Sporadic Sequential
Monday, September 18, 2006
Sincerely, Abraham J. Simpson

Now that Tokyopop has backed off from their online exclusives program, it's time to pester another manga publisher about their perplexing practices. So, borrowing an idea from Chris Butcher and Dave Lartigue, here's my open letter to Dark Horse:

Dear Dark Horse Manga:

I'm writing to you as a long-time customer who has grown frustrated with the ongoing delays with your manga titles. I understand that occasional delays will occur for almost every publisher, and that many of the delays are completely out of your control. However, with Dark Horse, delays seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

I've noticed your delays before, but tracking the delays around one specific book really served to highlight just how significant the problem is. Oh My Goddess: Volume 3 was originally scheduled to ship back in June 2006 when I ordered it online. Time went by and the book hadn't arrived when I received an email from the retailer advising me that the product would be delayed by a month. I decided to keep it on order and wait for the book, but when the revised release date rolled around, I received yet another email from the retailer rather than the book itself. It was delayed yet again and I was being asked if I still wanted it. Once again, I approved the order extension. And now another month has passed and I still haven't received my book. So I went online to check when Oh My Goddess: Volume 3 would be released. According to Barnes & Noble, the book was published in June of 2006 but they don't have any copies in stock. Amazon shows the book as having come out on September 13th, but they say it will take 5 to 7 weeks for them to ship a copy, a sign that they don't actually have it in stock. Finally, checking the Dark Horse site, it turns out that the release date for Oh My Goddess: Volume 3 has been pushed back all the way to November 15th, five months after it was originally supposed to come out.

Again, this isn't an isolated incident. Another book in the Oh My Goddess series, Oh My Goddess: Colors, has been delayed for over a year: Originally scheduled to come out back in August of 2005, it's now September 2006 and the book still hasn't come out. (Your site shows the release date as September 6th, but I have yet to find a retailer that actually has a copy on hand and ready to ship. Even your retailing partner TFAW only lists the book as available for pre-order.)

Now, I'll admit that delays like this are a minor inconvenience at most. Not having these books when I expected them isn't a huge deal in the overall scheme of things. But even small things can have a big impact if they add up, and in this situation I've gotten to the point where I have no confidence in your release schedule whatsoever, and that lack of confidence influences my purchasing decisions. Today I was putting together an order at an online retailer and I was trying to hit the threshold for free shipping. I looked at a couple of your manga titles that were listed as available for purchase but they all had the qualifier "Usually ships within 5 to 7 weeks," which to me indicated that they weren't really out yet. And even if they were, I didn't want to add any of those items to my order and have them hold up the entire shipment by several weeks, so I passed on all of the Dark Horse books.

In short, I'm tired of having to actively follow your release schedule, and I'm guessing that I'm not the only one. As the customer, I shouldn't have to work this hard to get your product. There are too many other entertainment options -- including manga from other publishers -- that come out reliably for me to expend this much time and energy keeping up with the constant changes in your publication dates. It's unfortunate, because Dark Horse holds a special spot in my memories when it comes to manga: Oh My Goddess was the first manga series I ever followed, and Super Manga Blast was a wonderful anthology that expanded my exposure to the growing category of Japanese comics. But nowadays Dark Horse isn't the only manga publisher on the block, and I've seen that other companies can do a better job when it comes to maintaining a schedule.

I do hope that you're able to correct the problems that you've been having meeting your schedule. I'll probably still buy your books if I happen to stumble across them, but I'll no longer actively seek them out as I don't need the accompanying headache of tracking your ever-shifting release dates.

Thank you for your time and attention,

John Jakala

If anyone has specific contact information for the appropriate individuals at Dark Horse, please let me know. The only thing I could find on Dark Horse's site was a generic "Contact Us" web form and an email address for their PR dept. And if you have complaints about Dark Horse's chronically late-shipping books, let them know.

UPDATE 9/20: Well, yesterday I received a reply from Carl Horn, editor of Oh My Goddess!, but he has asked that I not post his full email here. The gist of his response was: Dark Horse is aware of the delays and they're taking steps to correct them. When I inquired what those steps were, he declined to provide details. (Really, it's no huge loss that I can't reproduce his email in its entirety; if you're familiar with the standard corporate boilerplate response, you can probably compose a fairly accurate reconstruction of the email yourself.)