Recent Developments: Manga and Digital

Brienza (2009) provided a vivid example of distribution facilitating a new form of content, and that was the recent explosive growth of manga (Japanese comic books) in the USA. There existed a fascination and respect for Japanese manga, partly fired by anime, but also its embrace by respected American creators (e.g. Frank Miller) (Schodt 1986; Dallas 2013). However, manga remained a niche within the niche of the direct market/comic book shop distribution channel. The material that was translated and published was generally limited to what would appeal to the tastes of the typical customer (i.e. male, older) such as Lone Wolf and Cub. Additionally, manga was published in the format familiar to the target audience (i.e. monthly installments of 32 pages), which made initial sense, since direct distribution was oriented toward selling “periodicals” as opposed to longer form formats. The full richness of the genres manga represented was not being exploited. For example, much manga was created with the intention that it be read in larger sequences, sometimes of hundreds of pages, so the traditional format of the comic book was not conducive to presenting manga in its best light.

Innovative publishers reformatted manga so that it more resembled a paperback book than a comic book magazine (Brienza 2009). Additionally, it expanded into the distribution channel for bookstores and once there enjoyed great success in such outlets as Barnes and Noble and Borders (Brienza 2009). Distribution to bookstores exposed manga to a different audience, one that did not typically frequent comics stores served by direct distribution. The audience was more female and enthusiastically embraced a number of titles and genres that would likely have met with little success, and quite possibly outright resistance, in the direct market. The success of manga in the American market cannot be understood without first appreciating the role that distribution played and the possibilities that a new distribution mode opened up. Without distribution beyond the dominant modes of direct distribution and comic book stores, it is very likely that manga would have experienced minimal market penetration and would likely have never attracted a substantial female readership. New publishers (entrants) and buyers changed the contours of the industry and the range of content available.

The final event to consider is the advent of computer production and digital distribution. Comic books and computer technology are not a new combination. Creators have used computers as a tool for creating comic books for decades. Comic books fully created on a computer began to appear as early as 1985 (e.g. Shatter #1, June, 1985). Beyond just utilizing computer technology to create comic books, the industry has, as have other print media (e.g. newspapers, books, magazines) moved into the digital delivery of content (Palmer 2010). As with the direct market, digital distribution radically changed the costs of distribution, again removing a barrier to entry for new publishers and creators. As an example of Peterson’s (1985) constraint of technology, digital comic books are freed from the limitations of the printed page, and this freedom opens up the possibility for further experimentation with the form (Guigar et al. 2011; McCloud 2000).

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