Monday, October 05, 2009

The Transition to A 'Rare Book Model' as a Manga Dealer

This may be happening under the radar for many of you, but the US manga market is quickly transitioning into a 'rare' books model similar to what regular US Comic book dealers have been for decades. Hundreds of older manga issues have already gone out of print, and this year the process has been accelerated by a truly awful consumer economy. And a lot of this has been happening under the radar because past print runs were too large and the overhang of book inventory has remained in the supply chain for a long time, even after the decision as been made not to re-print them, at least until now. We, on the other hand, see the process in real time as every week manga volumes sell down and when we go to re-order some copies, that might have been available last week, are now sold out and listed as no longer in print. The manga publishers, for the most part, don't usually give us official lists of what's going 'out of print' either, they just decide not to reprint and once existing stocks dry up the books are no longer available for 're-order'. Tough luck Mr. Retailer if you didn't buy enough copies to begin with. Tough luck Mr. Customer if you didn't buy it when it first came out.

Now before you manga collectors out there start going crazy over this, let me remind you that there have probably been around 8,000 or 9,000 manga volumes published in the US over the last 10 years, and those back issues could not stay in print forever, so it was inevitable that the manga companies would eventually reach a point where they just start letting series go off the market en-mass as their sales cycles wind down. The process has really accelerated in 2009 though, and I'd guess that by years end there will probably be at least 1,500 older manga volumes that are no longer in print, and I would estimate by the end of 2010 fully half of the previously released catalog of English language manga will be out of print. Think most anything TokyoPop pressed before 2007, or anything published by DMP that is older than 8 or 9 months, for example. To complicate matters further, many of the smaller manga publishers are responding to current economic conditions by doing very short print runs of new releases and then not reprinting volumes that didn't sell very well to begin with. This is creating a 'shorter window of opportunity' situation for marginal titles (and that category is growing) in which any particular new volume may only be available on the market now for a few months before it's out of print forever. This goes for ongoing series as well and answers the frequent question we get via e-mail asking (for example) how vol #15 of a particular series is not longer available when Vol #17 just came out this month. Well, Vol #15 is the one where X,Y, and Z finally got naked together and sold out really quick. Hey, it's a rich tapestry. -_^

To counter these supply problems, we've setup an extensive network of manga vendors and distributors over and above the publishers themselves so we can check stock at multiple vendors for a particular volume before finally resigning ourselves that we can no longer get 'that one' anymore, and this is a process that we are now going through daily. We check all these retailer sources each time we need restocks on any particular issue, and for some niche titles (good examples would be certain issues of Basara or Red River or Let Dai or....etc. etc.) we even are going into the rare book market in an attempt to keep certain out of print volumes in stock for as long as possible - though once we do this the prices usually start to escalate as the rare book dealers might make us pay $20 or $30 or $40 or more for a particular issue and we have to price those accordingly on the store site. In fact, we've seen a disturbing trend this year of people doing a lot of 'fishing' for our inventory of rarer volumes. Some of these folks are clearly running a little side business trying to pickup out of print volumes we still have in stock at retail and arbitrage them into rare book circles (even on E-Bay) for 10x the original price. I have to admit, I've declined filling a few of those orders this past year so that we can keep these books in stock longer at the regular price for our regular customers. It's a bit disconcerting, but we remain vigilant.

This is all prompting the joke around the office that we are rapidly transitioning from a premier manga dealer to a 'rare books' model, but if that's what it takes for us to keep as many manga issues as possible in stock for as long as possible, that's fine with me. :-)


Unknown said...

I see you have the Chuang Yi versions of FMA and Samurai Champloo there in the picture. I've always wanted to collect those versions of the manga but I never found a good store to buy them through.

I became quite aware of the problem when Excel Saga volume 7 and 8 went out of print. I've always been very quick to buy my comics as soon as they come out just so I don't have to worry about paying more than cover price to fill in any gaps in my collection. It makes me very glad I picked up Moyasimon the first day it came out since it's already been recalled.

melly said...

i came across a copy of neon genesis evangelion special collectors edition book 2 copyright 1995 in the orginal japanese version.i cant find any information about it anywhere. is it valuable? should i sell it or save it? i dont know anything about anime, i was hoping someone could help me.

Sunako said...

God I know what your talking about. I got several series that I can no longer find or are just super expensive to purchase. I've been on the look out for an Evangelion volume 10 but the prices are ridiculous. My fault really since I had stopped reading it and only once again picked it up. I've been lucky to find volume 9 at a decent price but volume 10 will simply leave me without any more money to buy more manga. Do you think this the reason that many are turning to scanned copies? Don't get me wrong we all love to support the author by buying there books, but given the choice to pay $237.00 for a single volume I'd go on the illegal way to just catch up. T_T It's sad really. But that's were the manga industry is heading if they don't do something to please the buyers. Which at the moment it doesn't seem that they are planning to do. Lost revenue really.