In the last couple weeks, I have been thinking about the manga industry and how publishers are trying to fight against illegal pirating of digital material. What follows are my thoughts and I would love to hear what others have to say.
I've got an actual mangaka update, but I'll post that later.
When I first got into the manga world, I really had no idea how much the manga industry bases successful series on magazine sales. Coming from the US, a magazine the size of a phonebook filled with comic book chapters was something I would never have put together. Yet it has been working in Japan for decades, since the 60's and further when you take into consideration akahon books prior to World War II. The industry has this mindset of, why fix what's not broken that is not going to make them more relavent in this day and age.
Within the last 10 years, the manga industry has gone through some interesting changes. One being the actual sales of manga magazines. In this digital age, all publishing industries are fighting the power of the internet and the download. Apple made a hit with iTunes and the thought of selling songs digitally at a lower price than purchasing an actual CD. Book publishers are joining the battle with their electronic e-books and e-readers, yet those always seem to be more expensive than one would think should be.
Yet it seems that the Japanese have not really thought much about moving the manga industry into the digital age. Magazines are still produced weekly or monthly, sold in bookstores and news stands, and are slowly losing money. Since the peak in the 90's, the publishers have slowly been losing profits. While all businesses strive to continue their profit margins, the manga publishers seem to be at a lose of how to change the tide. Manga still continues to be popular with all age groups, but the way that people are consuming products has changed.
It is true that magazines are the best way to release new manga without having to worry about losing money over a new product. Many established mangaka put out new series ideas through one-shots in different magazines and some even bounce from publisher to publisher with different ideas. By using the magazine format, publishers are able to receive feedback from readers on what series are popular and could become the next Naruto or One Piece. This leave the uncertainty levels low for the publishers. Yet when you think about the readership, the manga magazine is not exactly a consumer friendly product. The price is right, usually around ¥500 for ver 10 chapters of different series, but most readers aren't reading the whole magazine.
When I pick up a manga magazine, I am usually aiming for 1 specific series that I like and then usually I ignore the rest of the series or flip through to see the styles. Sometimes I'm lucky and I find another series that strikes my fancy, but that usually doesn't happen. My interests are varied, so I tend to like different manga in different magazines. So when I do buy the magazine, I've actually paid ¥500 for 1 chapter and then throw it away. That's a pretty wasteful product when you look at it in this way. You wouldn't pay $5 for one chapter of a book ever. $5 would usually get you a really cheap romance novel or a small paperback. In truth, after the manga is put into a tankobon, those books cost around 500¥ a volume for around 6 chapters of a manga I know I like. This makes the tankobon the better investment over the magazine. It seems that others follow this view as well because within the last 10 years the tankobon has been selling more than the magazines themselves.
So I was thinking, what if the publishers start a digital download system similar to iTunes? Chapters could be sold separately or the whole magazine could be bought. That way a reader could get the chapter they want without having to worry about getting chapters for series that they aren't interested in. Of course this system assumes that consumers are already holding an e-reading divice, but with the success of iTunes, I think it could work. The real question is if the e-reader would actually take-off in Japan. While electronics are popular, I haven't actually seen people using an e-reader. My idea might be a little flawed, but I do think it could work.