Borders Bankruptcy For The Manga Reader

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Borders is in the final preparations for declaring bankruptcy. When this happens, a lot of Borders bookstores are going to close. Borders currently operates about 650 bookstores and various reports estimate that they will likely close 150 of these. I think, for no reason other than things often being worse than they appear in these situations, that Borders is going to close a lot more stores than that by the time it’s all over.

But what does this mean for the manga reader? Personally, I’ve already made the switch to eBooks whenever a title I want is available in digital format. But many manga title are not currently available in any digital format, at least not legally. So I’ve depended on Borders for much of my print manga for years now because they always had the best and largest selection of titles, including mature ones.

After reading a bit of speculation on what the surviving Borders would look like on Japanator, I think the prospects for print sales of manga are rather bleak indeed. Between a smaller Borders chain only offering the most popular manga titles and Barnes & Noble maintaining its quick return policies and a ban on mature titles, that seemingly leaves Amazon as the winner in all of this. Or does it?

Manga publishers in Japan and their U.S. licensees have been fighting a seemingly losing battle against illegal manga scans, scanlations, on the web. Initially, many, if not most, of the illegal scans consisted of series that had little hope of being distributed in the U.S.. But the growth of the internet soon saw even those popular titles licensed in the U.S. easily available on a number of web sites for all to download for free.

Some of the highest profile scanlation sites have been closed down, but many remain and are relatively easy to find for the most popular manga titles. There are even scans of manga showing up as YouTube videos! By contrast, there are still few popular manga titles available in eBook format for eReaders like the Kindle or Nook. The number of popular titles is growing on the iPad, but few of the largest part of the manga buying demographic, teens and college students, own iPads. A growing number of popular manga are also readable on publisher web sites in a web browser where they must compete head to head with the often easier to read (i.e. no Flash or DRM required) illegal scanlations.

Against this backdrop, it isn’t clear that Amazon will be the clear winner as retail bookstore availability of manga decreases. It seems likely that at least some frustrated manga readers will turn to the grey market for their manga fix unless publishers and booksellers give them an easy way to get manga legally. For now, I’ll probably buy from Amazon because there are no longer any nearby bookstores that carry the titles I want and the selection available at anime conventions is haphazard at best. My hope is that in 6 months I’ll be writing about how all of the major manga publishers have released their titles in all of the popular eBook formats.

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