Guest Post: An Average Manga Consumer

David Hampton probably doesn’t want me to post his full name here because he likes to keep a low profile online, but he’ll have to suck it up for the sake of this post.  Dave is also a close friend of mine who graduated from my alma mater & beloved college anime club shortly after I started attending them. Fortunately for me, he got a job in the area, came back to hang out with the youngins and we became great friends. Dave is one of those guys who you can have endless and fascinating conversations with and he’s directly inspired two different posts here at All About Manga despite not being a huge manga otaku. So here is his post about being an average manga consumer, the hows, whys and what he’s thinkings.

P.S. I’m not going near Thai food for a year now. Or rice, watermelon or pineapple.

P.P.S. I did buy something that would suitably pass as pirate treasure.

P.P.P.S. Happy 2011, guys! Sorry for the dry spell, a lot of my initial volunteers for guest posts fell through. More posts from me when I’m not brain dead/jetlagged.

Awhile ago Daniella sent a call out for guest bloggers to fill in for her while she was off circumnavigating the globe, presumably in search of pirate treasure or something equally good, like Thai food.  At first I figured I didn’t have much to say – I don’t work in the industry, I don’t really follow any particular publishers or personalities.  I’m basically just a normal manga consumer, and I don’t even consume all that much.  I just really enjoy a good book here and there.

But that’s exactly it!  Hi, I’m Dave, and I am a member of Your Target Market.  Today’s post will discuss the manga industry from the perspective of someone who loves it but doesn’t know much beyond “don’t start on the leftmost page.”

I sit squarely in what I believe is called the “long tail” of manga consumers:

The idea is that the majority of consumption comes from people who aren’t as dedicated, but show up in these huge numbers.  A bit like how zombies do actually, now that I think of it.

I’m going to run with that for a moment.

*Most Manga Consumers Act Like the Living Dead*
We masses don’t really have much of an idea of the consequences of what we’re doing or how we do it, we just focus on getting whatever it is that we want.  We come shambling into some bookstore, unkempt and disheveled, intent on getting our One Piece or Death Note or whatever popular title stands in for brains in this metaphor, and stopping at nothing until we succeed (or until something stops us).  Sometimes we make noise.  We aren’t the most pleasant market to interact with, largely because we hardly ever communicate back in any effective manner, but there are too many of us to feasibly ignore.  This is a subtle problem, one where marketing is more effective than shotguns.  This is the crowd that I believe I belong to.

*The Perspective of a Zombie Consumer*
I don’t buy a ton of manga.  Maybe a couple a month, three or four if I’m really enjoying a series or there’s a good deal.  I’ve completed a few titles but they tend to be shorter, usually around ten books.  I gave up on a couple of series’ once I saw how long they were and how much it would cost to finish them.  I choose bookstores based on which one I happen to be closest to when I decided it’s time to browse.  I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but perhaps I can offer a new perspective on things.

Here are my takes on a few topics:
*Finding New Manga to Read*
Without immersing myself in manga or anime culture, finding new manga to read is kind of a pain in the rear.  So I don’t.  The number one factor that introduces me to new manga is the recommendation of a friend.  This is how I got into every series I’ve ever read to completion.  It’s worth noting that it takes more than just the recommendation, there has to be some hook in the book itself to grab my attention and keep it.  In my case, this is generally one standout element that I happen to connect with.  Usually this is a main character that I immediately like, thrust into some moralistic situation that I find curious and interesting.  The first few chapters of Rurouni Kenshin, Saikano, and Battle Angel Alita are great examples of this, if you’re familiar with them.  All three of those were recommended by good friends, and so once I knew that someone like me enjoyed them I stopped worrying and got into that early hook.  I ended up buying the whole series each time.  In the absence of friends, I follow the path of least resistance: I browse store shelves when I’m already there.  Seeking out new properties can be fun, but I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I try, and the price of being wrong is about $9 times as many books as it takes me to figure this out.

This isn’t unique to manga.  Two of my other favorite things to consume, music and video games, also run into this problem, and for the same reason: one of the reasons they’re so good is that they’re expensive to produce.  And there are a ton of properties vying for attention.

To me, the obvious alternative to this is to buy inexpensive used manga, which can usually be found for about half price.  It’s definitely a solid legal alternative to taking chances on new books, but as far as publishers and authors are concerned, it’s a lost sale.  While I’ll certainly defend the existence of any used market, I can see why this would drive the people who make their livings on sales up a wall.  Video game companies are trying to sidestep this right now by packaging codes redeemable for online content in with their new sales.  Unfortunately, this considerably annoys consumers.  I have never bought such a game.  I can’t think of a good solution, unfortunately, and it may be that it’s just the reality of the market for the time being.

*Scanlations and Piracy*
I don’t read scans of manga.  It’s not because of some stance on the morals of the issue, but rather because I simply can’t be bothered.  All the books I want to read will be right there in the store next time I’m looking, and I prefer physical books anyway.

*SFX and translations*
At one point in my life I tried, unsuccessfully, to learn to read Japanese and Korean, so I usually like to try and read the native sound effects in manga.  But even when I can, they often don’t make any sense to me.  I understand “BOOM” and “KABLAM” a whole lot better than “DOOM” or “WANG” or whatever.  As much as I like to preserve the original properties of a work, the westernized sound effects do strike me as a smoother reading experience.

I really like the little translation notes that appear in the margins or at the ends of books.  I understand that sometimes a target page count is desirable for binding, due to mysterious processes of bookbinding that I don’t understand at all, but regardless it’s a nice kind of extra to find, particularly when it helps explain references or clever jokes that require a bit of context.  It’s a convenient help, especially if, say, you’re skipping history class to read Hetalia (what?).

*Print vs Digital*
There are only a few things I have with which I can comfortably curl up on the couch:

– A book
– A portable video game or PDA or something
– A girlfriend

Really only the first two are relevant to this discussion.  I personally find digital media to be nifty and convenient, but somewhat awkward.  I can’t say I’d prefer to read a good manga on a computer screen, partially for this reason and partially because my computer is slow and contrarian and chokes up whenever I try to scroll down a large-format image.  I feel like I’m not reading manga “properly.”  Interestingly, I have no problem reading quite a number of webcomics in their “original format,” even with these problems.  Reading them the way the author intended seems to be the most important thing for me, and so I probably couldn’t get that into digital manga distribution.  That said, I still enjoy reading webcomics when they publish as books, and intend to take a look into some digital manga publishing to see if I get into it.

Hopefully this has been a worthwhile perspective to read.  Please feel free to post any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Thanks to Daniella for printing this and to you for reading it.

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10 Responses to Guest Post: An Average Manga Consumer

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  4. This is a neat article! I’m only collecting two titles at the moment: Fullmetal Alchemist & Gintama. Though FMA just ended in Japan and once VIZ releases the final volumes, I’m down to one title. I might give One Piece & Kimi Ni Todoke as my next titles to collect, since both are insanely good & popular.

    *Most Manga Consumers Act Like the Living Dead*
    This is me when it comes to video games mostly. Once a new game I must have comes out, then I must get it no matter what. For example, next month is Marvel vs. Capcom 3, so I probably will be a monster on the release date. Though you did bring up to the point of DLC to entice sales, since MvC3 will have a Special Edition with two extra DLC characters. Game companies are doing it more often since it cuts down costs of making an expanded version of the same game.

    *Finding New Manga To Read, Scanlations & Piracy, Print vs. Digital*
    A lot of my friends read scanlations (even though they are full-time workers) and tell me about new series. I do read scanlations for research on series & fun sometimes. However, I do prefer physical books in my hand and I like to have books at my home to read when I’m bored. People don’t realize that looking at a computer screen for a while takes a SERIOUS toll on you.

    I guess you can say that I’m one of the “Dedicated Manga Fans”. Good god, 4chan is a scary place.

    • Definitely give Kimi ni Todoke a try. It will blow you out of the water with it’s adorable-ness.

      For me, it started out with the simple fact that I was following a series and had to have every next volume, much like you are with video games. Then I started another series and had to buy those new volumes. Then I started following more series and had to buy those too! So it just snowballed.

      Admittedly, scanlations are useful for the data they can provide. How many people have read it, how much discussion of a certain manga is there on the scanlation forums, what the discussion is about, etc. It can be used to help pick titles for licensing because an increased awareness of a series’ existence will help the sales of the legal editions. (For example: word of mouth is generated by people who recommend the series to their friends.) Unfortunately that heightened awareness of a scanlated title has never helped sales enough to make scanlations’ existence harmless. I haven’t read scans (only unlicensed ones) for a long time, however, mostly because I simply don’t have the time for it. I’m not going to review a scan on my blog and a majority of my time is taken up by work, blogging and reading the manga I buy. Much like Dave, I simply can’t be bothered and it isn’t as fulfilling as reading a physical book either. There’s also some sense of pride in owning books and having a collection that really does it for people.

  5. Justin says:

    Huh. I guess I find myself as Most Manga Consumers act like the living dead, though with college, that has lessened a bit. Right now I’m collecting series such as Gintama, Strawberry 100, 20th Century Boys, and a few others. I read scans, but I usually read the unlicensed stuff. My friends read everything online.

    • College is a busy time. I don’t blame you for not wanting to get hunkered down by lots of manga. I only did because it was the beginning of a period where I had a good amount of disposable income for the first time.

  6. shannon says:

    I tend to read reviews, and do browsing in places like book stores and libraries to find new titles. I’m collecting Ouran, Alice in the Country of Hearts, Gakuen Alice and Seiho right now, with many others being bought occasionally.

    I don’t really read scans since I’m not entitled to free manga and also, I like books better. Although I’d like it if publishers would put their back catalog on devices like the kindle, but that is not happening.

    • As I understand it, amongst the multitude of manga fans, you’re a rare exception by reading reviews…

      I wish pubs of all sorts would put more of their back catalogs in, although it might be difficult with older manga that was licensed when e-readers didn’t even exist. The contracts don’t allow for things like digital distribution, so US manga pubs would have to go and make new contracts and that could cost them serious cash.

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