Manga Sales Suck! (It’s Stu Levy’s Fault and May Be the Cause of Border’s Bankruptcy)

Manga Sales Suck! (It’s Stu Levy’s Fault and May Be the Cause of Border’s Bankruptcy)

Manga Sales Suck!Several days ago, Toonleap had a repost of an article taking information from Japanese sources talking about the collapse of the manga markets in France and in the U.S.  Completely absent from the quoted piece is anything about the general book market so I did some looking.  Overall U.S. book sales (including e-books) for 2010 were up 3.6% vs. 2009.  However, 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% vs. 2009. (source) For the record, manga books generally fall into the trade paperback category, at least as I understand it (I could use some confirmation on this).

Now had this been all there was to the piece, I could have just written an article about how the manga industry needs to get e-books going because e-book sales were up a staggering 164.4%!  Further to that, the recent Border’s bankruptcy was attributed to that company not getting with the e-book craze.  I didn’t notice anything about falling manga sales being cited as a reason for Borders going south.

At the end of the quoted article, I read this bit from the piece bemoaning the dropping manga sales.

Translator Frederik L.Schodt criticized that Levy’s “Authentic manga (printed right-to-left)” policy has isolated manga from the general public although it did appealed to core manga fans.

Oh!  How silly of me!  While physical book sales are off this year versus last year and manga sales in Japan have been falling down, the fact that Stu Levy (TokyoPop’s CEO who’s also known as D.J. Milky) had a cost-cutting maneuver that also appealed to hardcore manga fans by printing manga Japanese style is really the root of the manga sales problem.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Sorry, but while Stu can be attacked on quite a few dumb ideas (Princess Ai anyone?), deciding to print manga authentic isn’t one of them.  Indeed, I’ve often praised “D.J. Milky” on this.

OK, so Mr. Schodt didn’t exactly blame Stu for falling sales, but his remark on how manga is currently printed keeps it isolated from the general population is something I have to say “bull” to.  After all, TokyoPop’s biggest manga title was Fruits Basket, which was not only printed authentically, but also had an adaptation which retained Japanese honorifics.  Despite these two major elements that should keep the masses at bay, somehow, U.S. schoolgirls (and others) back then flocked to that manga title in droves and we aren’t talking “nerd girls” either.  In my mind, that alone is enough to flush the argument that unflipped manga keeps the general population at bay.

What this does bring up is (1) why did girls flock to Fruits Basket in the first place when it was printed in that scary backwards form and (2) why didn’t they move on to other manga once Fruits Basket had come to an end, specifically josei titles?  I wish I had an answer there.

Amongst my circle of friends, I’m the only anime/manga fan.  Taco’s Rule watched anime back in the 80’s and so is down for classic titles he watched in his youth but neither he nor his wife are interested in modern anime nor manga.  I did get Savage Piper hooked on Ah! My Goddess and he had no problems reading it backwards when Dark Horse began re-releasing that series. However, he just borrows my manga when I get it and has no interest in buying his own copies and really isn’t interested in trying any other manga nor anime nor is his wife nor kids.  My friend Hermione is a massive Harry Potter fan and to her husband’s chagrin, I got her hooked on Negima! to the point that she buys it regularly EVEN THOUGH IT IS FLIPPED!  She loves it.  However, she’s not really interested in trying any other manga and really wasn’t interested in trying the Negima! anime series.

I have other friends whom I have gotten to either read a manga title or watch an anime series and even though every instance has them liking the title/series in question, none of them have any desire to explore other manga or anime titles.  I never could understand why but I think I now understand.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

Since Mr. Schodt was quoted in the “manga is dead” article and is a well-known translator (though I don’t think I’ve read anything he’s ever done), I decided to hit up one of the translators I’ve communed with over the years.  The lucky person was Mr. William Flanagan, who’s translated titles like Fairy Tail, xxxHOLiC, Kobato, and many more titles.  Mr. Flanagan lives in Japan so I thought his perspective might be more interesting.  Here’s what he had to say when I posed the question to him about whether flipped manga hurts sales in the U.S.

If it does, it doesn’t hurt sales as much a flopping (reversing the pages) would in today’s market. Fans are overwhelmingly in favor of right-to-left. So the question is, do you pick up possible readers while losing definite readers? No. You go with your base.

But a little over a decade ago, the answer would have been different. Viz published Eva both ways, and the L-to-R outsold the other 5-to-1.  After TokyoPop went entirely unflopped in 2002, that number pretty much reversed.

By the way, I wouldn’t discount [Mr. Schodt’s] theory. Flopping might bring in some mainstream readers. But it’s still comic books.  I think that “comic books” is far more off-putting to the mainstream than the “backwards” reading is.

Comic books.

When I read that, I was figuratively slapping myself in the back of the head because I’d simply forgotten something I’ve argued for a long time on the anime front — the cartoon arts are considered kiddy stuff, period!

Prior to the late 1950’s and Hanna-Barbera, cartoons were not things done for kids.  They were adult fare shown at the movie theater before the movie started (I guess this was in lieu of all the commercials shown before movies today).  Comic books I think always were considered kid fare with the superhero stuff and even things like Dick Tracy, but comic strips were not done with a mind at the kid audience but at an adult audience.  Today, anything cartoon is considered kid stuff, comic books are kid stuff, and even though some comic strips are targeted at adults (Dilbert springs to mind), I think that even there, the general notion is that they are kid stuff.

This takes me back to my friends.  I first asked Savage Piper about why he wasn’t really interested in anime/manga.

It isn’t the “comic” aspect that puts me off it [anime/manga].  Remember, I’m a big fan of Batman and I own lots of comic books and graphic novels.  The [Ah! My Goddess] manga you lent me was OK.  The artwork was good and the story interesting but I didn’t care for the character designs.  I can’t stand the big eyes.  It is very kiddy to me.  I see the big eyes and I just can’t get passed that.  Even as I read the manga, I often felt distracted by the big eyes.  There certain art styles that I just can’t stand and the big eye look is one of them.

Reading the manga backwards wasn’t a problem for me.  It made sense in a weird sort of way and I didn’t even think about it after the first couple of pages.

I then asked Hermione similar questions.

I didn’t mind it [Negima!] being a comic.  I don’t read comics but Pippin [her husband] did growing up. He no longer does.  He looked over the [Negima!] books but he just isn’t interested in little Negi like me. I’m don’t keep up as current as I used to though.

I do think that these [manga] look like stuff for kids though I won’t be letting my girls read little Negi’s adventures until they are older.

It wasn’t that hard to read backwards. It was kinda fun to multi-task that way!

While the above is just anecdotal, I did find it interesting to see their perspective. One does like comics but thinks manga looks kiddy no matter how adult they attempt to make it.  The other just isn’t into comic arts.

So, why do I think manga sales are down?  That friends is fodder for another article.  ^_^

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26 Responses to “Manga Sales Suck! (It’s Stu Levy’s Fault and May Be the Cause of Border’s Bankruptcy)”

  1. Veron05 says:

    I can remember my first manga, and how i was hooked ever since. Back about 5-6 years ago I was watching Naruto on tv, after about a month of watching i wanted to catch up with the story. I then moved onto fansubs, after i caught up with the fansubs, I stared to read the scanlations of manga. After i got caught up with the manga i began to branch off and read other manga. One so happened to be Negima which quickly became my favorite. Since then i rarely watch or read naruto, however i have branched out and I am currently reading about 10 or so series, and about once a month some times every other month I buy 1 or 2 manga to add to my collection. I have about 40 volumes of various manga all together (not a huge collection but about average). For me I moved from anime to manga. I was already accustomed to the art style before i made the switch. Which did not make it a contributing factor. Also Manga is not advertised very well in the US. if any at all. To the point i was at my school bookstore and I saw the first two volumes of lovehina. This was recently, about 4 months ago. needless to say i quickly bought them since they are out of print. Though when i do visit my local bookstore when ever i am browsing the manga section i am not alone. i hope that this “Fall of the manga industry” is a short term thing.

  2. junior says:

    While I agree in general that comics and cartoons are generally automatically seen as “kid” stuff, I do disagree with one point. There’s one big exception, and you even misidentify it in your post. Specifically, comic strips are not kids fare. They’re not Mature Audiences Only, but they’re also not written with kids in mind as their primary readers.

    The reason for that is that comic strips appear in the newspaper. Kids tend to not read newspapers, meaning that the only people who are going to read comic strips are adults. And while kids may laugh at some of the antics in the strips, a quick glance at most strips reveals topics that are focused at adults instead of kids. Even strips in which children are the main characters – such as Calvin and Hobbes – are written with jokes and punchlines that adults will tend to be more appreciative of.

    The only real exceptions are the handful of strips – such as Luann – which appear to be aimed at a teenage audience.

  3. Nick says:

    speaking of borders, the one down the street had a going out of business sale and when i got there every single manga was gone…. didnt get anything was disappointing

  4. tikigod784 says:

    This is similar to how no one from a general mainstream audience would take video games seriously. It’s stuff for kids, so they don’t need to give it the time of day. People are distracted by their own interests and make decisions on what they’ll get into relatively quickly based on first impressions. Most manga LOOKS like it’s for kids. Now, if said mainstream person picked up Berserk or Hellsing first, well… that’s a different story. Maybe.

  5. Alex Voda says:

    So you are saying that one of the reasons animated and drawn mediums of storytelling aren’t gaining in popularity is the age ghetto.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AnimationAgeGhetto

    I’m not sure that is the entire truth.

  6. I still adore manga up to these days. And I don’t think there’s a big difference between the old me and the present me. I have a collections of several manga on my shelves like Death Note, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and a lot more. I treated them as my treasures and will introduced them to my kids when the time comes. I seldom watch anime though.

  7. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Man, I wanted to get to these before going to bed, but I’m falling asleep at my desk. So, I’ll get back after I get up, take a shower, and grab some breakfast. ^_^

  8. NullApostle says:

    I find that in my immediate circle of friends I’m the only one that reads manga/watches anime.
    I got a friend of mine who appreciates good movies to watch a few anime movies (mostly Satoshi Kon), and recently I got him to watch Higurashi, but only after comparing it to David Lynch and saying that Twin Peaks has nothing on Higurashi. I even got him to read a few Sin City comics, but only after we saw the movie. On his own volition he’d never go read a manga or comic, or watch anime. My other friends don’t care an inch about comics/manga/anime.

    I seem to be some kind of rarity. I’m interested in stories, and I don’t care one bit what medium the stories use. Be they comics, manga, anime, TV series, movies, video games, visual novels, sci-fi novels, fantasy novels, crime novels, horror novels, etc. … I just don’t care. I care about a good story and that’s all. I don’t mind the method through which the story is delivered.
    (Phew, this got long. Peace out.)

  9. Orion says:

    ANB, your point that anything animated or drawn automatically having the brand “for kids” on it is probably the most accurate reason why anime and manga have a fanbase that is nearly impossible to expand. How I myself picked up manga as a hobby is a perfect example of this.

    Basically, I watched Yu-Gi-Oh! as a kid and my dad, when we took a trip to the mall, saw a “comic book”, as he called it, with Yugi’s face plastered on the front. Apparently he bought it and some other random manga pretty cheap since the owner said they were just collecting dust. Keep in mind I must have been 7 at the time, I don’t even know the mystic powers of the internet at this point. So I’m pretty F***ing innocent at this point in life

    He got me the original (as in, with penalty and mind rape galore) YuGiOh series, and Ranma 1/2. HE GAVE THIS TO A SEVEN YEAR OLD THAT DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT PORN WAS. Needless to say, he knew a lot more afterwards.

    Surprisingly, after I got over the embaressment of reading it I found the concept very interesting and confusing (Ranma was flopped, Yugi was not, so I was unsure which way was ‘normal’ for a while) and picked up more series at the local Borders.

    The point of this is that I don’t even think my dad bothered to look inside the books for any sort of content, despite the multitudes of nakedness and people being burnt alive between those two books. He just thought “drawings = kid’s stuff” and gave them to me.

    And for the big reversal, once I actually gave my dad a copy of Death Note and told him to read it (I was 10 at the time) he literally yelled, “Holy shit did I actually let you read this?!?!” He was incredibly uneasy with me watching the anime, but when I said he could watch with me he possibly got into it even more than I did.

    Basically, my dad went from “anime is for kids”
    to “anime is definitely NOT for kids”
    to “anime is just like everything else and has some kid and some not for kid stuff and is as interesting as any other show can be”
    Everyone’s just stuck at the first part because they haven’t been exposed to anime/manga that is adult oriented.

    Basically the solution for anime’s problems as I see them is to make huge ad campaigns for Hellsing, Death Note, D. Gray Man, and such while not focusing so much on Pokemon and the million Magical Girl shows that are running as we speak.

    Show the public that anime can be as gritty as The Dark Knight, and there will be a huge demand jump. And such is the solution to the woes of manga.

  10. Mitch H. says:

    Schodt is being petty. It’s roughly equivalent to blaming the Iranian revolution of ’79 on the British discovery & exploitation of oil reserves in the Persian Gulf. The cause and the effect are separated by a great gulf of events.

    Unflopping accompanied the mainstreaming of manga, full stop. Now, I’m not ready to argue that unflopping *caused* the mainstreaming – it’s a correlation, not causation. But just because correlation isn’t causation, doesn’t make the reverse true, either. Borders went under almost ten years after the manga boom was started by Levy.

    Schodt can easily be accused of sour grapes, as he was the foremost prophet-without-honor of manga throughout the flopping decades, and all he ever accomplished was a couple of half-scholarly (in that slyly-populist literary pop fashion practiced by “scholars” like James M. McPherson) minor successes and a relationship with adrift-in-the-current Viz Comics. Levy’s bonanza meant that Schodt went from being a larger-than-average fish in a tiny pond to a minnow lost in the vasty deeps of the open sea.

  11. Brad says:

    @AstroNerdBoy — While I don’t personally agree with Frederik L. Schodt’s opinion, I have to take issue with you portraying him as the village idiot based on the anecdotal evidence of what a few of your friends think. Maybe he feels the way he does because his friends happen to think that having to read manga right to left is stupid. In the absence of definite proof either way, it’s a prefectly valid opinion to have and I don’t think it deserves to be ridiculed this way.

  12. animemiz.com says:

    My issue with Tokyopop is on the fact that they went on the OEL tract, and while that is good to save money, outside of getting licenses. I have a hard time getting into reading OEL’s.

    Tokyopop had a great market opportunity several years ago, but right now with other publishers, Vertical, Del Rey, Kodansha, DMP…you have got to admit there are other choices.

  13. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Specifically, comic strips are not kids fare. They’re not Mature Audiences Only, but they’re also not written with kids in mind as their primary readers.

    I did consider that, considering my own former extensive ties in the comic book industry. However, I also recall that growing up, the comic strip page was called the “funnies” page and kids read them. I can’t speak for today, but that’s how it was growing up. Indeed, when our 5th grade teacher wanted us to do presentations on sections of a newspaper, anyone picking the comic strip section was automatically docked a certain number of points, even if you wanted to discuss the political satire of Doonesbury.

    Still, I do understand your point and I was on the fence on how to go but went with what I did. ^_^;;

    speaking of borders, the one down the street had a going out of business sale and when i got there every single manga was gone…. didnt get anything was disappointing

    I didn’t bother, mainly because I know the game. Any Bordrers store that was closing would only be trying to sell titles that they either couldn’t get credit back for or the cost of shipping it back might outweigh the credit received. Anything they could receive full credit on was likely returned or had their covers shipped back.

    Now, if said mainstream person picked up Berserk or Hellsing first, well… that’s a different story. Maybe.

    Even is a serious or dark manga that might have a really good story, there are people who don’t like cartoons arts as a medium for telling said story.

    So you are saying that one of the reasons animated and drawn mediums of storytelling aren’t gaining in popularity is the age ghetto.

    In part, yes. There are other factors as well which I’ll try to get into in a future article.

    I seem to be some kind of rarity. I’m interested in stories, and I don’t care one bit what medium the stories use. Be they comics, manga, anime, TV series, movies, video games, visual novels, sci-fi novels, fantasy novels, crime novels, horror novels, etc. … I just don’t care. I care about a good story and that’s all. I don’t mind the method through which the story is delivered.

    I’m pretty much the same way.

  14. AstroNerdBoy says:

    ANB, your point that anything animated or drawn automatically having the brand “for kids” on it is probably the most accurate reason why anime and manga have a fanbase that is nearly impossible to expand. How I myself picked up manga as a hobby is a perfect example of this.

    Thanks for sharing that story. I was reminded of a time when anime for a short time had a connotation of being cartoon porn. I wasn’t into anime back then though I did own Castle of Cagliostro on VHS, some Lupin III TV episodes (2nd series) that had been licensed (mainly Miyazaki-sensei’s stuff as I recall), and Warriors of the Wind. I had a large group of friends over at my apartment back then and one of them noticed those anime tapes and asked if they were porn as he’d heard about this “cartoon porn from Japan.”

    Schodt is being petty. It’s roughly equivalent to blaming the Iranian revolution of ’79 on the British discovery & exploitation of oil reserves in the Persian Gulf. The cause and the effect are separated by a great gulf of events.

    *LOL* I know what happening in 1979 was serious stuff, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the analogy. ^_^

    Unflopping accompanied the mainstreaming of manga, full stop. Now, I’m not ready to argue that unflopping *caused* the mainstreaming – it’s a correlation, not causation.

    I would only say that the causation would be the appeasement of hardcore manga fans of the time who then began buying this unlipped manga. Stu getting manga into places like Borders was the mainstream causation, combined with a simple advertising campaign of “authentic manga” to assure the hardcore fans and to entice the non-fan.

  15. AstroNerdBoy says:

    My issue with Tokyopop is on the fact that they went on the OEL tract, and while that is good to save money, outside of getting licenses. I have a hard time getting into reading OEL’s.

    Yeah, OEL’s aren’t my thing either. I’ve had a few in the fan community bust my chops because I’m not interested in those titles. Well, I’m into Japanese manga, not manhwa, OEL’s, or even American comic books and graphic novels (beyond picking up graphic novels that are collections of comics I read as a kid).

    I think Stu assumed that folks weren’t into the Japanese aspects of manga but just certain looks and styles and so bring on the OEL’s. That wasn’t the case.

    No offense to those who worked hard on OEL’s because I’ve been into cartoon arts since I was a kid. I know the work that goes into any comic art from all aspects of the business. However, I just was never interested and there are some good OEL’s, including trailblazer MegaTokyo.

  16. AstroNerdBoy says:

    …it’s a prefectly valid opinion to have and I don’t think it deserves to be ridiculed this way.

    I never said the man couldn’t have an opinion and indeed quoted someone who said “don’t discount it.” ^_~

  17. Brad says:

    “I never said the man couldn’t have an opinion and indeed quoted someone who said “don’t discount it.” ^_~”

    I guess I have a hard time seeing how calling Schodt’s point “one of the more ignorant things I’ve read today, and that’s saying something considering the stupidity I’ve been forced to read from India all day” in your comment to the article you linked and pointedly ridiculing him here fits into respecting his opinion.

  18. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I don’t see that quote in my article here. ^_~ Thanks for following my tweets though. ^_^

  19. Brad says:

    “I don’t see that quote in my article here. ^_~ Thanks for following my tweets though. ^_^”

    I know it’s not in the article and I thought I mentioned that very clearly, but it’s still something you said on this topic. http://www.cartoonleap.com/2011/02/publishers-manga-bubble-burst-in-the-u-s-and-france/ is linked from the very first line of your article here. I’m not sure what you mean about your tweets, are you inviting me to follow you?

  20. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Ah! I was thinking I tweeted that but I guess not. ^_^;

  21. FLS says:

    Just a short point here about the perils of loose comments on blogs. The article in question in the Asahi Shinbun Globe of February 27 ran in Japanese, not English. Most comments here are by people who have not read the article in the original, and are responding to someone commenting on it, who is in turn relying on what appears to be a casual translation of only part of it. For the record, I never mentioned Stu Levy’s name in the article. There are unfortunately many, many reasons for the slump in manga sales. Thanks, Fred

  22. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Thank you sir for setting the record straight. ^_^

  23. Anonymous says:

    But Mr. Schodt, aside from the segue that could lead people to think you’d talked about Stu specifically (they don’t outright say that you did), while not verbatim, the summary still adequately represented your statement in the original article about alienating the general public. Since that was the main thing AstroNerdBoy had a problem with, perhaps you should complain about the Japanese article not listing your “many, many reasons” more fully and not pretend that the English summary misrepresented your point on that. It doesn’t matter that the article was not translated fully when you were only quoted for that one opinion. If anything, we should fault the summary for not including one telling tidbit–your age (61)

  24. FLS says:

    Thank you for your kind understanding. I was interviewed by the Asahi reporter on the phone for what seemed like an hour, and I gave him a long list of reasons that I see for the current slump. In the reporter’s article I was quoted for about ten words, and did not mention Mr. Levy or Tokyo Pop, but when English-speaking bloggers have been referencing this article, it sounds as though I am blaming Mr. Levy for the entire slump in the industry, when nothing could be further from the truth. It is true , however, that I believe that the right-left format, while great for fans, does alienate the majority population, who are unwilling to read R-L. Eventually e-manga may solve this problem and allow people to read in any direction they please with the push of a button. One advantage in living a long time is that I have a memory.Tokyo Pop was by no means the first company to produce R-L manga, only the first to succeed in marketing them as being more “authentic.” While American fans love R-L manga (and there is nothing at all wrong with R-L manga), it’s also important to remember that when reading R-L manga we are not reading the way Japanese are, because in Japanese manga the visuals are read R-L, and so is the text. R-L English manga, which require reading the page visually in one direction and reading the words in another, are a hybrid comic, created for English-speaking fans. Thanks, Fred

  25. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I know what you mean about the interview. Years ago when Charles Schultz died, I was interviewed for a newspaper article for about 30-minutes. When the article came out, I was quoted in it but only briefly and they got my website wrong. ^_^;;;

    Anyway, I’m still working on a piece with my own thoughts behind the manga slump. If you’d like, I’d be happy to publish what you said to the Asahi reporter. Actually, I’d do that as its own piece as a rebuttal.

  26. Hemen says:

    Manga sales hasn’t go down. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2010-08-26/publisher-shueisha-reports-1st-fiscal-year-in-the-red

    “However, sales of its books and magazines were actually 2.8% higher at 105.261 billion yen (US$1.2444 billion). In particular, sales of its Weekly Shonen Jump magazine rose, and so did sales of its manga book volumes”. Yes before 2010 the manga sales went down. But since 2010 it hwas went up. 🙂

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