Panelosophy - Recession Special
by Chloe Ferguson
Banks are failing, the government is buying up assets and Americans everywhere are seeing their homes and businesses foreclosed upon in record numbers. Naturally, such dire events should accordingly trigger a series of reactions in the everyman: shock, dismay, anger/fistshaking and, of course, one nagging question: what is the economic fate of the American market for Japanese comic books?! Thankfully, I come armed with soapbox and Bookscan numbers in hand to answer that very question. Sit back and/or continue stuffing your mattress with dollar bills; it's time to take a look at a post-recession manga landscape.
Effect One: The Leaner Market
Perhaps most obvious yet consistently overlooked in the plain, simple fact that the market must contract in order to support itself. The rate at which pubs have been putting out new books and titles per month has risen enormously, to the point where over a hundred new volumes hit store shelves each month. Americans are saving more and buying less across the board; not even the manga market is immune to the paring down that must occur. That can mean several things: either publishers will be choosier with what new licenses they choose to acquire and commit too, will be slower with releases of their existing licenses, or they will start hacking the low performers from their publishing lineup. I would expect the pubs with larger, sprawling catalogs to be more inclined to drop low performers, whereas smaller publishers may opt to simply be careful with output and licensing acquisitions. Of all three options, the first two are obviously the more attractive, as they do not entail the annoyance of mid-series drops; number three seems thus much more likely in dire situations.
Effect Two: The Homogenous Market
And you thought it was hard to get indies and josei six months ago. With slenderer prospects on the horizon, the idea of licensing series that move fewer units and don’t always break even (as, regrettably, many josei and independent or experimental titles are want to do) becomes even less attractive than it was several months ago. (Throw in Diamond’s new distribution model and even less hilarity ensues.) Yet the artsy and the adult won't be the only genres to suffer: middle of the road performers with little to distinguish themselves from the pack will also be feeling the bite. The demise of Broccoli USA, while not entirely due to its title lineup, nonetheless is further proof that a publisher will have a much harder time subsisting on a catalog with few titles that crack the higher half of sales charts.
Effect Three: The Wealth Gap
It's no secret that many publishers have a handful of high performing titles that generate big numbers and a larger tier of other titles that don't prove seriously profitable. As consumers are forced to make hard and fast decisions about what they really, really truly want at the register, I would expect the gap betwixt top and bottom performers to widen accordingly. Of the publishers, Viz holds the highest number of top-tier properties, with Tokyopop and Del Rey bringing up the rear- but several of these series are approaching the end of their US runs, creating an intriguing power void and the potential for a new title to step in. Keyword here is title: while I wouldn't expect the list of top properties to change particularly much, as early editions continue to sell well consistently, but there is renewed potential for more unexpected or previously uncharted series to appear on the monthly bestsellers lists.
Effect Four: The Rise of the New Format?
One newly-attractive option for shorter series of all colors and genres is the omnibus format- the ability to release, say, a two or three volume series all at once in a single, higher priced volume. While publishers may be unable to move all three single units of a lower-sales series, they may be able to break (closer to) even on it if they can move more copies of the entire series in one cheap, four inch wide paper brick that retails for anywhere between $15 and $20 dollars. Whether publishers seize upon the format and use it to new ends remains to be seen; both Viz and Tokyopop have been steadily expanding their omnibus options, so the future looks promising.