But eBooks are just a passing fad, right?
Reports by both The Huffington Post on Monday and the NHK World on Tuesday noted that annual sales of digital manga volume sales overtook sales of physical manga volumes for the first time in 2017. The reports, citing the Research Institute for Publications, noted that total sales of physical compiled manga book volumes were 166.6 billion yen (about US$1.56 billion) — down 14.4% compared to the previous year. This drop is the highest since sales were first tabulated in 1978. Meanwhile, digital volume sales rose to 171.1 billion yen (about US$1.6 billion) — up 17% compared to the previous year. These figures do not include magazine sales.
The report stated that one of the reasons for the drop is due to some best-selling series ending, with only few titles to replace them. The report also cited analysts that claim that the number of people buying digital copies has increased in part due to discount campaigns, and that catalog titles are selling well digitally.
Digital manga’s rise to market dominance will hardly come as a surprise to those who’ve seen through the spin peddled by the Big Five publishers and their legacy media pals. Western media outlets have been able to report the greatly exaggerated death of the eBook by conveniently ignoring indie sales. They’re left with no recourse this time, as digital has overtaken print in the mainstream manga industry.
Why isn’t digital beating print in Western tradpub? Because unlike the Big Five, manga publishers don’t rely on an outmoded paper distribution monopoly to prop up their business. Whereas the big New York publishers are artificially jacking up prices on their eBooks in an ill-considered attempt to force readers back into their paper sales channel, Japanese comics companies are offering their digital wares at customer-friendly discounts.
Note also that manga series’ back catalogs are selling well in digital. This is the Netflix binge reading pattern that Galaxy’s Edge co-author Nick Cole has repeatedly cited as the new publishing paradigm. It seems that in manga, as in Western novels, fans of particular genres are loading up their digital devices with entire runs of series in those genres–a habit that is much less practical with print.
Speaking of digital devices, I strongly suspect that another culprit the HuffPo and NHK World missed is the trend toward using smartphones as multimedia entertainment platforms instead of dedicated devices. That trend is especially pronounced in Japan, where phones have largely replaced home–and even mobile–consoles as the gaming platform of choice. I’d be surprised if the same shift weren’t happening among manga readers.
You don’t need to be Nostradamus to see the future of publishing. Whoever can get bingeworthy content to genre readers quickly at attractive prices will thrive. Lumbering, print-bound dinosaurs will die off.
Once again, Japan shows us the way.
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