If you’ve read my ‘About Me,’ I mention that I attended the Inter-University Center‘s intensive 10-month Japanese language program this past year. Graduation from the Center is contingent upon a 15-minute formal oral presentation (in Japanese, of course) in front of fellow students, instructors, and guests. If you’re curious about the sorts of topics students have presented on, you can see summaries here. For mine, I decided to talk about scanlations, digital manga, and the future of the manga industry. This has been (and continues to be) something that ties into my life on a nearly daily basis and that I can say I’ve been interested in researching as far back as when I was working on my thesis over three years ago.
As I was gathering material to use, I stumbled upon Anime! Anime!’s website. You can think of Anime! Anime! roughly as the equivalent of Anime News Network with more emphasis on the business side of things. On their website, I discovered Yukari Shiina’s blog series that covers the state of the manga in North America. Yukari Shiina studied pop culture in grad school in the US and, since returning to Japan, has worked at manga publishing agencies and translating anime/manga. Currently, she works as a Research Assistant at Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs, which was created in 1968 to promote Japanese arts and culture. I used material from the 17th installment concerning North American manga readers and scanlations for my presentation. However, I’ve always thought it would be nice to read and cover all of the installments when I had the time and to share it with people who may not fully understand Japanese. Since I have a platform here on JASGP’s website/blog, I’m thinking there isn’t a better time than now!
In North America as a whole, manga is only a small niche market. In 2009, it was estimated that sales amounted to $140 million. However, if you look at the total sales of music, DVDs, magazines, video games, and movies at the box-office that same year that surpassed $10 billion, it’s easy to see how small it really is. Incidentally, the manga market figure in Japan in 2009 was 418.7 trillion yen, equivalent to about $4.5 billion (if using the average exchange rate in 2009 of 93 yen to the dollar).
The year manga began to be sold in earnest in N. America was 2002, with total sales at $60 million. This means that sales in 2009 were over double that of the first year. However, compared with those of 2007, the highest grossing year ($210 million), sales in 2009 fell by about 33%. The recession following in 2008 also likely had a major effect on sales but, considering American comic sales decreased by only 6% and books by a mere 4%, the decline in manga sales seems even more profound. Though one can surely attribute it to the fact that young people, who make up nearly all of the manga reader demographic, were the ones mostly deeply affected by the recession, it is still not enough to explain the huge difference.
Has the manga boom in North America already ended? Will sales continue to decline? Or has manga established itself as only a niche in entertainment for a certain kind of fan? To find the answer, not much can be done other than closely follow the latest trends. At the very least, the belief that just because it is manga it will sell or wanting to sell manga by placing emphasis on the fact that it is manga is no longer working. Instead, there is now an inclination by sellers to not want to put manga at the forefront. Since 2002, artists who draw works in the manga style have drastically increased along with the rise in popularity of manga, but publishers who accept these ‘manga-style’ works nowadays are few and far in between, especially since TokyoPop shut down in 2011.
The original blog post by Yukari Shiina on Anime! Anime! can be accessed here: http://www.animeanime.biz/archives/5945