In the wake of the closing of Broccoli International effective at the end of the year, several publishers have nevertheless expressed guarded optimism in an environment of decreased sales for most books and comic retailers. Booksellers like Borders, which is in the process of reorganizing, and Barnes & Noble are aggressively reducing the size of their inventories, which in turn is affecting all book publishers. Shoujo manga sales in particular are dependent on sales through the major bookstore chains.
Sales of manga and graphic novels in general have been increasing steadily since the late 1990's, but the growth has slowed in recent years. Most publishers, however, feel that this is more due to the "maturation of the category" rather than lack of interest or spending money. In a recent interview, Kurt Hassler, publishing director of Yen Press, Hachette's graphic novel imprint, that a slow down was "inevitable. It's impossible for [manga] to maintain the same rate of growth that we've seen for the past years." He emphasized that the manga market isn't getting smaller, it's just growing less quickly. Considering that in one decade the market went from nothing to what we have today, the manga market is behaving like a more mature category. Hassler also said, "People are predicting the bust of manga - that's not going to happen."
However most publishers of manga who commented acknowledged that consumers will be more selective, just as retailers are. Kuo-yu Liang, v.p. of sales of Diamond Book Distrubution, a major distributor of graphic novels and pop culture material, says that the major chain booksellers "are putting pressure on mid-sized publishers. They are... stocking less and returning more..." He said that retailer cutbacks will likely affect manga publishers more than conventional comics publishers, who can fall back on comics shops and internet sales, but these avenues represent smaller markets for manga sales, in particular the shoujo manga.
Erik Ko, CEO of Udon Entertainment, a Canadian manga studio that produces manga adaptations of Capcom's Street Fighter
videogame series, admitted to reduced orders from Borders, and that most manga publishers will likely have a tough holiday season. The buyers at the chains, "are only buying sure-win stuff." But sales of Street Fighter
have not been affected, he said, adding that the problem is less about the kids finding money and more "to get the kids' attention" and "convince the bookstores to carry your books." He pointed out that sales of flagship manga titles like Viz Media's Naruto
series are still doing well.
Gonzalo Ferreyra, v-p of sales and product marketing for Viz Media, one of the largest U.S. manga publishers, agreed that the downturn in the economy will affect Viz "to some degree." He expects that the holiday season will see decreased sales as in the rest of the retail market, and has "little doubt the retail traffic and consumer spending will be way down." But he pointed out that "manga (and graphic novels generally) remains a very bright spot in the industry." By "expanding product offerings--in terms of format (e.g. Boxed Sets, Collectors' Editions) and genres (Viz Kids)--and by broadening our customer base."
Simon Jones, of Icarus Comics, which publishes sexually explicit ero-manga, said that as a "specialty publisher", Icarus has a more stable audience that a manga publisher with a broader line, noting that his readers are "more predictable, and dependable." In addition, Icarus manga are sold in comics and specialty shops, so the recent cutbacks of the major book chains aren't having much of an effect on his business.
Liang (of Diamond Distribution) points to a conflict between continuing consumer spending for manga and cutbacks in retail orders. From January to August, manga showed double-digit sales growth and in September, when sales decreased coinciding with the economic downturn, sales were still growing at single-digit rates. Still, store buyers are being cautious. He felt that during this key holiday season, retailers will find they do "not have enough stuff on the shelves."
Liang, agreeing with Ko (of Udon Entertainment), says, "I don't think Watchmen
, Haruhi Suzumiya
or Dark Tower
will have problems finding sales. If your product is great, people will want it." However, "will consumers buy one more copy of something else after they get Secret Invasion
? Probably not."
Publishers Weekly Comic Week, Nov. 25, 2008
PW Comics Week interview with Kurt Hassler, Nov. 4, 2008