Krystallina gives her take on what the creator of Gantz and Inuyashiki tweeted about.
buying used
Hiroya Oku. Image from Comic Vine

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.

Reading in the Bookstore

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.

Buying Used

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.

Buying at List Price

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.

GantzIt’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.

Royalties on Used

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.

Final Thoughts

“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.

How would you respond to Oku? Do you buy new and at list price “as often as you can”? Why or why not?