Even in the USA, manga sales can be concealed
In Japan exact sales numbers are given for all anime and manga, but in America, we get NO stats on anime sales, and only what has sold better than others for manga. Why is this?Here's the answer:
Even in Japan, publishers do not release sales numbers directly. Doing so is not in their best interest: it gives the competition valuable information on what worked and what didn't. Failures are embarrassing, and too many failures tips people off that the company might not be doing well. You get overzealous fanboys bugging you about them, trying to back-seat drive your business decisions. Partners and licensors get embarrassed by them. On the other hand, if you have successes, those can be trumpeted in other ways. There's simply no upside to having those numbers public.And what does this tell us? That while manga may sell relatively better than most US comic books are, even that probably isn't selling in the millions, which obviously isn't happy news. Until now, I can't say I paid attention to manga sales as much as US comics sales, but it's clear I'll have to find the time to examine that some more.
And even if the publisher did want to release those numbers, they often don't know exactly how many copies sold, because they mostly sell them wholesale. How that works is that they sell a bunch of copies to retailers, and then those retailer will hold onto those copies for however long they want to. Many retailers may eventually send them back if they don't sell. The publisher has no idea how many of those copies the retailer bought are still on the shelf, or how many sold through to consumers.
But look how this echos what surely must be the mindset comics publishers in the USA go by: they're embarrassed about how low the various series they publish truly sell, and even the mainstream press is likely to cover for them, and have - they often don't offer sales figures either. And not because of competition - everything sells low, so it makes little difference what's in focus - but because they otherwise don't want the wider public to know how pathetic comics sales are compared to movies and music.
We can learn from this that the approach to selling manga isn't all that different from comic book sales, no matter what format they're sold in.