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Tuesday, August 02, 2016 

Even in the USA, manga sales can be concealed

I can't say I've ever taken a through look, but reading this Q&A column on Anime News Network, I've learned that sales results for manga books can be kept just as hidden beneath a bushel as US comics sales figures can. First, the query:
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 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.
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.

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.

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"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 ..."

You act as if this is some new phenomenon; it isn't. DC Comics stopped releasing statements of ownership, required by the government for publishers mailing Second Class, in 1988. And websites have relied on Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly index for decades to estimate monthly sales to the direct market. Nielsen BookScan monitors graphic novel/manga sales to the book market, based on point of purchase, but I believe those figures are only available to those who subscribe to the service (they do, however, release their monthly Top 20, with no actual numbers).

Manga doesn't sell as well in North America as it did, say, a decade ago: That market reached its peak in 2007 before taking a deep dive between then and 2011. Several publishers went out of business and the number of titles released decreased dramatically. Manga began to rebound a few years ago, driven in part by international hits like "Attack on Titan," with some publishers reporting that sales are better than ever.

In the end, comics and manga publishers in North America are either privately owned or parts of media conglomerates. In either scenario, there's no requirement for them to release sales figures. So of course they're going to trumpet their successes, announcing third, fourth, fifth printings, "sellouts" and sales milestones, while glossing over failures. Isn't that what most businesses do?

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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