According to the newly released ICv2 White Paper on the “State of the Comics Industry,” manga sales in the U.S. and Canada suffered through a second straight year of double digit declines in 2009 with sales falling 20% from an estimated $175 million in 2008 to $140 million in 2009. This drop-off comes on the heels of a 17% decline from manga’s highpoint in 2007 when sales reached their peak of $210 million, which means that manga sales declined by a third from 2007 to 2009.
Interestingly in 2009 the drop-off in manga sales was more pronounced in the bookstore channel than it was in the direct market, with the weakest titles taking the biggest hits. The number of volumes of manga released, which hit an all-time high of 1513 in 2007 fell to 1115 in 2009 and is projected (according to ICv2’s survey of manga publishers see “Fewer Manga in 2010”) to plummet to 968 in 2010, thus mirroring the more than 33% decline manga sales since 2007. While most of the major manga publishers have simply cut back on the number of their releases, the pressure of declining sales has forced a number of mid-level publishers including Aurora, Go-Comi, and Dr. Master to inactive status.
Clearly the surfeit of manga releases, which overwhelmed the market, was part of the problem, but by no measure can it explain the severity of the decline over the past two years. The young teen shojo fans who fueled the manga boom in bookstores have aged and in spite of attempts to interest them in reading more “adult” josei manga, as they grow older these predominantly female readers appear to be abandoning manga for other reading (Twilight) and online activities. Also the TV exposure that drove major shonen hits such as Naruto, Bleach and Death Note is down considerably, which has kept hot new titles such Rosario + Vampire from achieving the kind of success that previous Shonen Jump hits have enjoyed.
Another key factor in the slowing sales of manga is the presence of so many volumes of manga in translated form on the Internet. Just as the anime market in the U.S. was gutted by fansubbed downloads available on the Net for free, manga is now facing its own crisis created by the availability of free unlicensed scanlations on the Web. Manga readers lack the “collector mentality” of comic book fans and also tend to be both young and tech savvy. The fact that manga is “long-form” entertainment, with many series running to dozens of volumes (Naruto Vol. 48 is due out in June), even taking into account the fact that manga is very attractively priced compared with traditional American graphic novels, it is very expensive to collect the entire series in paper. Increasingly retailers who saw their once strong anime sales shrink away to nothing are telling ICv2 that manga readers are sampling new series online and only buying their favorite one or two series in printed form.
Still it is important to remember that manga remains a key component of the overall graphic market. In European markets where manga boomed before it hit it big here in the States, there was a post-boom drop-off, but sales then stabilized at a substantial level. Manga continues to dominate sales of graphic novels (in units) in bookstores. In spite of a 19% drop in the number releases and 20% decline in sales, manga titles still represented 35% of all the graphic novels released in the U.S. in 2009 and accounted for 38% of sales in the category.