I spent the evening with Dan Pink, author of best-sellers Free Agent NBunkoation and A Whole New Mind , an overflowing pseudo-boardroom of other curious readers, and free rounds of microbrew. Dan was in town to promote his new book–Johhny Bunko, the last career guide you’ll ever need. The discussion brought up a number of interesting questions to grapple with, not the least interesting of which was this: does Johnny Bunko give us the face and format of books to come?

You’ll notice from the reprint at the right important differences between Bunko and your standard career book. First, the text doesn’t respect margins. Second, the book doesn’t privilege text in the way most how-to’s do. Third, the book is fundamentally narrative, not didactic. In short, it’s a comic book. Or more correctly, it’s an Americanized version of Manga-a graphic format common in Japan and enjoying growing popularity in the US-which makes it sort of a literary california roll (to steal Dan’s metaphor).

But should you take Bunko’s format seriously, or is it just Pink’s attempt to attract attention for an otherwise deadly dry topic? The surprising answer is that there are a number of practically, and conceptually compelling reasons to believe this is more than fad or a promotional angle.

For example:

1. The internet has arguably obviated the need to put current information on many topics like careers into book form. A click of the mouse will take you to thousands of pages of career advice that’s both free and more current than any book could be. Hence, books are freed to focus on evergreen ideas like fundamental principals.

2. Some will say that the narrative format helps make these principals more memorable.

3. The manga format is popular and ubiquitous in Japan, capable of supporting content in a variety of genre. Dan passed around books formatted in manga with a variety of content including entertainment (comic books), social and political tracts (the dangers of nationalism), and how-to’s (time management tips). In fact, he says, walk into any bookstore in Japan and you’ll find an entire floor devoted to manga.

4. Some say manga is becoming more popular here in the US. That’s not entirely clear. According to ThePublishingTrendsBlog, a big dispute about the future of manga was sparked at last year’s Conference on Anime and Manga with pundits taking different sides depending on whether they put more stake in shelf space at bookstores, titles published, and on such things as paper vs. electronic format.

I can tell you this, there were three representatives there from a Snowhomish Washington workforce education group that were rabid about working Johnny Bunko into their material for high school and college kids. They cited high school drop out rates in the 50-60% range and saw Bunko as the right message in the right media. In fact, they’d already distributed 250 copies of the book to area job counselors.

Tim’s Takeaway:

We always want the media to represent the best way to get the message into the hands and minds or our audience. For some types of messages and audiences, the narrative-centric, visually-oriented manga style may be the best match of format and content. It’s worth looking into.