By FoxxFireArt 7 Comments
Past all the tricks and gimmicks used by publishers to increase sales. There are things to be learned from Japanese manga.
As I look at the state of comic publishing. I always hear people complaining about low sales, and that you need to buy the singles if you ever want to see a trade, but the economics that have been created favor the trade-waiters. Single issues can get costly, especially when they create events that cross numerous titles. With the rise in prices, I don't see publishers helping matters.
How often do we see major publishers such as Marvel and DC just create a title that contains the very same characters in them telling stories that are only marginally different than the other. For DC, the answer is make a bunch of Batman titles, and for Marvel their answer is Wolverine - - or they'll mix things up and make it Deadpool.
I don't see how the answer becomes taking a popular character and putting them in as many books as you can in the hope that fans will then buy all the series to boost sales. On top of that keeping the same higher prices. That practice only seems to appeal to the hardcore. More likely, you are fracturing your reader base by spreading them too thin. Maybe several of these series would have stronger sales numbers if there were less similar titles. Maybe if you didn't have four titles specifically dedicated to Batman and condensed it to one or two that their sales would get stronger, becasue your readership wouldn't be so deluded and stories stronger. Readers would know where to go.
The way publishers then try to get boost sales seems more like a series of gimmicks than an actual publishing strategy. I'm not going to go into the classic issues of reboots, renumbering, or retitling. I'd like to point out the odd fixation DC clings to still about keeping 52 titles out of some weird sense of branding. It made sense when there was the New 52, but a year has passed. The entire publishing plan is to cancel any series that has low sales and replace it with an equivalent number of all new titles. All to make sure there are 52 titles. However, do they even bother addressing the issues that caused the low sales to begin with? That doesn't sound like a strategy. It's a reaction. Has anyone ever really looked into how many old readers you lose versus new readers you gain after reboots?
Then there is the issue of new readers. How are new readers going to know that Marvel of DC have these new reader friendly titles if they aren't advertising it outside of the comic bubble? What are the odds that someone walks into a comic book store for the first time just as they release all these .01 or new #1 titles?
I don't really see these sort of issues with manga publishing. I follow their sales numbers quite often. The Oricon group is a company that tracks sales of all media in Japan, including manga. Every November they publish the sales numbers of top 50 manga volumes. This is only for those series published within that year and don't include back issues. Some of the top manga we've heard of in the US are NARUTO, BLEACH, and ONE PIECE. This is the sales records for all the new manga for these three released between November 2010 - November 2011.
|#1||ONE PIECE||Vol. 60-64||37,996,373 units|
|#2||NARUTO||Vol. 53-58||6,874,840 units|
|#8||BLEACH||Vol. 48-52||4,187,258 units|
Yeah, you aren't imagining things. Those five volumes of ONE PIECE sold in that year produced nearly 38 million in sales. The series has been running since '97 and the sales are only growing. A single volume of this averages 2 million sales in three days of release, and it appeals to readers across gender and age groups. You have to wonder how they can manage to keep older readers while still getting new ones every year. I may have an explanation for you.
When most people in the US think about manga we see the paperback novel sized versions we find in bookstores. Those are actually a collected volume called a tankōbon that contain 10-12 chapters of your average shonen-action series. You could compare it to a trade paperback for comics. Most manga are actually serialized in books either weekly or monthly in publications the size of regular comic books or a magazine. Here is the genius in how serialized manga series work that can capture new readers to different series.
Let's say for the sake of this article that there is a fan who enjoys ONE PIECE, but this person has only been buying the volumes. The problem is that volumes are often months behind where the WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP is up to, That's where the latest ONE PIECE chapters are published weekly. If they want to be up to date. They'll have to start buying the magazine.
Now, if you're buying SHONEN JUMP. You aren't just getting the ONE PIECE series. Several over manga are in this rather large magazine. One chapter per series, and they average at about 16-19 pages per chapter. There are currently twenty-one separate series running. They include:
Odds are pretty solid that if you are buying the series for ONE PIECE. You are also going to be reading all the other series that are also published in the same magazine you just paid for. You bought it for the latest of one series, but it's like a sampler of all the other series you aren't reading. You could wind up becoming a fan of say NARUTO or any of the various other stories, and it's very convenient to find back issue volumes.
It's a bit hard to really explain just how large WEEKLY SHONEN JUMP or any other serialized magazine can be. It's much thicker than your average trade paperback or a manga volume that can be over 200 pages. Luckily, I found a YouTube video of a woman flipping through the pages of a 2009 issue of SHONEN JUMP. (Well, she's either a girl or a guy who takes really good care of his nails. I also got quite the laugh at the DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION ad in the early pages.).
When you consider that your average comic published is $3.99 USD for about 25-30 pages, including ads. You'd have to imagine that these huge serialized manga magazines must cost a fortune. Things aren't cheap in Japan. A Japanese anime DVD that has 3 episodes on it can cost about ￥7.000 ($85). In 2012, SHONEN JUMP, costs ￥250 ($3.04). Back in 2000, it cost ￥220 ($2.68). The latest ONE PIECE tankōbon volume costs ￥420 ($5.11). I have no idea what magic they use keep the prices so low for all this content. The sales must be working out for them. It's been published weekly since 1969 and nearly 2200 issues. They don't appear to be having the same problem as US publishers are having. (You may want to see my article Comic Numbering is a Broken System! Here's a Possible Solution!)
This also affords them a large base audience when a new series starts. As the series BLEACH is nearing it's grand finale, the reader is also seeing the new series HUNGRY JOKER and SHINMAI FUKEI KIRUKO-SAN that started this month.
Often times when I write about manga publishing on Comic Vine the responses can range from curious to dismissive or straight out hostile (see the comments in my article Could Comic Vine Use a Staff Manga Reviewer?). I draw these comparisons becasue there could be something comic publishers and the audience could learn. Covering your eyes to the larger world around you doesn't solve anything. Can you really look at these manga series large sales and think there is nothing to take away from it? Take a moment, and think about it.