Manga sales have been on the rise over the last few years, and 2020 looked to continue that trend. But once the pandemic hit, there was a lot of uncertainty. New safety standards, stay-at-home orders, store closures, job losses, and general unrest would affect everything from solicitations to production to delivery. But early signs for the industry were positive, and, in fact, 2020 turned out to be a banner year for manga publishers. Sales through major retailers, which covers most manga sales, climbed 44%, and comic book stores also saw in increase.
In an interview with ICv2, VIZ Media’s vice-president called the current market, “Absolutely wonderful. …We’re pleased, the entire manga category is pleased, our peer publishers, graphic novel publishers, we’re all very pleased with the results from 2020, and it’s continuing in 2021.” Of course, there were struggles, especially in the second quarter of the year, but it was manga sales that mostly boosted the overall adult graphic novel market.
But that has also led to an issue. With backlist volumes selling well, publishers will want to have them reprinted to keep up with demand. But that means companies aren’t just worrying about getting their new releases out on schedule; these other volumes are now trying to be squeezed into the printing schedule.
As Ben Applegate, who works with Kodansha, put it:
⚠️ A Public Service Announcement ⚠️
If you see a manga that you want to read in a store (or online and that manga is "In Stock")
You should buy it NOW 🔖🗯️
The reprint situation is unexaggeratedly apocalyptic and you might not see that manga in stock again for months.
You can see the anime and backorder problem with titles like Fruits Basket. Currently, out of the 12 volumes of the Collector’s Edition (Yen Press’ omnibus versions), only one is in stock at Right Stuf.
Okay, but that tends to happen to manga there when a sale is going on. Here are the in-stock numbers (out of 12) for some other retailers:
Barnes & Noble: 7
In some cases, you can’t even place a backorder. Robert’s Anime Corner Store, for instance, is missing volume 4. Amazon shows only third-party offerings for volume 2 (at a mark-up to boot — about $35 for a $20 omnibus).
Some of these retailers list “ship by” date for the volumes, and these range from just a few days out all the way until July!
And it’s not just anime tie-ins, such as the case with Love Me, Love Me Not‘s first volume. It does show as available from some independent or international shops, but I’ve found that oftentimes an “in stock” message for something not available through the major retailers means that the smaller locales don’t have them either; it’s a gamble whether their stock levels are accurate or if they just assume they can fulfill the order before a customer decides to cancel.
Again, it’s not like these books are out-of-print and you won’t be able to find them again without turning to scalpers. And most manga released nowadays do have digital versions available. But there’s a cycle going on: certain volumes are unavailable, so fans order something that is available, which can deplete the stock and cause that one to be unavailable, and so on. It’s why insiders think this problem could drag on for months (and, of course, general COVID-19 issues). Plus, as was pointed out above, sometimes even when publishers make plans for reprints, something happens that’s out of their control that can affect the supply chain even further.
Another interesting tidbit from VIZ Media’s VP is that every box set from the company has had to be reprinted. That’s a good way to make sure fans have at least one way to complete a series even if individual volumes become hard to find. Plus it keeps those finished titles in circulation even as the next big hit enters the spotlight.
Anyway, while I know a lot of people don’t tend to preorder anything, this might be a good time to start. This way, publishers have a better idea of how many copies they should print, and you’ll have a higher chance of getting your order in a timely manner. For items from a while back, depending on your reading habits, you may want to jump on those volumes you’ve been hem-hawing about. If you don’t mind not going in order or don’t mind keeping a series unread on your shelves until you’ve filled in the gaps, then this situation may not change your buying habits.
If there’s something backordered you’re trying to get, here are a couple of recommendations:
1. Place an order if possible, and try to buy from places that don’t charge until it’s shipped. So don’t use PayPal. This way, if you find it in stock elsewhere first, you don’t have to worry about any refunds if you need to cancel.
2. A lot of stores have an “email me when available” option for products, so sign up for alerts.
3. Know what stores ship out things as they come in stock and what stores will wait until your full order is fulfilled. No use in having your manga become available if you need to wait for other backordered titles.
Anyway, while it’s great manga continues to expand its audience, right now, the combination of the pandemic and growing pains has put a bit of a wrench in the typical convenience of picking up titles as you want them. Hopefully this does only last a few more months and no other hiccups happen, as we all know how agonizing it can be to leave off on a cliffhanger!