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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why Manga sales in the U.S. is slow

Manga sales in Japan declining due to a falling birthrate, the predicament is compounded by slow sales growth in U.S. bookstore chains where they are mainly distributed. Licensed, english translated manga are not sold in great number in the present non-returnable direct sales market monopolized by lone comics distributor: DIAMOND Distribution who has been aggressively promoting the mainstream comics titles of Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse.

American mainstream comics publishers have apparently decided to "flood" the bookstore market with their monthly superhero comics compilations in book format termed "tpbs" (trade paperbacks) or "graphic novels" causing U.S. bookstores to reduce display rack space for Japanese manga. It is therefore incorrect to say that the slow growth of U.S. manga sales is due to waning public interest. This "flooding" of rack space is an old ploy used by underhanded publishers in driving out the competition. To recall, newsstand rack spaces were flooded in the 1970s by competing and unsold Marvel and DC comics that ultimately led to a near collapse of the American mainstream comics industry. This new "flooding" of U.S. bookstore chains by Marvel and DC against the Japanese manga is chronicled in the following online article From: http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/12416.html

"Graphic Novels Hit $375 Million
Plus Comics = $705 Million"

Published: 04/18/2008, Last Updated: 04/20/2008 03:11pm

"An ICv2 Release. The U.S. retail graphic novel market reached $375 million in sales in 2007, according to an analysis conducted by ICv2 and presented at its annual ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference at New York Comic Con on Thursday. The growth came from both bookstores and comic stores, which were both up around 12% over 2006 sales.

The periodical comic market was $330 million in 2007, according to the ICv2 white paper, bringing the total 2007 comic and graphic novel market to $705 million for the U.S. and Canada. Comics were up from $310 million the year before; the total was up roughly 10% from 2006 numbers. Graphic novels once again gained share of the business, increasing from a 52% to a 53% of the total.

Manga sales, including both comics and periodicals, were up about 5% to $210 million in 2007, up from $200 million in 2006 according to the white paper. This was the lowest growth rate for manga since ICv2 began tracking sales. Sales through bookstores were up by a mid-single digit rate, but direct market sales of manga declined 5-10%. The decline in direct sales of manga was due to a reduced emphasis on the category by comic stores, a significant percentage of whom reduced their manga floor space in response to the growing number of releases and the increased difficulty in choosing between them. Over-all, top manga titles continue to do well, but titles in the lower ranks of releases are having difficulty finding breathing room.

Another factor in the slowing manga growth rate may have been increased competition from publishers of American graphic novel material for space in stores. American “genre” (superhero, science fiction, fantasy, horror) releases climbed 31% in 2007, to 1268 releases from 965 in 2006, according to the ICv2 white paper. Manga releases also climbed, to 1513 new releases in 2007, up 25% from 1208 in 2006. Over-all, there were 3,391 graphic novels released to the trade last year, according to numbers compiled by ICv2 from release lists provided by Diamond Comic Distributors, up 22% from 2006’s 2785 releases."

Rack space in U.S. bookstores is limited and like a magazine newsstand, CANNOT exclusively sell graphic novels to the exclusion of other books and printed products. The risk is very real considering the still limited diversity of subject material being offered by American mainstream comics publishers.
The print run and circulation of U.S. mainstream monthly comics to the direct market has only slightly improved when compared to the growth of sales in the new bookstore market. To appreciate the magnitude of superhero "graphic novel-compilations" flooding the U.S. bookstore market over and above the number of Japanese manga, the following 2005 online article from: : http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2005-03-03/direct-market-losing-manga-sales-share, is reproduced as follows:
"Direct Market Losing Manga Sales Share
posted on 2005-03-03 16:51 EST
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 DNAngel, 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."

Will history repeat itself? Will the time come when U.S. bookstores stuck with a glut of unsold and undisplayed superhero tpb compilations, shy away depriving the medium yet again of another distribution channel?


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