The NYTimes's Bestsellers list for comics is going away. What does this mean for manga down the road?

Manga Bestsellers ListI was introduced to the New York Times Manga Bestseller list in 2009. Negima! is a title I remember distinctly making the list. As I did not read the NYT, I learned about this not from ANN, not from friends, nor from the internet.

I found this out from my Dad. He’s not into manga whatsoever. With the NYT dropping their bestseller list of comics, graphic novels, and manga, the lack of mainstream awareness might now take shape.

The NYT started its bestseller lists for comics, graphic novels, and manga on March 5, 2009. Obviously Naruto and Bleach were frequent mainstays on the list. But then you’d have your OEL (original English language) sellers (Warriors: Ravenpaw’s Path), your fanservice titles (Monster Musume), and your yaoi title (Crimson Spell) — the latter expertly described as “reads like Final Fantasy crossed with a gay sex dungeon.”

No, the New York Times did not describe Ayano Yamane’s work in that fashion. (Their summary of Crimson Spell Volume 4 when it made the #1 spot in 2014: “Prince Vald is forever cursed to transform into a demon every night, unless a powerful sorcerer named Halvi can help him break the spell!”) That description came from manga adapter and Chromatic Press co-founder Lianne Sentar, who feels that the loss of the bestsellers list is going to be difficult from a mainstream perspective.

“I’m afraid that losing that beautifully broken-down data in the New York Times’ two bestselling comics lists may make it harder for the average consumer to see a direct correlation between her money going toward what she wants, and the overall market seeing that and reaching out more effectively to her.”

Jenny McKeon, manga translator and Translator Tea Time co-host, feels the NYT decision is “a huge step backwards.”

“It was often dominated by women and other marginalized creators who are often denied a voice on the pretense that there’s “no market” for them,” she said after mentioning how having that list helped legitimize comics.

So for her, to see it go in this direction “felt insulting.” As an example, Lianne mentioned that Raina Telgemeier had a few works that outsold Batman comics at one point, and that was reflected in the NYT bestsellers list.

“Now that it’s going away,” said Laura Mucciarone, creator of Heart of Manga,”they can’t claim their work made the list,”; she thinks it takes away a “superlative” from comic/manga artists.

After comic fan and industry member criticism dominated social media, NYT Book Review Editor, Pamela Paul, responded on Twitter:

Some I have talked to wonder what the Times can do to replace it, but are hoping it actually improves the discourse of manga going forward.

As for publishers, it’s uncertain. Krystallina wrote about the NYT dropping its manga bestsellers and believes “it does feel like a downgrade after graphic novels and manga were acknowledged by the prestigious The New York Times.

“However, it doesn’t feel like a game-changer.”

Chromatic Press co-founder Lillian Diaz-Przybyl mentioned that when she was working at TOKYOPOP they paid attention to it, but “we had access to Nielsen BookScan and other store-based data that was a lot more granular than the NYT list itself.”

The bestseller list has been questioned for what gets listed each week as publishers get different numbers. “I can’t say it will have a negative impact on our actual sales as a consequence,” said Yen Press publishing director Kurt Hassler, who mentioned in Publishers Weekly that the NYT list was “somewhat cryptic” and it didn’t really reflect the numbers they got from other channels.

“The industry (publishers and creators both) use these rankings as a metric to pass on to distributors, booksellers, other creators, and especially fans that may be looking for new titles,” mentioned Conner Crooks, who worked at Seven Seas as its Social Media and Press Liaison for over 2 years. “I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen and overheard (manga) fans discuss series and decide to pick up a certain title based solely upon it being a “New York Times Bestseller.” Losing these charts is going to hit publishers hard, in that they’re losing a lot of leverage on selling new books/authors to booksellers or even pitching sales copy to their distributors.

“All of that said,” he continued, “The bestsellers ranking isn’t an entirely accurate reflection of manga sales, since they only use a sampling of vendors and retailers. BookScan still releases monthly and yearly reports on graphic novels, and those are posted publicly by a number of outlets. Data is out there, though it’ll take more digging for industry and fans alike, but it can be obtained.”

“The NYT list is mostly a marketing tool to highlight popular stuff that all the kids like,” said Tony Yao, the creator of Manga Therapy. He believes IcV2’s listing is more trustworthy than the NYT, and accurately points out each week the list was dominated by the same set of titles, like Attack on Titan and One Punch Man. “But what’s the point of the list if the same stuff keeps popping up and it happens to be series with popular anime adaptations (& are usually shounen)?”

On the other side of the spectrum, Senior Sales Manager of VIZ Media Kevin Hamric noted in Publishers Weekly that manga sales have grown in the past 2-3 years. Ed Chavez, Vertical Inc’s Marketing Director, felt “the change is disappointing. While the numbers never really reflected “actual sales,” there were many uses for the NYT manga list. It was quite useful to promote titles and to attempt to introduce comparable titles and authors to vendors and customers. Without that we’ll have to turn to metrics and optics that are not quite as established, which may result in skepticism from the broader market.”

Which ultimately leads back to how this affects the manga market. The numbers that I’ve seen suggest manga is growing in readership, and it’ll probably show when 2016’s numbers are documented. But what will the numbers look like for 2017 is a major question mark as one of the main resources is now going away.