You Say You Want a Revolution?

What a difference a few years can make. Not so long ago, some people believed that manga was poised to take over the world, and with reason; it dominated the BookScan charts, gobbled up bookstore shelf space, and became an important part of the graphic novel landscape. Over the past two years, however, overall manga sales in the U.S. have been reported to be down by one- third, eight manga publishers have gone out of business, while the two biggest players Tokyopop and Viz have shrunk as Shojo Beat and Yen Plus turn to digital publishing. What the hell happened?

I don’t think anyone can point to one thing that is the reason for the fall in sales. Some place the drop in manga sales solely at the feet of piracy, but there’s been piracy with American comics too, to the point that one illegal downloading site was big enough to attract the attention of the FBI. The site was subsequently shut down. Yet American comic sales have not dropped off as dramatically as manga. And if by some stretch of the imagination it is solely due to piracy, why were experts in manga saying just a few years ago that scanlations didn’t really affect sales of the trades. What changed in the past few years? Are people more willing to engage in illegal downloading than they were a few years ago?

Was it the recession?  American graphic novels sales were a bit down, as were other trade books, but not as drastically as manga.  In Japan, manga sales were also down, but the percentage drop was not as severe as here in the US. The weak economy in the US may have contributed to the decline in sales stateside but I don’t believe it was the biggest factor.

Some have attributed the manga sales drop to a change in the buyer at a major retail chain. That is the same retailer who had serious financial problems, significant layoffs and multiple store closings. Even if the buying staff had remained the same, the buying budgets were tighter and there weren’t as many outlets for the books. Sales would have been down at that chain regardless of who was placing the buys.

There is also this bizarre theory that girls, who were originally reading manga (and subsequently providing the main sales boost), have since stopped reading it because they switched to reading the Twilight series. But let’s look at the figures on that: the Twilight saga comprises four books total which were released annually over a four year period. If an avid reader bought each one via Amazon, they would have spent $13.59 per book, totaling $50 over a four-year period! Yes the movie moved a lot of books and ancillary merchandise and tie-in titles, but that didn’t ramp up until fall 2008. Manga were down 17% in 2008 and it didn’t all happen in the fourth quarter. It just doesn’t make sense that Twilight hurt manga sales to that degree.

Was there a “manga burnout”? During the past ten years, the output of manga titles was staggering. At first almost everything published made it onto the shelves. A few years later when the shelves were buckling under the weight of all the books published, I would hear sales reps for manga complain that some titles were being bought in smaller quantities than they expected.  Some titles were passed on altogether. Publishers were shocked at this and they thought the answer to this problem was more shelf space, always more shelf space. Titles weren’t passed on because of a lack of shelf space; some of the books just weren’t that good. And the consumers only have so much money they can spend any given month.  Not exactly burnout, I just think the fan base may have been growing at a slower rate compared to the number of titles released.

The rush to publish created a mind-set that I believe was harmful to manga, treating it  more like a commodity, as if the two biggest publishers were Coke and Pepsi. I actually heard a representative of one of the two biggest manga publishers say “Well, in March we released forty-five titles and the other publisher released forty-seven titles, and that’s why they had more market share this month.” Huh? What were the titles? In bookstores you get the big buys based on the book – not because you released fifty other titles that month.

When you treat something like a commodity, you run the risk of turning it into a product. Get the new 2010 Manga! I remember one ad campaign that Tokyopop ran, where they designed ads and banners to  look like posters from the U.S.S.R. – Japanese men marching in military uniforms with the slogan “Join The Manga Revolution!” At the time all I could think of was – how strange that they was comparing manga to a failed social and political system.   I realize that there was a need to educate people as to what the word manga means – some people pronounced it “mangaia”, like they were at the Olive Garden. There was the same problem with the term “graphic novel.” Too many people thought graphic meant pornographic. It confused people further when you showed them a non-fiction graphic novel. I wish we could just call them what they really all are – comics.   

Was manga was a fad? When I think of fads, I think of Pet Rocks and Pogs – something that is huge for a brief time and then flames out and goes away. Manga is not going away; some things have to change, but it’s not going away.

So, what is at the root of the decline? I think the core fans grew up. The early fans who started with Sailor Moon are now in their late teens or early twenties or older. If indeed most of the manga published in the last dozen years has been aimed at teens, well then… teens grow up. Just like teens age out of the YA section in bookstores and migrate over to the adult section, they also age out of teen manga books.

It’s also basic economics – when you get out of high school, your money goes toward things like tuition, books, housing, food, etc.  I have always heard that there’s a drop in readership for American comics at this age and it makes complete sense. I stopped reading them when I was in college, and when I started reading again, I found that they had grown up; The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and MAUS were waiting for me. And that’s what manga needs to do – grow up.

Now, I understand that there are a lot of comics in Japan for adults, and that there are some publishers who are getting them to market, like Vertical. But the numbers they sell can’t compare to a hit like Naruto, so they have been a bigger gamble. And why buck the trend; if the teen titles are selling like crazy, what we need are more of them!  

The market has evolved and the books need to reflect what the market can be, not what it was. We tried to expand it a little when I was at Yen, where our first book published was With the Light. I had hoped that this story of a young couple learning about life through caring for their autistic child might light the way for more mature fare. It got a significant amount of attention, but was not a huge hit. It was still a risk worth taking and maybe it will be one of the titles these lapsed fans will come back to read in the next few years.

What needs to be done in order to expand and push the medium into a new direction?

  • Manga publishers need to start creating and publishing books that are aimed at a more adult audience. The sales won’t be there at first, but eventually one book will break out. That’s all it takes, just one book to show what the medium is capable of.
  • There needs to be an outlet for the future writers and authors who have been influenced by manga – there is no equivalent of a DC Comics or a Marvel for these people to go learn their craft. An American comics fan can realize their dream by writing or drawing Batman and then go on to create their own world.  The same does not hold true for manga. I am sure Viz would not let an American team work on Naruto – but maybe they should.
  • Now that there are fewer publishers vying for manga licenses, hopefully the players left standing can be choosier about what they publish and in turn can create stronger publishing programs. It can’t all be about high school girls with special powers anymore.
  • The manga style, the way the stories are told and the conventions of the medium have influenced a generation of fans who will want to create or read books that have those sensibilities. Outside of talent working on established titles (which I don’t think will happen) this new generation needs a home in order to create. It’s riskier to launch a completely unknown property, free of scanlations – but welcome to the world of publishing.
  • As for the millions of linear feet of manga lining the shelves? Publish more down-priced omnibuses of classic works. Remember the Disney model; kids’ properties are generational and you can always reintroduce them back into the market for the next generation. While I know the rights have been an issue – it’s time to see Sailor Moon again.

Everything is cyclical. Publishers, both domestic and foreign, need to take a deep breath, survey the landscape and create a new and better way of creating, publishing, selling and marketing their books. Manga is not going away, it just needs to evolve. Let the evolution begin.

Comments

  1. The reason seems obvious to me: Anime sells manga both in Japan and in the rest of the world. No hugely popular anime, no huge manga sales. With there being no more Saturday morning cartoons, young fans are no longer exposed to the properties so they’re not going to want something like an Eva 2.0 comic.

    Tokyopop flooding the market probably didn’t help.

  2. Good thoughts, Rich.

  3. Torsten Adair says:

    God bless Pokemon for saving the American comics industry. It continues to sell.

    The reason for the manga correction (the market is at 2004 leves) seems to be a little bit of everything mentioned above.

    How many of the Rising Star finalists still make comics? How many people are publishing manga influenced comics online as webcomics? How do you interest these manga fans to read American comics? Is there a doujinshi community in the U.S.? Who will be the next “manga’d” Don Rosa? How do you sell a series with fifty volumes to a beginning reader? How do you merchandise so many series in a store? How do you gain the interest of the general public?

  4. KentL says:

    Interesting article, Rich. You may be right about the need for the industry to offer more mature titles, but if they go that route, I hope they learn from the American comics industry. DC and Marvel managed to neglect all other markets by focusing all of their energy on that segment. Now they’re scrambling to recapture the younger market.

    We have definitely slowed down buying manga for my stepson. He’s reads them in about 10 minutes. If it’s something he really likes, he might read through it again, but mostly he just moves to the next book. We went to the library yesterday and he picked up an issue of Beet. We forgot something at the library, so had to go back. In the 15-20 minute drive, he was already ready to return the book. Manga is just way to expensive for that.

  5. rinsmith says:

    Yes, and a thousand times, yes! Especially to no. 1. As an adult, it’s a little hard for me to find manga that’s of interest to me. And it would also help to educate the general public as to what manga is. Of course, they still don’t know what anime is, so good luck with that.

  6. Rick Adler says:

    I think you’re spot on here, Rich. The one thing I would add would be higher visibility for those manga titles in the places that matter now. Not so much the traditional trade press, but the places where those intended readers are more likely to be now. Which would mean reviews of new titles in places like BoingBoing, the Onion A.V. Club, and io9.

    Not that they aren’t already paying attention to manga, but they’re going to get the word out better now than the venues that worked in the past.

    Then there’s the issue of social networking, but that’s entering such a state of flux now that I’m not sure if there IS a good approach for getting the word out about something right now.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Plus, once you’ve collected one 20 volume series, you probably (as a kid, with only one room) can’t sell it 2nd hand for much, and haven’t got room to start collecting another 20 volume series…

  8. As much as I agree with the “pushing too many titles at once” thing – boy, do I ever – I feel I should make a note about scanlations.

    Several years ago, scanlations were mostly only available by downloading them. In the past year or so, a handful of sites have popped up where entire series can be read right in your web browser.

    That, I think, has made a real difference. Lots of people who would have been unable/unwilling to maneuver IRC or .zip files can now get their piracy fix in a couple of clicks. (And, unlike many of the old-school scanlation sites, these aggregators aren’t shy about keeping chapters online after the title has been licensed.)

    In the meantime, again, a big hearty “yes” to everything in the article.

    To comics readers, too: get the word out! Recommend something to your mom/dad/coworker/spouse/particularly amicable bus driver.

  9. Very interesting article. Even though our market developments are different from those in the US, there are some striking similarities to the German manga market, I think. There is a need for more content (and format, stylistic, and pricing…) variety in Western manga lineups…
    In addition to your thoughts, another point could be the fact that many International publishers had – and sometimes still have – to publish manga titles in a much faster rhythm than they have originally been published in Japan, in order to satisfy their readers’ demands in each market, and to not fall behind too far vs. scanlations. Nevertheless, instead of “publishing the best of Japan from the last decade within two years”, now might be the time for the “right and careful” title choices.

  10. Kevin Hynes says:

    For some reason this reminds me a bit of the video game crash in the early 80′s, the market was flooded and the expectation that anything deemed as “manga” would sell in large quanities. Now I see whole series at discount book shops gathering dust.

    I believe the market just became oversaturated.

  11. Kevin Hynes says:

    Also could it be the style of manga just became stale for an American audience? Not sure, but it could be a factor as well.

  12. Publishing too many books will kill you. It ties up all your cash into product that can’t sell because the buyer doesn’t have the cash to spread around. Book store buyers note full shelves and lots of remaindered items and downgrade future orders which hurts publishers with tight cash flow situations who were counting on orders of X number of units to pay bills. Add that to a deflating economy and it only a matter of time before a market correction. Plus, unlike monthly superhero books it’s easier to drop a series when it ends at 20 volumes than if it keeps going for 60 years. So which product is more of a commodity? The $3-$4 28 page monthly unit isn’t an art form, it’s a widget!

    Am I the only one that senses some whiff of comeuppance glee aimed at the “manga is better” crowd from the “direct market is better” guy?

  13. Shaun M. says:

    Interesting stuff. The “growing up” aspect seems the most likely culprit to me, as well, although as one set of teens cycles out there really should be another to take its place–why haven’t newly-teens been as attracted as those of a few years ago? There are manga that appeal to an older audience, but it’s not clear to me that it’s as direct of a progression as might be the case in Western comics–a fan who enjoyed Batman in his youth could keep his “grown up” cred by reading “Dark Knight Returns” rather than the “kids’ stuff” of the regular series (nevermind the flaws in this perception…). I don’t know that manga has a similar situation. Even so, I read books-without-pictures that are different in tone and content from what I read as a teenager, so perhaps there’s another perception barrier, that perhaps manga publishers would do better to consider their product as “books” rather than a medium-specific category that can be grown out of.

    Also, timeline note: I began with Sailor Moon (and Ranma) and am now 30. Might be some younger fans that began with that series, but at that point Pokemon was only about a year off and would have to be a more likely starting point thereafter…

  14. I am surprised that the article so readily dismisses the explosion in piracy (and technologies and culture making it easier), as well as the possibility that the audience of teenage girls may have reduced their enthusiasm for a fad. I think the fad question is somewhat addressed by the notion that the audience grew up and moved on, but it was never an inevitability that the upward curve in manga enthusiasm would continue (any more than that Superman would always sell 1 million copies a month just because there are little kids out there).

    I don’t spend much time thinking about manga, but I’d wager from the bits I see in comment threads, etc… piracy isn’t just something that’s happened, its part of the culture. And old guys who think they should be paying for their comics simply don’t live on the websites that cater to that audience.

  15. Here’s my thought: manga went from being exciting to overwhelming and, in terms of marketing, it’s been treated like a genre until itself. I think for manga to have a reach beyond enthusiasts, there needs to be a way for people be exposed to it other than seeing imposing walls of it in a bookstore.

  16. Rich Johnson says:

    Joe

    I hope you will see this. A question about your comment. “Am I the only one that senses some whiff of comeuppance glee aimed at the “manga is better” crowd from the “direct market is better” guy?”

    Am I the direct market is better guy?

  17. Classic market bubble. Publishers flooded the market with more content than the audience could buy. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. At least it lasted long enough tp establish a market beyond the fad.

    But training ground for new talent? Mostly taking place on the webcomic side of the business, for manga and the Big 2. And most of the current generation of talent are going to skip those outlets except as the publishers for their collection. Note that the only thing to survive the CMX collaspse was Megatokyo, a creator owned webcomic you can read on the web for free.

  18. Rich,
    Great and insightful read. I agree with your final suggestions, but question your first one about the need for publishers to tackle more mature manga. I hear this point about the lack of mature options often, but between Viz’s signature lineup, Tokyopop’s past josei initiatives (and dozens of other series that fit various criteria for “mature”), Vertical’s award-winning line (which you cite), the handful D&Q and Fantagraphics titles, Dark Horse’s mature genre titles, and a fair percentage of Del Rey’s catalog, I would argue that mature manga is quite aggressively represented already. If any creator could “show what the medium is capable of,” you would think it would be Urasawa, who’s been cleaning up at the Eisners and on critics lists, and whose work is accessible, contemporary genre-fare. Are publishers not picking the “right” mature titles, is it a failure of marketing and distribution of those titles, or something else?

    I do think your final point is very relevant here. The necessity to commit to a high number of volumes in order to get a satisfying story has got to be a major block for the grown up reader you’re referring to. Since we’re an aftermarket anyway, is it really necessary to keep all the baggage of serialization? If Urasawa’s Pluto was collected as 1 or 2 volumes instead of 8, maybe the audience would be bigger just by that altered perception of commitment alone? Take it further than most most manga publishers have so far, ditching the notion of omnibus altogether (it has a rather “cheap” connotation) and instead rethink the “satisfying chunk” for a non-serial marketplace. Emphasize works over collections — you know, for grown ups! Granted, this goes in the face of the conventional wisdom of manga’s evolution, with our market moving ever closer to sync with Japan, but maybe that’s where digital serialization picks up the slack.

  19. Rich Johnson says:

    Ryan – your comment.

    “I don’t spend much time thinking about manga, but I’d wager from the bits I see in comment threads, etc… piracy isn’t just something that’s happened, it’s part of the culture. And old guys who think they should be paying for their comics simply don’t live on the websites that cater to that audience.”

    Love the old guy comment. I really don’t think stealing is an issue of age. It’s an issue of right or wrong. As for piracy being part of the culture – there are lots of thing that are “part of the culture” – doesn’t make it right. And you are right I don’t live on those sites.

  20. Well said.

    I didn’t read manga as a kid, but now I love it. The more adult-oriented Viz Signature Series is one of my favorite imprints. I can’t read Bleach or Naruto.

  21. Elliott says:

    I know the real reason manga sales are plummeting – all the nerds sitting in the comic aisles of bookstores never bought any copies and no one who wanted to actually buy manga could manage to squeeze through them and look at the shelves.

    On a more serious note, as a novice when it comes to manga, I’d echo the point about the lack of adult product. I’ve made a few attempts to get into manga and by and large, if it weren’t for the Internet I never would have been able to find titles that appeal to me. The stuff taking up all the rows at the bookstores is overwhelmingly targeted to children, leaving me to buy the manga I do enjoy (like Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Junji Ito) on the Internet.

  22. One last thought re: grown up manga. It seems as though the association of manga with a format (manga digest!), while great for retailers in the first few years, has really hurt mature titles in the long run. As evidenced by Elliot’s comment above, the perception of someone not already invested in the category is that manga shelves are a teenager’s playground, hardly worth navigating if Frank Miller or Marjane Satrapi are your thing. In the last few years especially, publishers have been ditching the uniformity (thanks in large part to Vertical for making non-facsimile editions sexy!), but the perception is already so ingrained. Perhaps if mature/”grown up” manga were more aggressively branded from the beginning, they’d have developed a stronger retail identity as a category sooner.

  23. A Newton says:

    I agree on many accounts though I bristle at the suggestion that Viz should allow an American team to work on Naruto (or any manga for that matter) as if it’s a) up to them or b) appropriate for another team to start producing material that is, more or less, the vision of an original creator. Naruto is not a corporate asset as is Batman and cannot be treated that way.

  24. Chris Chiang says:

    Without burning bridges or revealing trade secrets, I’m curious what Rich’s thoughts are on the failure of DC Comics’s CMX line?

    Since he was there when CMX launched at DC Comics, does he think it was launched badly in terms of licensed properties or marketing? Was CMS launched in too crowded of a manga marketplace or book market? Does he think DC had too many efforts [CMX was launched around the time of the Rebellion and Humanoids titles and MINX soon afterwards]?

  25. Nick H. says:

    “Plus, once you’ve collected one 20 volume series, you probably (as a kid, with only one room) can’t sell it 2nd hand for much”

    Actually, that depends what you bought. If you bought, say, “Blame!”, say, you’d be quids in now. I read “Biomega” recently and thought I’d go back and read some of Nihei’s earlier work, but it’s all out-of-print (even Wolverine: Snikt!) and volumes are going for crazy money on Amazon Marketplace.

    “Kodocha” is another OOP series with high second-hand value, and I think “Please Save My Earth” is a further example.

    Of course, if you’ve only bought “Naruto”, that’s not going to have much resale value – but then, if you’ve only bought “Naruto” you might not be looking to diversify yet anyway.

  26. Girls are still reading manga en masse in the form of Boys’ Love titles (yaoi). The success of Digital Manga Publishing (among others) should not be overlooked.

  27. I think my son was following Naruto, and then Viz released more books than he could ever buy, so he dropped it. Then he started following One Piece and the same thing happened. Then he started following Bleach and discovered girls and Bon Jovi. He’s not buying any more manga.

  28. Hey Rich, I include myself in that comment about “old guys”. None of that was intended as a cut, just an observation. And, I agree that reading illegal scans is flat out wrong (I don’t do it at all).

    I know I don’t live on scanlation sites, either. But they exist, and like anything else teenagers do in their world, most folks over the age of 30 aren’t going to know or care about it outside of a few stray comments on message boards where we may meet on the geek Venn Diagram.

    We’re roughly 11 years after Napster, and have to know that what many of us over a certain age take for granted about stealing hasn’t exactly trickled down (I work at a college campus, and students really, really do not care). Meanwhile, the technology has made illegal transfers an afterthought.

    Somehow I doubt parents and teachers are including the importance of paying for copyrighted material in their conversations, and I think we all remember being a teenager enough to know that concepts of right and wrong are fairly fluid, especially when everyone else is doing it.

  29. Matthew S. says:

    Ya I dont understand why piracy was not mentioned as the primary reason for the dropoff. Obviously if you have an audience that is under 16 then they accustomed to getting everything for free. They pirated all these manga books.

  30. Maybe not Twilight specifically per se, but it lead off an *avalance* of paranormal-themed romances that have really taken over the YA girl’s market. At the stores near me, as the manga section shrinks it’s the YA section – with dark covers featuring sad, pretty people – that takes over. So I think it was a lot more than the $50 spent on Twilight itself.

  31. Rich Johnson says:

    I just want to clarify something – I do not dismiss piracy – I do believe it’s a problem and a significant one. I was trying to say that I don’t believe it’s the sole reason for the steep decline in sales. As I mentioned American comics have not see as drastic a decline as manga has – some teens do read super-hero books.
    I saw all these theories floating around; people saying this is the reason why it’s down. While I do believe teens growing out of it had a significant impact, it wasn’t just one thing that caused the drop.

  32. Rich, At some point my wires crossed and I was thinking of Brian Hibbs as I sort of read into this piece a bit of “direct market triumphalism”. My humblest apologies…

  33. Synsidar says:

    Wouldn’t the foreign origins of manga put a ceiling of sorts on American readership? Japanese cartoonists creating material for Japanese readers must influence the content somewhat, even if themes, dramatic situations, and other elements are universal.

    If American comics are difficult enough to get into that a book, Understanding Comics, was written to explain how the format works, manga must be at least as off-putting.

    A quick search on American manga didn’t find much besides a dated Wikipedia entry and news reports indicating that American manga has suffered a drop in sales as well.

    BTW, here’s a current article about a Japanese mangaka who’s teaching Americans how to create manga.

    SRS

  34. do you think the decline of quality of a title (both the writing and the art work) during serialization can be a factor?

    the worst case is when you notice this in popular and long (up to 20+ volumes) titles, and towards the end of the series it becomes the biggest anti-climax.
    i remenber the earlier volumes of Naruto was a lot better looking than the current ones. the lovely cross- hatching are all gone now.
    and i have followed series that towards the end, the story just doesn’t even make sense.
    another title i can think of is Hunter x Hunter. it just seems to run out of steam.

    in the manga industry, an artist commit to one title his/her long period of time, even for their entire life. maybe the consistency issues is one of the factors. may be we are noticing this trend and manga lost it’s appeal to some of those.

  35. How many of the Rising Star finalists still make comics? I know of a few but for the most part, it was an ameture contest so those that still do, few are still publishing while the others might keep to small press/webcomics.

    How many people are publishing manga influenced comics online as webcomics? Just checking smackjeeves alone will show you a lot. Most arent continuing to update though. you have e-depth, red string (strawberry comics cirlcle), lavender legand, anathema, toilet genie, and more just google ‘manga webcomic’.

    How do you interest these manga fans to read American comics? I know a lot of manga fans that read american comics.

    Is there a doujinshi community in the U.S.? nope. none, and Manganext tried. The con hasnt been on for a while now, and cons in general has started to be more strict with fan art works. Lets face it, most people who go to cons are young teens that either want fan art, yaoi or both. Most con goers don’t even pass by the AA. There is Doujinshi just not really large enough to be a community. Please its easier to make a print and sell for 10$ then make a multi page doujin for 10$
    (and prints still out sell doujins)

    How do you sell a series with fifty volumes to a beginning reader? If they like the content, they can afford, its good stuff for the whole 50 then it’ll sell, but thats really hard. Most long volume things I stop because the series stopped being interesting or I out grow it.

    How do you gain the interest of the general public? Isnt there still a low reading rate in america? make comics and manga ‘cool’ to them? like movies?

    and to add what @Synsidar said, I dont like most manga for young teens but dont like most manga for ‘adults’ either because I find it even harder to relate then the fluff of teen comics, especially as a non japanese woman. The only one I like so far is yotsuba (which has been changed a bit) and All my darling daughters cause its so unconventional for japanese society.

  36. Alexandra says:

    “If an avid reader bought each one via Amazon, they would have spent $13.59 per book, totaling $50 over a four-year period!”

    Yeah, but the Twilight books are huge, like 700ish pages each. I bet all 4 together take a lot longer to read than $50 worth of manga.

    “Interesting article, Rich. You may be right about the need for the industry to offer more mature titles, but if they go that route, I hope they learn from the American comics industry. DC and Marvel managed to neglect all other markets by focusing all of their energy on that segment. Now they’re scrambling to recapture the younger market.”

    …and scrambling to recapture that market with the same brand names they already market to adults, which makes about as much sense as scrambling to capture the children’s magazine market with something called Playkids with that bunny logo on it.

    I hope they learn what to *not do* from the American comics industry and what to *do* from the *book* industry. Publishers of books without pictures have figured out how to market many separate brands, separate series, etc. to separate age groups instead of plastering the same brand names on ultraviolent stuff and toys for toddlers.

    “and to add what @Synsidar said, I dont like most manga for young teens but dont like most manga for ‘adults’ either because I find it even harder to relate then the fluff of teen comics, especially as a non japanese woman.”

    “Wouldn’t the foreign origins of manga put a ceiling of sorts on American readership?”

    Meanwhile, _The Kite Runner_ became a bestseller among American adults, and Afghani boys are probably even harder to relate to than Japanese women or Swedish women (_The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo_ and sequels is another international bestseller).

    “Even so, I read books-without-pictures that are different in tone and content from what I read as a teenager, so perhaps there’s another perception barrier, that perhaps manga publishers would do better to consider their product as “books” rather than a medium-specific category that can be grown out of.”

    YES YES YES

    “Naruto is not a corporate asset as is Batman and cannot be treated that way.”

    It would also be even less appealing to this adult reader if it was.

  37. Amber says:

    Great Suggestions Rich, but here’s another suggestion- maybe the mangas themselves are getting old? For example, Naruto is insanely popular and I think any hardcore fan will keep reading it regardless of how old they get (my friend’s mother has all 50+ volumes published), but Naruto has some 400+ chapters, with another one adding onto the pile every week. Recent plot twists can influence the popularity of the entire manga.

    Also, its hard for American publishing companies to make series that appeal to adults. It all goes down to the authors themselves. For exapmle, in Japan, anyone of any age can be an author, so long as they can keep up with the deadline. This said author can create any manga he wants, so long as their editor approves it and its able to survive in the manga world. (Reading the series Bakuman really gives you insight to this process.) Publishing companies can purchase the rights to translate it if they want, but they cant really influence what goes into it.

    Also, 8 companies are gathering legal cases against scantilation sites –

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/copyright/article/43437-japanese-u-s-manga-publishers-unite-to-fight-scanlations.html

    I dont think you took the scantilation issue seriously enough.

    Though, as far as the rest of it goes, a great analysis!

  38. Very interesting article.
    I do agree with you about the age and lack of choice issues. However, I am not sure that introducing more seinen/josei series will be as profitable for US publishers as the average popular shonen/shojo title (i.e. Naruto, Bleach, Sakura Card Captor etc.). Partly because the reader base is smaller and is more likely to be picky in its choice of series. Considering the current industry model , the costs and risks of introducing more of those titles may very well exceed the benefits.

    Scanlation is certainly a problem but it’s not right to simply point the finger at it. Publishers should first ask themselves why people increasingly rely on scanlations to read manga. I don’t think it’s just because younger generations have a different sense of ethics. As was said previously by some commenters, mangas are not cheap, yet you can finish them in one sitting (compared to other publications). No wonder that people cut back on purchasing mangas when the economy is sluggish and finances are tight…

    The lead time between releases may also be another reason: some readers can’t stand having to wait 3 or 4 months to get a new release when they know they can get the rest of the story online. If publishers really cannot issue volumes faster, they should at least explain why they cannot do so. Communicating more transparently with readers about the publishing process may help younger audiences get a better sense of “right” and “wrong”…

    Until recently publishers agreed that scanlation/online reading gave readers the opportunity to discover new series, and in fact translated into higher manga sales. If those new series are not actually available in print media, then there is no incentive to switch to purchasing the titles. In the end it becomes a vicious circle since it becomes harder for publishers to successfully bid for new distribution rights.

    All in all, I think the US manga industry needs to rethink its business model. Instead of demonizing the internet, they can exploit the opportunities it provides. Most other print media are turning to digital productions to take advantage of smart-phone applications and e-book readers (see Marvel Comics apps). Why don’t manga publishers follow the trend? They could provide legal, per chapter, e-releases at reasonable prices or through monthly subscriptions. They would save on some of the variable costs of print publishing and improve their customer loyalty…

    I do believe we can solve the problems that the industry is facing, we just need to be more creative. Involving both publishers and readers in this process can result in solutions that are both feasible and satisfactory for everyone.

  39. I actually wrote an article on my professional blog about this very subject fairly recently (http://hushicho.blogspot.com/2010/07/manga-publishers-f-up-again.html and I will warn it is quite lengthy) and I have to say that there was a great deal of merit in your article here.

    If you want to know my opinion, of course it’s at my blog, but I have to say a few things related specifically to the conversation here:

    - First of all, the promotion of manga as a unified ‘style’ or genre in itself, rather than the medium that it is, was certainly not a very wise thing to do. Having worked professionally in the US and in Japan, it’s extremely frustrating to have someone lump all comics from a certain area into one term and say that it’s a ‘style’. There are stylistic trends, but ‘manga’ is not a style. The publishers and some fans alike were equally guilty in promoting this, and it has been very bad for manga in general because it puts forth the notion that they are all fundamentally similar, when they really are not.

    - Tokyopop flooding the market really was something that seriously hurt it, as was mentioned here earlier. Add that to the fact that they have been deceptive and misleading from the very beginning of their company, and have regularly started publishing series they have not finished, and that leads to a decline in buyers. I explored this topic a bit more on my own blog, but I felt it needed mentioning here.

    - I agree that there are some regrettable people out there who feel they are entitled to everything for free, who have abused scanlations as basically free manga. However, this is not the whole picture and not even the majority. In my blog I cover this more in depth, but to summarise, manga aren’t as freely available and appeal to a smaller demographic. They’re more expensive, harder to find, and there are so many titles and genres within the medium that it’s difficult sometimes to be sure what a series is without actually being able to read some of it first.

    If you don’t know anyone who has a copy you can borrow, and your library doesn’t carry it, you can’t find it in stores…what are you going to do?

    I find it noteworthy that comics that have free-to-read content online are in some cases much more stable than ones zealously guarded by publishers. People don’t want to take the chance as much anymore. By now they’ve been burnt far more than enough by the titles that were just shoved out on shelves simply because they were Japanese comics.

    - Much of the problems cropping up in manga are the publishers’ faults, the very same ones that are banding together to point their collective finger at scanlations…and they’ve done this exact same thing before, as I’ve pointed out in my blog entry. It was called ‘the Maison Ikkoku effect’ in the 80s, and it was as much nonsense then as it is now. The publishers are primarily the ones who benefit from foreign releases, not the creators. And so the publishers are the ones who have the most to lose, not the creators. And they are eager to blame anyone other than themselves, because when was the last time any major publisher ever said ‘oh yeah…that was wrong of us to create a huge unstable bubble instead of building it up as we should’ve done’?

    - I agree that the idea of different creators working on a series is abhorrent. One of the reasons why the superhero comic has declined so sharply is because of the revolving-door creative team policies and endless retcons, crossovers, and collector-whoring. Plenty of American comic creators and collectors alike are sick to death of that, and some series are actually getting away from it. Let’s not try to promote it to other comic media.

  40. Fmrugrat says:

    I just wanted to respond to one point made in the article regarding how there is no venue for aspiring artists. Over the past two months I’ve been following http://www.mangamagazine.net and it’s been making headway pushing out quality works by freelance and upcoming authors. I think with enough mass and audience, it could be the answer to some industry issues. Hopefully, the new generation will be, as you say, find a home there.

  41. Η εταιρεία μας δημιουργήθηκε το 2005 με σκοπό να δώσουμε τις ιδέες μας και την εμπειρία μας σε όλα αυτά που αφορούν τα δάπεδα, laminate, στις παιδικές και επαγγελματικές μοκέτες.

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    Με τις παιδικές μοκέτες δημιουργήσαμε ένα παραμυθένιο κόσμο για τα παιδιά και με τις επαγγελματικές μοκέτες κάναμε τη διαφορά στο χώρο σας.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] issue of how to make comic shops more appealing to female customers… Rich Johnson reflects on the steep decline in manga sales, debunking some of the sillier explanations for the market shift and suggesting remedies for [...]

  2. [...] Beat has an interesting article looking at the state of the manga industry.  The only thing that he appears to be missing from my point of view is the “90% of [...]

  3. [...] time as both vp of book trade sales at DC and as co-publisher of Yen Press, has an interesting analysis of the state of the manga market at The Beat. His basic point is that manga became a commodity and, [...]

  4. [...] check out former Yen Press co-publisher (and former DC vp of sales) Rich Johnson’s essay on what’s going on with the manga market. It’s good stuff, for the most part, although I argue with him a bit at Robot [...]

  5. [...] at The Beat, Rich Johnson takes manga’s pulse in an interesting overview. Johnson was DC’s Vice President of Book Trade Sales Sales during the [...]

  6. [...] fall of CMX has got a lot of people talking. Rich Johnson put up a good piece over at the Beat. It’s mainly speculation but I think most of it is on target, however, I’m going to use [...]

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