In my last two posts – Thoughts on Self-Publishing on Anime/Manga, Part 1 and Part 2, I raised the general question of whether it was possible for an author to produce and distribute his or her writing outside the established business structure of publishing, and went through some possible models. What I’d like to do now is to move beyond the models to concrete examples, to see how publishing commentary and works of scholarship can – and does – happen without the involvement of a publishing company or even a university press.
One such example – with direct relevant to anime/manga studies – is the work of the Asiascape project. Sponsored by Leiden University’s Modern East Asia Research Centre, with additional support from the Toshiba International Foundation, Asiascape promotes and supports “research in the rapidly emerging fields of cyberculture (New Media, Convergence Culture, Video Games and other related media, such as fan-culture) and animanga (Anime and Manga), especially as they relate to (or originate from) East Asia.” Its specific activities include organizing lectures and other presentations, but since its launch in 2007, Asiascape has also worked as a publisher. So far, it has produced seven “Occasional Papers” – individual peer-reviewed articles published online (and possibly distributed to a small number of libraries) – starting with Anime, thought experiments, and the limits of the human (August 2007), and since then, including Nostalgia and futurism in contemporary Japanese animation (Issue 3, December 2008), and, just last year, Japanese science fiction in converging media: Alienation and Neon Genesis Evangelion (Issue 6, April 2013). And in 2010, Asiascape packaged the first five of these, along with other pieces (also previously published elsewhere), into a “proper” essay collection – available as a PDF for download, and as an actual physical book for purchase by individual readers and libraries.
So, Asiascape is essentially exactly what Jonathan Gray had in mind in his proposal of a “publishing collective” as an approach to creating and distributing scholarship outside the standard corporate publishing model, but still with a connection to an organization that ensures branding, peer review, quality control, scholarly authority, and marketing. But of course, for Asiascape (or another similar project) to exist, that organization must come from somewhere. It must have a leader (in Asiascape’s case, Prof. Christopher Goto-Jones), it must have employees or at least volunteer staff, and it must some way to fund itself – ideally through affiliation with a university or independent research institute, but possibly, through grants. And getting all of that lined up may be the biggest challenge that a potential collective of this type would have to face and work to overcome.
The other example is probably as different from what Asiascape does – and how – as a company in the same general space can be. Boss Fight Books set out last year to publish a series of titles by single authors on “prominent” or “important” videogames. Each book would take a particular game and approach it from a variety of perspectives – critique, sociological study, media/production history, including interviews, and personal reflections. The books would not be strictly scholarly – but would also definitely go beyond simple story recaps or strategy guides. To fund the project, its creator, journalist and novelist Gabe Duhnam turned to the obvious source – Kickstarter – with an initial goal of $5,000. This would fund the print-on-demand and e-book publication of six individual titles.
The project received significant attention in the videogame press, was funded within eight hours of going live, and attracted a total of over $45,000. The first two books, centered around the Japanese videogames EarthBound and Chrono Trigger, have been published already, and four more titles are due out in the coming months. Given the success of these first titles, plans are already underway for new ones, and at least so far, it seems that this particular experiment in publishing specialized non-fiction at an enthusiast audience is a success.
Will either of these models affect how writing (whether scholarship or more general commentary) on anime and manga is published in the future? I think the answer will depend largely on whether traditional publishers will continue expressing interest in publishing anything at all on Japanese popular culture. But regardless, both models do seem to present ways of publishing on narrow, specialized topics that are backed by small but dedicated communities of both authors and audiences. And, going into the future, I will not be surprised in the slightest if, in addition to the books on anime/manga that are published by university presses, corporate publishing houses, and established independent publishers, we will also see others produced by publishing collectives like Asiascape, and by entirely new “boutique” operations like Boss Fight.