Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not Explicit Enough

Dear Viz,

This is an open letter to you about OOKU, Volume 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga. I recently purchased it at my local Barnes & Noble based on the many reviews I had read of it online, and the fact that it had won an Eisner Award. I devoured the manga, reading it in about two days, because I was so entranced by the story. The artwork is beautiful and the writing good.

But I am very, very confused about why you found it necessary to sell the book wrapped in shrinkwrap. I could understand if the book contained scenes such as in Alan Moore's LOST GIRLS, which justifiably is sold shrink-wrapped. But OOKU is not a work of erotica like LOST GIRLS. It is an alternate history manga, which deals with adult subjects in a very non-graphic way. The only sex scene in the book literally fades to a black panel, and picks up the morning after. There is no nudity in the book.

I found nothing explicit in the book that wouldn't be sold as part of a romance. In fact, in the romance industry, OOKU would be regarded as a "sweet romance". In my local Barnes & Noble, the romance section is only a few feet away from where the book was shelved. I am puzzled and bewildered at your decision to publish the book as "explicit content", and to sell it in shrinkwrap.

Given the subject matter of the book, I am left with only one conclusion. And as much as it pains me to make that conclusion, I am forced to do so. I do not like to point fingers. I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But considering the fact that a good bit of OOKU addresses the romances between the men of the inner chambers, I am left to conclude that you sold it in shrinkwrap because it dealt with homosexuality frankly and maturely.

Now, of course this may not be the case. But if this is not the case--if you can give me a reason other than that--then I would like to hear from you. In my opinion, as a publishing professional, OOKU was not explicit in any way, and did not deserve to be sold shrink-wrapped. In fact, I would venture to say that the shrinkwrap will hurt your sales and Ms. Yoshinaga's profits because prospective readers will not be able to browse through the book in bookstores.

Additionally, if I am correct that you sold it that way because of its discussion of homosexuality, then I think you're underestimating the intellect and cultural maturity of your readers. We live in a multicultural world, where there are people of every sexual orientation, creed, ethnicity, and race. To attempt to protect your readers from something that is "different" and to then label it as "explicit content"is simply shameful.

In Japan, manga is published for readers of all ages, and such a title would most likely be shelved with manga intended for adult readers. It would not be considered explicit content, and it would be read by a variety of women and men. It would be treated with respect. By shrinkwrapping OOKU, you have shown that you do not trust American readers to make the same informed reading decisions as their Japanese counterparts.

I look forward to hearing from you about your rationale for using the shrinkwrap, and why you chose to do so.

Jenny Rappaport
OOKU can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers. I heartily recommend it.


Stacy King said...

As someone working with a graphic novel publisher, I'd like to mention that the decision to shrinkwrap may not have resided solely with Viz. You purchased the book at Barnes & Noble; it's possible that one or more major booksellers made the packaging a condition of their stocking the book (we've had similar requests for certain of our titles, and had to create new slipcovers for some books in order to meet major chain requirements). It's better to get your book on the shelves in shrinkwrap than for it not to get there at all - although you are correct in noting that such packaging will hurt the book's sales.

AstonWest said...

Because people want to buy what they're not supposed to have. Slap an "explicit content" sticker on something, and people will snatch it up. It's "forbidden" so therefore has a bigger draw.

That's my guess, anyway...

Jenny Rae Rappaport said...

It did occur to me that Barnes & Noble might be the source of the shrinkwrap, but I still it find perplexing as to why...

evepaludan said...

At Sam's Club, some of the (craft) magazines and educational books (for home schooling) are shrink-wrapped. This makes me think that in certain marketing venues, they don't want to give away the content to people who browse instead of buy.

Beth said...

I've bought several directly-imported manga brand new that were wrapped like this, and they had no smutty content whatsoever. At the Kinokuniya book store in Seattle, a lot of the titles were wrapped. I'm pretty sure this was done to keep people from browsing in-store, therefore forcing them to buy it.

Jenny Rae Rappaport said...

The key difference here is that the manga was the only shrink-wrapped volume in a large section of graphic novels that were NOT shrink-wrapped.

Angelo said...

This drives me crazy. As a professional consumer, I am the first person to tear the shrink wrap off a book on a shelf to get a better look at the content inside. And when I'm done, I put the book back on the shelf without the shrink wrap so someone else can enjoy opening and perusing the book as much as I did. Unfortunately for more risque or "adventurous" authors, most consumers are not so bold.

Richmond Writer said...

In Virginia it would have to be shrink wrapped.

clindsay said...

Well, as someone who worked with manga at Random House, I can pretty much guarantee you that it was shrinkwrapped at the Barnes & Noble's request. And it wasn't done as a slam to homosexuals, it was done because the vast majority of consumers of manga are kids 14 and under. So when their parents complain that their kids are reading mature comics (which this is), the account can point to the shrinkwrap and say "Due diligence!" and then nobody gets sued.

Publishers don't want to shrinkwrap; it adds a considerable cost to the price of production. But it's that or a major account cuts its buy and then Viz can't publish it al all.