Manga is going digital in Japan and the sector saw a 27.1% increase in 2016 while sales of paper manga saw a record year-on-year decline of 7.4%. Possibly this year, annual sales of digital comics may surpass that of paper for the first time, according to a report released by the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Publications, which follows the publishing industry.
In its list of best-selling manga series between November 2016 and May this year, the Tokyo-based digital publisher and researcher Oricon says the top three accounted for a combined total of more than 10,000 million sales. The list was led by One Piece, which sold a fraction under six million copies. One Piece is a manga series written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda. It has been serialised in the publisher Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine since July 22, 1997, with the chapters collected into 86 tankōbon, or individual, volumes to date. One Piece is also available digitally from firms such Kissmanga, Kindle and VIZ Media.
“The composition is that digital is growing while paper is drastically decreasing. As a result, digital manga is holding back the shrinking of the overall manga market,” the report said. “In the past year … I’ve seen many cases where paper comic (sales) showed declines that surprised me,” said Atsushi Mizuno, a researcher at the Research Institute for Publications.
One of the big ways that digital manga is starting to overtake print, is primary due to manga apps. In the past several years, many firms have launched manga apps that let users read chapters or some volumes for free. Their business model is such that if people want to read further, the apps charge them an in-app currency often called coins or tickets.
Line Corp., a messaging app giant, is one of the front-runners with its Line Manga launched in 2013. By taking advantage of some 70 million messaging app users in Japan, the company “can promote what manga titles are free to read now within Line’s services,” said Tomoyoshi Murata, manager of Line Manga’s editorial team. Most titles in Line Manga app are from other publishers, while Line also produces some original works. According to data by research firm Nielsen Co., Line Manga topped its rivals in terms of the number of users with 2.7 million in February, followed by Comico run by NHN comico Corp., and Manga One by Shogakuan Inc.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.