Not too long ago, I was at Barnes & Noble. As I was wandering around, I overheard a young guy talking about manga with his friend. He picked up the first volume of Akira and praised the series to his friend. I smiled to myself, as more fans are always welcome.
And then came the fatal blow.
The guy leaned over to his friend and whispered, “But you can read it online for free!”
Well, reading online is certainly cheaper. But Akira is not available to read online for free legally. I’m not going into the scanlation debate (that’s been done many times before), but I will cover one argument that gets on my nerves:
“It’s too expensive.”
Whether you call it a hobby or interest, manga and anime are pastimes. (Unless, of course, you work in the industry.) Some people prefer sports, others scrapbooking, still others video games, and so on. But almost all hobbies are expensive. Board game lovers buy board games, camping fanatics need supplies, and photographers are always attracted to the latest-and-greatest camera. Most people can’t buy everything. They may have to cut back on necessities and choose which item to buy and which item to pass on.
Manga and anime are no exceptions.
Let’s cover manga first. Is manga really “too expensive” to buy?
The cost of living in Japan is quite different than that of the U.S. Numbeo compares the average cost of rent, groceries, and amenities in the two countries.
Now I’ll go back to the aforementioned Akira. Volume 1 of the manga from Kodansha Comics USA sells at the list price of $24.99. As a comparison, Amazon Japan is selling the Japanese version of this release for 1,080 yen, which is about $9.20. (A common quick conversion from yen to U.S. dollars is to move the decimal two places, making 1,080 yen equal $10.80. However, the yen is down right now.)
“Whoa!” some of you may be saying. “See? A Japanese person can buy a copy for less than half of what an American would pay! It’s too expensive!”
Yes, it’s more money, no doubt about that. However, standard U.S. manga releases are larger than the Japanese volumes, but Japanese volumes often have cover flaps. That $16 difference also has to pay people to negotiate with companies, translate the text, adapt the writing for English-speaking audiences, retouch the art, edit the books, print the books, ship them out, and promote the manga. Of course, the company also needs to make a profit to go through all that trouble to bring titles over here. While the companies are passionate about their products, they’re ultimately a business.
But the difference between the Akira releases isn’t necessarily $16. As of this writing, Amazon is selling this volume for $16.99, 32% off. That $16 difference is now cut by half. Lots of companies purposely price products high in order to account for sale and discount prices (like shoes and clothing). Books also tend to have high MSRPs, but they are often sold for less than list price.
Here are some more comparisons:
Title: Amazon Japan price converted to U.S. dollars
U.S. Publisher – U.S. MSRP (Amazon U.S. Current Price)
The Ancient Magus’ Bride 1: $5.25
Seven Seas Entertainment – $12.99 ($7.14)
Ani-Imo 1: $5.33
Yen Press – $13.00 ($11.68)
Attack on Titan 1: $3.93
Kodansha Comics USA – $10.95 ($6.20)
Honey So Sweet 1: $3.67
Viz Media – $9.99 ($7.66)
My Neighbor Seki 1: $5.42
Vertical, Inc. – $10.95 ($8.75)
Vinland Saga 1 & 2: $5.25 each, $10.50 total
Kodansha Comics USA – $19.99 ($16.38)
Yowamushi Pedal 1 & 2: $3.85 each, $7.70 total
Yen Press – $24.00 ($18.68)
As you can see, the MSRP on the Japanese titles seem dirt cheap compared to the U.S. volumes, especially for series like Yowamushi Pedal. However, titles like The Ancient Magus’ Bride 1 currently don’t cost that much more on Amazon U.S. versus Amazon Japan. Vinland Saga 1’s U.S. omnibus release has a hardcover, unlike the Japanese versions, so that takes some of the sting off of the premium price. In addition, I just compared current Amazon prices, but some of these U.S. releases have been cheaper on Amazon or elsewhere. Barnes & Noble put Honey So Sweet 1 on sale for $4.99 one day, and Attack on Titan 1 has been as low as $4.96 on Amazon. Right Stuf has most manga for about 33% off every day with Got Anime? membership and as high as 40% during a publisher sale.
In short, the double or triple list price compared to the Japanese volumes is not necessarily what the companies collect. Many titles end up being sold for only a a dollar or two more than the Japanese releases! Of course, I know Japanese stores and companies have promotions and sales as well, but none of these titles were marked down.
This is going to be much shorter, as comparisons between U.S. and Japanese releases are much more straight forward. Most Japanese releases have a couple of episodes per DVD or Blu-ray; North American anime releases are usually season or box sets.
Title: Japanese MSRP in USD (Current Amazon Japan price in USD)
U.S. Distributor – MSRP (Current Amazon Price)
Noragami Blu-ray Box*: $230.00 ($170.40)
FUNimation – $64.98 ($37.39)
*First press includes 40 page booklet + special box art
The World is Still Beautiful Blu-ray Box*: $221.00 ($154.00)
Sentai Filmworks – $59.98 ($33.73)
*First press includes 40 page booklet + special box art
Nisekoi: False Love 1: $64.50 ($48.00)
Aniplex of America – $64.98 (N/A*)
*Amazon does not stock Aniplex of America releases. Third party offerings are available from $66.96 shipped, or the cheapest copy I found was on Right Stuf for $49.98.
Fullmetal Alchemist Blu-ray Box: $322.50 ($236.00)
FUNimation – $64.98* ($28.99), $329.98* ($133.49)
*U.S. has both a standard and a collector’s edition.
As you can see, there’s a reason why so many North American anime releases force English subtitles when switching to Japanese audio: companies have a real fear of reverse-importing. The Sentai Filmworks release of The World is Still Beautiful is available on Amazon Japan for around $45.00, making this version much more tempting for a budget-conscious Japanese anime fan who does not need the first edition bonuses.
Some of you may wonder why manga prices are more here in the U.S. than Japan while anime prices cheaper. This may seem especially strange when you consider many anime come with English dubs. There’s a few different reasons:
And while standard U.S. releases use to have about four episodes per disc but have switched to box sets, manga has also evolved with simu-pubs and digital releases. Both have allowed fans of all budgets more options.
I sympathize with you. I do. But having limited funds does not mean you get a free pass to illegally acquire titles. Movie fanatics don’t get to sneak in free just because they don’t have $10 for a movie ticket. A figurine collector who buys only bootlegs is not a true collector.
The same applies here.
This is 2016. Fans have more options to get into anime and manga than ever before. Lots of titles are available for free legally. The Internet has helped launch more sales and discounts on releases than ever before, and price comparisons are at your fingertips. Either save up for your favorite titles or settle for the series available for free on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and other sites. Go to a library. Watch for sales. Yes, there are series I’d love to buy but can’t afford. But I don’t get to download it or read scans just because I can’t or won’t pay for it, and neither can you.
So, are anime and manga expensive?
Well, compared to a hobby of bird-watching or swimming at the local public beach, yeah.
But is it necessarily more expensive than buying clothes, going golfing, building Lego sets, or most other pastimes? No. In fact, U.S. fans get a bargain when it comes to anime while the effective price on manga is not a huge premium compared to the Japanese volumes. And if you still can’t afford these prices, watch and read the legal free titles.
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When I first started collecting anime and manga 15 years ago, it was much more expensive. Owning a complete anime series regularly cost $120 to $200. That was usually spread out by buying single volumes that cost $25 to $30 with 4 to 6 episodes per volume every other month. The first manga I started collecting usually cost about $16 per book. Now anime series on blu-ray or DVD can be had for $30 to $100, and manga costs about $7 to $8 per book. Don’t even get me started on VHS tapes. I bought a few before DVDs became standard and those usually cost $30 per tape with just TWO episodes. For some reason tapes with subtitles costs more than dubs, at around $40. Compared to those days, anime and manga is quite affordable, and the bulk of it streams for free.
(I’m not counting Aniplex and Ponycan, they are outliers and aimed toward collectors. They also keep their series streaming for free.)
Sometimes I look at a release and be like, “FIFTY DOLLARS for a season!?!” And then I remember I was once paying $20 if I was lucky per disc of three or episodes. It’s amazing how much has changed.
If I really don’t mind waiting on a series from a company like FUNimation, I’ll wait until that series hits the S.A.V.E. line. That usually takes a couple of years, but some shows can be had for $15 to $30. It’s amazing how streaming has taken the steam out of the old “I need to buy it now!” mentality.
I’m Greg, the author who wrote a similar article a few weeks ago on Yatta Tachi. I find it great that many people are slowly realizing that not having money is not an excuse to take whatever they want for free. The main problem with that is that the industry is a business after all, and if it ends up not being profitable, people will stop investing money on it, and fewer and fewer shows will see the light.
Angela Moseley and krystallina both told great examples above: A few years ago, owning a complete series was only for the rich or extreme fans of something, and a VHS with 3 episodes was almost as expensive as a whole season is today.
I found this piece very informative, with lots of numbers I had no idea about. Turns out things are even more expensive that I thought they were.
Thanks a lot for spreading the word about this subject. The more people to do it, the better. Also, if you want, take a lot at the article I wrote.
Akira has been $25 a volume for 20 years. WTF is up with that?