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Are Manga Sales Increasing in the US?

by Justin Sevakis,

Cody asks:

With book stores increasing their manga sections last year, and the amount of new series being picked up from different companies, is this a sign that people buying more manga is increasing? and if so do you think we'll reach a point where the price of manga goes down because there's enough people buying it?

Things are good in manga-land currently. Manga sales have rebounded considerably from their post-market crash lows, and have done so in a major way. And as that's happened, retailers have taken notice. Barnes and Noble has nearly doubled its graphic novel shelf space in at least some stores, Walmart has grown its selection of manga at about half of its stores, and Best Buy has started carrying them again as well.

According to geek business news site ICv2, manga sales were up 13% in the first eight months of 2015 alone, which is the best growth rate since 2005. (Newer sales data isn't yet ready.) In an interview with Viz Media's Kevin Hamric, the sales boost isn't restricted to bookstores, but is also happening at comic shops, online, to libraries and even via "mass market" retailers (i.e. Walmart, Target, and similar stores).

To some extent, all ships are rising, with the economy doing fairly well. Overall bookstore sales are up (The Association of American Publishers reported that sales are up 2.5% in 2015, after years of declines), and the advent of ebooks and e-manga have simply given consumers and publishers more choices, rather than replaced printed books. But manga is doing far better than the rest of the book market, and 2015 will mark the third year in a row that manga sales have risen, after cratering for the previous five.

Why? On one hand, we've gotten several new major, mainstream-worthy titles during that time: Attack on Titan, One-Punch Man, and Tokyo Ghoul among a few others. Big "tentpole" series with wide appeal are enormously important as gateway drugs: fans come in to discover those, and then end up browsing through manga sections finding other series that appeal to them. Secondly, as several people in the ICv2 article noted, mainstream media has turned more nerd-oriented and subculture-focused, and so bookstores and other media outlets have become homes for genre entertainment, stocking everything from figures to apparel.

But my favorite explanation comes from Carl Horn, who posits that the shortening release window between the US and Japan means that when a manga series gets an anime adaptation, it gets simulcast in the US, and when fans get excited about that show, the manga is already on store shelves. In that way, the American market is starting to work in a similar way to the Japanese market: having an anime series acts as extremely good marketing for the original manga titles.

It's hard to say whether these trends will keep going. Giant hit series like Attack on Titan and One-Punch Man don't come along everyday, and while we're lucky to have quite a few right now, that's no guarantee that future titles will be similarly appealing. But the simulcast model is clearly here to stay.

As for whether rising sales will result in lower prices, I doubt it. While a handful of titles are moving lots and lots of books, the vast majority of manga series still only sell in the thousands of units. That's not enough to really change the economies of scale very much. The manga artist and Japanese publisher get their royalties, the American translator and retoucher still has to be paid, books still have to be printed and shipped across the country. Currently $9.99 seems to be the lowest that publishers are willing to go, and something of a sweet spot with consumer pricing. Viz's early experiments with Shonen Jump manga being priced lower didn't seem to change buying habits.

That said, if you can wait a bit for the bestselling series, the thick 2- or 3-in-1 reissues of long-running series are FAR cheaper, and are selling like gangbusters. There are bound to be many, many more of those. So if your goal is to score more manga for cheaper, it looks like that's your path forward.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap. Please note that he does not take question submissions via Twitter.

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