Summer’s pretty much ended in Oregon, we’ve got rainy days and cloudy skies in our future for the foreseeable future, and the temperature is dropping down into the low teens celsius. In addition, I just read an article at Colony Drop talking about Scramble Wars, which is one of those obscure bubble-economy-era OVAs that you probably only remember if you were a fan at a Very Specific Time, and it sent me spiraling into a bit of a navel-gazing nostalgia funk.
It’s the perfect time to talk about dying industries.
I wasn’t there for the actual beginning of the American manga industry. By the time I became a fan, series like Appleseed and Urusei Yatsura and Mai the Psychic Girl were already being translated and published. Nonetheless, I got to watch it grow from very early on, to the point where the manga section in bookstores expanded to cover multiple rows of shelves, and now I’m watching it correct down.
I was going to put something in here about the death of the comic book industry as a parallel, and then I decided to go looking for sales figures and found that comic sales in 2010 are right about where I remember them being ten years ago, so I think that it’s already reached its “economically sustainable” point and will probably totter along at its current pace for another twenty or thirty years.
Anyway, manga. It was interesting to be surrounded by manga fans for a couple of months in Japan, because it let me correct some assumptions I’d made about the species and come to some other realizations.
For one, I’d assumed that they were cheap, so watching them go out and spend thousands of dollars on officially-licensed anime and manga merchandise was a bit of an eye opener. They even bought a surprising amount of untranslated manga, though I’m betting that that was at least partially for the novelty factor.
On the other hand, there was a collective wailing and gnashing of teeth when onemanga got closed down, so there are obviously some things they have no interest in spending money on – those being, sadly for the English-speaking industry, officially translated works.
I went wandering around the net and found all sorts of articles talking about what could be done about all the manga piracy that’s going on and how to turn readers into buyers and how to compete with fan translators, and it all seems quite well intentioned, but I don’t think it’s likely to actually happen. What I rather suspect will happen, instead, is that the market will correct down to the point where the only things being licensed and translated for the English speaking market are guaranteed sellers – the Bleaches, One Pieces, Narutos and so on, which can make enough money to keep going even if only one in ten readers is actually buying it – and that any publisher trying to make a living translating smaller projects will probably have to close up shop or move heavily into merchandise sales and pray.
It’s not really the end of an industry so much as the end of an illusion. The illusion was that the US was actually a market full of consumers who you could sell manga to, and the reality is somewhat less profitable. It was nice while it lasted, though.