Worldwide Manga Sales

By | Tuesday, December 17, 2019 Leave a Comment
Here in the US, comic book sales are a bit murky. We do talk about sales rankings from Diamond and we try to look at Book Scan numbers, but there are a number of problems with both of those that make actual sales numbers something of a guess. An educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. Between that lack of good information and the US's tendency towards egocentrism, we almost never talk about comic sales about manga. But last week, Magazine Pocket published an interview with Tatsuya Morimoto and Rika Kato from Kodansha's International Rights Division that sheds some light on at least that publisher's sales and I wanted to make some callouts here. (The article is, not surprisingly, written in Japanese. I'm largely working from Chrome's translate functionality.)

First, it should come as no surprise that manga sales are higher in Japan than elsewhere. The market in Japan is over $4 billion and the rest of the world combined is bit less than one quarter of that. And the US market is only one quarter of that, with France just shy of another quarter. That's in terms of raw sales figures, though. What Morimoto did not highlight is that the overall US population about 327 million compared to 67 million in France, so on a per capita basis, France is VASTLY outspending the US in terms of manga sales. That said, US sales have increased 707% since 2012, while Europe has only increased 262%. This would suggest that the US will continue to dominate manga sales outside Japan in terms of dollar amounts, although it would take a seismic shift to get per capita numbers similar to France.

Photo of a Mexican comic shop
Morimoto believes that the increase of manga sales is directly tied to the availability of anime via services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. People can discover and sample a variety of stories for free, and then shift over to manga for titles they really enjoy.

Interestingly, they seem to see digital distribution of manga as having the same potential, but piracy is a hurdle they're still wrestling with. While Morimoto seems to only touch lightly on their challenge -- getting translations out faster than pirates -- their solution currently seems to be primarily providing additional content that would only be available to them as a publisher: behind-the-scenes production items, coordination and formal approvals from authors (particularly with regard to idioms that don't translate into other languages easily), etc. They like the idea of having a Netflix-like solution -- a kind of reading subscription like comiXology Unlimited -- but there are few outlets in that vein. Even internationally.

Additionally, they face competition from Korean webtoons. In part because few readers seemingly make little distinction between digital comics and webcomics, the greater ease of accessing webtoons (which just requires a browser of any sort and are often designed to fit on a phone, compared to digital manga which require a reader app of some sort and aren't generally configured for smaller screens) poses a threat to manga publishers. They don't seem to have nailed down a solid strategy for addressing this yet, but they do at least recognize the issue and aren't relying on the quality of their material; Kato flatly says exactly that.

One challenge they face -- and one that isn't discussed much here in the US -- is that trying to expand worldwide is not a simple matter of distribution. Beyond just making sure translations get made to different languages, each country's market is going to respond to material differently. Morimoto notes that “The Seven Deadly Sins” has done very well in Mexico, while "Fairy Tail" does very well in France and "The Kindaichi Case Files" sells better in Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. This means that it's not simply a matter of getting their current catalog to other markets, but pushing particular titles to particular markets. Morimoto notes that there's a human resources element at play, suggesting that part of their issue in expanding is just having people in local markets to better ascertain which books will do better in different countries.

All of this, to reiterate, is specifically coming from one publisher; the issues other publishers are facing and how they're able to sell internationally might be significantly different. But it's still worth taking some time to see how the global economy looks to a publisher that is not based in the US. How they tackle worldwide distribution might or might not be useful in addressing similar issues publishers from other countries are trying to solve, but not paying attention to them at all is a recipe for getting blind-sided later.
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