Friday, February 06, 2004

Manga fad or future? 

Dirk linked to this entry by Wacky Hijinx owner Daniel Shahin today about manga's future.

A well-done piece, but I do want to comment on a couple of things. First, comparing to the b&w bust of the 80s. I think that comparison is a little faulty due to the nature of that particular bust. My understanding is that TMNT, an indy title, because a massive hit out of nowhere. This caused a lot of people with little experience to try publishing their own derivitive works, many of which were really bad. There was also the retailing and fan side of things, where everyone was trying to get the next big thing, so that their issues would skyrocket in value after it hit big. The combination of many bad and derivitive titles, people on all ends trying to get rich, a limited demographic of fans, and a phenomenon that never really made it into public conciousness I think all contributed to something that could suddenly go bust.

Sure a lot of manga might be mediocre, but most of it is competent at least, most of the truly bad stuff being weeded out before making it to the US. There's also a lot of built-in hype, as people from Japan (or people who downloaded translations) have already read the stuff and can comment on it. There's plenty of history to draw on and stuff coming out all the time. I don't think the companies will run out of good titles any time soon (good being subjective of course).

Speaking of, I wonder about exact demographics. Daniel says that Jump titles sell well and a couple of Tokyopop. That sounds like mostly action/adventure for boys, which would fit in with a traditional comic audience (if skewing younger than usual lately). But a lot of bookstores have very brisk sales on girl's comics and stuff like comedy. There are also some big sellers online like Amazon and RightStuf. I'm not sure exactly what the audience at Hijinx is, but it may be fair to say that different titles may have more popularity overall at different venues..

Also, he talks about some titles gathering dust and a sudden wave of returns from bookstore. That makes sense for a comic shop where stuff is non-returnable, but I don't see all THAT much old stock at most bookstores that I go to. Like most of the old larger-sized volumes are mostly gone from any places that I go to look. I would think that the bookstores send out returns on a semi-regular basis (especially since they have limited space and new stuff is always coming out)...

All that isn't to say that there won't be corrections to the market eventually. Right now the companies are definitely still in a "push" stage. I know a lot of manga fans say they can't afford to buy everything they want anymore and are more selective. I don't think this will cause people to give up on the industry as a whole, but again just be more selective with purchases. That'd probably result in some less-popular titles getting cancelled and releases slowing overall. If they want to publish a third-tier title, it'd need a smaller cover price or a value box set (as is happening with anime lately). Still the companies aren't sitting on their laurels and just shoving out more titles. There seems to be a lot of concerted marketing and advertising pushes happening, and I don't think the audience has finished growing yet. If new anime titles and advertising keep bringing in new fans, current fans convince friends to try manga, and current fans keep buying their favorite stuff, I'd think the market will keep growing.

Obviously it all can't keep growing at this rate indefinitely, but I have my doubts of the seriousness of how it'll change. These companies are already anime-producers (especially ADV, but also Viz and TP) and the anime DVD market is relatively mature at this point. Growth slowed, more deals can be had on newer titles, as well as older titles getting prices lowered and/or re-vamped versions. You might argue that there is a glut of DVDs in the market in general, but places like Best Buy are still doing fine selling DVDs and companies are generally doing fine producing them. I think there is a lot more mechanisms in place to stop the kind of unnatural boom/busts that happened in the DM. Also, even for faddish titles like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, to some degree these were planned as such from the beginning, with the next new titles prepped for when the old one died off. Japan is constantly churning out new hit titles, so there will be no lack of new fads on the horizon, as well as all the normal stuff coming out..

As far as American companies getting in the act, I think it'll depend very much on how it is done. Oni Press started slow with quality titles and seems to be doing ok. If the new Marvel Age stuff does well, that'll be cool. If fans don't like it, they'll just ignore anything saying Marvel Age on the cover and bookstores will stop ordering them after a couple of months. I don't think smaller companies will be able to flood the market. Some of the big manga companies could overextend and have to cut back, but that'd about the most I see happening any time soon..


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