#1. Will manga exist 10 years from now?
MANGA POVERTY #1
tl by dan luffey
Will manga exist 10 years from now?
There's a very scary term that exists in the manga industry called "serialization poverty." It refers to the first time a mangaka gets a serialization. You work real hard to draw it all, but after half a year, it still hasn't gotten popular, so it gets canceled. Then all you have left is a big debt. Your serialization has led you to poverty.
When a single manga is serialized in a magazine, a mangaka receives profit known as "manuscript fees" paid by the publisher, according to the number of pages of the manuscript. Aside from the work necessary to draw the actual manga, data also needs to be collected, the script needs to be thought up, and then the actual panels of the manga need to be planned. There are various steps to the process, but no money is paid out for any of them.
Mangaka pay the rent for the office, pay their art staff, buy their materials and pay for everything else necessary for manga production using the manuscript fee. When Umizaru(*1) first began its serialization, I received 10,000 yen for each manuscript page.
20 pages were the standard for a weekly serialization, so I received 800,000 yen per month.
*1: "Umizaru (Sea Monkeys)" - The author's first serialization, chronicling the work of coast guards. It ran from 1999 to 2001 in Weekly Young Sunday (Shogakukan). It was made into a drama twice by NHK, and then into a film and another drama by Fuji TV. 12 volumes in all.
I don't think it was that bad a salary for someone as young as I was at the time. But as I just explained, creating a manga requires a lot of different funds.
Let's break down what it actually cost to make Umizaru. First, the manuscript fee is deposited into my bank account from the publisher, minus 10% for withholding tax.
That leaves me with 720,000 yen.
At the time, I didn't have my own company, and I was employing an outer art staff (*2) to draw a portion of the art. That cost 470,000, leaving me with 250,000. In this industry, it's custom for the mangaka to pay for the meals of the art staff, and that cost about 100,000, leaving me with 150,000.
The materials and data cost about 100,000, leaving me with 50,000.
The apartment/office that I both lived and worked in cost 70,000 for rent, leaving me with -20,000. Add in utilities and sundry expenses, and it becomes -70,000.
These are all just rough estimates, but the manuscript fee alone clearly leaves me in the red. And this is excluding all personal life expenses.
*2: Outer Art Staff - They come from the outside, but we actually worked together. As this is a sole proprietorship, I can't hire "employees."
box right: Manga doesn't make you money.
box left: Real talk.
1: I pay for my own personal expenses, but then there are times when I want to treat my staff to BBQ and such, so no matter how I dice it, I always get about 200,000 yen in the hole each month.
Incidentally, you can't find a very big room for 70,000 yen a month in Tokyo.
My room was comprised of six tatami mats, where I would work 20 hours a day, day and night, which obviously earned me quite a bit of complaints from the neighbors. It was an old, wooden apartment building, so the walls were thin, and late at night we could hear people loudly having sex next door. And for some reason, whenever that couple would finish their business, they'd always hum "Stand By Me." (*3) Whenever I hear that song now, I recall those days. I suppose it's etched in my memory now.
Midst all that, my staff and I drew manga without sleep or rest. During that period, I used the money I had saved up from working. I had about 2 million yen in my bank account.
*3: "Stand By Me" - A famous song by Ben E. King.
left text: Ben E. King
When I released my first tankoubon volume, I was down to 70,000 yen. If I had asked the editors that were working on my serialization, maybe they would have lent me some money. But then I would be drawing manga to pay back my loan, and I wouldn't be able to look at them with a straight face anymore.
Editors usually say things like, "Once you get your volumes out, you'll get royalties, so don't worry about it," but we didn't even have a publishing contract signed when I started the serialization.
Just because a mangaka starts a serialization in a magazine, (*4) it doesn't necessarily mean they'll be able to put out a tankoubon.
The reality of the situation is that published volumes are a result of popularity. Furthermore, in this industry, there aren't even writing contracts made prior to the publishing contracts. I also often hear about popular manga suddenly ending when new editor-in-chiefs come into office and change editing policies. Editors will also often keep a new mangaka's manuscript from appearing in a magazine for other unrelated reasons.
*4: Comics published for the fiscal year of 2010 - In 2010 there were 11,977 comics published, but 8,851 of those were magazines, and 3,126 were actual books. The comics market in 2010 made 2.3% less profit than the previous year - 409,100,000,000 yen - but comic volumes sold 1.8% more, making it the first time profits recovered in five years.
left box top: 2010 Comics Data
Comic Magazines: 8,851
99.5% compared to last year
Comic Volumes: 3,126
103.2% compared to last year
100.4% compared to last year
Source - Publishing Index 2011 (AJPEA)
In those cases, the publisher will pays the manuscript fees, but this sort of situation has become so common that there's a word for it now: "dead on purchase."
Basically, this is a world of spoken promises, without anything ensured through actual documents.
One day, about half a year after Umizaru's serialization began, I mustered up my courage and demanded a raise in manuscript fees from my editor at the time. I truly needed all the bravery I had to do this.
If he was to say "Okay then, we don't need you anymore," I'd instantly lose my job. I just thought it was too unreasonable, I said. After all, this was my job, yet the more I work, the poorer I get. What kind of a job does that?
"I can't make a living like this. Please increase my manuscript fee."
I thought I was being very brave by bringing this up, but my editor just replied casually with: "We can't."
I was shocked. "No, please don't say that. I'm begging you."
"I'm really in trouble here. There's no way I can go on working like this."
Before I could even finish talking, he started scolding me.
"If we listened to every little demand a newbie mangaka brings to us, we'd never be able to go on managing a magazine!!"
This is a story from ten years ago, so I imagine that some of you are thinking "Oh, but things aren't like that anymore."
And you would be right. Publishers are even more desperate these days. (*5) Manuscript fees for new mangaka at all publishers have become about 1000 yen lower. Manga magazines are already on the decline, and some big publishers go 20 million yen into debt with each weekly magazine they publish.
There are 50 weekly magazines published per year, which means 10 billion yen of debt per year. So they try desperately to fill that hole with volume sales.
And this isn't just a manga problem. It extends to all genres of magazines. In 2008, a large publisher who had about 70 magazines in publication reported being in the red with over 60 of them.
*5: In the middle of a massive slump - for the past few years, publishing sales have been decreasing. In 1996, the industry reached a peak at 2,656,300,000,000 yen, and then fell to 70%, at 1,874,800,000,000. Internet and video game usage increases are blamed for this.
graph top: 1994 ~ 2010 publishing sales changes (by distributor route)
graph bottom: Source - Publishing Index 2011 (AJPEA)
Some magazines are still making profits, but over 90% are seriously in the red. Famous magazines that you've probably all perused at some point are also experiencing these sort of business failures.
It's very clear now that the magazine business model is collapsing altogether. Manga magazines will most likely disappear in the near future. We already can't put food on the table with manuscript fees.
If magazines disappear entirely on top of that, then how will mangaka be able to make a living? What? We still have volume royalties? Unfortunately, that's only wishful thinking.
As I'll explain in detail later, newly-created (as in, non-serialized) volume royalties alone cannot support a mangaka. This has been proved in areas of literature and art where newly-created works are the main focus. And in the case of manga, a separate staff is necessary to even draw it, which creates extra labor costs, so there's no question about it.
The form of expression known as manga may continue to exist without me, but if manga itself disappears, I will no longer exist. I don't want manga to disappear. What can I do to ensure that manga survives on to the next generation?
1: What should I do, huh?
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