On the release day of most general audience manga, you can walk into just about any bookstore in Japan and pick up a brand-new copy. But while that’s the most direct way for fans to consume content, it’s far from the only one.
Japan also has an extremely robust used manga market, with second-hand book stores devoting a large portion of their floor space to previously owned comics. Online auction sites are another non-new source. For readers who aren’t necessarily collectors, Japan is dotted with “manga cafes” where customers pay by the hour for access to well-stocked shelves of collected volumes, and there are also paid manga rental services.
For consumers, having so many different avenues by which to read manga helps them strike the balances they want between price, speed of availability, and ownership. But in a recent tweet, Hiroya Oku, writer and artist of manga including "Gantz" and "Hen," asserts that the wealth of options can severely hurt manga creators’ bottom line.
“This might shatter some kids’ illusions, but no manga creators can keep producing comics if people are just going to read through them at the store without buying them, or buy them from Yahoo! Auctions or used book stores. Creators just can’t do it. But there are so many adults who get their manga that way, even though they know the situation. If you want to support a manga creator, please buy your manga new, at list price, as often as you can.”
Oku’s plea stems from the way manga creators are paid. While the original artist and writer receive royalties for each new volume sold, there’s no such income stream when a used copy is purchased. Likewise, royalties are paid for manga rentals, but not when customers make use of a manga cafe.
Money is the lifeblood of any professional endeavor, no matter how creative or entertaining the end product may be. Professional manga creators, plus the myriad teams of people involved in producing and distributing their works, don’t have much chance of delivering polished, quality content if they aren’t earning enough to make ends meet, and with sales of new manga being the most lucrative manner by which money can flow back to the creators, it’s not surprising that Oku would be happiest if everyone got their manga that way.
That said, many fans buy used copies of manga from series which they enjoy, but not quite enough to be willing to pay the full list price for to own brand-new volumes. Because of that, Oku’s tweet has caused a number of online commenters to wonder if there’s a way to funnel some of the revenue from used sales back to creators.
Some have wondered about the possibility of installing a system under which a percentage of the sale price at a used store or online auction would be paid to the creator, but that raises question such as who should be responsible for making the payment: the buyer or the seller? If a person sells a used manga to a book store, and the store later sells that same book to a different customer, would two royalty payments have to be made?
There’s also the issue of how a used-sale royalty would impact the demand for new books. Such a royalty would constitute a selling expense, and all else equal, having less residual value would make new manga less attractive to potential customers who see themselves possibly selling the book after reading it.
Oku probably takes some pleasure in the fact that Japanese companies are slowly coming around to the idea of digital manga publishing, which takes resales off the table. With physical-form manga still the dominant way fans read their favorite series, though, the issue of used sales falling outside the realm of royalties is likely to continue to rub Oku the wrong way for some time.
Source: R25 via Spotlight
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