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Direct Market Losing Manga Sales Share

posted on by Christopher Macdonald
Direct Market Sales not Growing as Fast as Bookstores

Over the past two years, the manga market at bookstores has exploded. Manga now takes up shelves and shelves of space at Waldenbooks, the Nielson Bookscan Best-selling graphic novel list is dominated by manga, and manga titles even occasionally make it into overall best sellers lists.

In the past couple of years the total retail value of the North American manga market has exploded from approximately $30 million to approximately $140 million.

Only a couple of years ago, the majority of manga was being sold not at bookstores, but at comic stores and specialty-shops. But a quick glance at the top graphic novel sales to the direct market through Diamond Distributors (archived at ICv2), shows that the direct market sales of manga haven't grown in the same way as bookstore sales.

In January 2003, 19 of the top 50 graphic novels distributed through Diamond were manga and they accounted for 35% of the actual sales of the top 50 graphic novels. In January 2004 these numbers were 11 of 50 and 21% and in January 2005 they were 14 of 50 and 27%.

Steve Kleckner, VP of sales and distribution at Tokyopop states that the direct market only accounts for 12 to 15 percent of Tokyopop's sales.

Similarly, Frank Pannone, Managing Editor at Media Blasters Press states that the large majority of his company's sales are made to bookstores. When asked why sales increased at bookstores but not the direct market, Pannone answers rather matter-of-factly, “Most women don't go into comic stores."

A few years ago most North American manga was geared towards a male audience, but this has changed significantly. Pannone says that women account for at least half of their sales. This is reflected in the top selling graphic novels at Diamond and Bookscan as well. For Diamond, the top selling manga in January were Samurai Executioner, Ghost in the Shell 2, Berserk, Rurouni Kenshin and Negima. At bookstores, the top selling manga in early February, according to Nielson Bookscan, were D.N.Angel, Rurouni Kenshin, Tsubasa, Gravitation and Legal Drug. The only manga in USA Today's bestselling book list last week? Fruits Basket.

However, both Pannone and Kleckner agree that there's more to the shift than just the female market. Kleckner points out that a lot of comic book retailers don't know or understand manga. “These guys have always prided themselves of being experts in their field, they're hobbyists. They've spent their whole lives with comics, but along comes manga and it's not something they know.”

Pannone points out another big difference between comic bookstores and bookstores, “People that buy manga have learned to go to bookstores for it. [There is a] better selection, and the opportunity to preview it without a comic store clerk breathing down their necks.”

Kleckner also blames the manga industry itself for some of the failings in the direct market. Looking straight at his own company he states, " We never focused as much on the direct market as we would have liked. We weren't really advertising as much in Previews before." But this is changing; Tokyopop is intent on growing its sales at the direct market, "Now we have 20 pages a month. We started 6 months ago and that has been helping tremendously." Tokyopop is offering different starter kits for comic book stores to help them introduce manga to their customers. Tokyopop also has account reps dedicated exclusively to the direct market and sales to the direct market in 2004 had doubled over those in 2003.

For his part, Pannone sees potential in certain cross-over titles, “There are some books that crossover really well to comic store fans like Lone Wolf, Samurai Executioner and Blade of the Immortal.” Adding “There can be crossover if it were cultivated more with projects like Snikt! or the upcoming CLAMP project that I'd heard tell of.” However, Pannone doesn't see the current status quo changing much in the near future.

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