In 2013, a new phenomenon in digital publishing occurred: Digital comic sales soared – which led to an additional increase in print sales. A variety of comic book genres thrived, transitioning to digital publishing with more success than they’d ever hoped.
Except for manga.
March of 2013 marked the end of JManga, a digital manga portal working with 39 of Japan’s top publishers. This was preceded by massive layoffs within Viz Media, the now-leading manga publisher in North America, in 2009 and 2010 – followed by a price hike in summer 2013.
While manga sales experienced a brief surge in popularity (and revenue) in the early 2000s, the transition to digital has not been an easy one. Digital piracy is an easy scapegoat, but not necessarily the arch-villain publishers make it out to be – after all, every form of modern media has experienced digital piracy, non-manga comics included, but have managed to work around it.
Manga publishers can find ways to “work around it” as well.
4 Suggestions to Publishers to Increase Manga Sales in the Coming Year
1. Use scanlators to your advantage.
Scanlation (the act of scanning/digitizing traditionally published work and then translating the original language) has been blamed for hurting the industry. And, of course, in some ways it has. However, scanlation has also helped the industry by drawing attention to works that would otherwise go unnoticed.
While traditional publishers are making “safe” choices, scanlators are more open to trying anything and everything. If publishers start looking to the scanlators – start viewing what’s popular among the actual readers rather than the “safe” speculative ones – they’d find a whole new world of publishing opportunities.
Not to mention, many scanlators in the community are very supportive of licensing. Manga fans want manga to succeed. When publishers announce they’ve officially licensed a title, many scanlators remove their online copies, encouraging fans to buy the published works instead.
2. Finish what you start.
How many book readers waited for the Harry Potter series to finish before picking it up? Likewise, how many television viewers wait until a show is in its final season before starting a series? Manga fans have similar habits. Unfortunately, publishers have been known to stop publishing series long before their completion. For example, in 2006, Dark Horse published three volumes (out of ten) of Junji Ito’s Museum of Terror series before giving up entirely.
Fans don’t want to buy books from a series they feel won’t be seen through to completion. Publishers don’t want to complete a series no one’s buying. The thing is: They will buy. But it’s up to publishers to take that first step toward building reader/customer trust.
Speeding up the process would also help fans, and potential fans, to feel less jerked around. For example, Last Gasp Publishing gained the rights to The Strange Tale of Panorama Island in 2009, but didn’t release the finished (translated) product until 2013. In a world where scanlators can have a book translated in a matter of weeks, long-term delays seem downright ridiculous and do little to increase the public’s faith in the publishing industry.
3. Change your marketing (almost completely!).
Marketing tactics for manga outside of Japan have been a scattershot of misguided – and ultimately failing – attempts. Outside of Japan, manga has been marketed to “comic book fans” and “anime fans.” Which makes sense at a base level. Unfortunately, “base” isn’t good enough to make a significant difference.
To use the cliché, comparing anime to manga is like comparing apples and oranges – yes, they’re both fruit, but they’re vastly different flavors. Rarely will you find a fan who likes both. Worse still, many who would have liked manga have been turned off by their dislike of anime – not realizing, thanks to the marketing comparisons, that they’re different breeds of media.
Instead of marketing to sectors based on their media habits, market based on their preferred genres. Horror manga should be marketed to horror fans; and the same goes for romantic comedy, sci-fi, and every other genre. By rebranding manga as books for “everyone” rather than “anime/comic fans,” publishers could pull in a massive amount of new followers.
Erotica is the saving grace of the e-publishing industry. As digital book sales go on the rise, no genre has risen higher than literary porn. And manga could easily follow in their footsteps.
By taking a chance and dipping into the hentai (erotica) pool, manga publishers would have an almost guaranteed increase in their readership.
In December 2013, manga publisher SuBLime announced that they will be releasing several yaoi (male/male) titles for Amazon’s Kindle. Time will tell if this proves to be a successful venture; however, I’d be willing to bet that I’ll be writing about an increase in their revenue by this time next year, should they keep it up!
By Lauren Tharp