- Posted by Johanna on February 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm
- Category: LinkBlogging
Every year, Brian Hibbs analyzes the BookScan graphic novel and manga sales numbers; every year, the usual suspects point out the gaps, oversights, biases, and other things to keep in mind. I wasn’t even sure I’d bother commenting this year, until I found my 2007 roundup (scroll to the bottom) and realized that I found it amusing to see how repetitive it all is.
This year, Tom Spurgeon sums up all the things to keep in mind before taking Hibbs’ analysis as gospel. Here’s my summary of his summary (but go read his, because he says it very well):
- Hibbs wants to defend and support the Direct Market comic shops over bookstores, and often makes it “us vs. them”.
- Hibbs doesn’t take into account all the valid criticisms about his approach made year after year.
- Hibbs mentions the flaws in the numbers but goes on to use them as if they were fine.
- He doesn’t take into account sufficiently the bigger economic picture or the nature of the books he’s using as data points (especially when it comes to manga, an area he doesn’t seem to know or care much about, in my opinion).
Hibbs has responded at his own blog, taking the classic online perspective, “if you don’t like it, do your own version!” (A position I, as an internet old-timer, support as well, although in this case, Hibbs has the advantage of being more widely read on the subject.) He goes into more detail about his motivations (he wants the data available for anyone, like him, who likes tracking sales data), and his perceived audience (as we all guessed, the direct market retailer like him, and those interested in that business). He doesn’t really address the manga problem, though, only admitting that he pretty much copied some of his comments on the subject from last year’s column.
What He Doesn’t Know About Manga
That manga thing is particularly egregious to me. For example, Hibbs says that he’s surprised that Chobits (previously published by Tokyopop) isn’t still a top-seller, but he doesn’t seem to realize that Dark Horse is going to be rereleasing it as a Omnibus next month. Perhaps there are licensing issues in the publisher transfer. Certainly there’s little incentive for Tokyopop to market or push a title that a competitor now has.
Morever, saying “finished manga series don’t keep selling as well as the new ones” is sort of like being surprised that Hawkman collections don’t sell any more. (I picked a character who used to have a series but doesn’t any more, in case that point isn’t clear.) It’s serial storytelling. A large portion of the audience, whether for superheroes or manga, has been taught to get involved only in active, continuing projects, focusing more on “what happens next” than great stories.
His bias against manga is obvious early on, when instead of clearly pointing out that Naruto volumes take 13 of the top 20 slots for the entire year, he wants to talk about how its sales aren’t quite as strong as last year’s because it took a few more volumes to achieve the same immense numbers (“971,119 copies and nearly $7.8 million in dollar sales”). Later on, he uses its success to predict doom for manga as a whole. (“”Naruto” is selling an increasing percentage of manga, as a whole. The category is in trouble, and perhaps it could be characterized as â€œfreefall”.”) Naruto is an amazing success, something to be emulated, not feared.
I agree with him that overproduction is a huge issue for this category, with many more books produced than can be shelved, but I think that’s a sign of demand perception. Obviously, someone thinks there’s an audience for all this. However, he says manga isn’t priced high enough, using the example of “$7.95 Naruto”. Does he know that all Viz titles are now at $9.99 or above; their growth Signature line is $12.99; and other publisher prices start at $10.99? It’s not clear. I tend to think he’s not aware of rising manga prices, since it would support the point he’s trying to make, so if he knew, I would think he’d mention it.
Tokyopop, Yen, and CMX
When he comes back around to Tokyopop, he talks about how bad its sales were in comparison to boom years a while back without seeming to know that Tokyopop went on near-hiatus for a while and has radically cut back which titles and how many copies it publishes, plus it lost several key licenses. When a publisher, like Yen Press, does well, showing growth and having potential best-sellers, he says relatively little about them. (Well, nothing unusual about that. I’m not praising the bits he gets right here, after all.)
When a publisher he’s familiar with, like CMX, doesn’t show up at all, he doesn’t seem to know why. I can speculate: the books don’t appear in bookstores. Everyone I know gets those titles through online ordering (which may or may not be reflected in these numbers; Amazon apparently is, other specialized sites are not) or through the direct market, which isn’t included but is the parent company’s strength (since they’re a part of DC). It’s a vicious cycle: bookstores don’t stock the titles, even the well-recommended ones, so readers seek them out elsewhere, so bookstores don’t see the demand.
Marvel Flunks Out of Bookstores
There’s a lot more to be said about Marvel’s atrocious bookstore performance than Hibbs goes into, but that would seem to be bashing one of his key products. Marvel doesn’t do much of anything beyond superheroes, meaning no variety to attract more customers. (The books they do manage to place high in the charts are property extensions, Stephen King and Halo.) Marvel can’t keep books in print, especially key books (like the second or third in a series, meaning people can’t continue with it). Even when people are interested in Marvel’s superheroes, there’s no obvious jumping-on point and the books don’t match the films that interested them. (In many cases, the movies are based around much older storylines that don’t read well as reprint comics to modern customers.) Marvel doesn’t work far enough ahead to suit seasonal bookstore and publishing schedules.
DC’s big properties are clearly based on the comics — how many reviews of Watchmen did you see that didn’t compare it to the book source material? — while Marvel’s aren’t. DC uses a real book distributor, while Marvel uses Diamond. (There are retailers that sell more books than Diamond does in some cases.) In short, Marvel fails at the bookstore market. They simply don’t seem to care.
I’m not commenting on everything he said, but I think one of the best lessons is near the end, where he talks about independent comics that had film adaptations. Whiteout sold, according to his figures, an additional 46 copies because of its movie. Now, that’s overly simplified math, but the learning I take from that is that people only want to buy comics after seeing the movie if it’s GOOD. Why would someone want to reread the story of a film they didn’t like or didn’t even care to see? (See also Surrogates, which sold less than 5000 extra copies.)
The even better take-away? As Heidi points out, there are plenty of comics for kids, and they do very very well. That audience just doesn’t shop the direct market; they’re in the bookstores. So don’t worry about the future of comics, unless you own a direct market shop.