I. There's a global recession on, fool!
When it comes time to spend your money, where does manga rank on the following list?
- Housing (rent/mortgage and sundry upkeep costs)
- Transportation (car payments, gas, repairs)
- Other debts
I dare say that manga ranks pretty low on the list of priorities, even in the good economic times. When times are good, one isn't so cautious with one's spending, and so buying entertainment items like manga isn't any big deal.
Today, the economy is still terrible. Despite mainstream media attempts to paint things as good with over 8% official unemployment (remember when unemployment was only 5%, the press said it was the worst economy ever?) and government attempts to shield people from just how harsh things are so as to make the economic numbers not appear to be quite as bad (such not counting millions of unemployed people who've given up on looking for a job in the official numbers), the truth is that there are a ton of unemployed and underemployed people out there. People with limited incomes have how much to spend on manga (or anime for that matter)?
Speaking for myself, today I make less that half what I made in 2008. As such, I don't buy nearly as much manga (or anime) as I did back then. To be honest, I probably still spend more than I should on manga, but I've always been someone who believes in supporting what I like and shunning what I don't like.
Now, people who don't have money to buy manga today (but who have done so when they did have money) are going to do what in order to continue to follow their favorite titles? Might the possibly go the scanlation route, which is free and easy, until financial circumstances for them are such that they can afford to spend money on manga again?
II. Manga can be an expensive hobby!
This ties in pretty closely with the point above. Exactly what is the average retail price of a manga volume? Based on the manga I'm currently purchasing, it is generally $9.99 to $11.99 per book (not counting omnibus editions or something like Bride's Story), assuming you don't buy online to get good deals.
When compared to mass market paperback novels and even trade paperback novels, manga volumes are not only usually more expensive on a book-to-book basis, but that expense grows even greater if the comparison were done on a content basis. After all, if one were to convert a manga volume into novel form, how much of a novel would it take up? A chapter? Two chapters? I suppose it depends on how much exposition was in the manga volume in question.
Now, if you are only buying something like Sgt. Frog (when it was being published) or Yotsbua&!, which are monthly titles in Japan and so only get maybe two volumes released a year, that's not too great of an expense. But, if you start buying a few titles that get four volumes released a year, it doesn't take long to start adding up. If you are already on a very tight and limited budget, even spending $100 a year on manga can be a deal breaker. That much money would only buy a couple of weekly titles and one monthly title in book form, assuming no discounts.
III. Where's my legal online and e-manga books, y'all?
Book sales in the U.S. were up for 2010 over 2009 by 3.6%. However, that wasn't because of physical book sales, which were down almost everywhere (U.S. hardback book sales were down 5.1%; U.S. (trade) paperback book sales were down 2%; and U.S. mass market book sales were down 6.3%). It was because e-book sales were up a staggering 164.4%!
Seriously, e-books are what's hot right now but manga provides an addition means of digital publishing in the form of online distribution. That's coming in limited fashion, such as when Viz simultaneously published RIN-NE when it comes out in Japan, but then they removed it when the actually publish a volume.
As for e-manga (manga on e-books), I got bad news for publishers. People are already making their own e-manga copies from scanlations and distributing them! It is a small number now, but that will grow in future.
"Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly. Think!"
To be fair, U.S. publishers have their hands tied by a large group timid Japanese publishers without any sense of vision, all of whom apparently do not like digital distribution at all. Will Kodansha Comics have an online manga section? Will they start publishing Negima! and other manga for various e-readers (in a non-DRM form)?
E-books and legal online distribution can not only save companies a boatload of cash by reducing the amount of books they have to print (though those could be printed on an on-demand basis), but would also allow companies to not have to drop licenses as quickly for less than enthusiastic starts. On the consumer side, while I think there will be folks who always love books, not having to buy bookcases just to fill with volumes and volumes of manga saves both money and space. Further, as seen in the book industry, the public is demanding more and more stuff be put into e-book form. So, let's get cracking on this and convince the Japanese to wake up and smell the coffee!
Yes, there has been some progress made since I first started drafting this piece, but it is still slow progress.
IV) Advertising? Well I've heard of that, but I don't think it got much coverage around here.
Where did you first get into manga?
For me, I got into manga via anime. It was the 5-episode OVA Oh My Goddess series from AnimEigo. After I watched it in 2002, I wanted to see more but I learned that there was no more anime. Instead, folks told me to go read the manga from Dark Horse, which at that time was being released in a flipped, graphic novel form. I've been reading Ah! My Goddess ever since.
My second manga was Love Hina. Again, I got into this manga series because I first watched the anime series in 2002 and wanted to get the whole story. At that time, TokyoPop had started publishing the manga, so I bought it.
Indeed, as I look through the manga I've purchased since 2002, roughly 70% of those manga titles were a direct result of watching the anime series that was spawned from those manga titles. Roughly 20% of the manga I've purchased has been a result of reading something else from a manga-ka I'd already read and enjoyed (CLAMP, Akamatsu-sensei, Takahashi-sensei, etc.). The remaining 10% was sight-unseen stuff, usually done because of a recommendation or because I actively sought something new to read.
Advertising can come in a number of different forms. In my case, anime series were the primary advertising mechanism to get me to buy the original (or in rare cases spinoff) manga. With less anime exposure on TV these days, there are less opportunities for an anime title to gain notice in the mainstream and thus lesser chances for manga titles those anime series may have been based on to get noticed.
There are other means of advertising. All manga publishers put advertisements for some of their other manga titles at the end of all their manga publications. However, how much effect does that have on people? For me, I can't say it had any impact because usually, I'm either already buying the manga advertised or the one-page ad has nothing that even remotely catches my interest. Outside of this, where else do manga companies advertise?
I know some publishers will send bloggers like myself copies of a manga to review IF we are interested. These copies are usually sent out in advance of the publication date so that there can be early reviews of said product. Publishers also look to bloggers and other reviewers who buy a manga title to help spread the word.
Sometimes, manga companies will advertise. On occasion, I've seen manga advertised on my this blog (Google controls what ads you see). However, I normally don't see manga advertised at all unless I am on a manga publisher's website.
All this said, manga advertising is generally quite limited. Do manga publishers advertise on radio? On TV? Before movies at the theater? To the best of my knowledge, there are no such advertising campaigns. Without some sort of means of attracting the interest of those outside of the niche fandom, how does manga grow as we already know it can from past experience? In my mind, enticing folks to take a gander at manga would help, though there is another hurdle to make.
V) Why is this comic book rated OT/16+?
In Japan, Negima! is a shounen title, meaning it is considered acceptable for early teen males. In the U.S., that same manga title is rated OT/16+. That's roughly the starting age for seinen manga in Japan, which is geared toward older teens and adult males. While I'm not going to say anything about our rating system, what I will say is what I've said before -- cartoon and comic arts are considered kid fare and have been for years. As such, kid fare items wouldn't have certain elements in them according to the perception. This isn't something that is going to be overcome overnight but if the customer base could be made to look at manga in a different light, even within the confines of the current rating system, it would improve things a lot in my opinion. I think that education effort ties back in with advertising campaigns.
VI) Manga sales are falling in Japan too!
If manga sales are falling in the home of manga where scanlations are born, Japan, then how is it a surprise that manga sales would be falling in the U.S.?
So, when you read articles of doom and gloom about manga sales being in the dumpster and that really the only reason for this is scanlations, remember there are lots of factors contributing to poor manga sales, both here and in Japan. Assuming the economy gets better and publishers work on advertising, the expense of manga, and providing manga in a form the customer demands, I think this negative trend will turn around and become positive once again. It may take a while, but it can be done. ^_^