Digital Manga Outsells Print

Digital Manga

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.

If you're hungry for anime-influenced adventure, get my award-wining Soul Cycle today. It's currently priced to binge with the first two thrilling books on sale for just $3.99 each!

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

UPDATE: Commenter Brett Wallace chimes in with a revealing correction.
You are mostly correct regarding the habits of manga publishers, baring one: Kodansha USA (they also sell paperbacks for more than their competition). They sell digital manga for the same price as the paperback.
Why does Kodansha sell manga for the same price as the print versions when other manga publishers are having great success offering digital manga at generous discounts? The answer will hardly be a surprise to regular readers of this blog.
Kodansha USA is owned by one of the Big Five (Random Penguin House).
Every single time.

The Big Five New York publishers are desperate to sustain their dying paper distribution monopoly, not by offering customers more value, but by artificially inflating the prices of their digital goods. It didn't work with novels, and it isn't working with manga. Indeed, the entirely predictable result of Penguin House's attempt to gouge manga readers has been to make Kodansha the most pirated manga publisher.

What to inscribe on the Big Five's tombstone? I'm thinking:

Here lies a toppled god --
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal,

A narrow and tall one.


  1. Once again FakeNewsers are stunned, shocked, and puzzled by the unexpected and totally incomprehensible turn of events that must be due to hypnosis by Evil Black eReaders, and -- Step 2: ??? -- Big 5 Profit!

    Used to be rare to see such willing and forceful self-deception. With Current-Year Media, it's Tuesday.

    1. Which is why they're rapidly fading into irrelevance.

  2. Brian man of the atom

    Here's a post highlighting the artificial propping up of paper books



  3. MegaBusterShepard here....

    Not surprised. Much like movies and music, books and manga are transitioning with the populace. Physical media will still be around in the future but will be much smaller of a market share.

    1. Yes. Ebooks will be the standard. Print will be a small niche market.

    2. I prefer paper but the price of ebooks is hard to argue with. An indie ebook costs less than most fast food.

  4. You are mostly correct regarding the habits of manga publishers, baring one: Kodansha USA (they also sell paperbacks for more than their competition). They sell digital manga for the same price as the paperback.

    The other big publishers range from a 20% (this is mostly the "younger" company) to 50% in how much cheaper the ebooks are compared to the paperback. Of course these other manga publishers also have discounts significantly more often than the Kodansha USA. One even has a permanent 80% discount for the first volume of any series. Kodansha does offer bundles, but that only makes the manga cost the same (or slightly more) as the un-bundled manga of their bigger competition.

    Another difference can be seen by the publication of manga chapters. To my knowledge, only three publishers release recent manga chapters in addition to the volume releases: Kodansha, Viz, and Yen Press.

    Kodansha releases a weakly manga chapter for .99$. No variability. The volumes actually cost more overall than the sum of the manga chapters, and once those are in you can no longer buy the individual manga chapters. The other two publishers either don't take the chapters down, and/or the volumes are just cheaper than getting each chapter individually.

    Viz will bundle 9 to 12 chapters of different manga from Shonen Jump (depends on whether an author(s) is taking a break) for .99$, .50$ if you buy a yearly bundle, and .25$ if you buy the yearly bundle in the first 3 weeks of January. Their monthly manga is .99$ like Kondansha's weekly manga.

    Yen Press is 1.99$ for monthly manga chapter. Their volumes are very cheap, though.

    Overall Kodansha is the significantly pricier option, regardless of how you look at it. From what I gather they are the most pirated ones as well. Though, my next sentence may reinforce one point you stated. Kodansha USA is owned by one of the Big Five (Random Penguin House). The others are not.

    1. "Kodansha USA is owned by one of the Big Five (Random Penguin House)."

      *nods* My suspicion that such would be the case grew steadily as I read your comment. Selling digital editions for the same price as print is the Big Five's calling card. They're desperate to preserve their paper monopoly. As the market-facing Japanese publishers show, the Big Five will fail.

    2. Kodansha is a very lunkheaded company. Case in point: they have still not finished releasing Animal Land despite it having ended years ago in Japan and the creator already having moved on to a new series. Also, they have not yet licensed Naoki Urasawa's Billy Bat despite Viz already re-releasing his other series (Master Keaton and Monster) and about to start on his next (20th Century Boys) which are not low sellers.

      Kodansha USA is Tor without the obnoxious politics.