Back in August, RocketNews24 had an interesting article. The author of Gantz and Inuyashiki, Hiroya Oku, posted a Tweet, which they translated as follows:
“This might shatter some kids’ illusions, but no manga creators can keep producing comics if people are just going to read through them at the store without buying them, or buy them from Yahoo! Auctions or used book stores. Creators just can’t do it. But there are so many adults who get their manga that way, even though they know the situation. If you want to support a manga creator, please buy your manga new, at list price, as often as you can.”
The article then talks about royalties (in which authors are paid for each copy sold) and the idea many people have floated about royalty payments for used manga.
So, does Oku have a point? Should we manga readers — and anime fans as well — feel guilty when we buy a used copy or even a new one at below list price?
Of course, my response is going to be from an American’s point of view. Japan and the United States have very different markets, but a lot of my thoughts will still apply.
A couple of months ago, one manga volume stood out to me. Its cover was curled and covered with fingerprints. A couple of the corners were smushed or separating. Well, you might expect those problems with a used copy, but I was at Barnes & Noble! The book had obviously been read, and probably more than once.
There’s nothing wrong with browsing in a bookstore. There’s nothing wrong with reading in a bookstore. Heck, many offer coffee shops and Wi-Fi. What is wrong is when people use places like Barnes & Noble as a library. If a person can get to a bookstore, then they almost certainly can get to a library. Sure, sometimes a shopper may just be stuck waiting for someone else and choose to read something. But if you regularly go to a bookstore and aim to just read manga (or whatever book) and never have any intention of buying anything, you are a taker, plain and simple. Sorry, manga cafés are extremely rare in the USA, but that doesn’t mean you can turn a bookstore into a manga café. Try out a series. If you like it, find a way to support the author, their assistants, the publisher, editors, etc.
Here’s the big one. Of course, all the publishers, anime studios, and game developers hate it when people buy used. They get no direct financial benefit from the sale. That means that $9.99, $39.99, $59.99 price may be all they get as their media travels to several households.
But as I’ve mentioned in other articles, creators tend to get a secondary benefit. If someone picks up a used book and likes it, they will probably keep an eye out for other titles by that same author. The reader may recommend the author to others. They may watch any movie or TV adaptations. So, sure, the creators missed out on a book sale, but they perhaps created a new fan.
Of course, many people cannot afford MSRP on media. I was shocked to see those DC Super Hero Girls books list for $13.99. I know they’re hardcover copies, but that seemed a bit much for a book targeting tweens. Even Disney movies often retail for $40 or more. It can be a vicious cycle: people can’t afford full price, buy used, companies go under because sales are bad, leaving more people un- or underemployed, meaning they can’t afford full price, and it all starts again.
However, have you ever seen some of the used prices at a GameStop? They advertise that used prices are at least 10% cheaper than buying new. Even at $59.99, that’s really only a $6 difference. That $6 is probably significant to some buyers, but for companies, that $6 is the difference between getting a sale to pay the tens, usually hundreds of people who contributed to the game and getting absolutely nothing. On games half this price — let alone less — the savings is minimal compared to supporting the creators.
As for list price, it’s often called “manufacturer’s SUGGESTED retail price”, not “the price you must sell this for or otherwise we are losing money”. Many companies — on both sides of the Pacific — purposely mark up their products so that “sale” prices are actually more like list prices. How many of you visited J.C. Penney a few years ago? They introduced a new system that virtually eliminated sales and went with an everyday low price approach a la Walmart. The new CEO figured this would boost sales. Well, it bombed. Customers had been used to getting things on sale, and there was no rush to buy if something was normally that price. $40 list on sale for $20 just seems more appealing than if that same item is $20 every day. It’s a psychological thing.
Of course, stores love it when someone comes in on a non-sale day and buys that item for $40. The store probably doesn’t expect to sell many that day, but if they sell one, they’ve essentially made a bonus profit of $20.
It’s a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma. I can give Company A a 100% profit, but that means Company B ends up taking a loss. Or I can give Company A and Company B 50% profit each. Competition is a key part of our economy, as monopolies tend to drive up the price.
Well, it would be nice, sure. But there’s two issues:
First, obviously, is who would pay the royalty. I guess the obvious answer would be the one reselling it. But how much do you give them? The same amount of royalties as if a brand new copy has sold? Half? Or would a store add on a royalty tax and pass it on to the consumer? But not all authors get the same amount in royalties, so would the tax be the same on bestsellers like Attack on Titan versus some obscure title? Would the amount be done by publisher? How do you pay royalties on Immortal Rain, GALS!, or any other works by a defunct publisher? What about if a regular person (i.e. non-business) sells on eBay? Would they be exempt as if they were selling it at a garage sale or not? What about thrift shops, especially non-profit ones?
Secondly, legally, that’s opening up a whole bunch of legal issues. What’s to stop used electronic companies from implementing royalties on their devices? Car companies? Clothing stores? Are we really buying anything, or are we just getting glorified licenses like with software?
In short, it’s not going to happen. Sorry.
“If you want to support a manga creator, please buy your manga new, at list price, as often as you can.”
If we primarily cared about companies getting the most profit, we would buy digital copies, many of which cost the same as physical ones. Why waste the companies’ money on “unnecessaries” like paper, ink, or discs? Why not raise the price to give the companies and creators more money? Why have we come to expect preorder bonuses?
It’s more important to buy new than at list price. Selling a new copy means everyone behind the work — from the original creator right on down to shipping distributors – get a cut of the profit. A sale price of $15 means they get something; a resale price of $15 means they get nothing. The more I save, the more I buy, and the more creators I support.
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There’s a fairly large literature on resale markets in the Economics journals. Think of cars. Adam is willing to pay more for a new car, knowing that there is a market for used cars, where he can get part of his money back by selling his used car to Brenda. If there’s no resale market, or if there’s a tax that reduces how much he gets back (and increases how much Brenda has to pay) then he’s less willing to buy that car at that price. Would manga publishers be willing to knock a dollar off the price of a new manga in order to get ten or thirty cents for each resale? What’s the cost of administering such a program?
I couldn’t even imagine the cost of such a program. A lot of places have bag sales on books. How do you figure out the resale value on an entire bag of books?
I’m actually curious on how this applies to retro gaming because specialty stores really jack up prices and I wonder how much of it goes to the company (since why should they care about past gen products). Yet PSN, XBox Arcade, and Wii Virtual Console exists for those that miss old games.
This is a toughie. I buy new manga because I hate the sight of ruined paper. But when it comes to really old games, I buy them used. I bought most of my newly-reformed PS1 Square collection through eBay because I can’t trust my specialty shop prices.
Also, that bit about JcPenney. I read about that in the Psychology of Video Games book. We really want to feel that we’re saving something because we anchor/prime the hell out of numbers.
Used games around me are expensive. I stopped at a used game store a year or two ago. They wanted $20 for used PS2
copies of Kingdom Hearts. Just this past summer, I saw at a garage sale
they wanted $15 for a used copy. Geez, it’s only $15 new on Amazon, less during sales at Square Enix stores!
Really want to know how Walmart is going to do now that they’re giving up their one big advantage in price matching. I mean, JCPenney’s low prices everyday bombed…
I try to buy new (mostly pre-orders because than that factors into first week sales) but some things are just out of print and there is no way to get it otherwise. I recently bought some CMX Manga used because it wasn’t available any other way and CMX does not exist anymore so yes the creator is not getting any money but neither is the now none existent company either.
In short I buy new when ever possible but somethings just are not available new for reasons beyond my control and I’d rather buy it used and support an used book store than read a sub par scanalation online.
Exactly, good point. Publishers go out of business. Artists switch companies. Like should the TOKYOPOP version of Cardcaptor Sakura get the same resale fee as Dark Horse’s? And it’s not like every title has a digital version to fill in holes. At least some fan gets enjoyment out of used books versus, say, getting tossed into the garbage.
I hadn’t thought of pre-order as an advantage, I’ll bear that in mind for the future. Does buying at a store on first week offer the same advantage? I’m sure it won’t immediately affect things but if I do so regularly it will cause the store (usually Kinokuniya) to order more upon release. Opinions?
I did that with the first volume of the Irregular At Magic High School Light Novel where I bought all four copies available at the my local B&N and than they ordered more and kept that and Honor Student At Magic High School in stock as well.
First week sales are good for stores and what they know what to stock. Sometimes it’s just as simple as recommending something to a book seller becuese they don’t know what a good or popular Manga or Light Novel series is or what others may like.
While Pre-Orders let publishers and licensors know what is popular or whether sales are going to justify continuing to put them out. As an example I pre-ordered the second Fate/Stay Night Art and Data Book. Specifically because Udon Books says that’s the best way for them to gauge fan interest and wther to continue putting them out
I buy new usually and sometimes at srp. I buy on Amazon sometimes, which is usually discounted and also physically at Barnes and Noble and Kinokuniya. I have discount cards for both b&n and Kinokuniya and use coupons when I get them, but otherwise pay cover price. I also shop at Rightstuf with sales. I buy used at BookOFF every once and a while but mostly buy out of print material there.
Honestly I try to spend as much as I can at brick and mortar stores, even though it costs more because I want to support them, I don’t want them to go away. However I also use kindle and BookWalker and just subscribed to J-novel.club. Kindle and bw due to shelf space and J-novel, because I love to see more obscure Light Novel titles get proper release. I also buy titles I might not get to like Violet Knght in the desire to support diversification, though that sounds good so I probably will read it once Halloween is over.
P.S. Great article!
It’s great that you are supporting some of the less-popular and new sources of manga and light novels.
Someday I want to visit a Kinkuniya and BookOff. I’d go broke very quickly.
I live 10 to both and it is definitely dangerous!! I love to support kinokuniya, it’s probably my favorite shop and I try to buy most my paper light novels there! My girlfriend and I share a discount card where you get a 10% discount t and $10 gift card for every $300 you spend and we got 3 gift cards in the last year and a half….
It would be even more dangerous if we were close to the larger Kinokuniya in LA or San Francisco… We are so addicted we’re even considered a weekend trip to Seattle to go to the one there. Might need therapy.
Great article by the way!
Since I got rid of my Amazon Prime membership, I’ve been ordering in bulk from RightStuf every month (free shipping for $49 worth of goods) and they sometimes offer better deals on manga than Amazon (like with shojo or not super popular series). On the other hand, I know that Half-price Books usually has tons of manga on sale too (since for some series, it’ll be worth buying a lot in person than paying for shipping on Ebay or buying cheap volumes individually).
Also, I remember my teen years and reading manga for a few hours at Borders and B&N! Haha memories~
Yeah, shipping can be really expensive. It’s too bad a regular individual can’t compete with the big stores who can ship whole lots for free or individual items free with membership.