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2004 Year in Review
Anime Magazines

by Mikhail Koulikov,
As far as the rather small world of English-language anime magazines goes, 2004 was a year of learning experiences—largely by trial and error. It's still not certain how many different monthly magazines the market can support, whether there are readership segments that are being underserved or ignored by the current Big Three magazines, or whether the status quo can continue for the foreseeable future, with Newtype USA, Animerica and Anime Insider coexisting peacefully. One argument for this last possibility is that anime magazines differ uniquely from really almost all other types of periodicals. They are not merely carriers of information, but commodities in of themselves; you flip through the New York Times or the New Yorker, and throw it out, but an anime magazine is bought and kept the same way a comic (or an action figure) is. And because of this, someone who buys one magazine will very frequently—if his or her disposable income allows—buy the other two. However, even if it's true, banking on this is definitely not the best way of doing business. And this is why 2004 was very much the year during which the Big Three strove to differentiate themselves from each other—not so much via content, as via a whole range of “value added” factors.

Newtype USA started the year with a major announcement: the hiring of an experienced editor-in-chief. With a solid resume that includes a five-year tenure as the managing editor of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, Gary Steinman brought an extensive amount of experience to the helm of Newtype and definitely contributed to its self-declared status as “the leading consumer magazine for anime and manga fans.” Unfortunately, the other time the magazine became a major topic of discussion among fans was an entirely different type of situation. From its inaugural issue, Newtype USA had been sold with a DVD containing the first episode (or first episodes) of an anime series just being released in the U.S. Including a preview CD or DVD has been a common practice of magazines on videogames for years, and the DVD was certainly one way in which Newtype USA stood out from the competition. From the August 2004 on, however, the DVD became a bonus only available to subscribers, and not included in issues sold at newsstands, comic shops, bookstores and elsewhere. The effect of this decision was entirely predictable: a Newtype annual subscription is $80, maybe not a huge sum, but certainly not insignificant for a high school or college student. Fan response to the change, was almost universally negative, and within three months, to coincide with the magazine's second anniversary, the DVD was brought back. Recent circulation figures for the magazine are not available, but at the close of 2003, circulation had quadrupled, to around 120,000. According to several sources, current circulation is somewhere between that number and 150,000.

For its own part, Animerica also started 2004—its twelfth year of publication—off with a staffing change as long-time editor-in-chief Julie Davis stepped down and was replaced by Kelli Blackwell, whose tenure at Viz goes back to 2001. In an industry that is almost defined by lack of transparency, Animerica is surprisingly open about its circulation figures: 45000, according to its 2005 media kit. 80% of the issues bought are picked up off newsstands, the remaining 20% by subscription. Justifying the argument about the possibility of peaceful coexistence between the Big Three, 54% of Animerica readers also read Newtype USA and 45% Anime Insider. So, throughout 2005, if there is a convenient motto than can describe Animerica, it's “quality over quantity—at a far lower price than the competition!”

ADV and Viz have both been players in the anime/manga industry for years. But at least in the world of anime magazine publishing, much good it's done them. Because the leader among the Big Three is still—despite the title, a relative outsider. The defining feature of Wizard's Anime Insider is utter and complete irreverence towards all things anime... balanced out by an extremely strong core staff of full-timers, including ANN veteran Zac Betschy, and freelancers. Whether it's this, the Wizard label, or some combination of the two is, really, beside the point, but one thing is certain: in this particular circulation war, AI (circulation upwards of 150,000) has, at least for now, come out the winner.

The Big Three are probably the first three anime magazines that come to mind most readily. But they are not the only ones. However, for its part, Anime Play, the Hirameki Group's own attempt at a print publication plus DVD bundle (although, unlike Newtype USA's, the DVDs packaged together with each issue are actually part of the issue, and feature interviews, clips, and other content) has basically sunk into irrelevance. A grand total of three issues throughout the year, and newsstand sales only have made it essentially a footnote to the other magazines. On the other hand, throughout 2004, as anime and manga have continued to rack up bigger and bigger sales numbers, one trend that is beginning to emerge is the inclusion of anime/manga sections in general popular culture or videogame publications like Play Magazine. Exactly where this trend will end up, especially with the videogame magazine market being rather fractured by platform, is far from certain. The potential for a radical redefinition of the market is certainly there—now let's see whether 2005 will see this potential being explored to its fullest.

Finally, the unfortunate—but inevitable—RIP section. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that 2004 was the year that the English-language manga anthology finally became obsolete. The money behind them—and the strength of their content—allows Viz's Shonen Jump and Dark Horse's Super Manga Blast to thrive, but to other players trying out the same format, the last couple of years have been ruthless. Tokyopop's Smile shoujo anthology and Viz's own Pulp Magazine were the failed titles of 2002; 2004 opened with the entire Raijin line, including both graphic novels and the Raijin Comics anthology being placed on hiatus, and closed with the venerable Animerica Extra being cancelled after a print run of seven years. In the not so remote past, manga at 32 pages for three or four dollars, once a month, and sold only in dedicated comics shops, was the industry standard. For a whole range of rather obvious reasons, in the last three or so years, the definition of the industry standard has changed drastically. Manga publishing is a highly competitive, sink-or-swim industry. Some things work, others no longer do; sooner or later, it becomes obvious which are which.

Full disclosure: Early in 2004, the author performed certain contract research assignments for Anime Insider. The Animerica website features an Anime News Network newsfeed. Starting with the January 2005 issue, Protoculture Addicts will be published as Anime News Network's Protoculture Addicts.

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