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New York Anime Festival and ICv2 Conference on Anime and Manga
ICv2 Conference on Anime and Manga - ICv2 White Paper

by Mikhail Koulikov,

The first annual ICv2 Conference on Anime and Manga began with Milton Griepp, the president of the ICv2 retailer information website, presenting a white paper on the current state of the Japanese popular culture industry in the United States. Over the last several years, his company has been collecting statistics about trends affecting anime and manga in America, and has published some of the figures in the Guides to Anime and Manga for retailers, which it annually publishes. This is the first time, however, that these figures have been released to a general audience.

Before introducing the statistical portion of the paper, Griep went over the history of Japanese comics and animation in North America — from the first anime of the 1960s, through such turning points as the proliferation of VHS releases of anime in the late 1990s, Tokyopop's 2002 introduction of "authentic manga," the increase in the number of manga publishers, and finally, the expansion of anime-related games, action figures, apparel, and collectibles.

According to ICv2 research, the market for manga in the United States stood at US$200 million last year, up from US$175 million in 2005 and US$135 million in 2004. In 2002, when ICv2 first began to assemble these figures, the same market was estimated at US$60 million, which jumped to US$100 million the next year.

For the same period, sales of anime DVDs (not box office takes of anime shown in theaters or any revenue from the broadcast of anime on television) actually decreased from US$550 million in 2003 to US$400 million for last year. Sell-through numbers for other years were US$450 million in 2005 and US$500 million in 2004 and 2002.

The trend for the number of anime DVDs released in America per year has followed a similar pattern. This figure rose from 439 in 2001 to 562 (2002), 727 (2003), and 733 (2004), before it crested at 756 in 2005. The next year, it dropped to 617, and for 2007, is estimated at somewhat over five hundred. The effect of Geneon withdrawing from the market was a factor in the decrease, but only one, along with overall consolidation in the industry and reduction of output.

Griepp noted, though, that sales figures for home versions of anime released in theaters have not been following the dynamics of the rest of the anime market, and are actually quite healthy. Similarly, for anime on television, there were five channels that aired a total of 18 anime series in 2002, compared to 11 channels and 38 separate titles this year.

On the manga side of the industry, the pattern has been radically different. ICv2 projects that 1,468 individual volumes of manga will be released by the close of this year, and American manga companies are expecting to publish 1,731 manga volumes in 2008. This number has grown from 1,088 in 2005 and 1,208 last year. Of the manga or manga-style comics published in English, in the first 11 months of the year, 1,086 (82%) originated in Japan, 146 (11%) in Korea, and 88 (7%) in the US or elsewhere in the world. At the same time, the amount of shelf space available for manga at retailers has began to slow down. Potentially, in ICV2's estimation, this will contribute to a situation where some manga will only be distributed via direct sale, bypassing bookstores entirely.

As both the industry and fans look to 2008, Griepp offered some of his thoughts on the immediate future of Japanese popular culture products in America. In his words, anime is now facing a "best and worst of times" kind of situation. Market penetration is excellent, and there are more licensed products being sold for different properties than ever before, but the market for DVD sales is steadily declining. This decline is driven by a contradiction, as fans demand the kind of season-set pricing that is now commonplace for American television series, but the inherent costs of licensing, producing, and dubbing anime make this difficult. How to compete with online downloads of fansubs remains a major question for the industry, and declining sales across the home entertainment market mean that American anime companies often cannot afford to engage in experiments that may not be successful. Griepp also criticized Japanese anime production companies for continuing to insist on pricing many licenses without taking into account the actual potential of these series in the current U.S. environment.

The biggest question that Griepp thinks is currently facing the industry has to do with whether the core of American anime fans will disappear. He does not think so, at least not in the short run, but nonetheless, the current business model of selling anime is being challenged, and will have to change.

The manga market is still expanding. The biggest issue that will have to dealt with is whether manga published in the United States can continue to attract readers in different demographics. He particularly noted the efforts that some of the publishers are now launching to attract adult customers.

At this point, Griepp introduced the next panel, which turned into a spirited discussion between such industry hard-hitters as 4Kids president Al Kahn, FUNimation Entertainment CEO Gen Fukunaga, and ANN's own Christopher Macdonald, on how toy, game, videogame, and anime companies can best work to attract the "otaku generation."

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