Turns out even physical media benefits from a free trial, one of Japan’s largest manga publishers learns.
If you’re a fan of Japanese comics, a stroll into the extensive manga section of bookstores in Japan can feel like heaven. Row after row of collected volumes, covering decades’ worth of content, all waiting for you to pick them up, leaf through their pages, and discover a new series to follow…oh, wait, scratch that last part.
See, Japanese bookstores almost universally shrink-wrap their collected manga volumes. Sometimes, there might be a single booklet printed on cheap paper with a half-dozen preview pages of one high-profile release, but aside from that, if you want to see what’s inside manga volumes in Japan, you’re going to have to buy the book before you even crack open the cover (and even some used manga shops have a similar policy).
The reason for the shrink-wrapping is pretty obvious. Publishers and retailers want to prevent what’s called tachiyomi, literally “standing reading,” where potential customers read through the content they’re interested in, then put it back on the shelf and walk out of the store without buying anything. But recently Shogakukan, one of Japan’s biggest manga publishers, has reversed its stance and begun asking retailers to not shrink-wrap certain manga.
▼ Though stores still draw the line at laying down on their floors and eating snacks.
Between March and May, Shagakkan requested that shrink-wrapping not be placed on either the first or most recent collected volumes of 35 titles it publishes. 36 stores participated in the test program, and when they tallied their sales for the period, they found that sales for shojo and josei manga (manga targeted towards girls and women) had jumped 20 percent for the period. Meanwhile, sales of shonen and seinen manga (oriented towards boys and men) stayed about the same, with no significant losses stemming from the relaxed tachiyomi policy. With a huge sales boost in half of its demographics and steady performance in the others, it’s safe to say the initiative was a success.
In hindsight, the sales increase makes a lot of sense. Before being published in collected volumes, manga run in serialized weekly or monthly anthologies, which were often read by train commuters on their way to or from work or school. But with more people whipping out their smartphones to kill time, even the online versions of those anthologies are competing with the rest of the Internet for attention, which raises the hurdle a manga series has to clear to capture a reader’s interest. Shogakukan says that by removing shrink-wrap from collected volumes, it thinks it can increase the potential for contact and familiarity among potential customers. with and the results of its pilot program, dubbed the Comics Shrink-wrapping Removal Project, seem to back up its hypothesis. These days, it can be hard enough just getting people to go to the trouble of going to a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the first place, and making those who do come feel welcome is paying off.
Another factor could be the dramatic shift in anime distribution that’s taken place over the last two decades. Shogakukan says its manga started being shrink-wrapped about 30 years ago, at a time when a large amount of anime was still being released in direct-to-video format. Today’s young fans, though, have grown up with the vast majority of anime being shown on for-free late-night television, which likely makes them much more averse to paying for content they haven’t sampled, and asking them to purchase collected volumes of a manga without giving them at least a free-of-charge look at the oldest and newest volumes is arguably asking too much.
Shogakkan says it’s also had success in boosting digital manga sales by providing expanded previews of the non-physical editions, and says it plans to continue easing access to its titles by expanding the Comics Shrink-wrapping Removal Project in the future.