North American Manga Market Down By 20% In ’09

By Ishaan . April 17, 2010 . 4:00pm


Pop culture news outlet ICv2 have released their “State of the Comics Industry” report, which includes manga and graphic novels as part of its coverage. According to the report, manga sales in North America and Canada in 2009 were down by 20% compared to the previous year.


Revenue generated from manga dropped from $175 million in 2008 to $140 million in 2009. The drop in sales is due to a variety of factors.


The Aging Shoujo Market


One of largest demographics that contributed to the expansion of the manga market in years past was the shoujo audience, particularly instrumental in allowing the medium to expand to bookstores. In recent times, however, this audience has aged, and attempts to graduate them to josei — primarily for older women — manga have been fairly unsuccessful. Once they outgrow shoujo, they look to other forms of media and venues for entertainment.


In addition to this, newer licenses have failed to replicate the kind of success enjoyed by popular shounen series such as Naruto, Bleach and Death Note, owing partially to a drop in exposure via television. This has led to a lack of “mainstream” hits in recent years.


A Decrease in Published Manga


Scanlation, of course, is a part of the problem. ICv2 point out that, compared to the comic book audience, manga readers are younger and more tech-savvy, and perhaps lack the “collector mentality” of comic fans. As more people become aware of the availability of “free” digital manga, publishers are forced to be increasingly selective with their licenses.


In 2009, the number of manga volumes published in total was 1,115 — down from 2008’s 1,513. While larger publishers such as Tokyopop chose to scale back their licenses to ride out the slump, some smaller publishers have been forced to go almost entirely inactive. In 2010, manga published will be down 13% from 2009.


Putting it in Perspective


Manga isn’t the only medium being affected. Graphic novel sales as a whole have slumped year-on-year. The important point to keep in mind, though, is that manga still accounts for 38% of revenue generated from the graphic novel market. ICv2 suggest that, perhaps like the European manga market, sales will eventually stabilize following the post-boom slump.

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  • speedstersonic

    I blame the fact they are way more expensive than they are in Japan. I used to buy a lot, but I haven’t recently due to the fact of price, and nothing as of recent has caught my attention.

    • Slashlen

      Maybe it’s how they can afford those anime prices. They save on manga.

    • Aoshi00

      How expensive are they, like $8 right? I only buy Jpn ones from Kinokuniya and they’ve gone up to $7 now (used to be $5.50 several yrs back, but now w/ weak dollar and inflation..) I know they’re 400 yen in Jpn.

      I guess people have to ask themselves if they’re buying manga legit or reading scanlation off the net. It’s hard for me to read on the monitor or a handheld device so I’m still getting the tankoubon. But at the rate of ~5 new manga on average per month, space is a very big issue for me.

      Back then when Dragonball and Rurouni Kenshin were being serialized in Jump, I bought Shounen Jump almost weekly and they’re not cheap over here (even though it’s like 200 yen in Jpn and lying around in all the restaurants). When I was a kid, that was a big part of my allowance.

      So for me, space is more of an issue… but I don’t feel like selling them back to Bookoff for a quarter each. I wish there’s some way to turn my collection to digital..

      I still dig most shounen and some josei titles.

      • More like $11.

        Most Tokyopop and Del Rey manga is $10.99. Viz varies. Viz Kids is $7.99 a volume and Viz standard stuff is $9.99. Somehow, I think I remember some Viz manga being $8.99 though.

        • endaround

          Manga in general falls under Amazon’s 4 for 3 promotion that seems to go on forever.

    • Hraesvelgr

      They’re more expensive than they are in Japan for a reason. The Japanese don’t have to pay licensing fees, they get advertisements, etc.

  • I think part of the problem is the series companies choose to translate. Tokyopop’s made some poor choices in the past.

    I like Viz best. The company just picked up Dengeki Daisy and Kimi no Todoke, which were great choices and series I look forward to collecting. Plus the Viz pricing is better.

    Plus, like you said before, Viz has Bakuman now, and Afterschool Charisma coming soon.

    • Soma

      I agree entirely. Recently I find that there have been few new series licensed that I actually enjoy. Unfortunately, a good number of series that I did enjoy reading, such as BECK and Aria, got cancelled or delayed.

      • I know exactly what you mean about Aria! I got the first 3 volumes way back when ADV was handling it, and now Tokyopop seems to have abandoned it after volume 5.

        Did BECK get delayed and Aria cancelled? Or vice versa? (I thought BECK was a really popular series. I’ve never read it, but heard quite a good buzz about it.)

        • Soma

          I also started reading Aria when ADV was publishing it. BECK is really popular in Japan, but I guess it never really caught on in North America. It is fantastic, though. Tokyopop dropped it at volume 12, much to my chagrin.
          I think that Aria is just being delayed, but I’m not too sure. :(

    • Yeah Dengeki Daisy and Kimi ni Todoke are very smart moves. They’re probably watching what’s popular on the net, because Dengeki Daisy in particular is series that’s very popular online, but isn’t as widely known/award winning/best selling like Kimi ni Todoke. I love the series though, I’ll actually buy it.

      I’ve been trying to buy manga more recently, and I’m fond of Del Rey and Viz’s releases (I collect Pluto and Mushi-shi), but those are the more “fancy” looking ones, compared to the cheaper Viz lines, and Tokyopop.

  • Funny, and I bought more manga than ever last year.

  • Ereek

    In recent times, however, this audience has aged, and attempts to graduate them to josei — primarily for older women — manga have been fairly unsuccessful.

    I can absolutely agree with this, from personal experience. About 10-15 years ago I was really fond of shoujo, and there are some I do like now, but josei simply doesn’t capture me. I find most josei dull and even boring, though some is nice (I recently enjoyed Midnight Secretary).

    To me it just feels like there hasn’t been a lot of good shoujo lately. What’s been popular is things like Vampire Knight which I find incredibly annoying. X/1999 is the last shoujo I found I really loved and a lot of “classic” shoujo still entertains me.

    On the other hand, I find there to be more amusing shounen titles recently. Beelzebub is adorable! I can’t really see that getting released in English, though. Much love to Rosario + Vampire, too.

    • If you look at the original ICv2 post, Rosario + Vampire is specifically mentioned as something that should’ve caught on, but didn’t, because it doesn’t have the kind of exposure that stuff like Death Note and FMA did.

      I realize I’m not the “primary” target audience, but I haven’t had much luck with josei either. It’s not that I don’t like slice-of-life manga; it’s just that it can get kind of boring or depressing when you abandon the fantasy element almost entirely. The last shoujo series I really enjoyed was Kimi ni Todoke. Like Jenni said above, I’m glad it got licensed.

      There’s another one called Arisa, which I think Tokyopop picked up. That’s fantastic, too. And yea, Vampire Knight is pretty much the Twilight of manga now. It’s too bad, it started out great and steadily got more and more terrible.

  • thaKingRocka

    i’ll tell you what the problem is from my perspective: high prices and lousy release schedules.

    slam dunk volume 1 was released on 9.2.08 and volume 2 was released on 2.3.09. they were each 8 bucks. they are now on volume 8 and the price has been raised to 10 bucks an issue. this series finished in 1996 in Japan. by my thoroughly accurate calculations, it should finish in America sometime around the year 3000 at 100 bucks an issue.

    if they were to release this series, which they’ve strangely done little to nothing to promote, on a monthly basis for 5 bucks a pop, i would buy it without so much as a moment’s hesitation. don’t get me started on how they decided to release real before slam dunk.

    while i’m at it, i might as well make a complaint about viz’s failure to reprint sanctuary. that sucks, too.

    • Aoshi00

      What’s the deal w/ Slam Dunk anyway, the title’s rights changing hands? I remember the manga got started by someone many years ago and 2 volumes of anime DVDs got released by Toei or Bandai, or something and that was that.

      If they put their mind to it though, don’t they stick pretty close to the Jpn release schedule, like Vagabond, Naruto, and other Shounen Jump manga. They’re finally done w/ YuYu Hakusho too. I don’t pay much attention to the translated graphic novels, but I’m amazed at how many titles are brought over in recent years and how quickly they’re released comparing to the Jpn counterparts. Even things like Saint Seiya (28 vol), Rurouni Kenshin (28 vol), Hikaru no Go (23 vol.), Ranma 1/2 (which got dragged for a long time I remember), Hunter x Hunter (ongoing) & Eyeshield 21 (37 vol) are all done right? Maybe the demand for Slam Dunk here just isn’t that great? Even Harlem Beat was done long ago I remember correctly..

      And frankly, $8-10 isn’t all that bad since they’re all translated, compared to imported ones that go for $7 (400 yen) & up..

      • thaKingRocka

        yeah, slam dunk was released back in 2003 or so by some other company called gutsoon or something. i bought the first volume for too much money, and i liked it, but then they simply didn’t finish it. it didn’t sell well enough at its $10+ price point, and viz picked up the rights since they already had the rights to inoue’s other works. i can’t see how one of the best selling manga worldwide can be treated as an afterthought.

        viz did a great job of getting caught up with some of the currently running series like naruto, bleach, and one piece, but i don’t like that they’re approaching long-since-finished series in the same style as new releases. it took them 7 years to finish yuyu hakusho, and i’m not cool with waiting around for another 10 years for slam dunk to finish with its 31 volumes versus yuyu’s 19 with 2-3 months between volumes. i want to support the titles i like, but there’s no sense of urgency or relevancy with these lengthy time spans.

        i can’t say anything about those other titles because i’ve never looked into them. i’ve never really had much interest in them, but i would consider getting interested if they were to lower the price (especially if the whole story is available to me already). there is no way that the translation costs could justify the price of 8-10 bucks a volume, and they could probably lower costs further if they were to print them in exactly the same size as and using the same paper stock as the japanese tankoubon. in this case, i think by making less of a profit per book sold, they would gain more readers, thereby creating greater profits in the long run. however, if those readers are left without installments for three months at a time for something they know has been complete for over 10 years, they will likely lose interest. put simply, a measly 45 minutes of reading every three months at $5 is priced to own, while $10 is priced to ignore.

  • They should release more light novel like chorme shelled regios, because I know I will buy it

  • Nekobo

    I had the impression a few years ago that the US manga market was a little over saturated. Too many titles competing for shelf space. Plus, the prices always seemed a bit high to me.

    I just got back from a local festival. Coincidentally, I stopped by after I donated some old manga to a local library. Anyways, some vendors were selling manga for like $2, but it didn’t seem like the crowd, mostly teenagers, were buying. Probably because they can read those same titles online for free.

  • Guest

    The less licensing there is, the better.

  • nyoron

    Pretty much all of my disposable income goes towards videogames these days. I used to buy a ton of manga, but the only series that I’m currently buying are Sgt. Frog and Excel Saga (please don’t cancel them, Tokyopop and Viz!).

    • lucy1986

      My thoughts exactly!
      The video game release schedule over the last year has been pretty epic and I’ve prioritized keeping up with that.
      In the UK Manga is generally between £5.99 and £6.99 with yaoi hanging around the £9-12 mark. So the way I see it, I could buy 2 or 3 manga books, have them read over the course of a few days and shelf them, or I could buy a second hand RPG and have myself 40-100 hours of gameplay……and then trade it in for some of my money back.

      It’s not just the shoujo fans, the manga industry has always been in competition with other forms of entertainment.

      • Wow, where’d you that price? At Forbidden Planet it’s always around £8 unless its on discount

        • lucy1986

          A lot of the book shops like Blackwell’s and Waterstones. They are the more mainstream titles though.

          *love your icon* :)

  • I used to buy a LOT of manga, but not so much these days. For a couple of reasons, really.

    A) Some of the ones I was following ran anywhere between $9.99 – $20. Try collecting all of, “Blade of the Immortal”. Your wallet will be crying, trust me!

    B) If you can just read the manga translated online, why bother spending anywhere between $10 – $20 for it?

    It’s great and all to support the companies, but man..I have friends from Korea and Japan that tell me stories about being able to get a FEW manga for even $5. It saddens me :(

    So yeah, I’m assuming the sales decrease is because more and more people are finding sites online to read the material and/or because of the poor economy in the US right now.

  • I know people are going to pounce on me for this, but judging by the reports and even all the comments on here, it’s more a problem of manga competing with other forms of entertainment — for both time and money — and not coming out on top.

    Perhaps the only way to be relevant really IS to go digital (on iPad, PC etc) like Stu Levy suggested. You’re not competing for shelf space (on both the store and consumer fronts), you can price individual volumes cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about wear and tear over time. In a sense, everyone wins.

    • Aoshi00

      I’d be very interested in digital manga on iPad if I ever do get one later because it’s actually big enough to be read like a book, instead of DS/PSP where you need to scroll, zoom in/out, etc which I find ridiculous.. but the digital books would need to be new and released at the same time as the books, I might double-dip to collect my favorite old ones too. Still, I’m not sure if I would be ready to give up on physical books or games despite the space problem. DVD/Blu-ray/manga/games are flooding my place day by day.. Netflix renting and streaming is helping a little bit and I’m only buying the must-get movies, maybe my manga/games would go digital later too…

      As for price, yea, it would be better if they’re cheaper (despite the licensing fees and translation work), but I think people are just being cheapskates (since they have scanlation, fansub anime, and some might even pirate games for free), a Jpn one is $7, so what’s $8-10 after it’s translated, they used to be even more expensive when they were graphic novels blown up in size. I think they’re worth their price because I sometimes re-read my manga. If I weren’t getting the Jpn ones alrdy, I would support the US ones as well (to collect favorites like YuYu Hakusho or Rurouni Kenshin).

      • thaKingRocka

        Scanslations are usually not worth the non-existent price of admission if you ask me. I tried to read a few of them back in the day, and was pretty disappointed. I’d rather pay money for quality. Unfortunately, the legitimate releases are not always much better, and they sometimes suffer from silly censorship.

        Normally, I would say I’m cheap, but that’s not the reality. I paid 75 for MushihimeSama. I paid 400 for my netbook. I paid 1800 for my desktop. I’ve bought every console. I’ve bought hundreds of games. Generally, I buy what I want, but I’m frugal about it. I wanted to read the entirety of Dragon Ball (not Z, the original), so I went to eBay and bid on a ton of collections of it before I could get one for the price I wanted, the value I perceived (less than or equal to 5 bucks a book). I don’t understand people who go on eBay and pay only 10% less than retail for used books, but that’s another story. I’m not cheap; I just try to be smart with my money and I think 8-10 bucks a volume is unjust and foolish.

        I’ve said too much on this topic already. Sorry. I’m very much a consumer and consumer advocate. :P

        • Aoshi00

          Value is perceived like you said, I tried to be frugal too, but I ended up buying two of each consoles (Jpn and US Wii and 360) just to save the trouble of region locking (used the freeloader disc before it stopped working). PS3 is region free yet I have the Phat and the Slim because I found the Phat’s fan to be too noisy. I have no prob getting the 250Gb HDD for my 360 because I ran out of space (I bought the 20Gb for $100 and 120Gb for $130 at the time because I needed them). Some might think shmups are not worth importing at such high price (some would think it’s worth XBLA’s 1200 or 800 pts at most), and those who have waited for Deathsmiles have finally paid off. I sometimes buy the LE because I think the soundtrack and extra packaging is worth it, people could easily d/l soundtracks for free online and my soundtracks are converted to MP3s anyway. It’s all relative.

          Scanlation has been getting pretty high quality like the Naruto ones, so I imagine that would have an impact on some not buying from Viz because people have read them alrdy. I’ve always doubted translation, that’s why I learned Jpn and just read the original. I hated Viz for taking too much liberty w/ some titles before, I’m not sure how they are now, like some YuYu Hakusho translation made me cringe (I read a lot for comparison when Viz first started the US Shounen Jump, and subscribed to Animerica Extra for a lot time before it turned Shoujo).

          I thought the US manga are expensive too, that’s why I thought I was fortunate enough to be able to read Jpn and can get the originals for cheaper, at ~$5 the fair price that you said, but their price has now risen to $7 too (and Vagabond ~$10 since it’s bigger) due to exchange rate and inflation. I buy about 5 manga per month on average, so $7 x 5 + NY tax is defiintely not cheap, but I see that as part of my budget because I spend way more on games and a couple more books won’t hurt. If I really want to save money, I could go to Book Off to get most used manga for $1, or $2-3 for the more recent and popular ones, but I’ve always been kind of a clean freak lol… also at $1, I would buy a lot of old manga but I don’t have room for those anymore.. for me, I don’t look at the price of manga, but rather how much space they take up on my shelves now because the cluster does scare me. Before I thought “Going green” is silly, but I can really relate to that now.

          BTW, I have that manga club membership from Kinokuniya that gives me 10% off for $15/yr, so that helped me save some money too since I buy a lot of manga every month..

          • thaKingRocka

            i am disappointed in myself for not having a greater level of literacy in japanese. i spent three years (non-consecutive) there, and i made some progress, but i would certainly not be able to read manga beyond the level of doraemon and the occasional dr.slump. that means that book-off’s awesome dirt cheap prices don’t do me much good. i couldn’t care less how beat up a book is so long as it’s not falling apart and everything is legible. one of these days, i plan to pay for some formal schooling in japanese, maybe at hunter since i’m getting my master’s there anyway.

            the clutter issue is definitely relevant for me too. for a while, i was buying manga pretty often. nearly all of my eBay purchases were complete set purchases. i bought naruto 1-29 for 50 bucks, db for 40, old boy for 35, crying freeman for 20 … the list goes on. then, i filled up this corner of the room and realized that there was no way i could continue to buy manga like this. i still have all my books, but i’ve contemplated asking the branch library if they would take them and keep them from circulating. if the kids in the neighborhood want to read them at the branch library, but i’ve ordered books from other branches and been disappointed. i think it was dragon ball volume 6 or 7 that had a picture of bulma in her bra (censored american version). i had to go online to find that out because that page was torn out of the library’s copy.

            i did the math on kinokuniya’s deal and after figuring that i would have to spend 150+ on manga before i was saving money, i decided it simply wasn’t going to happen. i like that store a lot, but i don’t work in manhattan anymore, so i very rarely go there these days. i went to roland kelts’ talk there and was disappointed by the behavior of the audience, too.

            a corner full of boxes of manga and other assorted goodies:

        • Scanlations aren’t all bad, depending where you get them from. I remember some REALLY terrible groups (like Suzuka-Only-Scans, who used MS Paint…), but I also have some very fond memories of awesome groups with real dedication to quality. Storm in Heaven, Entropy (that was the one I was with), Dragonvoice, Snoopycool (back in their early days anyway), Omanga, Mangascreener etc.

          Yea, I kind of hope that when they finally do go digital, they make sure to price things right. Everyone needs to take a good long look at Netflix and Xbox Live / PSN / WiiWare / Steam, and learn from their successes and failures. To an extent, all digital media has to deal with the same hurdles.

          But I think one of the best points anyone has brought up in this entire thread is your comment on timing, and how to keep a series relevant, instead of allowing people to forget about it.

          • thaKingRocka

            i recognize that some fans do a better job of translating than the pros in both manga and anime. i give them the credit they deserve for their work in translation, but it’s negated by the piracy. i want them to go legit.

            as for the idea of timing, it really is key. i can’t help but feel like everyone at viz skipped the basic marketing lessons on striking while the iron’s hot. the iron never even begins to heat up when you take 7 years to release 19 volumes. fans will understand the slower production schedule when a series is in progress, but when a series has been around for ages, it’s just plain frustrating. they found the time and resources to translate naruto at three tankoubon in two or three months there for a while. they could make so much more money releasing these older, completed titles on a monthly schedule at a reduced price. the shonen market is fickle and temporary. by the time a series finishes, or even reaches the climax, most of the shonen audience will probably be old enough that they’ve moved on to seinen or no comics at all. of course, that doesn’t count folks like us. :P

            i think they need to add another avenue for revenue to their business model. shonen’s monthly publication is a joke. they could have a stable of translators working on a weekly or bi-weekly basis keeping readers up to date with the japanese installments on a subscription plan. it could be per title. just as an example, someone could opt to pay $65 for a year’s subscription to naruto in secure/registered digital format. then, the people who want to keep up to date will be able to do so receiving high quality scans with quality translation at a reasonable price in good time. others can wait for the tankoubon to be published. it’s likely the publishers could even manage to double dip into the consumers’ wallets as most of the “need it asap” types would probably also buy the tankoubon. this model would also make the tankoubon easier to put together since all the translation work would be done on a weekly basis. immediately, at the end of a two or three month period, the already translated chapters could be compiled into a tankoubon and printing could begin very quickly.

            i’m not a businessman, and there may be some flaws in my approach, but i think they need to find more ways to make money from the same product so that they can charge less for it and they need to bring in the sense of immediacy and relevance that helps the japanese market. i don’t see that a weekly publication could ever work for the american market. this is my alternative. japanese publishers make money with the weekly publications and sometimes the tankoubon is gravy while the kanzenban is the graviest of gravy.

          • A lot of scanlators do want to go legit and some actually have. There’ve been times when companies have recruited from scanlation channels. Also, any group with a shred of decency knows to drop a title the minute it’s licensed. Keep in mind that scanlation has done wonders for exposure overall. While it’s definitely a legally grey area, it isn’t without its merits either.

            Man, I still remember Snoopycool finding out about Viz licensing Flame of Recca and then siccing every editor they had on the series to try and complete it that following week…

            I think your subscription model idea is fantastic. Especially on the iPad, I hope they try to experiment with something of the sort. It’s more economical for readers, and based on the number of subscribers, it also gives publishers a very good idea where they need to focus their resources.

      • Yea, initially, I had a really hard time figuring out what anyone would want an iPad for, but using it as an e-Reader seems like the most convenient thing in the world. You don’t have to worry about lighting, bending the pages, having the book come apart etc. etc. In the case of a lot of manga, I tend to hold it very gingerly because I’m afraid of ruining the binding. You can’t even open some of them entirely and see the full picture toward where the pages are bound. :(

        • Aoshi00

          lol I’m like that w/ my books too, handling them carefully, people used to think I’m crazy.. but they all turn yellowish over time from oxidation.. other than e-reader, streaming movies on Netflix anywhere would be pretty cool, but that would require the more expensive 3G model w/ monthly fees of course (month to month no contract like iPhone I heard), it’s $150 more than the Wi-Fi only iPad. I guess surfing the web on the sofa w/ the touch screen is pretty cool too. I might want one later, but for now it’s too expensive. Even though we don’t have flying cars yet, everyone walking around w/ a tablet looks pretty futuristic like in sci-fi movies, and the upcoming 3DS :) That’s why I’m cool w/ digital artbooks, easy accessibility and no need to treat them like mint… I guess digital is the direction we’re going..

    • thaKingRocka

      for digital comics, i’d be willing to pay much less. the experience of reading comics in digital format can be decent, but it’s too hard to make the digital medium transparent. i’ve read comics on my desktop, my laptop, my netbook, and i’ve even tried the psp. the desktop, with its big monitor or double-page spreads was best, but not one of those formats can compare to the a book in my hand. i’d drop five bucks on any book no problem, but for digital copies, i couldn’t see myself paying more than 2-3 dollars for a tankoubon and 1 dollar for an american 32-page comic.

      also, a book is the easiest thing to work with on a daily mass transit commute, which is the time i am most likely to read.

    • Slashlen

      That’s the case for me. Anime/games suck up all my money right now, and the fact that manga costs so much doesn’t help. I’d really like to catch up on Berserk, but it’s $14-$15 a volume.

  • malek86

    Here in Italy, a single manga volume can vary in cost: it’s usually around $5 for something like One Piece or Detective Conan, but can go upwards to $8 for less known series or for those with the plastic cover. Most often, they’ll just avoid the plastic cover, and charge around $5-6. Compared to the american prices, it’s pretty cheap, although I guess it’s not the same quality. But can you say no to such prices? And that’s despite the usual euro gouging. Admittedly the average price has been increasing a bit compared to two or three years ago, but we still never go over $8 for a single volume, unless it’s a deluxe edition or something. Surely there’s some problem with the american business model, if they have to charge so much.

    Not only that, but releases are usually regularly timed, with older manga getting released every month, and newer manga being released not too long after it comes out in Japan. To make an example, Detective Conan has started around 5 years ago, and hasn’t missed a month since. One Piece too, although it’s now slowed down because they are almost caught up with the japan release (we’re at vol. 54 now). Even less known titles are still pretty regular. Compare this to the american release schedules.

    You’ve gotta ask yourselves why manga it’s so much more expensive and late in America. No wonder it’s not successful. Maybe the problem is with the publishers? Here, we only have basically two market leaders (Star Comics and Planet Manga), and almost nobody else. How is the situation in the US?

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