Piracy Wars: Causes for Manga Sales Fall

Piracy Wars: Causes for Manga Sales Fall

I periodically see articles published about how manga sales are down, and being a fan of manga and anime, this kind of news is of interest to me.  After all, I purchase a great deal of manga, both official English releases in the United States and some select Japanese manga titles (as my budget allows).  So naturally, I’m going to read up on the stories discussing falling manga sales.  Unfortunately, there’s never really anything that enlightening when I read these official stories of gloom and doom.  So, while many people just want to immediately point fingers as scanlations (or fansubs in the case of anime) as the sole cause of falling manga sales, I decided that it is time for a dose of reality here and some perspective.  In the process, we may discover some things.  ^_^

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)
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Transportation (car payments, gas, repairs)
  • Utilities
  • Other debts
  • Manga

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. ^_^

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18 Responses to “Piracy Wars: Causes for Manga Sales Fall”

  1. evgenidb says:

    In my opinion scanlations and fansubing are advertising the manga and anime. Just think how many people would’ve been hooked up on manga and anime without them. I certainly wouldn’t, actually I think I wouldn’t even know they exist. Before Tenchi Muyo I’ve downloaded from a website (and watched for the whole night on a PC!) I didn’t know I’ve watched anime before and didn’t know what “anime” is. (It turned out that I’ve watched anime like “The Enemy’s the Pirates: http://anidb.net/perl-bin/animedb.pl?show=anime&aid=2150” when I was small kid on a TV but never knew it was from Japan, there more like it, etc. I thought it was just another American cartoon.)

    And I think many people outside of Japan are like me – they wouldn’t love anime and manga or they wouldn’t know they exist without those pirated releases. And we all know that some of them buy some of the released manga and anime because they want to own it. So, most of the buyers outside of Japan exist pretty much because of the scanlations and fansubing. At least in my opinion.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Well certainly, that’s how fansubs got started (and I’m working on a piece for that as well) — advertising anime in America.

    • evgenidb says:

      It’s not just in America or English speaking countries. English became international language (no mater how ridiculous it sounds to me), so many countries use it as secondary language and teach it in schools as requirement. And for those who don’t know the language or do’t know it well enough, the non-English scanlators and fansubers translate the manga and anime either from the original source (be it Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or even French – yep, there are manga-type comics proudly made in France (actually it’s more like manhwa-type)) or English, because most of the people know it better. Or use both, but I don’t know if that is true or not (just speculation from my part). Translations from other languages such as German are quite rare.

      So, the English-speaking groups, in a way, really spread it across the globe using the Internet. Without them manga and anime would have been pretty much confined to Japan, China and Korea, since few know their language outside their country and usually don’t care about “comics”, since they are for “small kids”.

  2. Unknown says:

    The cynic in me thinks that a large number of niche markets in the west including the manga/anime one are just being used as bait for the copyright industry. It seems like they offer lures and then when their sub-par efforts in distributing the goods force their consumers to look somewhere illegal for what they want the lawyers pounce on them. That way they can save money on actually doing a good job and still reap a reward in the long run, and it’s far less of a risk for them.

    Their insistence that pirating is the root cause of all their problems to the exclusion of everything in your blog post just reinforces the idea. You’d have to be pretty deluded to believe that people are going to be spending the same amount of money on media as they did five years ago given all the economic doom and gloom coming from just about everywhere in the world. They know their industry is in decline and hope to recoup some losses by preying on the people they’re supposed to be supplying.

    Also; pessimism, pessimism, sadness, pessimism.

    On a lighter note, great post. Keep up the good work :).

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >On a lighter note, great post. Keep up the good work :).

      Thanks. ^_^

      BTW, the points you make about copyright industry always looking to piracy as the problem goes to non-niche stuff like music, TV shows, and movies. The RIAA/MPA always wanted consumers to get products the way THEY wanted, not the way the customers wanted. That’s why the RIAA tried to kill MP3’s and wasted tons of money going after Napster and the like.

  3. arimareiji says:

    The RIAA/MPA always wanted consumers to get products the way THEY wanted, not the way the customers wanted.

    DVD/BluRay versus AVI/MKV/etc…. which does a consumer want?

    Being forced to sit through mandatory commercials, extremely limited ability to skip to a desired scene, extremely limited portability across devices and national borders, et al, of course! I know I love me some mandatory commercials. (/sarcasm)

    More seriously, it’s not as clear as the publishers would have us believe, that all consumers really want discs but will settle for electronic files from those dirty pirates. Sometimes they’re right… but a lot of the time it’s an issue of trying to force consumers to buy an expensive plastic disc in a pretty box, when they would much rather buy only the digital file itself (with a great deal more ease-of-use, to boot). Or in the case of manga, an issue of trying to force consumers to buy an expensive paper book.

    People want to buy content. Publishers want people to buy content plus a physical medium. Sooner or later publishers will realize that the customer decides what they want to buy, not the publisher… but if history is any indication, they’ll do so kicking and screaming the whole way.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >DVD/BluRay versus AVI/MKV/etc…. which does a consumer want?

      Today, there’s really no reason AVI or MKV files couldn’t be used together, except that both formats don’t allow the distributor the illusion of control.

      Because of my current setup, I don’t have a problem with DVD’s or BD’s (for the most part), but when it comes to music, the only CD’s I buy anymore are things from Japan, where scoring a legal MP3 is not so easy. However, whether British music or American, I find MP3’s and buy them. Even then, the music industry often wants to block me from getting a version of the song that I want (say the radio version of a song rather than the album version).

    • evgenidb says:

      Mandatory commercials… Hmm. That reminds me of one Russian joke that I remember from the TV, which sounded something like:

      “Why do commercials have to have movie breaks?”

  4. bakakubi says:

    To continue the part on manga being expensive in the states, I’m currently studying in Japan right now, and used manga goes around 105 to 250 yen (for the more popular titles) per book. That’s roughly $1.50-$3.00 per book. There are LOTS of used book stores in Tokyo alone at Akihabara, and their used volumes are hardly behind on the new releases. Not to mention manga cafe and other manga related stores. Seriously, if companies in the states want to improve sales, they need to learn a few things from Japan first (just the good things though, not the close minded business model).

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      One thing I’m told is that the Japanese publishing industry despises the used manga business. There’ve been a few instances where I’ve seen manga-ka plea for folks to buy new manga rather than used. I’m not sure about this (I’ve not researched), but I want to say that the Japanese publishers attempted to get used manga stores declared to be in violation of copyright laws. Don’t quote me on that, but I do know they aren’t keen on them and see them as lost sales. (To be honest, American publishers see used books as lost sales too and tried to have them outlawed many, many years ago.)

    • bakakubi says:

      hmm… never heard of that before. That’s some great info to know about. It’s weird though, used manga sales stores such as Book Off here in Akiba is always CROWED with people. True, it may hurt sales, but in purely a consumer’s point, those who buy them used usually do that because they don’t have money for new ones. Also, I think new mangas are around 700 yen each (could be wrong, could be cheaper)so they’re not that expensive. For me, I buy the titles I’m collecting new. For title’s I’m not sure about, I may get the first or second book used, then if I like it, buy the rest of them new. I’ve actually missed the Negima Vol. 73 LE release (totally forgot about it) until I saw it on your blog. Going like crazy to find it here in Japan, but so far no luck 🙁 I’m jealous as hell right now after seeing those pactio cards.

      Btw this may be a bit late, but thanks for great articles and reviews as always. I’ve been reading your blog for 2years plus (probably even more), and it’s always a great read whenever there’s a new article. I actually pmed you on facebook once about new negima raws ^_^ though I’m pretty sure you don’t remember (my sn on fb is not even bakakubi).
      Anyways, your blog rules! Keep up the good work!

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >Btw this may be a bit late, but thanks for great articles and reviews as always. I’ve been reading your blog for 2years plus (probably even more), and it’s always a great read whenever there’s a new article.

      You’re welcome. ^_^

  5. SadOldGuy says:

    I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. The amount of manga offered in Kindle format is very limited, and I have disliked every title that I have purchased. Yet the Kindle Fire comes with an app called SManga, that allows you to read from MangaFox, Manga Reader, etc, directly on my Kindle; so I read many more fan translations than I ever did before. My point is that I am a rare fan who actually can afford manga, but cannot get all I want legally and the technology to get it illegally gets better and better; manga publishers need to get with the program. Heck, pay the fan translators (who are doing partly for love) and save their work in Kindle format!

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Well, exactly. Folks can get the scanlations for their e-readers, but can’t get legal ones of any stripe for the same e-reader. *_* VERY frustrating (though I’m still a book guy).

  6. SadOldGuy says:

    The other item is that I am an old fan and started anime when Eva started in America with reviews in a gaming magazine. All the old anime magazines are gone. Anime on DVD got cumbersome to read after their takeover and many of my old sites are gone. You are the only anime/manga site that I still read. Now, I just see new anime/manga on Amazon.com and look it up on Wikipedia and TV Tropes.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >Anime on DVD got cumbersome to read after their takeover and many of my old sites are gone.

      Yeah, Chris selling out (which is actually funny, considering his political persuasions) caused me to stop reading Anime on DVD. I REALLY miss Anime News Service, which was always superior to Anime News Network when it came to anime news. (ANN’s encyclopedia of anime and manga titles ruled though.) Yeah, it really is sad that so many good, old sites and magazines are gone.

      >You are the only anime/manga site that I still read.

      Thanks. ^_^ For folks like you, I really should do more of these kinds of articles, eh? ^_^;

  7. Anonymous says:

    This article may help me write my philosophy final paper…thanks!I like the e-book idea, but I hope physical copies are still made.

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