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How to Keep a Steady Stream of Hot Yaoi Coming Your Way

August 05, 2006 | | Comments 4 |

Did you know that all the books in bookstores are returnable? That’s right — every book you see there can and will be returned for 100% money-back if they don’t sell. So, while being in the bookstore biz certainly isn’t easy, especially for independent retailers, stocking the books themselves is risk-free… for the bookseller.

So who bears the risk? And what the heck does this have to do with hot yaoi?

The Publisher’s Gamble

When a publisher sells a book to a bookstore (either directly or through a distributor or wholesaler), there’s a good chance they will have to turn around and buy many of those same books back. As Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of The Wall Street Journal explains, this has been going on for decades.

Quest for best seller means lots of returned books:
In most other industries, manufacturers don’t have to take back products that don’t sell. If a department store can’t move a line of clothing, for example, the items are pitched at lower prices. The book industry, by contrast, has been saddled with this system since the Depression, when publishers told struggling bookstores they could return unwanted books as long as they kept ordering new titles.

According to his article, returns can be as high as 34% — that’s one in three books being returned! And they aren’t necessarily returned in saleable condition:

The reverse tidal flood of books hurts every aspect of the business, one already struggling with weak sales. Authors don’t get royalties on unsold books. Publishers sell returned copies at distressed prices after paying to truck them thousands of miles around the country. Books that can’t be sold at any price are pulped for a total loss.

These extra costs are difficult for any publisher to bear, but especially for small and independent publishers — and this is where we get to how this impacts yaoi.

Yaoi Is A Niche Market

Yes, yaoi books are enjoying a fair amount of media attention right now — and even some commercial success — but, due to a much smaller audience, they will never have the corporate resources devoted to them in the U.S. that, say, superhero graphic novels or even traditional boy-girl romances get. It’s a risky choice with a small, but loyal audience and for big publishers, the smart move is to license works that are already very successful in Japan. While some of these books are a lot of fun, this means these publishers are going to favor more mainstream and “safe” books and avoid the edgier, “harder” content. Quoting David Taylor of Love Manga (update: a Web site that is no longer online), that results in a much more limited selection

Love Manga » Blog Archive » Boys’ Love anyone?:
What I mean by “very limited” is that the kind of works we get translated here tend towards the safer and more gentler BL works. To use the most very basic of categorisation you could see Boys’ Love split into titles that appeal to kids, you know the kind, romantic stories kissing and such like nothing too graphical. A step up from that could be say BL for teens or young adults which as one could guess also features a step up in the story content till you finally reach BL for adults which, well you can probably get the picture by now…

At one point, surely, there is going to come a time when we can start seeing licenses which explore the darker/harder themes which we know exist, but until then I guess the young Boys’ Love manga market here in the west has to stay with the young Boys’ Love manga.

So where can we look to find more mature works — and by mature, I mean not just in terms of sex but also in terms of complex plotting and characterization?

The Best Yaoi Comes From Yaoi Lovers

I would argue that it will be the smaller, independent publishing companies run by a handful of devoted yaoi fans who will be the ones willing to take on the riskier material. Companies like Drama Queen, for example. David continues:

Thank god then for the Global Boys’ Love arena which quite frankly owns the scene at the moment in terms of works covering all aspects. If you want something which is more then just two-dimensional characters and you know covers just about every theme possible then you could do a lot worse then check out what these creators are doing all around the world. Drama Queen is going to hopefully blow some peoples minds at Yaoicon 2006 when its anthology finally appears. ^.^

So there are publishers already out there willing to take on the risk of non-mainstream, adult yaoi. But with limited resources — and in particular, limited cash flow — these companies are the most likely to be hardest hit by bookstore returns. When your cash on hand is limited — and in particular when you are only creating short print runs of 5000 copies or less — it takes only a small number of returns to seriously affect your ability to turn a profit, let alone commission more mature works. And while the ability to return books does, in fact, encourage bookstores to take chances on edgier works, it would be of great benefit to the small publisher if there existed a retail market for yaoi where sales could be counted on to be final.

Well, as it turns out, there is…

Boys Kissing In Your Friendly Neighborhood Comic Book Store

Unlike regular bookstores, sales to comic book stores in the U.S. — the “direct market” — are final. In fact, publishers of graphic novels get pre-orders of books from these stores in advance (through the primary distributor to this market, Diamond) and are then able to tailor their print runs based on already “pre-sold” books. For companies like Drama Queen, this goes a long way in terms of controlling costs and keeping cash available to put into future titles.

So, how can you get more of the hottest yaoi? By demanding it in that bastion of male geekery — your local comic book store!

Certainly, comic book stores have a reputation of being a guy-only space, so much so the joke is part of popular culture. But times are changing and there are many people, such as the members of Friends of Lulu, who are actively working to make comic book stores a lot more female-friendly. And the fact is, many comic book store owners have already gotten the message. More than one retailer writing on the creator forum The Engine has stated very clearly that he buys any yaoi he can get his hands on and those who stock it are well-rewarded for doing so.

As manga becomes more popular (and more available in traditional bookstores), comic book retailers are now actively interested in keeping the business of graphic novels in their stores and that means courting women readers. So, if you ask the guy behind the counter for the store’s best yaoi, not only do you stand a good chance of getting your hands on some hot boy-on-boy action, you will also be sending a message — there’s a real demand for this stuff, customers I want to attract are asking for it, buy more yaoi.

And if they get that message, smaller publishers will have a more reliable source of funds to create more yaoi — and thus, more diversity in yaoi — for everyone.

But Comic Book Stores? Really?

I can hear some of the objections now. Why go to a comic book store when the local B&N is so much more female-friendly? What about the jerk behind the counter who actually does live up to the stereotype — the guy who has chosen to emulate the fine example of nerdiness so bitingly depicted on The Simpsons? Well, I won’t pretend they don’t exist. Even here in San Francisco, I have gotten one or two raised eyebrows when I have requested a look at the shop’s yaoi collection. And it’s certainly not my intention to throw you to the wolves unarmed for the good of the cause.

The truth is, all is not lost in such situations, for in this case, it is rather unlikely that this particular establishment gets a lot of women and thus you can use your exotic, feminine nature to full advantage. If you receive any attitude at all, here is what you do:

Stand at your tallest, fix the gentleman in question with your fiercest gaze and say in a strong tone, “You have made a serious mistake in mocking me with your tone, worm, and by the all the gods that bow to the ferociousness that is woman, I curse thee! The coldness of your sneer shall be as a barrier of ice, and until the day you allow boy-on-boy loving into your heart, you are hereby condemned to never know the touch of a woman, young or old, sweet or cruel! By all ancient and unholy secrets passed from mother to daughter for generations, I decree that unless you relent, you shall end your days alone and barren of affection. Repent and you shall find love — cling to your hatred, and know only despair!”

Now, you might feel a bit silly saying this at first, but remember, this is a person who lives and breathes fantasy stories and it is quite likely that he himself has not known the touch of any woman for several years, so your words will carry extra weight. Shaking some chicken bones in his face, if you have them on hand, will also add to the effect. Whether or not you get him to change his mind in the moment is irrelevant, you will have left a strong impression — and have let him know the yaoi reader is not to be trifled with.

Because the important thing is that, regardless of the response, you have sent a message to the direct market that they need to be supporting yaoi works. And by doing so, you are helping small publishers with limited resources find a more reliable source of income. For some of you, the thought of entering a comic book store might feel like entering enemy territory. But times and comic book retailers really are changing and if you can convince these stores of the value of stocking yaoi, it’s very likely that you be be rewarded in return with the hot guy-on-guy action you’ve been craving.


Inspired to get the direct market to support yaoi? Find your local comic book store by clicking here or calling toll free: 1-888-COMIC BOOK (1-888-266-4226).


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Filed Under: PublishingYaoi in General

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About the Author: Filmmaker by day, yaoi creator by night, Alex has dedicated himself to helping cute guys fight evil and find love.

RSSComments (4)

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  1. Nonie says:

    Oy, asking the creepy lech at my comic store is gonna suck. Using my feminine mystique could be fun though :) I'll do it! I don't know why, since they stock manga, it never occured to me there might also be some yaoi in there too.

  2. Yeah, almost every shop I've checked at (here in SF) seems to have at least a few titles — and hopefully if they get requests and learn there is a real market for this stuff, they'll stock even more titles.

    Don't forget the chicken bones, though — very helpful with that mystique thing I hear… ;-)

  3. David Taylor says:

    Hi Alex,

    I just wanted to say what a GREAT article that was, and one that happily opened up a whole another range of discussions. ^.^

    I think in the end, all publishers should be keen to look at every possible avenue of selling their product, even with one as esoteric as BL. But the pro's of finding a whole new market like the LCS has to weighed up by the cons – extra commitment (staff, costs, work) of delivering to a distributor who likes things done in a very precise manner.
    The flip side though could though say DramaQueen, a noticeable non-Diamond BL publisher, need to use Diamond at all? There distribution already is most fruitful for them and like myself who buys entirely online from comicshops/bookstores many already have the full DQ catalogue.
    Maybe the LCS is a great avenue to proceed down, but just maybe it doesn't have to involve Diamond leading you down it. ^.^

  4. Hey David,

    Thanks for the props. And I'd like to refer any readers interested in this topic to David's excellent analysis of the subject and follow-up comments on his site Love Manga in Boys' Love at the LCS. Lots of goodness at Love Manga. :-)

    The flip side though could though say DramaQueen, a noticeable non-Diamond BL publisher, need to use Diamond at all?

    As I've suggested in my comments on your site, I personally feel that working with a distributor is the way to go to minimize the hassles of dealing with retailers on an individual basis. So if the other options are dealing with comic book stores individually or going through a smaller distributor like Cold Cut (I think FM is out of business…), I'd still say it's worth it — despite Diamond's quite troubling monopoly on the distro in the Direct Market. And yes, Diamond does want things just so — and as you point out, entering any new market involves an investment of time and other resources, even with the aid of a distributor — but I'd argue that devoting those resources would be more than cost-effective to gain access to sales without returns. That said, it'd be really interesting to hear DQ's perspective on this — are you in touch with them at the moment?

    To speak more to your point, though — it is my understanding that any "exclusive" agreements that Diamond makes are only with the publishers, and even then only apply with regards to other DM distributors. Thus, comic book retailers can buy from any distributor they want to (and in fact do) and thus selling to the Direct Market through a distributor does not necessarily mean selling through Diamond. Diamond offers an already paved road to this market, but there's no reason DQ couldn't sell their books to the DM through another nationwide distributor like Baker & Taylor — even if they had already signed up with Diamond. So, if DQ had reasons to avoid Diamond, that shouldn't have to be roadblock for them and their fans to court this market — even if, in the end, they felt, as I do, that working with a distributor was the best way to minimize the hassles of entering this market.

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