On Tuesday, the online retailer RightStuf announced that they would be publishing the first three volumes of Hetalia: Axis Powers, which was formerly a Tokyopop property, in a print-on-demand format; the first two volumes are available now and the third will be out in June.
That's a savvy move on RightStuf's part, as Hetalia was probably Tokyopop's top-selling manga, and it has a huge fandom—it's a goldmine for cosplayers. And the good news is that, as you will read below, if this works out, RightStuf would consider bringing back more unfinished series. We talked to Alison Roberts, director of marketing and communications for RightStuf, to find out a bit more about how the Hetalia license rescue came about and what may come next.
MTV Geek: First of all, why did you choose Hetalia out of all the manga Tokyopop has licensed?
Alison Roberts: As a retailer, Hetalia is one of the manga series we get asked about most often. In addition to inquiries about the potential publication of future volumes, many fans also asked about the availability of affordable copies for the first two volumes of Hetalia... especially once they were no longer available on the wholesale level and the prices started to climb on the secondary market.
We know, first-hand, how frustrating it is for fans to be unable to find affordable copies of missing volumes for their favorite series. That was and is the driving force behind this project.
Geek: What part did each of the three companies (Tokyopop, Gentosha, RightStuf) play in the publication of this manga? I know Gentosha is the original licensor, but were they actively involved beyond that?
AR: This situation may change from property to property. In this case, Right Stuf is serving as a co-publisher and exclusive retailer, Gentosha is the master licensor for the manga, and Tokyopop arranged contact with Gentosha and provided us with rights to their translation and previously completed work on volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Geek: My understanding is that Tokyopop had completed production of vol. 3 of Hetalia before it shut down in April 2011. Is that correct? Is that what the first print run (with the color pages) is, or was it printed more recently?
AR: Like you mentioned, much of the translation and localization work for Hetalia, Vol. 3 was completed prior to Tokyopop leaving the North American manga publishing arena, but it was never actually published. We knew this, as did a sizable number of savvy fans, and from there, we pursued this arrangement. Our upcoming, first print run of Hetalia, Vol. 3 will be the first-ever print run for this volume.
Geek: Can you give me an idea of how many copies were printed?
AR: We will be running the first print run for Vol. 3 in the near future, but we have a minimum number in mind to make the print run financially viable. At the same time, we'll adjust the figure as necessary to ensure all fans who pre-order Hetalia, Vol. 3 will receive a copy from the first print run with the 8-page color insert. After the copies from that first print run of Vol. 3 have been exhausted, we'll continue to make the volume available, via on-demand printing like the the first two Hetalia volumes.
Geek: Why does it make sense to publish the first two volumes as POD?
AR: The first two volumes of Hetalia were available on a wide scale, at one time. Our focus was more to keep these volumes in print and available to fans without them having to pay twice and triple the original SRP (or more).
Geek: Have any editorial changes been made to them or are they straight reprints of the originals?
AR: There are no editorial changes to the print-on-demand editions of Hetalia, Volumes 1 and 2. The one difference is that the color pages found in Tokopop's first editions of these volumes are now reproduced as black and white. (However, this is a common practice across many manga publishers as titles are reprinted.)
Geek: What's the turnaround time on the POD books?
AR: One of the biggest issues for us, as a retailer, is that we understand the need to have stock on-hand, for quick shipment. Our print-on-demand gives us—and ultimately the fans who are RightStuf.com customers—some added flexibility because we'll be using it to quickly replenish our stock of individual volumes (in about 7-10 days) and keep some limited inventory on hand, in addition to manufacturing books on demand, as customers order them.
Geek: Is this the first POD publication for RightStuf? If so, why did you choose
it and do you plan to do more?
AR: This is the first time we've offered this service, and the idea came about because we listen to the fans who shop with us. There are few things more frustrating than a.) to have the release of your favorite series interrupted, and b.) to be unable to find missing volumes of a series you are collecting at a reasonable price.
This is our attempt to make it easier for the fans to collect their favorite series, one series at a time. Hetalia has a base of incredibly dedicated fans, and as our first series in this program, it will allow us to better gauge if customers like the POD concept. If so, we'll look to expand this program dramatically.
Geek: Are there any plans for digital releases of Hetalia?
AR: The digital rights for Hetalia are beyond the scope of our involvement for this series, at this time.
Geek: Are there any plans to publish volume 4, as Stu Levy hinted last fall?
AR: A lot of that will depend on how well Hetalia, Vol. 3 does. (Vol. 4 is very likely if Vol. 3 does well.) If the fans buy into these first three releases—and there is demand for other series (including those from other publishers)—we will investigate and follow up on those potential opportunities.
Geek: One more question—who is the actual publisher, Tokyopop or RightStuf?
AR: For these Hetalia volumes, it is a co-branding/co-publishing arrangement, since we are using their previously completed work on the project.