Lu:  We want to be in as many channels as possible.  We’re starting with the Viz proprietary platform.  We’d like to get the Viz Manga platform onto as many channels as possible.  Same as with our graphic novels.  Expand that in a way that makes sense.
We want to be able to have the app and the experience of buying directly through the Viz store as much as possible.  We’re also looking at distributing our content through other avenues as well.
A year from now, how will you evaluate the success of this program?  If it sells less than the physical Shonen Jump is now, will you regard that as a disappointment?
Alvin Lu:  The immediate goal is to get the circulation to the point that it is now.  We’ll have to see what the adoption rate is before we can decide how quickly we can get there.
 
 
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