“Why Manga Doesn’t Sell Overseas”


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.

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  • Anonymous says:

    I read the english translation of the manga in my country, Malaysia. The localized version sucked and are heavily censored even if they’re cheap about RM4-Rm7.50 (USD1.30-USD2.50).
    (I recall a scene in the Dragonball manga where they added a black bra for Bulma).

    The really good English translated one is about RM30+ (USD10) whcih is pretty steep for most people. Plus these books are sold at specialist bookstores which are found in the capital as far as I know.

  • I live in Florida, United States. I lived in Japan from 1990 – 1994. I loved Japan alot, though I was oo young to notice all the characters / cartoons there. I was more into that badass food known as sushi! – Anyway… As I got older I started looking into manga / anime… Ironically I was turned off by it. But when I was 17 I saw a VHS series alled La Blue Girl. Hit 18 bought the DVD set for all 6 episodes for like 120 bucks. I cut lawns to make money.
    After seeing hentai / I totally started looking into other things. Suffice to say. As of Yesterday… I now own 120 hentai DVD’s ( Uncensored Only – can’t find the censored ones here nor have away to get a region free DVD player / I own about 2 book selves of manga / hentai and other. I have about All volumes of Dragon Ball / Bleach / Witch Blade / Rin / etc etc… I just wish all I buy would show these companies especially the hentai ones there are fans overseas like me who do buy hentai. And none hentai like.
    I hate censorship just as much as the next person reguardless of country. The problem is priacy. Morons in the US who say its A-Ok to show people being killed on TV / and blood gore all over the place. But god forbid, we see some cartoon monsters having sex with a none living character… Sigh. I’m powerless in the end I guess. I buy my stuff, I have “VERY” few things ‘free’. I believe if you love it, you buy it. Pixy-soft title: As known in English to me “Anti-Demon ninjas” – I wanted to see the whole series, uncensored of course.. But If I buy it, it has to be uncensored. I just can’t get past the pixels.
    I understand it. But, if only peple in Japan and elsewhere could have it removed… Thus no more fears of reverse importing… And for people like me I could buy easier without fear of censorship / and the need to buy a region free dvd player which is damn above my budget.

  • Huh not selling??? Is that the fact that happens on your countries guys?

    On my country one manga is only around 1 to 1.5 US dollar so almost all people just buy manga everytime they like the manga.

    • Anonymous says:

      These are my reasons for not buying more:

      Selection: I have only 2 places to buy manga within a reasonable driving distance (25 minutes, one way). Books-A-Million and Waldenbooks. I do all my shopping at Waldenbooks because of the second reason on my list…

      Price: Waldenbooks is the only place nearby that has good coupons. I won’t spend $8.99-$14.99 on a single volume of manga. Borders (Waldenbooks parent company) comes out with good coupons. Usually between 30-40% off of a single item. The problem goes back to the previous reason. Waldenbooks has a crappy selection. Sometimes they only get 1 or 2 copies of a new volume in. Sometimes they don’t even have new books on the shelf on the release date. I’m STILL waiting for them to have the Ultimate Edition of Fruits Basket #4 – the hardcover ones. It was supposed to have been released over a year ago.

      Publisher Reliability: There’s no guarantee a US publisher will finish releasing a series if the sales aren’t good. If they don’t, my only recourse is scanlations. Foxy Lady #2 is being released at the end of June. Volume #1 was released over 18 months ago.

      Publishing Time: With scanlators, I can sometimes read a manga weeks after it’s been released in Japan. It could take YEARS for it to show up “legally” in the US.

  • Eurofag here. The price definitly is my main gripe with manga sold around here. €6.50-€10.00 for one volume is just too damn expensive. Add in the fact that releases are extremely slow, while the quality is not even much better than that of a good fan translation, and you can see why few people buy manga here.

    • My thoughts exactly. The percentage of people that read manga in Japan is much higher than the percentage of people in the USA that read not just manga but comics as well. Thanks to the USA government in the 60’s creating the Comics Code Authority it left the USA’s comics industry gutted from it’s former glory, now all that’s left is a shadow of it’s former self. Be aware this could now happen to Japan because of this Youth bill, the fact that so many manga fans here in the USA read online doesn’t help things either. Comics and manga companies are hoping to sell their stuff, and if it’s not making the money they will just stop printing it.
      Granted the opening reasons are a part of the factor why manga doesn’t sell as well in the USA.

  • Please this is totally unrealistic.

    1 – We have a lot of discrimination against comics and manga, that are just for children, only geeks read and a lot of stuffs.

    2 – Culture: Americans don’t read

    34% of literate americans read newspapers against 85% of the japanese.

    61% of literate americans read books for entertainment agains 100% of the japanese literate.

  • Reading manga on the computer isn’t the same thing as reading it in print, so when a series I download gets released I do make an effort to pick up the real copy. If I start in on a series and like it I’ll go buy the real copy if it’s available. Anymore when I download I tend to focus on stuff that will probably never get released in the US, like say Franken Fran.

  • In HongKong you can find manga in any news stand (except 7-11)
    Price range from HKD 30-45(24 at some place),original Japan ver can cost around 65-75,Shonen jump cost 38 and bought Halo3 ODST(HK ver) for 275(that around 35 USD at max), talk about cheap

  • greenpoint0 says:

    I’ve been to quite a few conventions in Hong Kong and I would like to attend a local AnimeBoston convention next year (already, Kouji has made point 1 valid, as admission costs $30, or, if the Japanese are interested, ¥2700). In Hong Kong, admission is HK$20 (a measly 2 or so dollars in the U.S., probably even cheaper than entrance to an anime convention in Japan). Point 2 is partially true, especially in this economic climate. I’ve seen some people flashing their cash at school, they definitely have the money. However, they probably don’t spend their money on manga. Point 3 is ESPECIALLY true, I don’t even have to go into detail about it.

  • Like hell I’m supporting Squeenix after learning of their tendencies to putting their IP “safety” first before their fans(Hint: the incident starts with a Crimson and ends with Echoes). And then they have the gall to tell their fans “Do you want more Chrono Trigger? Then buy more copies you ungrateful whiners”, while releasing mediocre to god-awful JRPG’s instead.

    I’d like to tell you I’ll be happy with buying your games used, thank you very much!

  • Last time I checked, most anime/manga fans don’t buy much manga in America because most manga doesn’t get released in English. Plus I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t bother reading a manga if there is an anime counterpart, regardless of whether the anime stays true to the manga or even finishes the story.

    Also IMO the scanlators do a better (an usually faster) job then the official companies.

  • Manga does well in Japan because it’s cheap and because they love the serial format. Comics are also a big deal in Japan as they make up a huge portion of the publishing industry. In the US, it’s expensive and it can’t compete even with the American comic industry in America, which, except for crappy movies, has become completely irrelevant in it’s own country. I don’t really see American success as a priority for the manga world or even an admirable goal. The last thing we need is for the words “comic book code” ever to be uttered in Japan. Want the real manga experience? Learn Japanese.

    • Want to keep manga all for your greedy little self? Don’t want anyone else playing in your own personal pond because you won’t feel special anymore? How appallingly self-centered and selfish. My 10 year-old niece is supposed to learn Japanese so she can read Saint Seiya? Think of somebody other than yourself for a change.
      And the idea of a comic book code being enacted in Japan because of foreign sales is hysterically funny.

  • I used to work for Viz, and I can’t believe no one on this thread has pointed out the #1 reason manga cost more in America than they do it Japan.
    In Japan, publishers get 60% of the cover price of each copy sold.
    In America, publishers get only 40% of the cover price of each copy sold.
    Faced with that brutal difference, costs of printing, shipping, production all play a much bigger role in making a profit and necessarily require a comparatively higher cover price.

  • I’d be happy if publishers picked up more mature themed manga like Monster or other such more adult themed manga.

    The shelves are caked with shonen/shoujo, but there’s so much more out there…

  • He hit the nail on the head. Manga is WAY too expensive. Keeping up with a series like Bleach or Inu Yasha will set you back several hundreds of dollars. Hell, you could buy every next gen system instead. Add to that, you must make specialty runs to the mall or a book store to find only a fraction of the available manga, and buying manga becomes a chor. Plus, there are wonderful web sites like manga hut, where you can read pretty much any manga, as it is released in Japan, for FREE!!! So, why would I bleed myself dry? I use to spend like a fiend on manga, anime, and movies. Now, I do it all online for free, or close to it.

  • 9 to 13$ ? it’s 5 to 8€ in france, cheaper, but not a lot at the current rate change
    but i don’t think we got better allowance ^^
    and there japanime shops on the center, so it’s not hard to buy some… and i see sometime naruto and other at the supermarket…
    perhaps a reason of why we are the first foreign country buying mangas…
    (i was surprised when i heard that some month ago, as i thank it was the US…)

    • be glad its just 5-8€…

      in Norway the prices just went up this year from a 79-109,- NOK (8 to 11,5€) per pocket to an 99->149 (10,5 -> 15,5€) for the standard volume pockets like Naruto, Fairy Tail etc (and thicker series like Ubel Blatt is soon to pass 300,-… jupp 32€)

    • Europe is actually a very good market for manga, as just the pair of France and Germany together tend to gross more money from it than the US/Canada combi. Maybe it’s because Europe has been digesting mangas regularly since the 70’s?

      Though after reading many of these comments, the price discrepancy may be having something to do with it.

      I do wonder how the market in Australia is, though.

  • Doesn’t anyone think that because American book stores allow readers just to hang out at malls all day reading manga have anything to do with it? Ive seen people who do nothing but just go to a book store and sit there for hours on end reading every manga they have.

  • Glad to see that
    A) They are blaming reasonable factors instead of just say “Wah! Americans don’t like Japanese stuff!”
    B) You used an Apostle pic. I like his work, even if so many people here hate anything with breasts.

  • it also depends on the title, i can see that a lot of persons buys shonen jump. . . hell i have a lot of Shaman King mangas in my room.

    But i wouldnt even ask for the price of a manga like Love Hina, Sailor Moon or something clearly ecchi or hentai. . . that would be really embarrasing! and i know a lot of people that think like that!

  • Oh the guys comments are true I only know 4 book shops and they’re pretty far away either in a mall or in locations that I might be able to get to either in a two week basis. Also the amount of money my job gives me makes me hold back on deciding weather I should buy a book or not.

  • Some mangas are fucking expensive here in Canada, for example 20th Century Boys is 16-17$CA which is like around 15$US. And you know what? I have all the collection, what a dick I am. Vagabond and City Hunter are really expensive too.

  • their is more then this,

    yes I would put cost as #1, but maybe with out the disposable income comment.

    availability is only a part of it. the commute is a very very big part of manga sales. Wether it traveling to or from school work etc. an 30 min to hour train ride is the norm all across japan, their a very few stations that dont have a book store inside or just down the street from them. The US transportation and even market is not even remotely similar. if the could get the tokebon, or even monthly prices down and get distribution into all public transportation outlets you would see a surge in sales. that is if you can get past the public stima. You would also have to create revent stories as many manga are too Japanese for the US market …

  • I personally believe the issue rests solely on content and tastes right now. Bleach, Naruto, and Pokémon even still, amount to kiddie or teen fodder, which is how most anime is still percieved. There are no recent shows or manga titles that I can see heading to the west that have anywhere near the marketing potential that the above mentioned have, the closest is Soul Eater and it is nowhere near the length that any of those have in terms of episodes. Personally, I find $9 to be reasonable considering Vertigo and other western comic titles of similar length cost more (Due to color and print quality more than anything.) I just personally find buying anime and manga an exercise in embarrasment and that where the true problem lies. No one wants to buy it because the audience it is aiming for is immature at best, unless you want to buy generic shonen or various BL titles, the publishers of interesting titles are few and far between, resting on the shoulders Del Rey, Yen Press and the like. The same applies for anime, especially now since what most of America wants is not what Japan currently has. Imagine K-ON on Cartoon Network or even on TV. You can’t? I can’t either, and most of America would have a fit with this and most other shows, since a good portion of what was popular online is pretty moéblob (Of course exceptions exist.) and would have to be marketed towards young girls if they wanted to have an audience (And not have Faux News drumming it up as shows for pedophiles.) And even if they had a magical audience pop up and love a show, that show was only twleve or twenty-six episodes in all likelyhood, so what then. The only way I could see that working would be if a foriegn company co-sponsors a show. The US is not going to be like South America where it’s rather popular and exists side-by-side with other entertainment, or I don’t see anything happening soon that changes it from passing fad to sizable subculture.

    But exposure is also an issue and what the guy says is right, but it gonna take a sea change in expansion, marketing, and for Americans, a change in preferences to get more popular.

    Personally, I just hope Anime in America dies. I would feel a whole lot better, and my Strike Witches box set would feel a whole lot safer.

  • Well in my country the only place you can buy from Japanese to English (not even my home language) is Deviant Art is like an hour away with bus is in the capital has one heck of a price ($15-20) which is quite a lot here and not to mention it’s the only place in the whole country where they sell manga. Well we do have Shogun but it’s from the French and it’s not even made by japanese nor in japan. It’s just purely french (not that I mind since it’s better than nothing) the price is OK I guess I mean $4 for a 4 chapter book with 4 different stories in it is quite all right. The best part of it is that it’s sold on every bus stop that has a ticket seller since they also sell newspapers and they also sell it and even with all those things that I’ve mentioned about Shogun, it’s still quite hard to get since a lot of people don’t even make a order for it, don’t even know what it is and there’s simply not enough anime and manga fans in my country which sucks since if there were more it will sell more and yet there are even idiots who speak of it as if it’s for children from 5-10. Bunch of idiots!

  • For me its purely a question of price and format, but mostly price.

    I like reading manga but at $10.00+ per volume for something I can read in under 30 minutes, and will likely never open again, it doesn’t make much sense to buy. A paperback book delivers a longer and more pleasurable reading experience for roughly the same amount.

    The US manga are too small and make it difficult to appreciate the drawings. Plus some things are censored which is annoying.

    I stopped buying manga because the intrinsic value of the experience is not proportional to the price.

    As for anime DVDs, forget it. That’s just purely ridiculous.

    • yeah censored mangas are really bad. i remember when my fav manga hit the US. it went from a 18+ rating in japan to 14+ here, unbelievable censorship, they wouldnt even show the middle finger.

      pretty much made me not buy it.

  • ah it’s so hard to buy manga in my country but i do know where to buy em.
    Luckily we have an anime forum for our country.
    But they don’t have that many manga,but i could always order them and wait for 1 or 2 months to get them -_-.

    By now i never really bought manga.Even anime isn’t sold properly in my country.

    • Of course, that’s true for Japan as well. Foreign = easy target, and they’re just as guilty of it.

      But then, there’s also a fair share of cultural dichotomy. The passively wimpy lead harem manga/anime character is liked highly in Japan (which must be why it appears so frequently), but in the west it’s generally considered an overused and obnoxious archetype hated beyond measure. Different strokes for different folks.

  • He’s too naive. The reason they don’t sell as well here is because americans are cheap. They have the money but would rather read scanlations than buy the manga. And borders or barnes & noble or any book store carries plenty of manga nowadays. Even if people go to the mall every week, they still won’t buy the manga.

  • I would call the international differences.

    Seriously, almost 100% of people I come across in the US are xenophobic as hell.
    If it’s weird to them, it is somehow illogical and needs not to be reckoned with.

  • i think that’s because anything that is drawn, the people look to this like it s for little childrens (5-9), so many people hasn’t interest in manga and animes, beacause they think that all are childish

  • I usually get the Taiwan ver, at around 7SGD (good quality)
    Jap ver are more expensive at 10+SGD
    US ver are the most expensive, 15-20SGD (thats 3 taiwan ver.)
    Location wise, not a problem, Singapore is small with 3 Kinokuniya bookstores.

    I suggest those who can read chinese to get the taiwan version, its way cheaper.

  • I concur, manga prices are just too expensive. A book that costs $11.99 USD is sold for $15.99 CAD. The conversion doesn’t match. Thus i hardly visit bookstores to buy manga and just purchase online instead.

  • Good to see someone reasonable trying to articulate the differences between sales and not immediately resorting to the “JAPANESE SPIRIT” argument or any of the differences about group mentality that have been hashed over a hundred thousand times.

  • Reading manga online is meh… The true experience and joy of manga lies in reading off a tankoubon or a freshly published magazine. It just feels so much better and more satisfying that way.

  • I only have a used bookstore nearby. The selection is eh. I tend to buy more books than manga. I’d probably buy more new manga if it were cheaper. I blow through manga volumes way faster than books so I liked to buy in bulk and with the prices I just can’t do that.

        • I have no problem doing that if I could buy a translated manga volume 1 week (or less) after it was released in Japan _and_ for the cost of $3.00 US.

          Because that’s what it’s worth. If they can’t provide it in a timely fashion at a reasonable cost, then the pirates will always win since they have it scanned, translated, and available for download for $0.00 a week after it’s published.

          I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s damn convenient.

      • After dropping more than $1000 in translated manga books from retail bookstores, I have become disgusted with the outrageous cost and now only read scanlations or other online manga. I still buy nice artbooks of the manga series or manga-ka I like, but never again will I buy every volume.

        I once got a good deal from BJ’s wholesale club where they had 3 volume packs of some various titles for $10. I grabbed those quickly, but I have never seen a deal like that except at Anime conventions.

        Another thing is that the translated manga here is always, always 1-2 years behind what’s current in Japan.

        The scanlated stuff is always pretty current and I never feel left out. So I think Koji Taguchi is correct about the digital distribution thing. I read manga on my CFW PSP so I would pay for the ability to download current manga titles that have been scanned and translated by the publishers as long as they didn’t cost a fortune. I am never again going to pay $10 for a volume. $3 maybe…

  • There’s no problem with stores in my country, but the price there is 59kr. Something around 7 Euro or $10, I dunno.
    Not REALLY much, but it’s still a price.
    Most mangas in my country have been canceled due to it’s unpopularity. And we abrely got around 10 titles translated. :V

      • Also, prices on manga are usually 79kr on Shonen Jump and Shonen Jump Advanced translated works, 99kr on those from TokyoPop, and 110kr on those from Del-Ray(these 3 make the majority of the published releases over here).

  • Availability of manga in the US region is quite a problem. Only really large retailers such as Barnes & Noble and specialty shops carry manga in the US. In Japan, manga is more widely available.

    Of course, manga isn’t as profitable in the US as it is in Japan. The core demographic for manga isn’t as widespread in the US as it is in Japan.

    Also, manga does compete with domestically produced comic books in the US (which on average, sell for much, much cheaper and are more widely available). I’m not sure if such international competition issues exist in Japan.

    In the end, there are many, many factors which limit the popularity of manga abroad: Price, Availability, Competition and Culture are among them.

    • The problem with comic books is while they might be cheaper, they are not cheaper per page. $4 for color 22 pages? Fuck no. Especially if you’re aiming to buy a number of series, that’s an even bigger fuck no. Japan’s numerous manga magazines like the varied Jumps and whatnot give you an infinitely better value with their multiple stories per issue but outside in other countries you are limited to just a monthly Shounen Jump, Yen Plus, and Shoujo Beat.

  • Very very true.

    1) manga usually sells for around $5US/book in Japan, totally reasonable
    2) because of population density, you can walk to bookstores and they are stocked everywhere, even in mom&pop stores. here it’s like a freakin 10min drive or 30min bus to Chapters, which is the only place stocking a measy selection of manga

    this precludes anyone who’s like, under 16 cause you can’t freakin’ drive. And we all know shounen manga is major seller but here in NA the targe audience can’t reach the store or have the money to buy manga.

    • uhh, is that picture really from bleach-naruto-one-piece (look at the file name)

      middle is naruto, right is onepiece but I think left is one piece too. Doesn’t look like anyone from bleach to me.

        • Thanks I knew the bitch of the left was from One Piece, also knew that the bitch on the middle was Tsunade, who happens to have real big tits in the manga, but I got no idea who was the bitch on the right.

          If this was done in the 90’s maybe the bitches would be Bulma from Dragon Ball, Ranma, from Ranma 1/2 and Rei from Evangelion.

  • Could you (currently) peruse manga on a kindle, or is it text only? It makes a certain amount of sense to use existing distribution methods.

    I think that releasing manga to a PDA format would be a disservice to the media, even IF a small number of eagleeyed otaku would buy it.

    • Seven Seas is going to be releasing a few of their series on the Kindle/iPhone, though they’re the “US-manga” types (don’t remember the marketing buzzword), not translated Japanese manga, most likely due to licensing issues (they don’t have to renegotiate the license terms for digital distribution; same situation as the anime companies’ problem when switching to DVD, or getting online streaming rights).

      Regardless, it certainly seems technically doable. Just a matter of actually doing it.

  • Just buy the japanese version manga. Basically $3 in hawaii because there is so many japanese living here. Kind of funny how pearl harbor was bombed by japanese yet there is alot of japanese living here. Then again they lived here way before pearl harbor.

  • In Finland manga prices vary from 5 euro to 10 euros, the most expensive I’ve seen is around 12 €, and they’re sold in normal convinience stores. English publications are pretty easy get, too. That’s why they’ve got hugely popular in last five years (from like 5% of youth reading manga up to 20~30%). So just lower the prices, even by a dollar or two.

  • I happen to own few manga, but took a break from purchasing to tighten my belt. If you’re a collector of the 50+ volume Naruto(currently ongoing), sold at 8$ bucks a pop, you must really have a lot of money to burn. If only manga here was as cheap as it is in Japan, then not only will more hardcore fans buy manga but maybe also “regular” people.

    • There’s more than one store that stocks manga man.
      Check Dees Comics for some bargains, Impact Comics was alright but most of their manga is overpriced, and of course Borders.
      But I’d say get those coupons as most of the time the manga is again overpriced but you do get a bargain every-once so often.

    • Yeah, but ACT isn’t as large as Sydney or Melbourne. There are five manga stores (I know of) in Melbourne alone. They are pretty much dedicated to Manga/Anime/books. Some of the major bookstores (Borders, etc.) have started stocking Manga, but it is rather expensive. The majority of Manga I do buy comes from cons, like Manifest.

      • also understand the fact that manga is sold in every corner of japan, from your local convenience store (which you might have 3 in the vacinity of a 10min walk depending on geography) to the small stands everywhere next to a train station

        and the price, ranges from 400yen~1000yen depending on what you look for, and weekly magazines, 300yen? cant remember, but dirt cheap compared to what western countries will try and make you pay

        other eastern countries are fairly much dirt cheap also, licensed and translated,so the western licencers are just greedy fucks

        • Well, I can say from my own observations that Barnes & Noble, which carries manga in my area has what I would consider to be prices which aren’t TOO bad (Rosario + Vampire sells at about $9.99 + tax). Of course, given that this is being sold as a niche-market commodity, that’s to be expected I think.

  • The head of Square Enix is 100% right. In my country manga cost 20$ a book, and that is way it is not well recieved. There are so many genres to manga that I find it stupid to hear someone saying “in the US people think differently”.

  • What a disgusting picture. Regardless, the points are true. If I had more spending money, and I could reach a store that sells them without having to drive for 10 minutes, or walk for 40, I’d be buying more.