The essay came to my attention thanks to coverage on sci-fi blog io9, which distilled the problem as one of a lack of ability by Japanese publishers to properly brand themselves to international audiences. Branding is an unbelievably important part of selling one's product to a mass audience. You and I may read manga and watch anime for reasons relating to quality or uniqueness, and we may proudly display our fandom with a t-shirt, but we almost certainly don't do so because we think it's fashionable or necessarily cool. Proper branding could turn this hobby from fringe to front-and-center plus put fans more in touch with the studios, possibly putting a bit of creative control into our hands.
Here's a key passage from Kelts' essay:
So, I'm tossing around this word "branding" a bunch and you may be wondering what it means. Briefly, it's the practice of building a product or business identity for presentation to the public. Branding is the reason you drink Coca-Cola instead of generic cola, wear Nike shoes instead of Champion, lust after a BMW rather than settle for a domestic econo-box. But building a brand anymore isn't just a one-way street of companies manipulating people into buying stuff, savvy businesses are looking for fan interaction. Think of the recent Ford Fiesta promotions where that company doled out cars to fans with good ideas on how to utilize the car in a video. Marketing strategies like this bring company and consumer closer together, letting us see a bit behind the mask of the former to the face that's not so unlike yours and mine.
While cool Japan has amassed a vast audience overseas in the past decade, very few of its fans know anything about the brands behind it. Industry stalwarts such as Studio Pierrot, Madhouse, Production IG, Shogakukan and Shueisha barely register at U.S. anime conventions, where fans passionately recite and reenact their creations. You might hear the words Ghibli (usually mispronounced), Toei and Bandai batted about in conversation among older generations of American fans, but with scant enthusiasm.
Now comes my own editorial rant: the concept of branding is not one Japan seems to easily wrap their heads around, particularly when it comes to the international market. When I worked at VIZ I saw firsthand how the parent companies, Shogakukan and Shueisha, dictated from across the Pacific to their American subordinates and expected them to handle the situation in full, never letting it trace back to their offices in Tokyo.
For their part, VIZ and Tokyopop have tried their best to create brands with their various title lines (VIZ, for example, has Shojo Beat, Editor's Choice, VIZ Kids, etc.) and the former has opened a theater in San Francisco to promote Japanese pop culture. But, like Kelts says, the parent companies have no appreciable presence here and I for one would really like to see them stop reaching out to us with a ten-foot pole and just outright offer up a hand of partnership. We (as a fan base) can't exist without them and they sure as hell can't exist without our dollars.
What do you think: are you happy with the scant levels of interaction between international manga and anime consumers (that's us) and the Japanese parent companies, or do you think they're not doing enough to reach out?