So, in case you didn’t know already, the Japanese publishing company Kadokawa have purchased a majority (51%) stake in Yen Press, who are, amongst other things, the largest publisher of English language light novels under their Yen On label. You can find the announcement from Yen Press here. Yen Press were formerly wholly a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, who retain a 49% share of the company.
So far so good, but what does this actually mean for those of us who buy their manga and light novels?
There are several significant advantages to the deal for the fans:
• Better access to Kadokawa’s large catalogue of titles.
Kadokawa are the largest publisher of light novels in Japan, and about 2/3 of all light novel titles with anime adaptations, which tend to be those that Western fans are most familiar with, are published by Kadokawa. Getting better access to these titles would mean that more of them could get a release in English. Could this also spell the end of the total absence of Fujimi Fantasia licenses? This is, after all, a label owned by Kadokawa.
• Better cooperation with Kadokawa over their releases.
A large proportion of Yen Press’s light novel releases are titles published in Japan by Kadokawa, and with Kadokawa owning a majority stake in Yen Press, they’ll be able to coordinate work better, waste less time on negotiations and get easier access to materials and information that is yet to be made public.
But this doesn’t just affect existing licenses – future licenses can be better coordinated with anime adaptations and so forth. You may wonder why that would be a benefit for the fanbase rather than the company, but here what benefits one benefits both – as releases timed to get the maximum benefit of an anime adaptation means that you can buy the series when you’re most eager to read it as well.
• Kadokawa is an ambitious and expansionist company, and they’re in it for the long term. In recent years they’ve undertaken a number of high profile restructurings, acquisitions and mergers. What does this mean for Yen Press? Well, they’ve made the investment with the belief in its ability to grow, and they personally hold a lot of keys to unlocking that growth. The two factors come together to mean that we’ll likely be seeing quite a few more titles in the future than we have to date. Which is always a good thing.
As for the down sides… Well, there aren’t many – at least not immediately. If Kadokawa try to interfere too much it could end up with titles getting licensed that shouldn’t be, or titles not getting licensed that should have been, but the majority ownership also gives Kadokawa a big incentive to do things right for the Western market, which should correct this in the medium to long term.
Kadokawa stated on the press release that they don’t intend to limit the titles to their own releases, and Yen Press have confirmed that there is no intention of dropping any titles, but it is possible that some issues with acquiring licenses may emerge on the other side – in the form of other Japanese publishers not wanting to release their titles under a company owned by one of their competitors.
That said, the main reason why other English branches of Japanese publishers don’t get licenses from elsewhere is because they don’t even try to get them. Vertical’s part-ownership by Kodansha hasn’t stopped them from acquiring titles from other publishers, after all, and I don’t see this affecting Yen Press’s longstanding relationship with Square Enix, unless it persuades them to set up presence in the West as well. It is possible, though, that some of the more occasional licensors to Yen Press, particularly those with their own companies in the Western market, might be less inclined to license series to Yen Press as a result.
In fact perhaps the most significant potential adverse impact is not on Yen Press at all, but on Seven Seas. This latter company has the licenses to quite a few Kadokawa manga titles. If Kadokawa choose to release more of their titles through Yen Press, it could end up coming at Seven Seas’ expense… Seven Seas, incidentally, are yet to give their own take on the news.