A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Japanese Manga Industry Revisited

Just how big is the Japanese comics (or manga) industry? An authoritative answer is given to us in this 1998 online article by Go Tchiei:

"There are a great number of magazines in Japan devoted exclusively to manga but it is difficult to give an exact accounting of their number given that it is not at all uncommon for smaller publishing houses to bring out one new magazine after another under different titles. The core of the manga publishing industry consists of some 13 weekly manga magazines published by the major publishers alone, along with 10 biweeklies, and approximately twenty influential monthlies. At any given time there are at least ten magazines which boast over one million copies of each issue. At most there is one non-manga magazine in Japan which can claim a readership of over one million.

Yearly sales of manga throughout the 1990's have been in the neighborhood of 600 billion yen, including 350 billion in magazine sales and 250 billion in paperbacks. These figures do not include sales of manga appearing in general magazines and newspapers. The total sales of published material in Japan (including magazines and books but excluding newspapers) is two trillion five-hundred billion yen, of which maga sales account for nearly one quarter. Given a total Japanese population of 120 million, we can calculate that the average Japanese spends approximately 2,000 yen per year on manga in one form or another.

The three largest publishing houses producing manga are Kodansha, Shogakkan, Shueisha. In addition there are some ten odd publishing firms which come in at a close second, including Akita Shoten, Futabasha, Shonen Gahosa, Hakusensha, Nihon Bungeisha, and Kobunsha. This is not even to mention the countless other small-scale publishing firms. The larger publishers mentioned above also publish magazines and books in areas outside of manga.

It is estimated that there are around 3,000 professional manga artists in Japan. All of these individuals have published at least one volume of manga, but most of them make their living as assistants to famous manga artists or have some other supplementary source of income. Only 300 of these, or ten percent of the total, are able to make an above-average living from manga alone. In addition, there are also a great number of amateur manga artists who produce small magazines intended for private circulation, called dojinshi." (Source: A History of Manga: The Rise of Japanese Manga by Go Tchiei, www.dnp.co.jp/museum/nmp/nmpi/articles/manga/manga1).

It is claimed that at its peak in 1995, Japanese manga publications comprised about 40% of Japan's total publishing industry. Since then, like all other print publications, its numbers began to decline but not as significant as one would like to believe. In an article appearing in the online version of the "Japan Times", it is reported that as of 2003, manga publications comprise 20 to 27% percent of Japan's total publishing industry. This percentage is still a huge number.

"For manga publishers, however, recent years have been anything but rosy. Earnings on the 281 comic magazines published last year fell by 3.1 percent--the seventh year-on year drop. Meanwhile, comic paperbacks eked out a 0.1 percent gain. In other words, the industry, particularly its magazine sector, has been sliding downhill since its 1995 peak. The best-selling manga magazine, Shonen Jump, once moved more than 6 million copies per issue. That total is now down to 3.2 million.

Even mags with popular series are feeling the pinch. Kodansha's Shukan Morning (Weekly Morning), a weekly mainly targeted at adult men, runs 'Vagabond", Takehiko Inoue's manga about legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. The 15 paperback volumes have sold 30 million copies. The magazine has a new hit in Shuho Sato's "Black Jack ni Yoroshiku (Say Hello to Black Jack), "a realistic medical manga (the subject of one recent story: pancreatic cancer), whose four paperback volumes have passed the 4 million sales mark. The magazine itself, however, reamins stuck at 700,000 copies per issue. (Source: "Comic Culture is Serious Business by Mark Schilling, The Japan TImes, www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.p15?fl20030323a1.htm)

What could have brought about this downhill decline? For one thing, the Japanese economic recession of the late 1990s has affected the spending power of manga readers as the depression extended itself beyond 2003. It is only recently that a gradual economic turnabout has occurred and that it remains to be seen if the Japanese manga will surge back to its former peak sales and maybe beyond.

In the same aforequoted Japan Times article, Schilling notes the rise of used or previously read manga discount shops as seriously cutting into the sales of manga, and of most manga publishers' stubborn and proud insistence of selling their books with no discounts. Schilling once again:

"This state of affairs does not please Weekly Morning's aggressive new editor, Yasuo Kihara, who places much of the blame on the Book-Off chain and its imitators. "The number of manga readers hasn't declined," Kihara explains. "But they aren't buying as many magazines as they used to because places like Book-Offs have made paperbacks so cheap." (Source: Comics Culture is Serious Business by Mark Schilling, Ibid.)

In other words, instead of following the "Vagabond" story as it appears in the latest issued of Weekly Morning, fans wait until a used 'Vagabond" paperback appears on a Book-Off shelf. Though they may be getting a bargain, Kihara points out that "the publisher and manga artist earn nothing from the sale because Book-Off is not obligated to pay royalties."

The solution, he says, is regulatory reform aimed at making the used-bookstores cough up. "If talented artists can't make any money from manga, they will go to other industries," he explains.

Kihara is already seeing this hollowing out. Although Weekly Morning's two semi-annual manga contests still draw large numbers of beginners, "few artists today can sell more than a million copies of their paperbacks," he says. Weekly Morning is lucky to have two big sellers like Inoue and Sato but, Kihara adds, 'We would like to have three or four."

The view from the sales trenches is different. Masuzo Furukawa, the president of Mandarake--a chain of 20 stores specializing in Japanese pop culture phenomena, both old and new, sees the root of the problem in the troglodytic mentality of Japan's publishing industry. "Their way of thinking belongs in Meiji and Edo times", he complains. Instead of adapting to new conditions--recession era consumers with more entertainment options but less money to spend--publishers still force bookstores to sell their new comics at list price, with no discounts allowed.

"If we allow this stupid system, we could price more flexibly," Furukawa says. "But the present situation can't last--change has to come."

And how does Furukawa challenge this "traditional" hierarchal system? The article goes on to state that Furukawa sought technology's help, particularly the internet's, by putting up a very successful online store (www.mandarake.co.jp/english) where he sells his company's approximately 1.2 million inventory of mostly hentai (pervert) manga to both domestic and overseas buyers. Moreover, Furukawa conducts live auctions of rare manga which attract bidders from all over the world.

It is thus clear that an economic recession and the onslaught of media demassification has not seriously affected the Japanese manga industry. As previously discussed in this blog (See "Why are printed comics successful in Japan" blog entry), part of the reason is the culture of literacy prevalent and nurtured in Japan. Yet, this partly answers only the consumption end of the Japanese manga industry. What about the production end?

Writing, drawing, printing, distributing, marketing and licensing billions of copies of print manga on a weekly basis is such a phenomenal feat that one cannot just oversimplify and ascribe the creative force or motivation behind all this to "selfless devotion to art" or for "monetary considerations". As previously mentioned in Go Tchiei's article, a large percentage of creative manga people do not earn a decent living through manga work alone.

One must therefore consider some other cause that fuel manga's creative drive to produce billions upon billions of printed comicbooks. And considering that comics production is essentially a labor-intensive activity involving human dynamics and relationships, we tend to look at the cultural and social infrastructure surrounding the corporate culture of Japan. What then is this corporate culture that drives the Japanese to produce an overwhelming amount of goods, most of which are possessed of superior quality and value?

B. Bruce-Briggs, a member of the Hudson Institute senior research staff and a longtime student of Japan, reports on Japanese corporate culture in this 1982 Reader's Digest article condensed from FORTUNE Magazine, the article entitled "Why We Can't Imitate the Japanese", though several years old, still finds some relevance when it tells us that the general culture of Japan is still traditionally HIERARCHICAL, or based on a system of grades of status, or of authority ranked one above the other, to wit:

"Japanese social organization is based on hierarchy--old over young, male over female, senior over junior, wellborn over base. Everyone knows his place in the system, so it is unnecessary to kick people or shout at them.

Early in the morning, Tokyo sanitation men carefully polish their tiny Isuzu garbage trucks. Imagine the response of American garbage men to such a management directive--it would burn this page.

Under such a system, decision making by consensus is easy--few people would hold-out against the group, and certainly not against the boss. Similarly, the superior is open to suggestions from underlings, because innovations are not levers to pry him from his assured place. The heralded openness of Japanese executives to their subordinates does not reflect intimacy but dominance.

Japanese workers come in the door properly trained by family, schools, the entire society. To be sure, the system is full of what we call reinforcement. That is the purpose of company songs and the social and recreation programs that keep workers in a directed mass.

Under such a system, decision-making by consensus is easy--few people would hold out against the group, and certainly not against the boss. Similarly, the superior is open to suggestions from underlings, because innovations are not levers to pry him form his assured place. The heralded openness of Japanese executives to their subordinates does not reflect intimacy but dominance.

The Japanese system was not adopted as policy by Japanese managers or willingly elected by Japanese workers. It has been imposed upon them all. And privately, even from high executives, complaints can be heard. Public opinion polls and the large socialist vote indicate that workers have deep discontents. Do you think they like to work so hard? Do you think they enjoy singing company songs? Do you think the kamikaze pilots wnated to splatter their guts on the decks of American ships?

Learned commentaries on Japanese culture emphasize dominant values of on (obligation) and giri (duty)--values promoted from above. From below, however, the most relevant is gaman--patience, putting up with it." (Source: "Why its difficult to Imitate the Japanese" by B. Bruce-Briggs, Reader's Digest, December, 1982 issue).

From the foregoing, we are thus faced with the portrait of a country run essentially by obedient and efficient drones. Ever wonder why those manga copies are so intimidatingly thick? Why the art is so detailed? The production values high? Why most of these manga do not give credit to the numerous production and art assistants helping the main writer and artist behind the scenes?

The answer is the hierarchical, near feudal, Japanese corporate system. Because of this system, there is no ego or individualistic pride of creators in the comics work. Every art assistant's contribution is for the betterment of the main writer or artist. The assistant remains unknown and he is expected to be happy with it. He or she must adopt to the main writer or artist's style and maintain the latter's original vision. All contributions are for the main writer or artist's benefit.

Applied to the Philippine (and even American) situation, can we honestly imitate the Japanese comics industry by having the same hierarchical social structure run by oligarchies? Apparently not. Filipinos have had the same intense social and historical experience with the Spaniards but with the coming of the Americans in the early 20th century and of Filipinos' indoctrination to American style democracy and individual freedom, willingly going back to a hierarchical and oligarchic set-up would be difficult. Although in recent times attempts were being made towards that direction by the Marcos dictatorship and by the current political crisis plaguing the country.

"To imitate the Japanese, we would need a labor force disciplined by a social hierarchy controlled by an oligarchy. Among the traditional techniques of human-resources management in Japan was the granting of full authority to samurai to rectify on the spot, by the sword, any rebellious behavior by peasants and merchants. Another method was the imposition of collective corrections for individual errors--a superlative stimulus to community cohesion. This regime endowed Japan with a population marvelously tuned for modern economic organization. But that would take us a thousand years, as it did Japan, and could not help next year's balance of payments." (Source: "Why we can't Imitate the Japanese", Ibid)

Comics production is labor intensive. It is supported by one of the most stringest labor laws in the entire world slanted to favor the laborer; at least in Philippine law, that is. Most comics artists and writers weaned on the American democratic way of life, are fiercely egotistical and individualistic. They demand high payment. Production assistants do not stay long and do not often emulate the lead writer or artist's style. Their names need to be acknowledged over all others. There is no sense of duty, obligation, or of patience. The fast buck is often the norm. There is no willingness to share what was learned. Everything stops when every one of them dies with nothing passed to the next generation.

True, most Filipino comics creators are "creative", but they are also fiercely individualistic as well (for all the wrong reasons). Not enough budding comics creators with huge egos are willing to make temporary "sacrifices" for a higher goal. They all think that "art" and ONLY art, specifically THEIR respective styles of art, can save the world. No wonder the comics industry the Philippines today is so infantile, imitative, and chaotic. Must we become obedient drones as well like the Japanese to jumpstart our near catatonic Philippine comics industry?

Meanwhile in Japan where the economic recession is almost over, manga creators are poised to recoup lost ground. Will they regain their former 40% publishing output status? To recall, such a hierarchical and oligarchic society breeds a boiler plate situation of repressed and disgruntled workers silently keeping their resentments to themselves. Such repression (as discussed elsewhere in this blog) is one of the reasons why manga is so successful in Japan, for manga serves as an outlet of expression for such a repressed class. It is a national pastime and escape with such diverse and rich categories.

Recent developments in Japan however, indicate that the dominant oligarchy steeped in tradition is being challenged by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi. Challenging the repressive status quo and of the overall hierarchical structure of society is brewing. Today's generation of Japanese are more outspoken and open-minded. If this trend develops, one could only speculate if this could affect the growth of Japanese manga.

If more freedom of expression is granted and psychological/societal repression is lessened, then it just may be possible that manga readership could dwindle. Indeed, why pour all your fantasies and daydreams in a printed comicbook when you can now do something about it in real life because of the freedoms now acknowledged to you by society?

When the Philippines broke free of a dictator's yoke in 1986, there was a flowering of individual freedoms and empowerment felt by almost every Filipino. This collective yet, temporary euphoria caused an orgasmic surge of media growth. More television sets were purchased, more airtime to Filipino musicians given on the radio, more cable tv stations were set up, more imported publications entered the market, more local newspapers, magazines, and and yes, more komiks titles by the Roceses were published.

But this euphoric surge of komiks readership peaked only a few years until it began to dip in 1991 until by the late 1990s they were no more; inundated by the new surge of diverse and alternative media such as pirated dvds, romance pocketbooks, the internet, ipods, and mobile phones, which media better serviced the Filipino public's freedom and hunger for diverse and better information and entertainment. Could the same thing happen to the Japanese manga industry if the same wave of liberalization continues to rise?


Blogger jonty said...

This is a very informative post about the manga publishing industry.

Sir, I, too, love to draw and have recently launched with other people an anime-inspired but Philippine-based storyblog, IPUIPO @ http://ipuipo.blogspot.com/

It's a mythical story about a young boy’s journey as a mystical healer and warrior in the lush forests of Dakilang Bundok somewhere in the Philippine islands.

Please vist our site when you have time.

Thank you,


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