Hear that noise? It’s the sound of the air starting to escape from the manga bubble. Since Borders declared bankruptcy, we’ve started to see a massive downturn in the industry. Two days ago, Dark Horse revealed that they laid off two of their seasoned manga editors, Tim Ervin (Trigun, Hellsing, Oh My Goddess!, Gunsmith Cats) and David Land (What’s Michael?, Drakuun, Star Wars: A New Hope). Today, TOKYOPOP announced that they will close their American publishing division. These downturns come only six months after Del Rey announced that they would turn their publishing duties and licenses over to Kodansha, and seven weeks since Kodansha bought Vertical.
Much like Musicland’s bankruptcy in the anime industry, Borders’s bowing out is the proverbial “shot heard ’round the world” for manga. Namely, the event will be the major even that many point to when discussing the major turning point for the industry. The struggling chain was one of the biggst, if not the biggest customer for distributors across the country.
I don’t doubt that we’ll begin seeing further parallels to the anime industry. Declining sales, company closures and downsizings will all be possible. And, frankly, I don’t doubt that we’ll see things continue to worsen to an extent. Still, the manga industry is on better footing than much of the anime industry, if only slightly.
The manga industry has had the luxuries of time and improving technology to help ease the blow of recent market mishaps. Frameworks for digital distribution are already in place for numerous publishers, and alternate distribution methods have been toyed with in recent years. While this doesn’t ensure that things will be all rainbows and sunshine, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
The next few months will be integral, as the industry scrambles and tries to work around the unfolding problems. Publishers may have a leg up on their anime industry brethren at an equivalent period, but it is no reason for any company to rest on its laurels. Agility and a willingness to chase new markets and possibly even new formats will be necessary to stay afloat in an increasingly hostile environment.
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