Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Manga Price Inflation Coming

I included the following blurb in our weekly newsletter a few weeks ago regarding upcoming manga price increases by Del Rey:

The days of $11, $12, and even $15 manga volumes seem to be coming back. As the total number of new manga releases continue to shrink, some publishers are looking to make up the difference by increasing prices - not exactly the smartest strategy during a recession. TokyoPop started the trend last year breaking from the well established $9.98 MSRP, raising the price of many new releases to $10.98 MSRP or higher. Now Del Rey will be following this pattern as well, announcing this week that they will be raising the MSRP by $1 on several upcoming releases including Alive 7, Nodame Cantabile 16, Le Chevalier d'Eon 7, Ghost Hunt 10, Pumpkin Scissors 5, Pastel 14, Minima! 4, Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution 10, and Dragon Eye 8.

The thing that really vexes me about Del Rey (before I go on) is that their direct discounts stink for retailers like us, and they are already the least profitable manga line we carry by margin. And because we pay more on the wholesale side, they already have a higher margin on their books at the same MSRP vs. other publishers, and they are still raising prices.

But this apparently is the preferred method among all publishers for dealing with reduced sales volumes - increase prices on the front end. Now both Viz and Dark Horse Comics will be hitting everyone with higher MSRP levels for several future releases - in some cases as much as a 10-20% increase. These will include higher prices, as an example, for Naruto #46 and #47 (at $9.99 MSRP) and Berserk volume 31 (at $14.95 MSRP).

Viz told the folks at ANN:

"Viz Media made the decision to stay consistent with the pricing in the marketplace for this industry, which, in some cases might be a slight increase from previous years."
$2 doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it's 20%, and that level of increase certainly cannot be characterized as 'slight'. What if gas went up 20%? Ouch. Back in the 'good old days' (that's what I refer to anytime you ask me when Anime was actually a profitable business) there were maybe 50 manga releases in a whole year, and average MSRP's ran in the $15-$20 range per volume. This was before the sensation took hold and publishers moved to the smaller Japanese book trade format and standardized pricing at basically $9.98 MSRP for main line, and $7.98 MSRP for high sell through manga. The lower pricing was possible because the sales volumes made up for it. Now it's pretty clear that as sales volumes fall back to earth due the the economy, the studios will be edging pricing back up towards the old $15 average per volume level, and these recent increases (notice they tend to be on the MOST popular, highest selling series) here and there are their way of testing the waters. Those publishing execs have long memories but little imagination.

But some people argue "who cares? The retailers will just discount the books more".

Sure, let the retailers take the hit. Who cares about them. The reality is that if retailers have to cut prices way off MSRP to move manga (and cut their margins respectively), there are going to be a lot fewer choices for fans in the future. The current trend is very disturbing, and these price increases just put retailers like us in a box. Do we pass the increases on and risk reduced sell through, or keep the current price levels at decreased margins? It's the Kobayashi Maru scenario.

At some point retailers will no longer be able to subsidize stocking the low selling manga series against the revenue from the hit series. No one will be able to keep stocking much manga except the very best sellers on 10% (or lower) margins. Who would want to? The publishers are not doing us any favors with these price increases.

And I actually stuck up for Viz awhile back for sticking to their guns on pricing while everyone else was announcing increases. Apparently that was premature. Of course, if they are looking to drive another 1/4 of the existing market into Scanlations, I can't think of a better way. If anything, they should be dropping prices 10% - that would allow us to sell them to you at lower prices, keep more copies in stock, maintain our margins, and help fans that are having to stretch their budgets. ~sigh~

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