Despite its name, Digital Manga Inc. has always had a robust print line; in fact, the publisher was releasing print manga long before it moved into digital. And it has a pretty solid niche, too: Most of what the company publishes is yaoi manga, fairly formulaic romance between two men, and it has a small but faithful following.
So it was a surprise when Digital President Hikaru Sasahara announced Wednesday that the company will suspend publication of print manga from January through June 2013. “This hiatus will allow us to coordinate our production schedule for 2013 and temporarily shift our focus to our digital publications,” he said on the Digital blog. The post includes a list of all the books scheduled for publication in the first six months of 2013, along with their new release dates. A few books will remain on their original schedule, including the next volume of Vampire Hunter D and the two Tezuka manga funded by a recent Kickstarter campaign.
What’s going on here? At the ICv2 Conference in October, Milton Greipp noted a sharp drop in manga sales, although this has not affected every publisher equally. This may be a sign of trouble, but then again, it may be a sign that Digital is just reacting quickly to market conditions. The company is in the process of retooling its emanga.com digital manga website, and it also publishes digitally via comiXology, iBooks, Kindle and Nook.
Digital has always been willing to try new things. Two years ago the publisher created the Digital Manga Guild, which uses amateur translators, editors and letterers to localize yaoi manga that is then published digitally. The trick to this is that unlike traditional manga publishing, in which the Japanese publisher gets a license fee up front and the editorial team is paid ahead of time as well, everyone working on the DMG books (including Digital itself) gets their cut on the back end, as a straight percentage of sales. This sort of flexibility and innovation has kept Digital going in a tough market; the question now is, is that enough?