Why Are Later Volumes Of Anime and Manga So Hard To Find?

by Justin Sevakis,

Vincent asks:

I started buying anime on DVD back in high school and have gradually transitioned to buying Blu-rays. I've happened to notice that later volumes of certain series tend to sell out and go out of print significantly faster than the beginning volumes. It's much more of a problem for a collector when it comes to Blu-rays because of the bigger price hike 3rd-party sellers put on them. Some recent examples that come to mind are both Vol. 3 and 4 of Aniplex's SAO Blu-ray limited edition sets (going for about $500-1000,) and Viz's Ranma 1/2 limited edition sets going out of print. On this latter example, strangely enough, it's only Sets 4 and 5 that are hard to find, with Sets 1-3, 6 and 7 being still widely available. Do manufacturers just happen to print less of later volumes depending on the sales of the first few?

The answer is a combination of lack of supply AND lack of demand.

Let me explain. When a manga or anime series spans multiple volumes, there's a noticeable sales decline with every new volume that gets released. Volume 1 is always the best seller, of course. Volume 2 might sell 80% of what volume 1 did. Volume 3 would be down to 50-60%. And so on. Eventually sales level out, but just how fast and steeply they fall off varies wildly from series to series.

Why does this happen? It's a couple of factors. First, when a series first starts to go on sale, everyone gets really excited and grabs that first one right away. But then, as subsequent volumes come out, people aren't as excited anymore. People forget to grab the next volume, or they get back-burnered for a more exciting purchase that month. A few people that excitedly bought the first volume discover that they didn't really enjoy it as much as they thought they would.

For a publisher, it makes sense to put as much marketing effort behind a first volume as possible, to get as many people hooked as possible, so as many fans make it to the finish line of later volumes as possible. They print a bunch of copies, and retailers buy a lot of copies, hoping that fans will buy them. Some of those copies will sell, and some won't. Some will get returned, and possibly liquidated. People who bought that first volume and then change their mind about the series will sell that volume at used stores, put it up on eBay, or donate it to thrift shops.

By the time the third or fourth volume is released, the publisher has a pretty strong handle on how many they'll need to print to satisfy demand. Any retailers that were stocking the title also knows how many to buy, or if they even want to continue stocking the series. Nobody's looking to throw money away, so both publisher and reseller are looking to be as efficient as possible. Most of these copies sell through to the consumer fairly quickly.

This means that first and second volumes are WAY, WAY easier to find. It's almost inevitable that the publisher made way too many copies of these volumes, and years after the series is out of print, they're still relatively easy to find. But the later volumes tend to get very, very scarce. Series like Marmalade Boy, City Hunter, Maison Ikkoku and many other classic shows with a cult following have later volumes that are very difficult to find for this reason.

For fans that missed out when those volumes were initially released, one can only hope and pine for a reissue at some point.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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