Written by Zack S. Lowe
[Editorial] Bringing Back the Boom in Manga
Author: Zack Lowe
Are we heading towards a manga apocalypse, or a rapture?
In a recent , I was haunted by the news of a downturn in the manga industry in 2009. According to the hosts, the industry dipped 20% in one year alone. In early May, of its workforce, and shut down its New York branch. Even more recently, , CMX, in July, prompting blogger and manga reviewer, Lissa Patillo, to call this decision “the cherry on the really bad cake” of the recent downturn of activity within the manga industry in a recent ANNCast.
As many of our readers know, the anime industry in America isn’t on solid footing right now. Funimation is the last of the larger studios left. And they didn’t get there through cut-throat corporate tactics and hostile takeovers. Bad management and poor decision-making in licensing was to blame for the fall of giants like Geneon and ADV Films (although ADV all but lives on as ).
For argument’s sake, let’s agree that the anime boom in America began in the late 1990s, with the release of works like Cowboy Bebop and Serial Experiments Lain on VHS and the airing of Gundam Wing and Dragonball Z on the Cartoon Network. Let’s follow that with agreeing that the bubble burst around 2007, when seemingly sure-fire properties like Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star failed to sell well in America and torrenting video files became the norm for many.
Now, let’s compare this to the manga industry, which saw its own boom around 2004. I remember the first time I noticed it: thousands of manga on the walls of a downtown Chicago Borders bookstore. Kids were in the aisles reading titles like Shaman King and Saiyuki. On the other hand, I bought the first two volumes of the Azumanga Daioh manga and devouring them on the bus ride home. My first year teaching high school English came not long after, where I first saw the glut of manga in the school library. The saturation was unbelievable. Of course, six years later and, like the anime industry before it, the manga industry seems to be at a crossroads.
My perspective on this issue is mixed. I don’t put full blame on scanlations, nor do I blame fans for wanting to read scanlations online. The need to be the first one to read the latest issue is understandable: There’s a definite “coolest kid on the block” factor stemming from that. There will always be the desire to devour the information as soon as it becomes available, in whatever form it exists in. Much like fansubbing, scanlations also serve a purpose: Americans get to see what the Japanese are into much more quickly than traditional (i.e. “legal”) methods often allow for.
I want to be clear that scanlation is not good for the industry. But the manga industry has done itself little favor in planning for the future, leaving scanlations largely untouched and therefore available to massive audiences at the click of a button. The anime industry is finding the solution to its problem in the form of . It is time the manga industry found its solution to its own problems. The industry needs to look to the future, which is in digital distribution.
Digital distribution is the next logical step for manga publishers, and exactly what the industry needs for continued survival. Fans won’t be happy, initially, with this move, but consider for a moment that manga would be cheaper (because there is no printing cost) and more widely available (a simple download from an iTunes-like library). No more finding only volumes 5 and 13 of your desired title at the local bookstore. No more waiting for packages to arrive in the mail. Instant gratification! This seems the likeliest answer to the problems facing the industry.
In related news, Apple has recently announced the , which is not surprising considering Apple’s success in similar markets. Keeping in mind the popularity of the , the aforementioned , as well as , there is quickly an emerging market for digital manga which is untapped at this point. Even smaller devices such as Apple’s iPhone are equipped for . It’s time for the manga publishing industry to hitch their wagon to this star. They may just end up saving themselves.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Anime3000.
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