Publishing giant Kodansha Ltd.’s recent decision to close down its subsidiary, Kodansha International Ltd., by the end of April reflects the firm’s change in its business strategy from shipping its English-language books made in Japan to publishing and distributing them in its largest market, North America.
Established in 1963, Kodansha International publishes various titles of Japanese fiction, nonfiction and manga, translated into English. It also publishes original books of various genre, from martial arts, Japanese cooking and popular culture.
“Kodansha International began in 1963 with the mission to introduce Japanese culture to people overseas, and we’ve edited, printed and exported the books, but this was a business model established from the time when (the exchange rate) was ¥360 to the dollar,” said Nobuyuki Suzuki, head of the public relations department of Kodansha, pointing out the influence of the change in the currency rates.
Kodansha has been looking to change its foreign market strategy from simply introducing Japanese culture to profiting from what it offers, he said.
“We’re not just going to introduce great Japanese books and comics, but we’re going to sell them,” Suzuki said. “To do so, it was decided that we base our operations in North America.”
Kodansha has been working on changing its foreign market operations for the past five years, according to Suzuki. As a step, in 2008, the firm established Kodansha USA Publishing, which works on Kodansha-originated English language manga.
The recent buyout of Vertical Inc., a New York-based publisher of English translation of Japanese popular novels and manga, was another move toward strengthening the North American business, Suzuki said, adding Kodansha will take the initiative and publish books from Vertical.
Kodansha USA Publishing and Vertical will be Kodansha’s North American pillars, he said.
“Our board members decided the current style of exporting books from Kodansha International was not appropriate anymore,” he said.
After Kodansha International closes down in April, distribution of books to its markets in North America and Europe will be handled by Kodansha USA Inc., and Kodansha Ltd. will take over that role for the domestic market, Suzuki said.
Kodansha USA, which is 100 percent owned by Kodansha, is the parent company of Kodansha USA Publishing and Vertical.
Kodansha Editorial Co., another subsidiary of the major publisher, will take over publishing works Kodansha International handled for the domestic market that are profitable, Suzuki said.
Vertical Inc. was launched in 2001 by Hiroki Sakai, a former editor and reporter at the Nihon Keizai Shimbun group.
Vertical has published translations of contemporary popular novels, including “Sayonara Gangsters” by Genichiro Takahashi and “The Ring” by Koji Suzuki. The firm has also published translations of Osamu Tezuka’s manga, including “Black Jack.”
In the English-translated manga market, Kodansha lags behind its competitors Shueisha Inc. and Shogakukan Inc., which co-owns North American manga and animation distributor Viz Media.
Observers say Kodansha’s move indicates it plans to increase its presence in the U.S. manga market, which has been shrinking in the past few years.
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