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To follow up from our manga readers survey, KAORI met with Ratna Sari Abubakar, Managing Editor for Comics of Elex Media Komputindo, one of the prominent publishers of manga in Indonesia, and talked about manga publishing in Indonesia. Our report of the discussion will be divided into three parts. The first part will mainly concern about the history of manga publishing by Elex Media, the second part will mainly concern about the process and challenges of licensing manga series for publication in Indonesia, while the third part discuss various things about manga readers in Indonesia, and other activities beyond publishing manga books.

Reaching the Readers and Going Beyond the Pages

The majority of Elex Media’s comics sales comes from, unsurprisingly, the Greater Jakarta area. The regions with the second and third biggest sales proportions are, as Ms. Sari revealed, Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, and Bandung, the capital of West Java province, respectively. Indeed, fans of Japanese media in East Java have been observed to be growing significantly. Respondents from East Java are the third largest in our manga readers poll, and there has been a growth of events in East Java, with some guest-starred by Japanese singers.

Distribution of Elex Media’s comics to regions outside of Jakarta is still an issue for fans in those regions, though. Distribution of Elex Media’s books is handled by Gramedia Distribution Center. “Expanding the distribution depends on Gramedia’s expansion, either through the addition of new Gramedia bookstores or Wholesale Gramedia,” Ms. Sari said. The books take longer time to reach regions outside of Jakarta as they still need to shipped by land or by sea, because all of Elex Media’s books are still printed in Jakarta. “Unlike the newspaper industry, we have yet to adopt online printing system that will allow the books to be printed directly in regions outside of Jakarta,” Ms. Sari conceded.

With recent developments in technology, digital publishing has become an option in releasing comics. Currently, Elex Media is partnered with MangaMon, a digital manga store and reading service in Indonesia from eBook Initiative Japan, to have manga titles published by Elex Media released digitally on MangaMon. Before that partnership, Elex Media had already requested digital rights to make digital manga available at Gramedia.com. It wasn’t easy to obtain the rights on their own, though, so  the partnership with MangaMon is a help.

Some of Elex/Level Comics’ manga titles released on MangaMon include “The Knight in the Area,” “Giant Killing,” and “Fairy Tail.”

However, Ms. Sari noted that digital release hasn’t much affected Elex Media’s physical sales. That point is interesting since in our own poll, most of our respondents do read manga from scanlation sites, but a majority of them would still buy the manga they had read from scanlation sites if they have been published legally in Indonesia. In response to our poll result, Ms. Sari concurred that Indonesian fans’ enthusiasm in owning the original is high. “We’ve had readers asking by e-mail whether some titles will be published by Elex Media, saying that if the manga will be published legally, they will wait for the legal release instead of pirating it.”

In the past few years, the number of Japanese films screened in Indonesian theatres have been increasing, many of which are adapted from manga. This has opened new opportunities for collaboration for promotion and event. For collaborations like that, Elex Media cooperate with the distributors of the adaptation in Indonesia. “Sometimes, the Japanese publisher may notify us that the anime of their manga has been picked up for Indonesian release, but our cooperation is still with the distributor of the anime in Indonesia.”

For television, during the heyday of imported animated TV series in the 90s, Elex Media often cooperate with IMMG, which was the distributor of many anime titles, including the popular Doraemon. But it has became tougher to collaborate with the TV side now. “Collaborating with films is easier since they are not shown continuously like TV series. If there’s a sequel to the film, we can simply make another collaboration, such as with Detective Conan films.”

Gaku Miyao (center) in a stage session in ComicFest ID 2016 featuring Aoba Bicycle Shop (photo by Halimun M)

In some occasions, some manga authors whose manga are published by Elex Media have also came to Indonesia to meet their fans, such as in Manga Festival at Kinokuniya Plaza Senayan in 2014, and ComicFest ID in 2016. The former hosted Takashi Hashiguchi (Yakitate!! Japan), Takeshi Maekawa (Kung Fu Boy), and Emi Ishikawa (Scary Lesson), while the latter Gaku Miyao (Aoba Bicycle Shop). For Manga Festival, at least, it was made possible because another party from Japan facilitated it (the event was organized by CoFesta – red.). Also, Maekaewa’s schedules are not too busy, so he was available to come to the event. “Authors like Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) or Gosho Aoyama (Detective Conan) have very packed schedule, it’s just not possible; the same with Hiro Mashima (Fairy Tail),” Ms. Sari said. To sum up, the important part to invite the comic artists from Japan to Indonesia is to work together with other parties to increase support.

As closing remarks, Ms. Sari representing Elex Media hopes that readers would countinue to support legal manga releases, even though pirated manga has been circulating for quite a long time. Reading legal manga is respecting the intellectual property rights of the authors, and also supporting publishers in Indonesia to continue publishing licensed manga.

The Indonesian Anime Times | Reporting by Halimun Muhammad, Dody Kusumanto and Videtra Reynaldi

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