J-Novel Club Joins the KADOKAWA Club

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J-Novel Club Joins the KADOKAWA Club

The English manga and light novel space may soon be realigning thanks to a new deal.

KADOKAWA is a name most anime and manga fans probably recognize. You may have seen the name on the title page of light novels like Sword Art Online or manga like Nichijou: My Ordinary Life. Maybe you spotted the name while watching anime like Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-. There are many other series you perhaps don’t realize are connected to KADOKAWA. Like many other conglomerates and large corporations, KADOKAWA CORPORATION has many divisions, subsidiaries, and affiliates, including ASCII Media Works, Enterbrain, and Media Factory. Other associated companies include the video site Niconico, game developer Spike Chunsoft (Danganronpa, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon), and eBook store BOOK☆WALKER, the English version of which launched in 2014.

KADOKAWA is also the majority owner of English manga publisher Yen Press, which it co-owns with the Hachette Book Group.

That’s a lot of brands, but like any business, KADOKAWA wants to strengthen and expand their interests. Recently, in February, they sold 2% stakes to Sony and media advertising and game developer CyberAgent (Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Rage of Bahamut). The goal is for CyberAgent to develop more smartphone games and use Sony’s name recognition to enrich KADOKAWA’s properties.

The mixed-media approach tends to be a successful one for businesses, as fans of a book, movie, or game are likely to be drawn to other forms of a franchise. This model is KADOKAWA’s overreaching strategy.

Well, now KADOKAWA CORPORATION has made another move to enhance their IPs: on April 28th, they announced they acquired English light novel and manga publisher J-Novel Club.

J-Novel Club first teamed up with KADOKAWA back in 2018 with Kokoro Connect and Amagi Brilliant Park, so the two have been working together for a long time.

According to the press release, KADOKAWA plans on expanding their English book business by using BOOK☆WALKER’s store and contracted influencers to better promote and distribute J-Novel Club’s titles. Series can also be published physically through Yen Press.

J-Novel Club answered some questions about the deal on their website, and according to its founder, not much is going to change, but that KADOKAWA’s ownership will give them more power and influence:

“Being owned by a major player in the Japanese market provides needed stability for future expansion, and will enable us to license and release even more content (from all kinds of publishers)! Be on the lookout for more light novels, more manga, and other new projects and expansions moving forward.”

Probably one reason for the “needed stability” is to have a strong ally in case Amazon decides to remove J-Novel Club (and other publishers’) series again. BOOK☆WALKER’s site loves to remind visitors they won’t pull series, and now since they’re both owned by the same company, BOOK☆WALKER has more incentive to push J-Novel Club’s series. It’s a win-win for BOOK☆WALKER and J-Novel Club.

BOOK☆WALKER website selling ad

KADOKAWA also mentioned the “digital first” strategy, and I would love to hear that this means even more J-Novel Club releases will end up in print. Perhaps even more could be announced from the get-go so that fans can choose their preference instead of either playing the waiting game or double-dipping.

The fact J-Novel Club’s website isn’t shutting down or that they’re changing their methods is likely a relief to members, who have helped propel J-Novel Club’s success over the past five years. It’s possible though the membership tiers could be restructured, like additional coins back on J-Novel titles at BOOK☆WALKER or something as part of a current level or an additional one.

J-Novel Club Members can buy Premium Ebooks directly from us! These are priced the same as web stores, are DRM-free, and have some neat exclusive bonuses such as exclusive bonus stories, interviews, extra art, and more! 📘✨

Details: https://t.co/XDmnzyhrPu pic.twitter.com/MF1mXM3Eex

— J-Novel Club (@jnovelclub) April 15, 2021

Beyond that and the obvious “more light novels, more manga” part of the deal, the new stuff KADOKAWA, BOOK☆WALKER, and J-Novel Club have planned could be interesting. It’s obvious KADOKAWA wants to go big on their series attracting fans from all forms of Japanese media: the readers, the watchers, and the players. It’s a prime time to do so, and in general, an English licensing announcement is often a good sign that an anime adaptation isn’t far away. But maybe we’ll see brand new series being simulpubbed in English alongside its Japanese serialization? This way, KADOKAWA can start building a global fanbase early for some series, and they can also already team up for expanded content like an anime adaptation or a mobile game, both of which can boost sales of the original light novel (or manga).

But KADOKAWA already has much of the light novel market in Japan, and now they’re tightening their hold on the global market. It’s no surprise, as the Japanese publishers all know the international appetite for their products. Most of the Japanese media conglomerates have separate-but-intertwined divisions, and we’re seeing more and more of the English language publishers be a part of that and even have their own subsidiaries and divisions.

Still, for an almost-one-man operation to be scooped up about five years later speaks to J-Novel Club’s model, and as new independent publishers pop up, they might be wise to take a few lessons from J-Novel Club’s success. And with KADOKAWA’s publishing divisions having access to so many options under their own branches, I expect rivals to continue to scour the popular website Shousetsuka ni Narou online story-reading website to find their next hit. Meanwhile, KADOKAWA’s top properties are even more likely to get anime, manga, and/or game spin-offs, and I think international fans will have less reason to worry about whether these will get an English version.

What do you think of this news? Does this make you more or less likely to be a J-Novel Club subscriber, or are you already are? What would you like to see happen as a result of this deal?
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