Sunday Spotlight: State of Manga in America (2012)

Manga

Last year in April I foolishly wrote a post talking about the state of manga in America. At that time, Tokyopop closed its manga division, Kodansha took over Del Rey, and unannounced cancellations took place. Let’s just say a lot of things have changed since then…but in the end, did anything really significant change from last year?

Ok, ok, there has been a couple of things that have popped up. Last year at the time I wrote that post, there wasn’t a single legal edition to read manga, aside from EManga and Netcomics (which also publishes Manhwa). But since then, Gen Manga, JManga, JManga7Shonen Jump Alpha and Viz Manga have appeared and now you can actually read manga, without necessarily feeling guilty. Even Emanga recently changed how you read manga, as now you can download it. Now, it’s not to say that these publishers don’t have their share of problems, and of course, Alpha and Viz Manga content are North America only, but at least there’s something, and maybe they’ll be more alternatives in the future. By going to New York Comic Con, while anime most definitely took a backseat, manga I believe did not, as there seemed to be interested people attending certain panels and stopping by various publisher booths, so I think manga knowledge grew a bit there.

However, just because there are more legal alternatives to manga doesn’t mean anything if no one still knows about it. Needless to say, people (from the U.S and Canada) will still prefer the usual style of reading manga on illegal sites, but chances are there are people who actually don’t know legal alternatives to reading manga exist. I ended up doing a panel this year at Castle Point Anime Convention where it was an informal discussion on manga. Along the way when it seemed things were dying down and there needed to be a discussion point, I brought up JManga. No one knew what that was, and while it was a small room, the seats were full. What does that mean? Publishers just aren’t doing enough to reach that audience, or get them to care enough to check out their site.

What also probably continues to hurt is Borders dying last year since that cuts down on the actual obtaining of print manga. For me, the best way (or most convenient way) to purchase manga is to go to Kinokuniya. It’s not drastically far away, and has way more options than going to Barnes & Noble or Midtown Comics at times. The other way of course is ordering online. But it’s starting to feel like there’s just lesser ways to obtain manga. Granted, this is already a small enough medium as it is; it just continues to feel smaller.

Anyways, if you check out your Facebook feeds and see some people sharing content from an illegal site, it’s plenty obvious there’s not enough done to try and convince them that “Oh maybe I should read this type of publisher instead.” My hope is that somehow, someway, publishers can find a method to get these people on their side, if only because there was a bunch of great manga released this year: Attack On Titan, A Bride’s Story, 5 Centimeters Per Second, just to name a few. But there’s a part of the audience that’s missing out on these works; hopefully in 2013 this will change.

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Justin

Justin is the founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Anime & manga fan that likes to blog about anime and manga, is addicted to sports, and weak to crossovers. You can follow Justin on Twitter @Kami_nomi.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Spotlight: State of Manga in America (2012)

  1. Obtaining manga in my city province is actually really simple. The most popular bookstore available (Indigo) has quite a large selection of manga. Also, whenever I go there, I always see quite a few people searching the selection as well.

    I personally think that the option to download manga legally is not going to help anyone, unless they get to a point where people are able to download translated manga the moment it reaches Japan. I think, much like with anime, the collector’s value and the idea of phisically owning it is the idea they need to try and sell. Though, obviously that’s easier said than done.

    • Hmm, yeah I guess ownership is a big key when it comes down to it. But I think it would help if you can own a digital download at all. One of the complaints about JManga is you can’t download any of the files on your computer, so if the site goes down you lose all of your digital purchases. So I think it would help if that will satisfy potential buyers.

      But overall, I just think more exposure would be good :)

  2. I used to buy manga from local comic shops back in the day, but the manga I liked was pretty obscure and waiting for them to order it in took weeks, so when I made the shift to Amazon, I never looked back. (Well I did go to those two shops from time to time to see if they had any rare volumes even after the shift, so that’s not entirely true. xD ) Now I really don’t have a choice as I can only import from Amazon UK. I can read on the computer, but I’m a stubborn old woman and I refuse to let go of print. Plus I don’t really like the rental model most of these online services provide. I’m happy to see at least one of them made the shift to downloads. Why? because I feel kind of ripped off having to pay for the same content more than once if I want to re-read (or worry if in 5 years I will be able to access that content). Two, my internet isn’t the best and I’d prefer a bulk download and then read at my leisure. The other option is a monthly fee for unlimited access like Netflix. I could get behind that as well. Also the other thing I think digital distributors need to address (not all of them, but I’ve seen a few) is that digital copies should not be more expensive than their physical counterparts. If it is, well, unless someone really does not want a physical book for space or convenience issues, they will opt out for the physical release (or just pirate). Also whether publishers and people want to admit it or not, there is this unconscious idea that digital products should be cheaper. That’s why platforms like steam and the like are so successful (when looking at what’s going on with digital content in the gaming industry). They fed into that idea with lots and lots of sales. Anyway just my two cents. I doubt I’ll be making the shift to digital any time soon (unless they do it like Netflix). I’m still not 100% on the digital bandwagon when it comes to games either. Might just be my collector mentality, but I don’t feel like I really own it unless I have it in my hands. ^___^;;;

    • So, shall try and answer some of your points one by one…

      1)

      old woman

      YOU OLD TIMERS RUINING EVERYTHING FOR THIS NEW GENERATION!!! :D

      2)Yeah, as Lostty pointed out, ownership is key, so that may be one issue publishers should definitely consider.

      3) I think aside from Emanga, it is cheap to get digital copies cheaper than print. This was a big issue with JManga early on, as they had manga that was not nearly as cheap as their print counterparts, and that earned it a lot of criticism. But they finally relented and lowered the price :D So it’s definitely cheaper to get digital manga now.

      4)

      That’s why platforms like steam and the like are so successful (when looking at what’s going on with digital content in the gaming industry).

      You know, I keep thinking why publishers have not done anything like that so far. Then I look at manga, and then I think of games, and when I start to compare the two, I stop comparing. It may be possible to do steam like sales because I can’t say for sure, but there’s not enough money being made in manga to do anything remotely like games at this point.

      • For point (3) I will admit it’s been awhile since I browsed the digital manga providers, so point taken.

        I have to disagree with you on point (4). Back when steam launch, everyone didn’t think it would make such a difference because PC gaming was struggling (seeing PC games at retail was rare and still is). I would say it was in a pretty similar situation to manga. Steam was part of what revitalized PC gaming in the Americas (and strengthened it in Europe). So yes, I do think there is a parallel and some lessons to be learned here. And my main point was more that people have this widely held belief that digital should be a lot cheaper than physical. Digital distributors can attempt to change perceptions or they can attempt to harness what is widely held and use it to their advantage. But given what you said about point (3) maybe most are already trying this on some level. Just, there is this part of me that feels maybe the solution is to go with a Netflix model. It’s been working for anime and perhaps since fan overlap is probably fairly extensive here, maybe that’s what the fans are waiting for to really embrace the digital platform. Anyway, this is all just me thinking out loud. :)

        • The problem is ten times more people play video games than manga/buy video games than manga. I don’t disagree in the fact that manga publishers could do something similar to Steam, but as a whole, making video games makes a lot more money than manga, with one of the reasons there being more ways to get games instead of manga. Let’s just say you don’t have to work hard to get games, but you have to jump through hoops to find manga. So I would have to think that if publishers haven’t thought of doing something similar for manga, then there must be reasons behind it. Chances are that involves money and Japanese approval. Next time I go to con, I’ll ask about that, but chances are I won’t get a very good response.

          • Well that’s all a matter of perspective, really. Video games are also more expensive to make than manga, so lower sales thresholds for manga should not matter theoretically. Also, PC games were notoriously hard to purchase at retail before the advent of digital platforms like steam. Most major video game developers/publishers pretty much abandoned PC (outside of Europe) as a result. Even now, most of those previously PC exclusive developers like Bioware, Bethesda, etc. have opted for both PC and console cross platform releases to reach an even wider audience because these games are getting progressively more expensive to make and need to drawn in even bigger crowds to stay profitable. I feel like you are using their current popularity and ease of access to dismiss the possibility that yes, there was once a time when PC gaming looked a lot like manga (i.e. outside of a few big titles, the industry was pretty much dying. I do not think it is a coincidence that Duke Nukem: Forever and Diablo III reemerged after the PC got back on its feet in the Americas) and it was the digital distribution channels that embraced the sales mentality that changed the fate of PC gaming. It is definitely easy to dismiss this by saying, well you cannot take the results of one industry and apply it to another. True enough, which is why I think a Netflix approach would actually work better for manga (with an added option to pay 3-5$ per volume to permanently download the files). But I hold that the same underlining problems are plaguing manga at the moment were plaguing PC gaming. That is, a dwindling customer base and piracy. So what I’m saying is that the lesson PC gaming learn: Do not try to change your customers, but adapt to them, is something the manga publishers need to accept. Steam’s popularity explosion owed a lot to word of mouth. When customers feel the service is good, they will tell their friends, who will their friends. I feel like the current model isn’t getting anywhere because it isn’t what fans and customers want. But perhaps I am thinking too much of what I personally want to see. This is all hypothetical. I do not presume to know why digital manga platforms are struggling right now beyond what I feel as a fan is wrong with them. I do agree with you that the cause of this failure to really go all out in this direction for manga seems to have to do with getting Japanese approval. It seems like the old publishing houses in Japan are scared to make the shift right now, or are skeptical about lower price points bringing in more paying customers and eventually making more money that way. Anyway, I think I’ve said all I wanted to say now. I’m done. xD

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