Tezuka, Kickstarters and all that Jazz

Why I can’t support this kickstarter and why I’m happy to pledge to future ones.

(Note: RRP is the same as MSRP and P&P is Hibernian English for Shipping and Handling)

Normally, I’d be lazy and not bother one wit to write about manga on my own website. You can tell with the amount of updates on the main page how wedded I am to keeping it up to date. But, a bee in my bonnet I have, and a bee in my bonnet I must address. I’ve been supporting Digital Manga Publishing with their Kickstarter projects for a while now having only missed out on the Swallowing The Earth project (I ruminate somedays on whether or not to pay the crazy marketplace secondhand prices). I like the idea of getting to read Osamu Tezuka’s work in printed form because he’s an important author and a great storyteller. His body of work stretches over decades and incompasses all genres and mediums. So when DMP decided that their Swallowing The Earth KS could give rise to more such ideas, I eagerly followed them. I’m the proud owner of Barbara, Unico, Triton of the Sea, Atomcat and I’m looking forward to their Captain Ken releases. But there is a seriously hard pill to swallow with their current project.

No Win Scenario

DMP want to print the following titles with this current campaign:

  • Birdman Anthology Vol. 1-2

As you can see it’s an impressive list, worthy of any Tezuka’s fans shelf space (please click the links to be taken to the amazing TezukaInEnglish site for more info on these titles). So we if work out the RRP at USD $19.95 for 31 volumes, that works out to be: $618.45. Great, a bit steep sure, but Tezuka fans could dig deep and find the money. However, when we look at the epic pledge levels list we find the following information for those who want the books and only the books:

UPGRADED Tezuka World Paperback Pack: e-Hug / e-thank you; Three Eyed One 13 Volumes; Rainbow Parakeet 7 Volumes; Wonder Three 3 Volumes; Alabaster 2 Volumes; Birdman Anthology 2 Volumes; Vampires 4 Volumes; Digital Books Of Three-Eyed One 13 Volumes; Digital Books Of Rainbow Parakeet 7 Volumes; Digital Books Of Wonder 3; Digital Books Of Alabaster; Digital Books Of Birdman Anthology; Digital Books Of Vampires

At first glance you think, wow. That sure is a lot of goodies (I’m avoiding the word swag) and I still get the physical books! It’s over $650 so there’s some bloat in there if you’re just after the books. Brilliant, a Tezuka fan’s dream come true! Hmm, not exactly. You see the initial goal of the Kickstarter is a staggering $380,000 which, to give some context, is some $360,000 more than the highest initial pledge level for one of their previous projects to publish Unico, Triton and Atomcat (which only was enough money to publish Unico). But it doesn’t stop being confusing yet. The $380k is only enough money to publish the first two stories, The Three-Eyed One and Rainbow Parakeet, physically and digitally and that’s it. If you want the next batch of titles, that will be another $95,000. Finishing it off, the remaining titles will be another $114,000. If you’re keeping count, that means to own all 31 volumes DMP must raise $589,000.

I don’t know if you’re aware or not but Osamu Tezuka is practically unheard of here in the English speaking world, outside of his fans in anime and manga circles. Despite being world renowned, in English, the most anyone would remember him for is Kimba The White Lion and Astro Boy, both of which had their heyday in the 1960’s, i.e. the distant, prehistoric past to most new fans of anime and manga. Every time someone tries to build Tezuka’s profile here,the campaign sustains for a while and then collapses under its own weight when the people involved grasp the sheer size of the man’s body of work. Even VIZ and Vertical who have licensed Tezuka’s work before only pick and choose his works. English manga publishers rarely attempt a long form Tezuka work except Vertical with Black Jack and Buddha, Dark Horse with Astro Boy and VIZ with Phoenix, to my knowledge. He simply doesn’t sell well enough to work in multi-volume works. Hence, when DMP announced they were going to use Kickstarter for their Tezuka collection, I was enthusiastic to say the least. So much so, I poo-pooed other people’s assertions that this would end in tears. “Never! There is a market for Tezuka, it simply needs to be sustained.” I said it as soon as I read the rundown of the campaign’s goals and stretch amounts and I’ll say it again: DMP have completely misread their plans for Tezuka in the English speaking market. They are making massive assumptions about their audience and how much they will pay in one go for Tezuka. They are assuming that people really want to read a 13 volume book from an author they’ve been told is good and that they’ve never read a translation of said story before. This is evidenced by the amount pledged for titles people really wanted against what they’ve levelled at backers.

Here’s the KickTraq.com backer numbers for Unico, Atomcat and Triton:

dailychart[1]

Within the first five days of funding, it smashed through its first goal and went on to break all its other goals. Now look at the current data from KickTraq on Tezuka’s World:

dailychart[1]

In the first five days, it has raised $21,000 of $380,000. If we were looking at percentages, Tezuka’s World has raised roughly 5.5% of its initial 100% in the same time it took Unico to get to 100% of its initial goal.

They are also assuming that the audience that tuned into the previous Kickstarters is growing. It isn’t. From Kickstarter’s own numbers: Swallowing The Earth, 194 backers. Barbara, 353 backers. Unico, 715 backers. Captain Ken, 451 backers. The core audience of Tezuka backers is not growing, merely leveling off.  They cannot sustain another project this year with such a high price tag. Captain Ken got $19,000 of a required 13,000, barely spluttering over the finish line. Between Barbara and Unico, Triton and Atomcat, DMP raised nearly $67,000 dollars and they were both launched within months of each other. If DMP, by some miracle, raises the minimum amount for the latest Kickstarter, together with Captain Ken, they will have raised roughly $399,000 this year for two projects which also launched within months of each other. The problem is not the amount of manga to be printed, it’s the amount of money being asked for. So what is DMP’s explanation for this high initial amount?

Land of Confusion

According to DMP President, Hikaru Sasahara, the high amount is due, in part, to the fact that they licensed the entire Tezuka catalogue which is some 400 volumes long. This huge amount means that if they proceed to kickstart all their projects with the same scale as Unico or Barbara, it will take over 40 years to complete this project. Therefore by adding in 30+ volumes per project, they can get it done in six years or so. But if we do some mathematics again, that means 30 divided into 400 resulting in 12 further projects after this one. Which, if they ask for the full stretch goal of $580,000, will result in a total of seven and half million dollars to pay for the whole lot. What’s making this harder to fathom is that now, DMP are stating that the higher RRP per volume on this project is because they are factoring in the cocurrent costs associated with the project. I need to stress this: these are not translation or editing costs, or they would have said that. These costs include travelling to Japan over a seven year period to meet with Tezuka Productions to acquire the rights to the Tezuka catalogue and localisation quality standards that Tezuka Pro are keen to have in place. Working in this manner incurs extra costs (overrun, changing printing costs etc.) so that’s added in. The flaw here is that DMP are adding in the things that they normally have to do in their day to day practices into the Kickstarter. Backers have to bear the cost of the boss of the company paying his own way to ask to publish Tezuka from the copyright holders and also for everything else that came along. VIZ, Dark Horse and Vertical didn’t suddenly ask for an additional 10 dollars on top of a RRP of $19.95 for their releases because someone’s airfare had to be recalculated back into the final bill. This means that if, again by some miracle, these books end up on the shelves of regular shops, the average customer will not be asked to bear these costs because Kickstarter backers have already shouldered them. Alex Hoffman did a wonderful breakdown of the cost per project for the earlier DMP kickstarters and the latest one. At the time, the “Just The Books” pledge level was $750. He set the costs of the new books at $14 per volume. Here’s one for Unico:
unico_costs

Now here’s the breakdown for the latest Kickstarter:
world_costs

The value you get out of Tezuka’s World falls through the floor. Remember this is just a costing. Number of volumes hasn’t been taken into account. So if we multiply the original $82 from Unico to make up to the $750 for “just the books” for Tezuka’s World, it goes into the $750 nine times. Multiplying that answer by the first set’s value of $6 means that you would have a figure of $54. A value of $54 would mean that using the original Unico levels of costs, we should receive books of a value totalling $696. But we’re not. Instead we’re asked to shoulder the bills of a manga company’s incurred costs, something that a new company might do but not an established publisher like DMP. Please note that since then, DMP have lowered the stretch amount for just the books to $650. To make matters worse, DMP are also hamstringing themselves with the proviso that if the stretch goals further up the list are not met, they will not publish in digital or print, the rest of the books named. To quote:

“If the 2nd or 3rd goal is not met, the print edition & digital edition books of those titles pertaining to those goals, as well as the related rewards made for those titles in those goals will not be produced, and will be excluded from the tier packages when rewards are sent out to backers.”

If you want to know just bad that sounds, here it is: if you pay the full $650 for all of the 31 books and the project only brings in the bare $380,000, you get twenty volumes of the first two stories valued at $280 based on the $14 RRP and DMP keeps the $370 left over. They can’t do it any other way because to do otherwise would lower the total amount pledged and therefore you wouldn’t even get the first two lots of manga. So, maybe we can go for a lower amount and just get the first two manga and make sure we get some manga without having to overpay? Hmmm, you might but only if you pay more. As of this post, the only lower physical tiers DMP are offering for just the first two books are: $420 for Rainbow Parakeet 1-7, Three Eyed One 1-13 plus digital copies of the rest or $360 for just Three Eyed One 1-13 plus goodie bag and finally, $250 for Rainbow Parakeet 1-7 plus goodies. Of the three, only the $420 tier offers real value. Assuming an RRP of $19.95, twenty volumes should cost $399, so that’s P&P taken care of. But $360 for Three Eyed One at $19.95 RRP turns into $259.35 and $250 for Rainbow Parakeet turns into $139.65. Now, I know what you’ll say: “If we just get the $420 tier, we’ll get the books and the digital copies of the others!” Yes, but if DMP doesn’t hit its further goals, you only get the books. Buyer beware is all I’ll say. On top of that, what happens to titles that don’t make their Kickstarter stretch goals? Are they put back into the pot, ready for another Kickstarter with a high initial goal? Are they given back to Tezuka Pro, unable to be sold, and would the cost of licensing a title that didn’t get kickstarted be passed on to another Kickstarter project down the road?

Finally, I must stress that the above figures had to be gleaned from what I consider to be the worst planned set of pledge tiers ever on Kickstarter. There are a staggering 32 tiers, for pity’s sake! I want some books not tune up and customise a car! And DMP have, since I’ve been pledging to their Kickstarters, had this annoying gimmick of putting the pledges, rewards and levels on a slick spreadsheet for you to read and find out which tier and reward is right for you. On this project they have crossed a line to create some seriously real customer confusion. When you see the first of the spreadsheets, you click on them to enlarge them but are instead taken to the DMP website for a full breakdown. Here’s what you get:

first spread sheet

second spread sheet

third spread sheet

fourth spread sheet

There are four spreadsheets to read! What does any of this mean? It’s a mess showing not only the tiers and the rewards but also the goodies options. This is broken up here but on DMP’s site, it’s all stacked on top of one another. “Who cares about the goodies, you’re trying to sell Tezuka manga, not start a franchise!!” is what I want to scream. Where are Tezuka Pro telling DMP to rein it in with all the goodies because the people buying this stuff are existing Tezuka fans, not new ones. They don’t need gimmicks, they just want the books. While I’m here, with the knowledge that there are six, count them six, people working on this full time, I don’t feel any safer with my money in DMP’s hands for this. Lastly, because it’s been bugging me since he said it and I’m Irish and we can’t leave things well enough alone, President Sasahara said that he had been negotiating with Tezuka Pro to publish the whole back catalogue for the last seven years. If he had a mind to publish all that and since Kickstarter didn’t come into existence until 2009, by what method was he planning to introduce Tezuka to the market? Since DMP recognised that Kickstarter was the only way to get Tezuka into the hearts and minds of readers, that means that in the beginning Sasahara must have envisioned the publishing schedule being traditional. Ergo, if the KS schedule would have taken 40+years, a traditional one would have taken longer. The higher costs in the Tezuka’s World campaign have been justified as necessary because they can’t wait 40+ years to finish it at the KS pace they had set. So why did they even think about getting the license if at the time they set out to do this, the means to more easily self publish the books didn’t even exist, thus making a prolonged publishing schedule a foregone conclusion ?

The Long And Winding Road

After all this, how do I feel? Angry and disappointed but not upset. DMP is a business and as a business are not required to give customers advanced notice as to their plans. The problem for them is that Kickstarter at its heart is a collaborative effort between the campaign runners, the backers and the fans. So by using Kickstarter, they are giving up their right to arbitrarily change the pricing structure on future releases. By doing so, there’s no guarantee that they won’t add more costs into the mix. I am categorically stating I believe them when they say they are necessary. But for someone who doesn’t understand the way the publishing world, Japanese business or how a business in general works, this might look like either DMP or Tezuka Pro are making sure the bills are getting paid before the backers are being served. This sends out all the wrong messages and creates a sour attitude that will strain future Tezuka Kickstarters. Currency fluctuations and higher costs within any industry are a given but adding in the cost of flying to places, schmoozing Japanese executives or suddenly finding out the licence holder wants better quality in the releases are not. This is what DMP are projecting to backers. This is toxic. They need to reassess what the goal of this Kickstarter is. If it’s to bring Tezuka to the masses, they are failing. If it’s to act as a clearinghouse for Tezuka works nobody’s heard of and that might not be all that great, that’s the message fans are getting. They need to say why these titles above all others, why now and why this price? Fans don’t want to know about how money was spent talking to Tezuka Pro or unforeseen costs. If something’s more expensive now, prove with a video why it is. Don’t just say Tezuka Pro wants higher quality releases, show the backers. DMP have put out five updates to the Kickstarter page, three are tier updates and two are clarifications about the costs of the project. Clarifications are good, they sort out a lot of the mess. But by not clarifying the following, DMP is making trouble for itself:

  • What guarantee is there that DMP will print the books that do make the stretch goals for regular customers? Will we get a chance to buy 31 volumes at standard RRP in the future?
  • Will there be physical books only tiers, devoid of goodies, in future Kickstarters?
  • Speaking of future Kickstarters, what will happen if this Kickstarter fails to meet the minimum? Will Tezuka Pro rescind the contract? Are we okay to give our money to future Kickstarters?
  • Will they reexamine the 30+ volumes per Kickstarter plan if this Kickstarter doesn’t succeed?
  • Will they spread out more Kickstarters with lower minimum stretch goals over a year to allow people to finally choose the titles that they want rather than being forced to take stuff they don’t?
  • If digital printing only requires translation costs and storage costs, does their contract with Tezuka Pro allow them to seek smaller amounts or other crowd funding platforms to make sure that at least digital copies exist of Tezuka’s work?
  • Can someone be put in charge of the pre-launch Kickstarter campaign, like Anime Limited has done, to gauge what fans do and do not want in the campaign when it does launch?

I love DMP at the end of the day for trying to tackle Tezuka at all, even with these missteps. I respect that they are trying to adjust to a new type of model and scale of project. I buy copies of Kimagure Orange Road as they come out digitally from DMP, they’ll always have my love for that. I can’t support this Kickstarter as it is too flawed to work and this was a problem from its inception. The bad communication and huge assumptions made have contributed to a poisoned attitude among existing fans who backed their earlier efforts meaning this Kickstarter probably won’t succeed and that makes me sad. I like being able to point people toward DMP’s kickstarters for Tezuka and know that they are getting works by a master storyteller. I too, like TezukaInEnglish states, I will feel the need to complete my Tezuka manga collection. If it takes longer to get there along, like the header says, the long and winding road, I’m happy and stand ready to assist DMP in every way.

EDIT: I’ve added a chart to show the various Kickstarters, their initial goals and the pledges that came in.

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