A minor revelation from this short article about Random House’s Del Rey imprint; apparently the reason they were so quick to partner with Kodansha was that they had just finished researching how to put out a line of graphic novels for a separate project which ended up being too expensive. That’s a pretty big what-if for me; Genshiken (via a discount bookstore) was one of my big formative manga in high school, and it’s pretty heavily influenced my philosophy on fandom.
I’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating – print manga in the US is a lot more like anime in Japan than it is manga in Japan; it’s expensive, with a relatively small customer base. Manga in Japan only costs anywhere from 400-900yen, small enough that marketing to elementary school kids with their weekly allowances is a plausible strategy. In the US, the cheapest print manga start from $9, and can cost quite a bit more. This makes manga in the US a smaller, more exclusive market. At that price point, the proposition of just buying a $60 anime box set (there’s a pretty understandable overlap between the fanbases) starts to look a lot more appealing.
In more practical terms, manga was perpetually being walloped by anime in the US market. While the total gross of all manga tracked through bookscan in 2007 was just a hair under $109 million (all gross totals from that article unless otherwise linked), the total gross of anime DVDs in the US in that same year was over $300 million, a number surpassing not just the manga total, but the $183 million gross of the entire US comics market that same year. While more recent statistics regarding anime are hard to come by, that still speaks to a huge contrast in US sales potency for an industry where the 2013 annual gross of One Piece by itself (18,151,599*500~9 billion yen) tops the total of the top two averagers of the post-Evangelion era (Bakemonogatari and Madoka sold about 6.5 billion yen worth of disks between them).
This past year, viz media pulled off a first for the non-Japan manga industry. I’m referring to Shonen Jump Alpha, a digital “magazine” offering same-week release of the chapters of some 11 Weekly Shonen Jump manga. It’s pretty cool, and at 26$/year for 48 issues (and a buck per back issue), it’s not a totally unreasonable subscription fee. But that specific business model, one of same-week releases for official translations, is unfortunately not something that’s likely to be transferable to the majority of manga. Especially seinen and josei series with smaller fanbases. If you’ve ever wondered if the manga translation industry will catch up to where the anime industry is now with simulcasts, this article discusses the depressing reality of the situation and why such an outcome is relatively unlikely.