But here’s something new: a two-part interview with publisher Mike Kiley that focuses on the web exclusives, which have also attracted some comments on the blogosphere.
Part 1 purports to be about how books are chosen to be web exclusives, except that Kiley sort of shuffles his feet and claims that there is no “magic formula.”
We just want to take advantage of this new audience we have online, in acknowledgement of the competition for shelf space at retail. This is a way that made sense to us to try in terms of, ‘Can we help find a bigger audience for particular books using a slightly different platform?’
Then ICv2 just goes ahead and asks if books become web exclusives because they aren’t selling well, or aren’t expected to. Kiley talks around this but more or less admits it’s true for ongoing series:
Either A, they have been commercially very challenged and we want to try and give them a shot in a different way; or B, they’re just really special in some way that we think the regular distribution mechanism hasn’t been able to deal with. It hasn’t been able to get the right amount of exposure and highlighting that we think those titles deserve.
For the new titles, though, he says,
It’s very consciously more an attempt to say, ‘Here’s a book that we think is kind of quirky, interesting, can profit from a slightly different treatment prompted from the increased exposure it will get from this new audience that we’re cultivating online.’
One question that has occurred to me is whether retailers will resent having the business taken away from them. Kiley’s answer is basically, they wouldn’t have sold a lot of these anyway, which sort of speaks to the points previously made.
Part 2 talks more about the long-term plan. Kiley opens up the possibility that if a new series does well online, it may make the transition to retail stores, although he says that won’t happen with ongoing series, like Dragon Head, that are moved to online exclusives.
And then we get down to nuts and bolts. How does this program benefit Tokyopop? Kiley hems and haws but admits that the online exclusive program will result in lower sales but higher margins on these books.
But you also have to be willing — if you believe in something, if you believe something is worth trying to stick with it — to take your lumps for a while, if necessary, all in the spirit of building a new channel and building a new way of interacting with customers.
At Love Manga, David Taylor has some excellent post-interview commentary, which pretty much echoes my thoughts on the program. I wanted to emphasize one thing that Kiley didn’t even mention, though, and that’s price. One of the biggest complaints I have seen about this program is that people who buy their manga online are used to getting a discount, and Tokyopop sells these books at their usual price, $9.99. Presumably there is a shipping charge as well. So people who are used to buying online resent paying full price, and people who aren’t used to it have a higher resistance to begin with. Cutting the price even a dollar would make these books seem like a better deal. If they really wanted to gamble, they could offer volume 1’s at a really low price, say $5, to get people to give them a try, and then raise the price for subsequent volumes. Maybe $6 for volume 2, $7 for volume 3, and so on. What we’ve seen with strong series like Fruits Basket and Naruto is that the later volumes sell better, so if you have a good series, that strategy could work. But are the online exclusives strong series? If they are, why aren’t they in stores? And if they aren’t, why should I pay the full ten bucks?