First of all, please introduce yourself!
Jen Parker: I'm Jen Parker, a freelance writer and cofounder of YaoiSuki, a yaoi news and review website that ran from February 23, 2006 to January 3, 2008. I've been an anime nut for about a decade and also got into slash sometime back, so yaoi was sort of a no-brainer for me.
Jordan Marks: I am Jordan Marks, co-founder of YaoiSuki.
Can you tell us a bit about YaoiSuki? Why did you start it, what did you want it to be?
Jen: I started YaoiSuki not because I especially like yaoi better than any other manga genre, but because I felt like there was a need for such a site. There were some sites around for yaoi news, but they were spotty with their coverage. And there were some sites for yaoi reviews, but they tended to accept reviews from anyone who sent them in, which is fine, but I often wished I could find a site that had consistent reviewers so I could know more about who they are and factor that into their thoughts.
Yaoi was also a burgeoning genre at the time, so it was harder to know something in advance about all the titles on the bookshelves.
I had a friend, Jordan, who was much more into the yaoi and slash world than I, and I asked her if she was interested in doing a yaoi review site, which she was. Together and as time passed we shaped the site into basically what we wished someone else was doing.
Jordan: For a long time Yaoi was something I heard a lot of, but could not get any decent information on. I kept trying to find out what the heck "1x2x3x4" meant and what yaoi actually was. Then, one day yaoi manga started popping up in English. I responded by buying every bit I could find. The original concept for YS was that I would do licensed works and Jen would cover scanlations, but soon the amount of works coming out in retail started to increase at a startling rate.
Basically, I wanted YS to be an information source. I wanted to help break down that 'information wall' I had run into so often. Also, since a lot of manga was only available online, I wanted to give people the info they could not get off of Amazon. How hardcore is a title? Might it squick a reader? That sort of thing.
Why the name "YaoiSuki", was it inspired by AnimeSuki?
Jordan: Jen named the site. I am horrible at naming things.
Jen: You know, I don't remember exactly where the site name came from, but I remember it wasn't something we really discussed much. And yeah, I think it probably was stolen somewhat from AnimeSuki-- not because we were doing anything like what they were in terms of content, but because I just liked the idea that the name translated to simply "I Like Yaoi" (or We Like Yaoi, or whatever). And I thought it flowed well.
Back then, were there any other noteworthy sites that focused on the BL genre?
Jen: Well, there were Boys on Boys on Film and Boys Next Door, both of which are still around. BND has really stepped up their coverage lately and I've really enjoyed reading it. Other popular stops for yaoi fans have been the Yaoi_Daily community on LiveJournal and the AarinFantasy forums, as well as probably a few hundred individual blogs from BL fans, artists, creators, etc. After we'd started a bunch of other sites and things started up, especially from publishers: Drama Queen and BLU started forums, and 801 Media was established and their forums became a hot spot.
Jordan: Aarinfantasy is a good site.
I've been told that aestheticism.com is also good, but I am not going to send in a 'legal document' just to get access to most of the content of a website. I don't trust people that much.
I've never seen a place that kept information organized and accessible like us, or really followed news.
Did YaoiSuki develop as you planned? What were some of the difficulties you encountered?
Jen: I don't know that we ever especially "planned" how YaoiSuki would develop-- in fact, we were surprised at how quickly the industry embraced us, with companies offering review copies and being supportive if we had questions and the like. Most of our difficulties were technical: neither of us is a programmer, so I was mostly doing what I could to tweak Joomla! and its various add-ons to make things work as well as we could. I still wish we could have incorporated the Wiki a little more nicely! But in terms of content, we were pretty well set.
Jordan and I have veeeery different tastes for the most part, which means we got a broad spectrum of opinion. We kind of thought at one point about doing all reviews jointly, because we would run into these problems of each of us taking the books we wanted most and reviewing them, but then so much yaoi started coming out that we could barely handle doing them separately-- we would sort of start laughing hysterically at these giant stacks of manga piled up by our computers...
Jordan: It pretty much went as planned, except that we wound up both reviewing licensed manga due to sheer volume.
The site stats were always good, better than expected. And other bloggers were definitely reading us and liking what we did. Though, we never got many comments and almost no feedback. We even ran a contest which was basically us begging for feedback. It was hard to stay motivated with so few responses.
We also never really got conversations going, like we hoped. I love to chat about things. Ah, well.
Why did you decide to close the site?
Jen: [Continued from above]...Which is what factored in to closing down the site. At a time when more and more BL was starting to come out, we were starting to have less and less time. Much of YaoiSuki's work was done while I was actually doing an office job that required very little of me at any given moment, so I had a lot of free time sitting at a computer. Then I got a job that actually did require work, so my time shrunk immensely.
Jordan started going back to school and had less time as well, and the stacks kept growing and the reviews (and news) getting less frequent, and we decided that for the time being, at least, we would just need to close the doors.
There's always a possibility, if time opens up, that we'll come back-- but in the meantime, we're getting the rest of our lives taken care of.
Jordan: We were buried under review copies. I got to the point where I loved doing news, but hated doing reviews. So much of the genre is all the same. I wound up only really wanting to review the books that stood out in some way. I very rarely like romantic fluff ... and that is exactly what my two foot tall review pile was full of.
Titles I could rave about were few. I felt bad letting free copies pile up and I felt bad reviewing manga I didn't like. I couldn't give them bad reviews, because many of them were good. They just weren't my thing.
Also, in all honestly? I prefer older characters. All the manga with overly young looking ukes and questionable ages was really bugging me. The day after we closed the site I sold off 36 manga just to get rid of titles like those.
For reviews, what do you do when there are more review copies than you could handle?
Jen: We would generally just not review all the titles we got. We would try to pick out the ones we thought were of particular interest to our readers or were more highly anticipated.
Jordan: We let publishers know at the end. Until that point we kept hoping to get caught up.
Yaoi news are not as easy to gather as general manga news, what are some of your primary methods of finding all these news items?
Jordan: What? Reveal our methods?? Ok. (Actually, I keep hoping another site will step up coverage to level we did so I can go hang out there.) Google alerts were my friend. 85% of the news I got was from google alerts. Though, to catch everything I used both news and blog alerts. Also, publisher forums and blogs were great. I didn't check those blogs enough. Sometimes we'd post about a contest that was announced weeks ago.
I wish we could have done more from Japanese sources. My Japanese still isn't strong enough. Maybe in a year it will be?
Our most widely read and referred to reports were our Yaoi-Con reports. I loved being press at Yaoi-Con.
Jen: LOTS of RSS feeds, checking publisher websites, LiveJournal communities and the like...a lot of BL news, and anime/manga news in general, comes from when someone is a particular fan of XYZ creator/series and they follow the site daily. Then they post about what happened on the site and everyone else picks up on it eventually-- because we news sites can't follow EVERYthing ourselves! ;)
YaoiSuki did both news and reviews, in your opinion, what's harder, running a news site or a review site? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of running each site?
Jen: Oh, a review site is harder, hands down! News is about facts; if you can get your facts straight you can do it (the harder part is putting it out in a way people are interested in reading). But reviews? You have to prove that you're worth listening to, you have to find things to say besides "I liked it" or "I didn't like it," you have to step outside of yourself as a reader and analyze what specifically you like and don't like. You have to make sure you present your opinion as fairly as possible and be aware of your own biases.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each: there are a lot of news sites out there on various topics so it's harder to get heard in the midst of everything, but again, if you can get your facts straight and you post consistantly on a topic people are interested in, you'll find your audience. For a review site, it can be a lot of fun to talk in-depth about a series you really like (or really dislike), but if no one agrees with your opinions it can get a little tiresome defending them! ;)
Jordan: If the Yaoi news cycle is slow ... it's hard to do filler stories. Yaoi news is really feast or famine. We did some columns, too. But it was hard to find topics not already done to death.
A review site can give more regular content. Which is why I think it's important that a news site also do some reviews. To keep readership up you need some sort of regular content. Like I said before, I came to love doing news but really did not like doing reviews.
Any pointers to aspiring fans who wants to create their own websites?
Jen: I approach websites like I approach fiction: I won't do it unless I think it hasn't already been done. I started YaoiSuki because there were no other sites that approached BL news and reviews from the same angle we did-- constant and consistant content. If you think there's a need for a certain kind of site, there probably is, so go make it! Also, be sure that you've got plenty of time for regular updates-- if you don't think you can get to it at least a couple of times a week, it'll be a lot harder for you to attract readers.
Jordan: Cite yer damn sources! Err... yeah. My google alerts showed me my own writing copy-pasted and uncited more than once. Not often, but it pissed me off.
YaoiSuki was one of the few news sites that reported BL news, where should the fans go now?
Jen: Officially we declared Gia at giapet.net to be our "successor," because when she was at animeOnline she was very open to BL news and covered stuff a lot, plus we both know her. But lately she gets most of her BL news from Boys Next Door, so I'd say that's probably the first stop a BL fan looking for news should hit up! Kuri-ousity also does a lot of good BL coverage.
Tell us about the technical side of YaoiSuki, how was it made and managed?
Jordan: I usually managed not to break things ... and when I did break things I ran to Jen to have her fix them.
Jen: As I mentioned before, we used Joomla, because I've always been fond of the program and its many, many expansions. It's hard to compare Joomla to Word Press because what they're going for is kind of different. I see Joomla as a platform to build a multi-faceted site, and those facets can include blog-like content, forums, wikis, and all the other fun stuff we did (or didn't!) include. Word Press is more designed for primarily blogging, and although there are a lot of plugins that can create those additional features, I think it's hard for WP to get away from the "feel" of a blog. So for YS, I thought Joomla was a better choice.
Why did you choose the black/red design for YaoiSuki?
Jen: I've always thought black and red was sexy, don't you? We wanted something that conveyed passion and was a bit on the darker/edgier side without being too dour or goth. Getting that beautiful art from our first contest made a huge difference, I think.
Jordan: White on black text is usually the most readable and easiest on the eyes. Also, red and black is a good combo for an adult site.
What do you think of the current online scene for Yaoi (and even Yuri)?
Jen: I've always thought that the Internet enabling the fandom to connect is the real secret behind anime and manga's explosion in the US in the last decade or so, and I think it's doubly true for BL fans.
I think when the fans start being able to contribute to the fandom-- via fiction, art, reviews, discussion, what have you --it allows the fandom to grow beyond the borders of the actual original medium upon which it's based, if that makes sense. It ceases to be simply "creators create, fans consume" and becomes a cycle: creators create, fans consume, fans create responses, and creators feed on those responses and create more-- and the fans become creators themselves.
Jordan: Online scene? I am not terribly involved in much of that outside of a few forums.
Where do you think yaoi stand in today's market?
Jen: Oof, I think fans have had to suffer through a LOT of bad news lately. Iris is shutting down and there's been a lot of drama between the company and its creators; Drama Queen has been awfully quiet, Seven Seas' yaoi line died before it even began, God only knows what Be Beautiful is up to these days, and now BLU is postponing a couple of titles...I think a lot of BL came out in a big hurry, and that companies snatched up the majority of the really highly-desired titles very fast. So things have gotten a little bit less...exciting, as it were?
June flooded the market a bit with a lot of decent but not amazing titles, and I think that the market sort of reached a bit of a plateau. But new titles are always coming out in Japan that will start getting picked up here and I think that there's more growth to happen in the BL world-- including more and more creators outside of Japan getting their worked released in the US, like Dany&Dany from Italy, and any number of the creators involved in Drama Queen's Rush anthology --so I expect we're in sort of a calm before things start picking up again, although I also expect future growth to be slower than it had been before.
That's all based on my own personal instincts, by the way; I'm not privy to any cool super-secret information and I'm definitely not a business expert!
What do you think the future holds for BL? And do you think the recent move by Tokyopop may affect it?
Jen: As for TOKYOPOP's move, it's already shown that it will affect BL releases, although it's not yet clear how much. If TOKYOPOP ever released original BL works from their creators, then theoretically the new company could try to get them adapted into movies or TV shows or whatnot, which would be kinda neat-- and TOKYOPOP is (or at least was?) releasing a non-BL book by Studio Kosen, who have done a few titles for Yaoi Press in the past. So I guess the answer is: I don't know!
Jordan: Well, when any market grows so ridiculously fast there is going to be a 'correction'. What does the future hold for BL? Man, this is a question I'd love to have an intelligent answer for. BL is here to stay, no doubt about that. With the downturn the variety could suffer a lot. The genre could wind up with only having ubiquitous teen romances available in English. If manga by mangakas like Fumi Yoshinaga can get at least a little bit of a cross-over audience things would be alot better. I think BL has a bad reputation as being all the same, being obtuse, having overly young characters and being nothing but rape. Lots of people who are aware of the genre wont touch it. If that stereotype could get broken down a bit, the market would be great.
Though, maybe the real problem is that some of the best titles just aren't available due to Drama Queen and Be Beautiful's problems? DQ brings serious diversity to the BL market. Akira Honma's manga are refreshing after one too many fluffy romances. Be Beautiful holds some claim on the rights to what would be the most popular books. I recently saw a copy of One Wing In The Finder go for $152.50 on eBay.
Though, if certain things fall away from the retail market, there are always scanlations. Some of the people who buy books could get the content for free. Companies need to make sure they keep a good relationship with readers. Readers want to be informed. Also, they don't want to see series that they have dropped serious cash on disappear. The combination of high cost, poor quality and bad reputation could hurt the chances of a Be Beautiful comeback.
Any last words?
Jordan: Well, let's see, since we got the other questions Drama Queen has become more dead and we are right in the middle of the Youka Nitta scandal. These are big blows to fans of yaoi that have deeper plots and feature older characters. That is, to fans like me. I could fill a whole shelf with manga from seemingly dead publishers right now. Or should I organize it by series that might never be finished, at least not in English? I can only hope that things brighten up soon.
They likely will brighten up soon. On the good side the quality of the yaoi novels June is putting out has gone way up. I can't speak to the accuracy of the translations, but the English versions of the recent books were much more readable and enjoyable than the ones I reviewed for Yaoisuki.
Jen: To our readers: we loved our time with you, and maybe someday we'll be back!