Is Print Manga In Full Retreat?

Sailor Moon Vol3 Cover

Sailor Moon Volume 3 was easily found at retail, others manga titles, not so much.

A few days ago, I made a visit to the Barnes & Noble bookstore at DePaul University Center in Chicago. I just wanted to see how big the store was compared to the large one on North State Street. And I also wanted to see what their manga collection consisted of and how extensive it was.

Given that the larger bookstore doesn’t have the greatest manga collection to begin with, I wasn’t expecting very much. I had hoped that being at the university, the manga collection might reflect the interests of a manga reading college demographic. Sadly, this was not the case. What I found instead was a small collection that seemed to consist of random volumes and orphaned Tokyopop titles. It looked like a clearance shelf whose only notable new titles consisted of Sailor Moon volumes.

Disheartened, I decided to stop by Graham Crackers, a comics shop, to see what manga they might have. I already knew from previous visits that manga was not to be found in large quantities there, but I was hopeful of finding a few interesting titles. What I found sunk my heart further as there was even less manga there than my last visit of perhaps a year ago. The only new titles I saw were a few volumes of Highschool of the Dead.

Given that the print only title Sailor Moon topped the New York Times best sellers list for manga for several weeks, clearly someone is still buying manga in print, but my own experiences seem to imply that finding manga at retail bookstores is becoming more difficult. So it may be that the large drop in the number of bookstores, and particularly the loss of manga friendly Borders, has driven most printed manga sales online. I’ve been forced to buy most of my printed manga from Amazon simply because I cannot find it at retail anymore.

When available, I’ve been buying manga in digital format primarily from Viz and JManga. I can only wonder if sales of digital manga are making up for the loss of sales at retail. Still, not every popular manga title licensed in the U.S. is available, legally, in digital format. So lack of retail outlets, coupled with an internet savvy, but too young to easily buy online manga demographic, can only point to lowered print sales and perhaps upward pressure on piracy.

Right now it looks like print manga is in full retreat at retail. As a manga lover, I can only hope that all manga titles licensed for sale in the U.S. will also be available in digital format soon. There’s no turning back now.

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