From the MyM Archive: Manga – Funded By Us (Crowdfunding)

Having just launched the crowdfunding campaign for the ONECon anime convention, I thought it would be a suitable time to bring out this article that was first published in MyM Magazine Issue #6, back in October 2012. This article was about crowdfunding, mainly focusing on the efforts of Digital Manga Publishing to release the works of Osamu Tezuka. At the time they had already released “Swallowing the Earth”, “Barbara” had just come out, and they just successfully funed “Unico”. I also talked about possibly crowdfunding anime, something I sort of predicted correctly would happen thanks to All The Anime releasing “Mai Mai Miracle” and “Patema Inverted”. Sadly some things did not happen (e.g. crowdfunding “Astro Boy” in the UK for its 50th anniversary). Anyway, here’s the article.

Swallowing the Earth – Chikyū o Nomu © by Tezuka Productions. All rights reserved. First published in Japan in 1968. English translation rights arranged with Tezuka Productions.

If you are lucky you might be able to spot a new title in the shops from Digital Manga Publishing, under their DMP Platinum label. It is a manga called Barbara which is one of the lesser known titles by Osamu Tezuka, the man responsible for creating possibly the most important manga of them all, Astro Boy.

However, this manga has another interesting aspect to it. The book was published because of a certain group of people. It is not the publisher but ordinary manga fans that are responsible for Barbara because it is they who funded the publication. This is just one of DMP’s recent successes with their experiments with the system known as “crowdfunding”.

The idea behind crowdfunding is very simple. When it comes to most projects like this publishers have to consider whether or not selling such a book will be profitable for them. If a title does not look as if it will be a success then the chances are they will not publish it. Only if a publisher is certain that the book will make the company money will they release it.

With crowdfunding the money is less of a worry. In this system the publisher is offered a title. If they like the sound of it then the publisher and the author will try and persuade other people to fund it rather than putting the money up themselves. Those behind the project use the internet to try and sell the idea and seek financial contributors. Once they reach the target amount of money they need then the book can be published, and those who funded the book will be given copies and usually bonus items too, such as posters and clothes.

This is not the first title by DMP to be funded this way. The company has used and is currently using this system for other titles by the “Godfather of Manga”. Using the crowdfunding site Kickstarter DMP first funded Swallowing the Earth before Barbara, and has since also successfully funded Tezuka’s Unico, raising over $20,000 in just under 5 days.

“It allows us to engage with our audience more – example: by becoming a member of producer’s committee and voting on the final cover”, Kwame Akosah, a spokesperson for DMP Platinum & Kickstarter told MyM. “We are able to offer exclusive merchandise such as limited edition T-shirts, posters and stickers. All these were decided by our audience and gives us a unique opportunity to work with them. (The) audience’s input is extremely valuable to us. None of these things would be possible (affordably) under a typical licensing arrangement.”

Barbara – Barubora by Osamu Tezuka © by Tezuka Producitons. All rights reserved. First published in Japan in 1982. English translation rights arranged with Tezuka Productions.

Having read Barbara you can see why crowdfunding might have been the best way forward for such a book. This is much different from the children’s titles normally associated with Tezuka. In Barbara a novelist comes across the title character, a woman with a love of drinking and debauchery, who later turns out to have special powers useful for artists such as him, but if she leaves said artist the aftermath is destructive. The book features several adult sequences including at one point a pagan Black Mass which contains much nudity.

I asked Kwame Akosah about why they were so interested in releasing titles by Tezuka. “Because we are huge fans of his work,” Akosah responded, “and we wanted our Platinum imprint to be a vehicle for his extensive library. Tezuka may be well known in Japan but many in the U.S. have not been exposed to his work beyond the iconic properties.”

Sadly DMP declined to tell us what other titles they plan to bring out, but following their success we can be assured that more from the master will be on its way. But what about other things that could be crowdfunded, and for that matter what crowdfunding can be done in Britain?

With regard to crowdfunding schemes in the UK, some businesses are using it as the main model as their work. Perhaps the most notable is the book publisher Unbound, which crowdfunds all of its books. Unbound was co-created by Dan Kieran, who amongst other things wrote the book Crap Towns, as well between John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard, who made their names as researchers on QI (Mitchinson as the director of research, and Pollard specialising in history).

So far they have published book by various authors, including Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Red Dwarf’s Robert Llewellyn and Twitter’s Mrs. Stephen Fry. Like DMP there are other extras that are offered depending on how much the donator funds the project. These extras range from autographed copies of the books to lunch with the authors. So if a company can publish whole books thanks to the public why cannot a new company do the same with foreign titles like manga? It could be a way for a British publisher to break the all-American stranglehold on the English-language manga market.

Mai Mai Miracle, an example of an anime release crowdfunded in Britain. Mai Mai Miracle © 2009 Nobuko Takagi/MAGAZINE HOUSE/”MAIMAISHINKO”film committee)

But why stop at books? Can you crowdfund the release of an anime? DMP is interested with Kwame Akosah saying: “Anything is possible – yes. We may venture into DVD/Blu-Ray in the near future.”

There are so many anime titles available in America which are not in the UK. To go back to Tezuka again, the original anime adaptation of Tezuka’s most famous work, Astro Boy, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on New Year’s Day 2013, has never been available here. Also, not all the episodes have been released commercially in the States, only those that were dubbed into English.

Supposing a UK DVD distributor was vaguely interested in releasing it? If that company was worried about it not selling then give us – the public – the chance to prove them wrong by funding it ourselves (all of it, including the un-dubbed episodes)! If we have the money we will contribute and encourage all our friends to join us too. If we join together it could the first step to spreading some classic as well as some more obscure titles around the world.

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