Yu-Gi-Oh!, already a widely popular animated series in Japan, has become a hit TV series in the US as well. It is the number one rated show on the Kids’ WB Network, while Dragon Ball Z is the highest-ranking show on the Cartoon Network. As any parent attempting to fill the void beneath the tree already knows, both series have filled the toy store shelves this Christmas, and the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards are among the most-requested items. With that as a backdrop, Viz Communications has launched Shonen Jump magazine – an American version of Japan’s leading magazine devoted to manga.
“The timing is right,” says Seiji Horibuchi, president/CEO of the San Francisco-based Viz Communications, which already publishes over 20 titles in the US, many of which focus on the Japanese obsessions of animation and electronics.
“One of the things we looked at when we decided to publish a magazine was the fact that in the past, typically our audience was introduced in a comic store or on late night television, but what we have now is a ton of animae on TV. That gives us a comfort level that the time was right to introduce the American audience to these epic stories in their original format,” says Viz VP of sales and marketing Rick Bauer.
The first issue of Shonen Jump hit the newsstands last month with a run of 300,000, although Viz is only guaranteeing a rate base at 100,000 at this point. The 288-page premiere issue is being sold at specialty retail stores, but also at mass market retail outlets as well, including Barnes & Noble, Borders and Walgreens. One thing that should help its initial sales is each issue will contain a limited edition Yu-Gi-Oh! card.
“We know from our research, that this demographic is 12 to 17 years old, the readership is 77% male, and these core fans are actively involved in a lifestyle that interacts with these properties,” says Bauer. Those endeavors include things like video game and have an artistic edge, and Bauer says they consume more media than the general population. He says it is also more of a pyscographic than demographic group. Beyond those core fans, as animae has grown in popularity, a new generation of manga reader has developed, and their interests mirror those of the young teenage population as a whole. Bauer also points out that while their biggest proportion of readers are 12 to 34 years old, animae fans come from all ages and income levels. “We see two different audiences and that’s what we are excited about,” he says.
The debut issue contained 13 charter advertisers, including ads from Cartoon Network, game maker Konami, the home video retailer 4Kids, and FUNimation, which holds the license for Shonen Jump merchandise. “Most of our initial advertisers are very familiar with the target and they’re now excited there is a mass market vehicle out there to reach not only that target, but the wider audience that we know we are growing,” says Bauer. “Shonen Jump will be a vehicle for advertisers to reach teenage boys, which is a very difficult demo to hit.”
Viz is presently conducting research among Shonen Jump’s readers, and it is promising advertisers that it will move aggressively on auditing and other research, to make itself more attractive to mainstream advertisers trying to reach young boys.
Magazines published in Japan typically read right to left, just the opposite of titles published in the western world. But because Shonen Jump is a manga title, the decision was made to keep it in its original form. “16 years ago we flipped it so it was more familiar with Americans and the artists hated it,” explains Horibuchi. “Today, readers of the different comics are familiar enough that we could introduce the original Japanese way. Readers, especially younger readers, actually think it’s cool.”
Shonen Jump will also take a more modest approach than its Japanese version, removing all nudity. “If there is nudity in the original work, we will discretely cover that up,” says Bauer, adding, “In order to reach the wider audiences in the US and distribution through mass market, it would be wise to tone down.”
The magazine will be carefully laid out, because each edition will contain chapters of seven different stories, including the very popular “Dragon Ball Z” and “Yuyu Hakusho.” Each story will run without any ad pages within it, says Bauer. “We will have breaks in between the stories for the editorial content and that is where the ad pages will be.” Its inventory will also be rather low, with just 10% of its typical 350 pages devoted to ads.
Besides its US edition, international editions are also published in Germany and other Asian countries. Horibuchi says his goals for the US version are high. He wants to increase circulation to one million within the next three years. He also wants to covert the monthly into a biweekly, then weekly, as it is in Japan, where the weekly circulation is 3.4 million. “That is a big challenge, but I think we can do that,” he says.