Cost/Benefit: Monthly Shonen Gangan

Let me show you something.

This is Monthly Shonen Gangan, a monthly manga anthology published by Square/Enix, best known in the west for their video game properties. It is where the very popular Shonen series Fullmetal Alchemist, published in English by Viz, is originally serialized. This is one fat piece of comics.

For comparison’s sake, here’s how this puppy stacks up against my USB plug… it’s about 3 inches thick, and about a 90/10 split comics and advertising.

As you can see, the final story begins serialization on page 1103. The magazine, by my count, weighs in at 1144 pages. In addition to FMA, it serializes a number of popular stories currently being released in English, including Soul Eater from Yen Press. Stan Lee has a serial in here too (really) called HEROMAN, which I’m sure is coming to the U.S. annnnny day now.

In addition, the magazine was even FATTER on the shelf, coming with two gifts! A double-sized Fullmetal Alchemist folder, and a Fullmetal Alchemist mechanical “sharp pencil”. A nice little bonus…!

So how much was all of this? 1144 pages of manga, two free gifts?

That’s right, 500 yen. Actually they charged me 499 yen. That’s about 5 bucks, give or take.

I kind of wish manga would continue taking off in the states, rather than stumble into the plateau it’s hit… Because man, there’s so much further to go.

– Chris

P.S.: Having a wonderful time in Japan, wish you were here. 🙂

26 Replies to “Cost/Benefit: Monthly Shonen Gangan”

  1. Holy shit!
    Closest thing we had to that kind of bargain was Amazing Spider-man #600 (106 pages, no ads,color but no binding). And
    A) It’s not even close.
    B) This is a regular thing!

    Man, I am so jealous and angry that I can’t read in Japanese.
    I mean it’s like reading the Complete Bone every month! I’m sure it’s not as good as Bone overall, but shit if that thing is even 80% misses, it’s worth it. And at that price I can even use it as somewhat affordable toilet paper if the story is shit!

  2. The really funny thing, Nawid, is that nothing you say really exaggerates things. 🙂

    That thing is like a stereotypical Japanese movie monster; it could totally go on a rampage in a North American comic store and stomp all would-be “rivals” with its overwhelming bulk.

    I mean: honestly–! What does $5 buy you in the way of new comics in these parts? Three to six minutes’ worth of entertainment? The idea of reading a typical American new comic across more than one sitting is just ridiculous.

    This thing could keep you occupied for a week!

  3. And I thought the latest Full Metal Alchemist chapters were long!

    I thought there would be a great gaping hole in the anthology once that series was finished, but it seems like there’s dozens of titles there waiting to fill up the slack. If the quality of FMA is any indication, the other series must have the kind of stories that fill you up with enough story that’ll last you about a month, until you get that familiar itch in your stomach for more, which is when the next issue comes out.

    When plenty of American comic fans (proudly?) make the claim that anthology titles can’t possibly succeed over here, they conveniently forget that one of the most successful S-hero comics, Spider-Man originated in the last issue of a Comics anthology.

  4. While it appears to be a very good deal, I have to say I could never read manga in this format comfortably, and this is coming from a huge manga fan.

    The main point people gloss over when they discuss these anthologies is that the print quality is simply atrocious. They’re hideous, as in “not even a simple straight line comes out straight, because the ink is so terribly inconsistent that the line will appear broken and spotted.” If the artistic merit of your favorite manga is a considerable part of what you enjoy about it, it is entirely bastardized in this format.

    I can’t imagine having to read a chapter of Berserk or Vinland Saga like this… I would buy one of these if and only if I simply couldn’t control myself and wait for the next tankobon to come out, and even then I would do it begrudgingly.

    I know these aren’t for saving, but the aesthetic experience of reading a manga is totally ruined by how bad they look, in my opinion. I’m sure a big part of why people buy the tankobon of their favorite manga in Japan is because they’re seeing the illustrations clearly and vividly for the first time.

  5. The shonen anthologies are on rubbishy paper, true, but having just gone to have a look at one of mine I think the art’s still coming through pretty well. Seinen anthologies are on much more decent stuff and still a great deal.

  6. This is what you get when a popular culture item is *actually popular*, as opposed to a marginalized, ghetto-ized collectible fetish object.

  7. Hate to spoil the slobber-fest (although, I too would love to see such a beast in English… even something smaller, like Disney’s Lustige Taschenbuch from Germany…)

    Here’s the thing… how do the economics work out? 1000+ pages for $5? Are there royalties? Or is it more of a page rate with a back-end collection royalty?

    The approximation is that there are 100 pages of ads, which is nice ad revenue. (There are certain fashion magazines in the U.S. which could be given away for free and still make a profit, but then the magazine would be considered worthless.)

    As for the reproduction… this is magazine size, although the collections are the smaller 6×9 books we are all familiar with. Is the art shot 100%, or blown up? Do mangaka draw for the smaller reproduction, knowing that certain flaws will be reduced?

    Could such a monster be published here? Would fanboys buy a 500+ page black and white anthology of superhero comics in black and white for $5? Would a publisher offer such a thing, when they can sell a 32-page comic for $3.99? It would be interesting to see… perhaps a month after the color comics are printed, a black-and-white magazine is shipped to newsstands…

  8. I never understood why Marvel doesn’t do this with their related titles – like a monthly collection of all the X-men or Spider-Man titles. You could pad it out with reprints of classic work and easily end up with a few hundred pages worth of comics per volume. Selling that much advertising might be a struggle, but it’d be great to see them try it.

  9. Some points, a lot of the most popular manga are sold at a loss making up revenue when strops become hits and are turned into anime, live action (keep in mind many strips are dramas or comedies that require no special effects), toys etc.

    As noted these are black and white on newsprint. Sometimes the newsprint is dyed pink or green to hide how many times its been recycled. And of course the art is much less detailed and sketchier than we are used to.

    All that being said its a shame someone isn’t doing this in the US. It seems if there’s space on the stands for dozens of bridal magazines there should be space for at least one US-made B&W mega manga.

  10. $5 for a phonebook wow.
    The problem is that the North American audience has fetishized popular comics. You have trashy superhero stories printed full colour on glossy paper for the same price as this monster on newsprint and black and white. There is a reason why manga is mostly black and white. The publishers realize an issue is just temporary entertainment.

    Imagine if Marvel publised only ONE anthology a month, that included serializations of all their superheroe properties in a month? A fan could read all their favs in the marvel universe for areasonable prive without having to comprimise.
    Not that I’ve read a super heroe rag for over a decade but that would be something to see….

  11. In order for such a fat magazine to succeed over here where so many have failed, there’d have to be several factors to take in consideration:

    1. There’d have to be a comic that’d have a proven track record with a wide audience in general. That means the kind of stuff that’s easily seen on TV. Could you imagine a comic magazine with side-stories of Desperate Housewives? I know I could.

    Another option would be the Yen Press route of popular children’s books. If the Twilight Manga was shown within the pages of the magazine, there would be a definite spike of interest, even if everybody else kept gnashing their teeth over how lousy it was, and how it was bringing the quality of the other comics in the magazine down. But no one is MAKING them read Twilight – it’s just there to get wider distribution. After all, you don’t subscribe to Reader’s Digest for the $1 million sweepstakes do you? (If you do, I’m truly sorry for you)

    2. The comics would have to be of the kind of quality that would be able to compete with authentic Manga in general. No easy feat in itself, since the comics industry’s been trying to emulate that model without much success. Part of it is, I think, a general misunderstanding of what makes Manga work that American comics can’t do.

    Because Manga tended to drag things on for awhile, American comics thought it was stretching stories out that made them popular. As a result, we got a typical Bendis-style story which would have 5 issues of build up, and one issue of violent resolution. Whereas, most Manga would have about three issues of set-up, and 3 issues of violence.

    Not to mention the art would have to be of high quality, and consistent on a monthly basis. (I’ve heard horror stories about trying to do weekly series, so that option’s out) Rather than try to compete with Manga and produce pseudo-Manga which often looks WRONG somehow, I’d recommend aiming for quasi-Manga that succeeds on its own merits alone. Go look at several French European comics for a better comparison as to what I’m talking about.

    3. Even if you have the first two down pat, and are able to find the right creators & artists who’re able to produce quality work on a timely basis (a small miracle in itself), you’d still need advertising dollars to stay afloat. Until said comic stories were repackaged and resold into reasonably priced books in the future, you’d have to eat your dollar bills to remain afloat until you saw some revenue trickle in. And who’s got the time for that in this economy?

    Your best bet would be to distribute over the internet, but chances are only a few stories would be favored over others, wedging out any potential sleeper hits deserving of wider recognition. Not to mention people might feel slighted about having to pay for content that everywhere else people get for free. We’re truly living in an age of entitlement, where people feel that they DESERVE to get stuff for free.

  12. I saw these things last time I was in Kinokuniya, they’re huge.

    The closest American relative is probably ARCHIE’S DOUBLE DIGEST.

  13. Like Bart Simpson talking about his father’s idiocy, it seems you’re being too optimistic using the word “plateau”. It’s more like a free fall from where I stand.

  14. Much like Bart Simpson talking about the evolution of his father’s idiocy, it seems you’re being too optimistic using the word “plateau”. It’s more like a free fall from where I stand.

  15. I’ve never seen SHONEN GANGAN before, so I don’t know what its regular price/page-count might be, but that edition says both “special price” (????) and “super special large edition” (????)on the front, probably due to FULL METAL ALCHEMIST concluding. Regular weekly SHONEN JUMP, as an example, usually comes out to around 500 pages without free gifts for, I think, 480 yen (I haven’t bought it for a couple of years so my memory’s a little hazy). Still a good deal for anyone’s money, I think.

  16. It varies. I’ve got the April 2010 issue of Shogakukan’s monthly Big Comic Spirits (Kinokuniya 4 ever) which didn’t come with any prizes, and it’s 584 pages for 550 yen. In contrast, the Dec. 2009 issue of Kodansha’s monthly Afternoon is 1200+ total pages for 680 yen, but that’s a special issue with the winners of their Four Seasons break-into-manga contest accounting for 200+ pages, printed in a pack-in digest. The paper isn’t THAT awful, either, it’s about on the level of a Cerebus phonebook, although some fat anthologies go the tissue-thin multicolor route…

  17. The final Fullmetal Alchemist chapter will actually be in the July Gangan (the one that comes out in mid-June). So this is just the penultimate issue. I’m pretty sure Gangan is always super-sized – at least it was last time I was in Japan and I didn’t buy one because it wouldn’t fit in my luggage.

    Thank you for posting this Chris! I keep coming back to ogle the size of that thing.

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  19. Most western newsstand distributors would just refuse to distribute it at such cheap price point. Too bulky and heavy for its relatively low price.

    The Big Missing Link on my comprehension of the manga industry is how are they able to even distribute such things. I asked to a few specialists (for example Frederic Boilet) and they haven’t been able to give me a definitive answer, although I’ve heard some theories:

    1 – The jap publishers (all giant corporate publishers not limited to comic publishing) own their own distribution networks and may do what they please. That one makes sense, although I’m not sure if they would think it’s worth to have to reinforce their whole distribution system (it HAS TO be retooled if you need to distribute 3 million heavy Shonen Jump anthologies every WEEK!) to sell what is essentially a loss leader (manga profits come from the tankohons).

    2 – Returns of unsold mags are VERY low on the japanese
    market (about 10% of the print run, compared to the
    average 50% on western newsstand markets), so the returns are much easier to manage than on the Western markets. How they are able to keep returns so low is beyond my comprehension, though. Although, having been historically created and operated by Mafia branches worldwide (true story!), most western magazine distribution companies are utterly incompetent, maybe the japanese ones are just very efficient.

    What do you say?

    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

  20. I remember reading about how anthologies work, there’s a page rate, which I forgot, but new authors get paid less than veterans. Manuscript fees are paid by revenues collected from magazines sales. Authors get royalties, about 8 to 10 percent if I remember correctly, from collected volumes, that’s when they earn substantial money.

    The original art is drawn on a paper that’s the same size as the bigger anthologies.
    So the art in collected volumes is actually several times smaller than the real deal.

    As for ads, most Japanese anthologies actually contain very little ads, most of the pages are used up by comics! That’s because the anthologies themselves often don’t make much money.

    And there’s cheaper than Gangan, Weekly Shounen Jump is 240 yen, that’s about 2.5$, give or take, for about 460 pages. WSJ’s two traditional rivals in terms of sales, Weekly Shounen Magazine and Weekly Shounen Sunday are both 260 yen, and have about as many pages.

    I don’t think there’s a 1000 pages weekly anthology, but Gangan is not the only 1000 pages monthly. There’s also bimonthlies with that page run.

  21. As for why and how Japanese publishers manage to do this, according to what I’ve read, anthologies actually don’t make much money, apparently, Weekly Shounen Jump is one of the few anthologies that make any profits, and all others are in the red!

    All the mainstream anthologies, whether they’re weekly, twice a month, monthly, or bimonthly, are at least 450 pages, some are 1000+ pages, and have, I’d say, price points of about 2 to 6$.
    The ones aimed at younger readers usually sell better, so they usually are priced lower, especially weekly ones, whose prices are the lowest so that buying them is not too much a burden to the readers, who can be very young. Like I said, they actually usually don’t include that much ads compared to Western magazines.

    However, like I wrote earlier, even in Japan, printing a 1000 pages monthly with very few ads is apparently not profitable.

    Then how do publishers actually make money?

    They actually make money off collected volumes.

    Anthologies are advertising campaigns for collected volumes. As long as the publisher sells enough collected volumes in the long run, the magazine is considered successful, and can get in the black or green.

    It’s kind of gambling, but with potentially high profits.

    Also, Japanese anthologies usually include at least 12 to 20 different serials per issue, so there’s a sizeable selection for readers, which is important, because publishers know that many people will rather read anthologies standing without buying them (very common in Japan) if there’s only 1 or 2 serial they’re interested in. Gangan, which is on the big side, has about 30 serials per issue.

    To use an analogy, anthologies are like network or cable TV.

    Let’s say Company A produces a TV series but is forced to released it on DVD, without being able to find a network that will air it, while Company B does the same thing, but has sold their series to a TV station. In all probability, Company B’s series will sell more DVD because more people 1) have seen it 2) know it even exists.

    The logic behing anthologies is the same. You can promote 12 to 20 different titles at the same time, and reach audiences that can number hundred of thousands or millions of readers for the most popular anthology.

    The next step is to have one or two heavily promoted flagship titles, which might even get TV anime or live action adaptations, rising their profiles even more. If the series aren’t finished, new readers who can’t wait until the next collected volumes are released, will join the magazine readership, and will probably at least try to read other series in the magazine, to get their money’s worth.

  22. About return rates for magazines in Japan, I just did a quick search, for convenience stores, it looks like return rates are about 40%.

    No idea about bookstores though, which by the way, are big sellers of magazines and press in general, in Japan. I think most people buy their anthologies in convenience stores or bookstores. In Japanese cities and towns, people usually have at least 1 or 2 convenience stores and bookstores between walking distance.

    However, return rates for books are apparently quite high too.

    The Japanese distribution system is apparently not perfect either.

    Why are they able to distribute such huge magazines? I guess because they sell. It would probably be stupid for a retailer to refuse to carry a title that’s a huge seller, they’d lose customers, especially since convenience stores and bookstores are densely placed in Japan, so competitors are never far. However, many anthologies are not carried by convenience stores, whose selection is limited, and can only be bought in bookstores. But with the returns system, the risks for retail points are null anyway.

  23. Sorry, I couldn’t reply earlier.

    “Why are they able to distribute such huge magazines? I guess because they sell.”

    That’s not so simple, XP. SOME of them sell very well, others? Not so much. The lowest selling are on the same levl than mush of the Direct Market US comics.

    If the returns in Japan are similar than those on the west (40-50%), then distribution isn’t too profitable, since they are both cheap and VERY HEAVY items!

    The question still endures, how are they able to do so without the distributors balking? Especially these days, when comic magazine sales in Japan are in free fall!

    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

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