Saturday, March 19, 2005

Institute: Kids are key to reviving Japan's comic market

Asahi Shimbun warns that if last year's declining sales figures are any indication, Japan's days as a "comics powerhouse" may be numbered.

The newspaper cites figures from the All Japan Magazine and Book Publisher's and Editor's Association that indicate the sales value of "comics in book form" fell to 249.9 billion yen in 2004, a 2-percent drop from the previous year. It was the first decline in five years. Sales volume dropped 1 percent, to 523 million copies, the second consecutive annual decline. The return rate was 27.3 percent, an increase of 0.6 percent.

Weekly or monthly comics magazines continued their nine-year decline, with their estimated sales value dropping 5.1 percent from the previous year, to 254.9 billion yen. The estimated sales volume fell 5.1 percent, to 861 million copies. The estimated sales value of monthly comics magazines climbed 1.3 percent to 136.3 billion yen, while that of weekly comics magazines fell 6.2 percent to 118.6 billion yen. The return rate was 25.8 percent, an increase of 0.6 percent.

The Research Institute for Publications, the research branch of the publishers association, blames the sluggish market on the poor performance last year of many comics-inspired animated TV shows, which have played a key role in promoting comics sales since the late '90s.

But in a refrain that will sound familiar to American publishers, retailers and readers, the institute suggests the greater problem may lie with the structure of the market itself:
The market has been sustained by people in their late 20s and those in their 30s. Members of that age group have been a driving force for the comics market, and publishers target them with revised versions of comics they read when they were young.

The problem is that not many items cater to children. Thus, not that many teenagers read comics.

In the past, there was a saying among industry experts that once children find something interesting, adults also decide it is interesting.

A real recovery for the market, says the institute, means finding talented comic writers whose works appeal to children.