Tag Archives: bookstores

Guest Post: An Average Manga Consumer

David Hampton probably doesn’t want me to post his full name here because he likes to keep a low profile online, but he’ll have to suck it up for the sake of this post.  Dave is also a close friend of mine who graduated from my alma mater & beloved college anime club shortly after I started attending them. Fortunately for me, he got a job in the area, came back to hang out with the youngins and we became great friends. Dave is one of those guys who you can have endless and fascinating conversations with and he’s directly inspired two different posts here at All About Manga despite not being a huge manga otaku. So here is his post about being an average manga consumer, the hows, whys and what he’s thinkings.

P.S. I’m not going near Thai food for a year now. Or rice, watermelon or pineapple.

P.P.S. I did buy something that would suitably pass as pirate treasure.

P.P.P.S. Happy 2011, guys! Sorry for the dry spell, a lot of my initial volunteers for guest posts fell through. More posts from me when I’m not brain dead/jetlagged.

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Awhile ago Daniella sent a call out for guest bloggers to fill in for her while she was off circumnavigating the globe, presumably in search of pirate treasure or something equally good, like Thai food.  At first I figured I didn’t have much to say – I don’t work in the industry, I don’t really follow any particular publishers or personalities.  I’m basically just a normal manga consumer, and I don’t even consume all that much.  I just really enjoy a good book here and there.

But that’s exactly it!  Hi, I’m Dave, and I am a member of Your Target Market.  Today’s post will discuss the manga industry from the perspective of someone who loves it but doesn’t know much beyond “don’t start on the leftmost page.”

I sit squarely in what I believe is called the “long tail” of manga consumers:

The idea is that the majority of consumption comes from people who aren’t as dedicated, but show up in these huge numbers.  A bit like how zombies do actually, now that I think of it.

I’m going to run with that for a moment.

*Most Manga Consumers Act Like the Living Dead*
We masses don’t really have much of an idea of the consequences of what we’re doing or how we do it, we just focus on getting whatever it is that we want.  We come shambling into some bookstore, unkempt and disheveled, intent on getting our One Piece or Death Note or whatever popular title stands in for brains in this metaphor, and stopping at nothing until we succeed (or until something stops us).  Sometimes we make noise.  We aren’t the most pleasant market to interact with, largely because we hardly ever communicate back in any effective manner, but there are too many of us to feasibly ignore.  This is a subtle problem, one where marketing is more effective than shotguns.  This is the crowd that I believe I belong to.

*The Perspective of a Zombie Consumer*
I don’t buy a ton of manga.  Maybe a couple a month, three or four if I’m really enjoying a series or there’s a good deal.  I’ve completed a few titles but they tend to be shorter, usually around ten books.  I gave up on a couple of series’ once I saw how long they were and how much it would cost to finish them.  I choose bookstores based on which one I happen to be closest to when I decided it’s time to browse.  I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but perhaps I can offer a new perspective on things.

Here are my takes on a few topics:
*Finding New Manga to Read*
Without immersing myself in manga or anime culture, finding new manga to read is kind of a pain in the rear.  So I don’t.  The number one factor that introduces me to new manga is the recommendation of a friend.  This is how I got into every series I’ve ever read to completion.  It’s worth noting that it takes more than just the recommendation, there has to be some hook in the book itself to grab my attention and keep it.  In my case, this is generally one standout element that I happen to connect with.  Usually this is a main character that I immediately like, thrust into some moralistic situation that I find curious and interesting.  The first few chapters of Rurouni Kenshin, Saikano, and Battle Angel Alita are great examples of this, if you’re familiar with them.  All three of those were recommended by good friends, and so once I knew that someone like me enjoyed them I stopped worrying and got into that early hook.  I ended up buying the whole series each time.  In the absence of friends, I follow the path of least resistance: I browse store shelves when I’m already there.  Seeking out new properties can be fun, but I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I try, and the price of being wrong is about $9 times as many books as it takes me to figure this out.

This isn’t unique to manga.  Two of my other favorite things to consume, music and video games, also run into this problem, and for the same reason: one of the reasons they’re so good is that they’re expensive to produce.  And there are a ton of properties vying for attention.

To me, the obvious alternative to this is to buy inexpensive used manga, which can usually be found for about half price.  It’s definitely a solid legal alternative to taking chances on new books, but as far as publishers and authors are concerned, it’s a lost sale.  While I’ll certainly defend the existence of any used market, I can see why this would drive the people who make their livings on sales up a wall.  Video game companies are trying to sidestep this right now by packaging codes redeemable for online content in with their new sales.  Unfortunately, this considerably annoys consumers.  I have never bought such a game.  I can’t think of a good solution, unfortunately, and it may be that it’s just the reality of the market for the time being.

*Scanlations and Piracy*
I don’t read scans of manga.  It’s not because of some stance on the morals of the issue, but rather because I simply can’t be bothered.  All the books I want to read will be right there in the store next time I’m looking, and I prefer physical books anyway.

*SFX and translations*
At one point in my life I tried, unsuccessfully, to learn to read Japanese and Korean, so I usually like to try and read the native sound effects in manga.  But even when I can, they often don’t make any sense to me.  I understand “BOOM” and “KABLAM” a whole lot better than “DOOM” or “WANG” or whatever.  As much as I like to preserve the original properties of a work, the westernized sound effects do strike me as a smoother reading experience.

I really like the little translation notes that appear in the margins or at the ends of books.  I understand that sometimes a target page count is desirable for binding, due to mysterious processes of bookbinding that I don’t understand at all, but regardless it’s a nice kind of extra to find, particularly when it helps explain references or clever jokes that require a bit of context.  It’s a convenient help, especially if, say, you’re skipping history class to read Hetalia (what?).

*Print vs Digital*
There are only a few things I have with which I can comfortably curl up on the couch:

– A book
– A portable video game or PDA or something
– A girlfriend

Really only the first two are relevant to this discussion.  I personally find digital media to be nifty and convenient, but somewhat awkward.  I can’t say I’d prefer to read a good manga on a computer screen, partially for this reason and partially because my computer is slow and contrarian and chokes up whenever I try to scroll down a large-format image.  I feel like I’m not reading manga “properly.”  Interestingly, I have no problem reading quite a number of webcomics in their “original format,” even with these problems.  Reading them the way the author intended seems to be the most important thing for me, and so I probably couldn’t get that into digital manga distribution.  That said, I still enjoy reading webcomics when they publish as books, and intend to take a look into some digital manga publishing to see if I get into it.

Hopefully this has been a worthwhile perspective to read.  Please feel free to post any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Thanks to Daniella for printing this and to you for reading it.

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Filed under manga, opinion

Is There Adequate Manga Marketing for the Everyday Fan?

Last weekend, I went to visit my alma mater and hang out with some good friends. At brunch with two friends from my old anime club, we wound up talking about manga in depth. One friend was just a casual fan, picking up stuff that interested him here and there. He has a full-time job and the disposable income to pick up whatever he wanted regularly. The other friend was a scanlation reader largely by necessity as she doesn’t have a job and is a full-time student.

But as we discussed the manga industry in the local Barnes & Noble and I suggested manga they’d both like left and right, it became really clear to me that neither of them knew much about what the industry was offering. Neither of them had heard of SigIkki, Viz’s fantastic online serialization site for more mature titles. Neither of them knew about many great titles out in English, other digital offerings or even about the existence some of the smaller manga publishers. They were casual manga fans to a T.

It struck me, mostly because I think I’ve been living in an intense manga industry-focused bubble for the past year and a half or so, but also because it seems like such a spectacular failure on the industry’s part. Why the hell aren’t we doing more to tell these kinds of readers know what’s going on?

Some could argue that the industry is already doing all that it can. They’re reaching out to fans on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. There are in-book ads, company newsletters, even TV shows dedicated to reaching out to the fans. The only problem? I think they’re reaching out to only the hardcore fans, the otaku.

To be a hardcore fan of manga and anime means that you’re probably more than a little obsessed with the stuff. While these kinds of fans may know a lot about manga, there is certainly a focus on extremely popular manga and scanlations because both are easily accessible. There are lots of sites dedicated to both, lots of marketing put out (at least on the legal side of things) that’s devoted to Naruto (or Bleach or Vampire Knight, etc.) and almost no energy allotted for telling fans about the countless number of less popular manga out there. No wonder most fans don’t know they exist! (And sales are low.) Where’s the tweet reminding everyone that the next Butterflies, Flowers or Maid Sama is on sale? I really can’t recall much promotional information on such titles during the time I’ve been focusing on the manga industry. In fact, I think smaller pubs like DMP and Vertical Inc. are the only ones who really bother trying to give attention to each and every new volume of manga that comes out. But sometimes, for publishers like Vertical, the fans don’t even know they exist either because no one’s passed them an ANN article or because bookstore distribution for those publishers isn’t as heavy as it is for Viz, Yen Press or Tokyopop. I certainly knew nothing about tiny pubs like Fanfare/Ponent Mon before 2009, so it doesn’t surprise me almost no one else does either.

So how do we get back to the casual fan? Heavy distribution in large chain bookstores is a start. Certainly, the big American publishers take up most of the room, leaving the smaller pubs to fight for space or take their merchandise elsewhere. The problem with this is that I think a ton of casual manga readers find what they buy here in these Borders and Barnes & Nobles. So that leaves the responsibility of marketing to whatever is on the shelves. One thing that I always thought Viz did right is the in-book ads printed on the inside of the front cover listing the newest releases and when they’d hit the streets. They may have only done this with the Shojo Beat line, but hot damn it was effective when I wasn’t hyper-connected to manga news. What’s this? New volumes of Sand Chronicles, Love*Com, SA and Otomen are out? I WANT THEM ALL! Oh, and what’s this new series they have listed? I’ll see if they have it here and flip through it. A great, REALLY SIMPLE way to keep someone interested in buying your manga. It might be slightly more expensive because of where it’s printed, but at least the information has reached the fans right away.

Unfortunately, Viz doesn’t do this for some of the titles that probably need the most help selling– it’s Signature and SigIkki lines. Out of all the ones in my collection that I looked at, only one or two titles had these little inside front cover ads. More titles had ads in the very last pages. Many more had no ads at all, especially the SigIkki titles. The biggest shame is that the only places you could find the SigIkki URL were the places you were LEAST likely to look for pme, like underneath a barcode. Who looks there? Seriously?! Knowing Tokyopop’s process through my freelance work for them, I can tell you that the number of in-book ads depends on how many pages you have left over (page numbers go by increments of 16 unless you want to pay serious cash to do otherwise.)

If there are in-book ads, a lot of space is dedicated to showing off the shiniest new series that the publisher has with the shiniest art they can find that looks good in black and white and lots and lots of copy. As far as I can tell, pretty much every manga publisher is guilty of this. What I think would be more effective, an overall look at the new releases of the line or the company listed on one page with effective information like dates and websites, never actually happens. What the readers see is only what the publisher feels like pushing at the time. Again, energy is focused on the popular titles instead of showing off titles that readers might not even know about. No wonder there’s so much unloved manga out there. There’s not even any real marketing done for the shiny new digital venues that pubs are beginning to put out left and right. At least, not any that reaches all the fans!

I’m pretty sure I’ve only rambled on about part of the manga marketing process and so much more could be done. But for the sake of the length of this post and a fast-approaching bedtime, I’ll stop here with a few questions.

Imagine, if you will, that you don’t read up on the manga industry on a regular basis, that you don’t read any manga-related blogs and that you’re not following Viz or whomever on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. You get your news from your friends, maybe some livejournal communities and, most importantly, what you see in stores. What would be the most effective way of letting you know about other titles you’d be interested in? Do you even read the in-book ads at the end of manga you buy? Do you notice the websites and other information listed in odd places throughout the book? What, if anything, informs you about what else is out there? What do you think could be done to better impart that kind of information to you?

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Filed under manga, opinion