Talkin’ Seven Seas and Manga Business With Conner Crooks, Part 1

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Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Social Media Manager of Seven Seas, Conner Crooks. If you have not heard of Seven Seas, they’re one of the many publishers in North America selling manga, and a mix of it, ranging from high school kids attempting to be friends (*thinks of Haganai) to one lucky guy getting a harem…of monstergirls (Monster Musume).

If you haven’t heard of Conner, he’d been blogging at some places before, and has long been one of the people you go to for some solid information on anything manga related. But now he works at Seven Seas. So of course I’d take some time to ask him questions about that, among a bunch of stuff Seven Seas related, and stuff not so Seven Seas related. Like manga reporting and what anime besides Kill la Kill he’s watching. I also ask about the newest Strike Witches title, since he delayed the interview because he had to announce it…

(Since this interview was long, this is broken up into three parts: life working with Seven Seas today, spotlight on a few Seven Seas titles Sunday, and general manga industry and Fall anime season thoughts on Tuesday. Apologies for that!)

Justin: So…how long have you guys been sitting on One Winged Witches? When did you know about it?

Conner Crooks: I believe Seven Seas has been eyeing it before I started working here. I’ve been working with Seven Seas since June, so I’ve been working here for a little over 5 months now. But I believe they had been interested in the property and then finally pulled the trigger just recently. So it wasn’t really a matter of squatting on the license, it was more just, “Hmm, should we do it now or should we still wait?” And I think there are a few circumstances that just made the license that much more appealing. Of course we also announced our license to Arpeggio of Blue Steel and Girls und Panzer, so I’d like to say, it’s not a package deal since they’re all from different publishers in Japan, but it was a good opportunity to have the perfect PR. Basically you can say we have a manga for land, air, and sea, so it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Can you talk about your role at Seven Seas and how did the opportunity to work there pop up?

Well, I can’t go exactly into details but it was a pretty crazy situation in what eventually led to my job. I’ve been off and on anime, manga blogging for a long time now, I’ve been part of the community being on Twitter and various anime forums. So I’ve always been interested in reaching out to different publishers trying to get their take on the community. I believe in the industry so much and it always bummed me out when I would talk with my fellow manga fans and they’d say, “I want to talk about a manga,” and I’d say, “Oh yeah you know this one publisher they’re releasing this one series next month,” and then you get that blank stare from them and they say, “W-what do you mean? I read all my manga online,” and it’s just like oh my gosh, I want to help this person and get them to realize that they’re not being part of the solution, they need to help out and support if they can. These are people that have jobs and it’s not going to kill them to drop 10 bucks a month or whatever on various purchases.

Strike WitchesAs far as how I got employed, that is probably gonna remain a secret for a while, but it was just a crazy circumstance in which I basically reached out to publishers and I somehow winded up with a job at Seven Seas. *laughs* A freak event that happened where “here I am, working at Seven Seas.” Never thought I was going to be here.

As far as what I do at Seven Seas, I’m strictly social media. When I first got there, we only had probably about 700 tweets or something like that. That was 5 months ago. A lot of publishers had been adverse to using social media, or maybe not even adverse, but they weren’t really sure where to go with it. It’s still a really new venue for companies, and companies are really figuring out how to use and incorporate social media into their business plan. So for me, it was getting on board and basically spreading the general brand of Seven Seas. So I started with their Twitter, and started with their Facebook. The activity was relatively low; most people knew that Seven Seas would use their Twitter and they were pretty good at getting back responses for both Jason (President, CEO at Seven Seas) and Adam (Senior Editor), but for me it’s been promoting the growth of Twitter, Facebook, and then also I created the Tumblr for them. Now I haven’t been very involved in Tumblr so that was a new experience for me too, so that whole venue was new and an exploration for me. So that was cool, developing our Tumblr and I had help with that but now it’s great seeing new questions come in every single day, fans asking questions. It’s unfortunate that most of the questions I have to turn down and say, “Well, unfortunately we can’t license this because of publisher restrictions or etc, etc,” but it’s amazing to talk to fans and be able to answer questions. I love seeing it, I hope people don’t stop sending me their questions, I don’t want them to feel deterred from ever asking a question. I may not be able to get to it right then or even in a few days. It may take a week or 2 while I discuss the finer aspects with my superiors. But it’s great, it’s really weird though because at the end of the day I just want to relax but instead I’ll go to Tumblr and start answering questions!

Wait, wait…so…you want to interact with the fans…this apparently involves interacting with the fans at /a ? *laughter* I still remember that! Your bosses approved this? How did this happen?

Haha, the 4chan story, right…well that was more of something I did on my own time and…um, let’s just say I have…”express approval” for that one *laughter*. But I think that actually worked out pretty well. I’ve always been interested in talking with every aspect of the community. I don’t want to just talk on Twitter, or Tumblr, or Facebook. I want to go to places that other publishers may be kind of leery about. I think a lot of people lowball 4chan in general because you know, it’s the internet cesspool, yeah we get it, we’re not touching it. But I’ve been an active user for years and years and I may not post all the time but I look, I lurk…and  you know, there are fans there, despite popular opinion, that actually buy stuff. And for me going to 4chan it wasn’t about marketing, or “oh I want to get these guys to be interested in our products and buy all of our stuff and get into our catalog,” that wasn’t it. I wanted to talk to manga fans and get their opinion on a few things and see if they had any questions. It was not so dissimilar from Tumblr, it was just a different way of interacting and in a way it was an informal AMA for Reddit. And you know 4chan has little to no moderation at times so it was a fun few hours, I was overwhelmed with the amount of responses I got, and yeah there was trolling, but it remained relatively civil for the better part of the thread.

But yeah it was interesting that I had even gotten in contact with Moot, Chris Poole! I had a brief discussion with him because it fell under marketing which I can understand how he could perceive that, and the thread did get deleted and I was warned and been flagged under the moderation queue. But that was an interesting experience on 4chan. Will I do it again? …Maybe. *laughs* I would like to but I’ll probably have to hold off for now.

You’ll have to do it at some random year far in the future. Like when they’re completely forgotten that thread happened and existed and then you do it again they’ll go “it’s coo– oh wait, this guy tried to do this before, he’s trying to do it again!” *laughter*

Conner: Right, right.

Scientific RailgunSo again, you’ve been working at Seven Seas since June. What have you learned since working at Seven Seas that you probably wouldn’t have learned just being a fan?

Oh gosh. Wow. A lot! It’s really been 5 months of crash course learning business, publishing, manga licensing, its amazing. You kind of pick up on some of these things as a fan when you watch the industry, but if there is one thing I’ve learned since working for Seven Seas, it’s my mindset on how I view it. Not so much that I’ve learned ridiculous amount of info — which I have — but I think that’s the thing that has changed the most for me, how different my mindset is. Like you really pick out all these different things that you don’t pick up on as a fan. So to work for a publisher, you have to step out of your mindset as a fan and be like, “What is best for the industry and what is best for this company?” and the way that you view comments towards publishers changes dramatically. Going back to Tumblr briefly, viewing licenses on a publisher basis saying, “Well you know, this title, it just wouldn’t work for the US market.” And for me before I worked for Seven Seas that was something I thought about a little bit but now working for the industry that is something I’m totally conscious of and it’s a constantly evolving mindset now that it’s part experience, it’s part common sense. You’ve look at series that have done well, you look at series that haven’t done well, you look at companies that haven’t done well. You start to develop your own opinion on these things that coincide with the industry. I would definitely say that’s the number one thing that changed for me, how I look at manga now.

What’s been the best and worst part of working for Seven Seas?

The best part…well this was essentially a dream job before 5 months ago. I would have never thought that right now I’d be working for one of my favorite publishers and announcing manga. I got to announce 3 new Strike Witches titles today. That’s pretty awesome and it’s still a little bit surreal. So I think just being able to interact with the amazing people that I work with and being able to interact with the fans on this kind of basis is just the best part. It makes my day waking up, getting to go online and talk to fans, talk about Seven Seas and talk about our manga…my life is now manga. I mean a large part of my life was manga before this but it’s a different kind of manga now. *laughs* So that’s definitely been the best part: the people. The people make this job worth waking up for and slogging through my work days.

As for the worst part…you know I really haven’t had many unpleasant experiences yet. Maybe that’s just my optimism speaking or that I’ve only been working for 5 months, but I haven’t experienced or encountered too many problems yet.  Honestly it was a great time for me to come into the industry. We’re seeing unprecedented growth in the industry after years of stagnation and decline in manga sales, and we’re finally seeing growth. It’s a great time to be working for a company, and a great time to be a manga fan, so really I don’t have anything critical to say.

Speaking of sales, IcV2 reported that manga sales grew this year. And from talking to publishers myself, they say their manga sales grew this year, so you think this is a sign that manga is going up, kind of like the mid-2000s, or is it too early to say that?

You know, I think we’ve been seeing growth for a while. The way the calendar year works for publishing is a little bit different for the way they mark the financial quarters of the year. We’ve been seeing growth since early in the year, perhaps even a little bit before. That was part of why I was brought on because they’ve been doing so well. But yeah, we’ve been seeing growth for a while but it’s really starting to pick up a lot recently. Obviously I don’t think anybody would deny that Attack on Titan’s success has been a huge, huge catalyst for the manga industry. It’s not too much of a surprise — that’s all you really need. You just need one big title to just blow everything up, just to reinvigorate the industry. That was our current Naruto, that was what the industry needed was that kind of title to go viral and get to the cosplayers, to the anime fans, and to the manga fans. It was kind of interesting to see that happen because Kodansha USA had been releasing the manga for almost a year before the anime aired and it had been doing ok for them, they had said it’s doing ok, it’s not doing as great as we would like; meanwhile in Japan it was still selling millions and millions. It was doing really well and then the anime happened and it blew up in Japan and then that was when it took the US by storm. Even I was a little bit surprised watching that happen, just how successful the series has become. It’s just a juggernaut, it’s amazing. I would definitely say a key part in the industry’s growth is definitely thanks to Attack on Titan.

I wouldn’t say it’s completely due to that because, you know, we at Seven Seas, we’re picking up lots of manga. We’ve announced a lot of manga, and 2014 will be our busiest year yet. I believe we’ll have over or around the 100 release mark for 2014. That is the most manga we’ll have ever released before. So yeah you can definitely say things are up for us and up for the industry in general. Vertical has said they’re doing well, Gundam the Origin is doing really well, I think Knights of Sidonia has even been doing well for them. Yen Press of course has always been one of the companies that had been growing even in the recession; Yen Press and Seven Seas were two of the companies that were still growing within that recession and after the manga bubble popped.

Part 2 Interview
Part 3 Interview

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Justin

Justin is the founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Anime & manga fan that likes to blog about anime and manga, is addicted to sports, and weak to crossovers. You can follow Justin on Twitter @Kami_nomi.

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