Friday, November 07, 2003

I don't think bookstores will crash... 

There have been some interesting threads floating around lately regarding bookstores and comics. I think one of the best ones that has come up is on the Oni Press message board here.

I couldn't help putting in my two cents, which I'll repeat here:

Lots of good posts in here, but I do take issue with this a bit:

I'm more concerned for publishers making a hardcore push for the book market. There was a point in the late 80's/early 90's that there was the same attempt, although on a smaller scale. You could find Tank Girl next to the Dark Knight in a Waldensbooks. Then, after a few years they dumped out. Tokyopop easily has the largest riding on this. If 12 months from now, Borders decides 'Hey, only 15% of these titles actually sell regularly' and decide to return enmasse, poof! goodbye Tokyopop! I'd hate to see a company like SLG, Oni, Top Shelf(again!) get hurt from this.

I think some people are under the impression that bookstores went like this: "Hey.. you know that anime stuff seems popular. Let's stock a ton of manga and see if it sells."

But I've been following things for a while now and that just isn't how it has happened. Years back there were few manga titles around and they were carried sporadically. Those few titles were stuff like Dragonball Z that was very popular on TV at the time, and it is easy to assume that they'd disappear once the popularity waned. There was also some classic works like Nausicaa but these were even harder to find..

I think a lot of things have happened since that. First, to look at the anime market, the creation of DVDs really kickstarted the industry. You could now have dubs and original languages on the same DVD. You had companies that'd re-release titles that used to be on VHS at a cheaper price, etc. Combined with increased TV exposure, anime DVDs increased wildly in popularity. This increased experimentation and things like anime for girls started to come out and did pretty well.

Still, it was a gradual process. Media Play / Suncoast was one of the first to carry them (and DVDs of any kind). Eventually others came on board like Best Buy, first with a couple of shelves of anime, with eventual expansion to pretty much one side of an entire isle.

This anime popularity combined with Tokyopop trying to do budget releases at the same time was the right thing at the right time and proved popular. First there was a couple of popular titles based off of anime shows. Eventually they were selling enough to experiment more. More titles for girls came out, and various other stuff that "will never be licensed". They also discovered that most of the people buying were getting GNs, and the pamphlet releases were just slowing things down. Other companies followed and kind of standard started to be followed of size, price, and abandoning floppy monthlies.

The bookstores at first carried just some of the most popular stuff like Love Hina. Eventually they included more of Tokyopop's line and then more of the other companies' stuff.

I don't know how often returns are usually done, but I don't think there is much worry that most stuff isn't selling. I mean if only 15% of the titles were selling, then why have they steadily been increasing the number of titles they are carrying? Waldenbooks only used to have like a shelf of stuff. Now they have 21 shelves of manga as well as other GNs. Media Play used to have half a bookcase side with manga and american stuff. Then they had a whole side. Then multiple cases. Now they generally have about 4 bookcase sides for manga and 2 for american stuff.

Tokyopop recently commented they have a bout an 8% return rate in bookstores and would like to get it up to double digits eventally...

Personally, I'm not that worried. I think things hit critical mass some time ago. Will there be a glut eventually? Sure... Does that mean that the stores will suddenly drop everything? I don't think so. Some titles that don't sell well will get droped. Maybe a couple of people out of business, but I really doubt the kind of slaughter that many people predict.

I've seen an article compare the current state to when bookstores started to carry sci-fi books many years ago. I think that may be an apt comparison. Sure the book companies would run into trouble if Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks stopped carrying sci-fi books, but will that really happen? I don't see anime leaving Best Buy or GNs leaving Waldenbooks any time soon.

The sort of thing I'd worry about more is stuff like having a ton of Hulk books on the stand for the movie. If a movie bombs then they might be dead weight or even if it is successful, it doesn't garuntee people will read those books or continue after the hype has died down.

But most of the other activity seems more healthy IMO. Take Oni Press. They started off with like two GNs (Courtney and Blue Monday #1s) in bookstores. Bookstores bought maybe a couple for each store. If they sold, they bought more. Oni has said they've done well, so I take it they sold decently. Now they have #2s out for those and have plans for several other series to come out. If the stuff wasn't selling, I doubt they would have gotten this far already. It isn't like the bookstores bought 15 copies of Blue Monday #1-5 for all of their stores and waited to see if it'd sell. It has been a much more gradual process than that...

Companies like Tokyopop are now fairly large and can probably take a couple of hits. They have several big-selling series that sell a lot when they first come out and then get re-ordered a lot. They have other series that sell moderately well. If they get a series where the first copy doesn't sell anything and gets sent back to them, well I'm sure they'd just stop that series and go on to something else. I think they can survive hits like that, and frankly they use the higher selling series to experiment with more niche titles hoping to expand readership and get an unexpected breakout hit.

I already see quite a variety of genres of titles and age groups and target sexes. I think the big comic crash of the 90s was especially easy to have happen due to the narrowness of the fanbase. If all the 20-something superhero fans suddenly move on, you're dead in the water. But if you have guys and gals and kids and adults, you're a lot less likely to lose your whole readership at once. Plus if someone gets bored with action/adventures, they can try a romance or a sports title. That helps alleviate burnout a bit...

Anyway, the increases in sales can't keep happening forever. It'll either plateau or have some sort of correction, I'll put my neck out and say we aren't headed toward a crash either...

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