I am merely an anecdote

ICv2 reports “A Second bad Year in a Row for Manga,” noting a 20% drop in sales. This doesn’t reflect my personal experience, but we all know how irrelevant that is. Since it’s Saturday and I don’t want to start it off on too gloomy a note, I’ll quote the article’s marginally positive paragraph:

“In European markets where manga boomed before it hit it big here in the States, there was a post-boom drop-off, but sales then stabilized at a substantial level. Manga continues to dominate sales of graphic novels (in units) in bookstores.”

The report notes that “manga is now facing its own crisis created by the availability of free unlicensed scanlations on the Web,” and a Japanese publisher has spoken publicly on the subject. Over at Anime Vice, GodLen finds a message from Weekly Shonen Jump (Shueisha) to its readers:

“The unjust internet copies are deeply hurting the manga culture, mangakas’ rights, and even mangakas’ souls.”

Hardcore. It probably won’t have any impact, but… hardcore.

Update: ICv2 has rather drastically altered the portion of the report that covered scanlations:

“While comic retailers tell ICv2 that they believe scanlations (translations of scanned manga, which appear on the Web within days of their publication in Japan) are hurting their sales, the evidence is not conclusive. Scanlations were around through the growth of the manga market as well as its decline, and some feel that they actually increase the market for manga collections by creating greater exposure for new properties. While it may be true that more manga buyers are telling retailers that they’re reading online rather than buying, that may be due to economic conditions (they’re buying fewer titles over-all), or to the lack of a major hit that stimulates buying.”

10 Responses to I am merely an anecdote

  1. judi(togainunochi) says:

    When I first got into manga (8 or so years ago), I bought everything just about. It was the same when I first got into comics. Now, I’m more circumspect in my choices and read many more reviews. That’s only natural, since I’m not a gazillion heir and can’t buy everything published. Perhaps this is good, in that publisher will bring over quality instead of quantity? Then, I’ve been burned with them not finishing volumes, too.

  2. I was talking to a friend who has delusions of doing comics work and I explained that it was a bad idea for one and one reason only – people are growing up with absolutely *no* idea that stealing is bad. I don’t mean that they think that stealing IP is okay and stealing jeans are not – I mean, if people could steal jeans, cameras, whatever, they would. Because theft is perceived as “sticking it to the man” and every thief thinks he’s Robin Hood. IP theft has no punishment – and where there are lawsuits, the RIAA and MPAA have been so idiotic and ham-handed that they have become a laughingstock and encouraged, not discouraged, transgression.

    The audience that pays for content is us – we’re getting old and will soon be gone. The audience that is coming up now has never had to pay for a thing except the hardware and the connection. And there you have it. Content has become a support service.

    David – you and I are just as culpable in this. We write blogs with great content – that we give away for free.



    Hungry for Yuri? Have some Okazu!

    • davidpwelsh says:

      I can’t argue with a word of that, though I do hear the Doom sound effect ringing in my ears. It does seem like it’s gotten to the point that everything is a loss leader, and there’s no actual product that the losses are leading up to.

      (And sorry that your comment lurked in the spam queue for a while. It’s been inexplicably finicky this weekend.)

  3. Dan says:

    As an aging shojo fan myself, I definitely agree with the article. There’s no shortage of high school drama, but I’m (well) past that point in my life. And josei titles seem few and far between. Sad.

    But yeah, I work at a book store and manga definitely makes up a large chunk of graphic novel purchases. And Western comics make up the biggest chunk of graphic novel sitting-down-and-reading-for-hours…

    • davidpwelsh says:

      Dan, am I right in reading that to mean that bookstore browsers tend to sit with super-hero stuff, read it, then not buy it?

      I’m slightly strange, I guess, in that not having comics aimed at adolescents during my actual adolescence has actually left me perfectly content to keep reading shojo romances, though I’m all over josei when it’s available. (Have you read Bunny Drop?)

  4. I think they might have changed the article – at any rate the “crisis” quote isn’t there now.

    I’m pretty moderate where the issue of scanlations is concerned, but I’ve got to say that when I see arguments like “people are growing up with absolutely *no* idea that stealing is bad” I tend to discount whatever other arguments they might come up with. The ICv2 article mentions several legitimate reasons why manga sales might slump. Their reference to the European market’s decline also hints at the fact that anything that becomes trendy eventually has a natural fall-off in interest from its heights. I’d rather it weren’t so, but that’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for declining sales.

    However, they don’t even mention what strikes me as the biggest reason for lackluster sales: the recession. Tons of unemployed adults have taken low-paying jobs to get by, which led directly to historically low teen/college student employment (here’s an article on teens in Iowa that’s pretty similar to college students and teens across the U.S.: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-01-26/news/1001260074_1_youth-employment-programs-teens-work-ethic). No work=no money to buy manga. Of course sales are down. Sales of practically everything are down.

    Even for those who do have some money, manga prices have been creeping up from Tokyopop’s $9.99 standard for years now. I understand that there are licensing fees and higher prices to print manga in the U.S., but $10 for a half-hour read was incredibly steep to begin with. I’ve currently got the best-paying job of my entire life, and I’m cutting back on manga, too. Most of that money is going into savings, but some is going to movie theatres, eating out with friends and new clothes. (For the record, I haven’t seen a single scanlation in many, many months. I am not replacing paying for manga with scanlations, I’m replacing it with things that offer better value.)

    Do scanlations play a role in depressing manga sales? I have no idea. But when I hear people using numbers that don’t prove an injury to call scanlations-readers names, I stop caring.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      It did seem like there was a faint reference to the economy, but only “that may be due to economic conditions (they’re buying fewer titles over-all)” in the revised paragraph. Still, excellent point, and kind of odd that it got such tertiary consideration. I mean, every other industry in the world is pointing to the recession to explain their numbers. Maybe it’s the argument that comics as an industry tend to be recession proof?

      On a different front, I do think scanlation culture has evolved from an early adopter/evangelical effort (which it still is in many quarters) to something much less savory, at least in the form of those for-profit aggregation sites that host advertising and content that’s licensed and available in English. (Some of them even just scan the licensed versions, apparently.)

      So while I agree that there are levels of rhetoric that aren’t particularly useful, I also feel that there are corners of scanlation culture that are really, really unethical and gross.

      • I’m not denying that. I’m in the middle ground myself – scanlations are not the evil they are sometimes portrayed as, but there are some people who solely read scanlations with no intent of ever buying a single volume even if they can afford to and would buy manga if no other option was available, which is wrong no matter how you slice it. It’s just that there’s a big difference between saying some corners are unethical and dismissing an entire generation as having no morals or ethics.

        What I’m ultimately getting at (and it’s a bit off-topic) is that it’s possible to be anti-scanlation without denigrating an entire generation, most of whom don’t read manga in any form. As someone who could be persuaded to either side of the debate, things like that push me closer towards the pro-scans side. In other words, instead of the endless back and forth about everyone’s morals, I’d really, really like to see some hard numbers on the impact of scanlations. That I would find persuasive.

  5. davidpwelsh says:

    takingitoutside: I definitely agree that some concrete numbers would be very useful in the discussion. I’ve only heard anecdotes of sales dropping after a scanlated version became available online, and even that doesn’t prove causality. It strongly suggests it, but short of a scan site running a user survey and getting a useful sampling, it’s pretty much in the realm of theory. I wonder if a high-volume scan site would ever run a survey like that? Ask their readers if consuming the content online is an alternative or an inducement to buying?

    • I don’t know whether a scan site would run a survey like that, but I wonder how useful the result would be. The mere existence of free scans could unconsciously steer someone away from buying. At the same time, the existence of free entertainment online could unconsciously steer someone toward buying a given series (certainly the SigIkki site did that for me).

      On the other hand, that would give us a good idea of how the readers see their own actions. As it is, we’re left with the loudest voices on both sides, and no real idea of what an “average” scanlation reader looks like.

      Actually, that might be a good expansion on your survey: information on how many manga volumes people buy and how much they read online, plus when/why they read. If my own online habits are anything to go by, “it’s midnight and I’ve got nothing better to do” might be one of the major reasons, which would at least give companies a reason why it was impacting their sales – no 24-hour Borders in readers’ vicinities.

      Really, this issue just vexes me. I don’t have a background in statistics or economics, so I haven’t been able to think of a good test of the effects of scanning. At the same time, I’ve got a pretty strong general science background, so I can think of tons of things that wouldn’t work. I wish someone like the Freakonomics guys – Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt – would tackle the issue.

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