Manga Magazine takes a crowdsourced approach to publishing
Manga Magazine (www.mangamagazine.net) is more than just a website for Japanese-style animation. It’s part of a broader trend in publishing that’s changing the way content is selected, published, and promoted, and may well give the Manhattan publishing elite a run for their money. Co-founders Victor Chu and Bancha Dhammarungruang are at the forefront of this major shift in the publishing industry with a crowdsourced approach to publishing great content.
“We’re past the day and age when a traditional publishing house will have an editor personally decide what is going to be great for the crowd. Instead it’s the other way around,” said Chu.
A ramen funded company
Some of the greatest Internet companies receive venture funding early on in the game, put extravagant offices in trendy urban loft spaces, and start planning for the billion-dollar IPO from day one. Manga Magazine is not one of those companies. Though Victor and Bancha have been fortunate enough to get seed funding last year, their initial launch was what Victor calls “Ramen funded”. “When we first launched it was just Bancha and I in our apartment, slaving away, working late at night. We were lucky enough to close a round of seed funding last year,” said Chu. After achieving initial traction, showing true passion for their concept, and attracting an engaged crowd to actively participate in the publication’s success, others started to see the potential in the crowdsourced publishing model.
Though seed funding tends not to be as deep as traditional venture funding, it has helped propel Mangamagazine.net to the next level – and the crowd will do the rest. And, perhaps Victor and Bancha can move from ramen to sukiyaki from time to time.
The entire concept is very organic. Unlike traditional publishing, which relies on a big office on Madison Avenue, a massive advertising budget, and a tight focus on producing a handful of blockbuster hits produced by well-connected authors, Victor and Bancha believe that a more democratic approach is going to drive their success.
The cocktail napkin phase
Most startups never get past what entrepreneurs call the “cocktail napkin” phase; that is, scribbling down an idea for a product or a company on the back of a napkin, usually while emboldened by a drink or two. Like most great businesses, Manga Magazine started with an “a-ha” moment. “Bancha and I have known each other since high school. We both come from a technology background, and we both always wanted to start our own company”, recalls Chu. “We saw that digital publishing was coming into a very interesting time. And once we started digging in, the thing that caught our attention was that there are a lot of artists who are trying to join this movement and trying to establish themselves.”
Chu and Dhammarungruang saw that comic fans tend to be very passionate, so that became their focus. “We wanted to help comic artists find a way to have a medium to show off their work, build a fan base, engage fans and have a chance to monetize their work,” said Chu.
A platform for Manga publishing
The traditional path for a writer and artist producing a Manga comic, or any graphic novel for that matter, is difficult. But like the broader self-publishing and print-on-demand trend, the selection process has changed.
In publishing traditional print novels, the process usually involves moving to the publishing center of Manhattan, schmoozing with all the right people, going to the same parties and living in the same building as the folks who work in the top literary agencies and publishing houses. As any author well knows, simply sending in a manuscript in the mail can work – but not that often.
The need to connect with that one influential person has been replaced with something else. You still need to connect, but it’s with the “crowd” instead. The actual submission and publishing process has been streamlined and simplified, but of course, that’s no guarantee of success. Once published, people have to notice that your work exists, and they have to share it. You have to build a crowd. That’s where, for Manga artists, Manga Magazine comes in.
Good content shouldn’t be free
Internet publishing has evolved since the beginning without a real plan, and it has become a sort of free-for-all publishing platform in which content is usually expected to be provided to readers at no charge. A handful of large publishers like the Wall Street Journal have had some success in putting up a pay wall, but by and large, Internet user have resisted the common sense approach of some sort of micro-payment system for quality content. Manga Magazine has successfully implemented a two-tier system, with free content and a $2.99 a month subscription model for premium level access. What this model does, is allows Manga Magazine to funnel real money to deserving and talented artists.
It’s a model that has worked for them. The crowd has proven to be very adept at choosing winners, and the result is a high quality site with access to some truly amazing comics and spectacular artwork. The Manhattan publishing elite could not have done it any better. “Every author has a strong reader base that really loves their work,” said Chu. “Each has their group of fans that loves it and wants to support them, and we want to provide the medium to help them. That’s why we built this two-tier model. For the people who really love the work, they support it.”
Artists who are able to build up a fan base, and who are recognized by the “crowd” as the most talented, get featured on the front page, share in the profits, and also have an opportunity to sell their content as a print book to their fans. The best artists get recognized, encouraged, and supported financially by the fans – the crowd – and in this way, they are able to not only get published, but also to make a living and flourish as artists.
Getting the best Manga
Successful crowdsourcing is not as obvious as it may seem. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, you do have to build your own crowd, and you have to build the right crowd. It starts with each artist’s fan base, and the Manga Magazine platform allows each artist to grow the base by providing constant feedback in terms of readership trends. As a result, the site’s quality constantly increases.
The high quality evident on the site is a result of a hybrid system that relies heavily on the crowd. The crowd itself acts as curator, providing constant feedback and comments in what they like and what they don’t. Along with that, there is a panel of artists that view all content, and help decide what gets promoted and what gets more attention. “We get a lot of submissions, and we have it open for anybody to submit to. From there, it’s up to us to analyze the data that comes in for each series, and our artists help review on a monthly basis what shows talent,” said Chu.
One look at Manga Magazine and it’s obvious that these two old high school friends have built a new model for crowdsourced publishing that is producing incredibly high quality content, and a platform that allows artists to make a living from their passion.