The head of Square Enix’s anime and manga publishing arm, 田口浩司 / Kouji Taguchi, responsible for producing such anime as Saki and Full Metal Alchemist, has given what he sees as the reasons why manga sales in the US are still dwarfed by Japanese sales.
Speaking in an interview given at the recent “CoFesta” (Japan International Contents Festival), he had this to say:
The best sellers in the US were Full Metal Alchemist and Naruto, but these only sold a tenth to a twentieth of what they sold in Japan.
I think the main reasons are as follows:
1. Fewer copies are printed and those that are get sold at a much higher price, from $8.99 to $12.99.
2. Children don’t get as much money, their allowances are just smaller.
3. The other reason is location. If you live in Tokyo there will be 3 bookshops nearby, which you can easily cycle to. In the US there aren’t any, they can only buy on a weekly trip to the mall. Even if anime is highly popular, they just don’t visit the stores to buy manga often.
It is interesting that he would (quite sensibly) cite pricing and distribution as the key factors holding down sales, rather than focus on the supposed tastes of Japanese audiences versus international ones.
The success of franchises such as Pokémon in the US seems to demonstrate mass market acceptance is more a question of marketing than of content issues, and presumably the same generalisations hold true of the other major markets.
He mentions digital distribution may be the way forward:
Publishers such as Shueisha, Kodansha, Shogakukan and Kadokawa are setting up a digital platform on the PSP for distributing manga.
In Japan the prices are cheap and there are many stores, so I don’t think it will catch on.
But in the US, the prices will be reasonable and there are no stores, so I think maybe customers will like it.
Similar schemes exist for the iPhone/iPod, but Apple’s notoriously restrictive content censorship and the lack of involvement from Japanese publishers probably make this platform less appealing.
He also mentions that overseas phones simply do not yet have the features to properly handle manga; in Japan this form of distribution has been growing rapidly.