Follow up April 14, 2022: Most of this article is moot for One Piece at least as a subscription to the digital version of Shonen Jump is a pretty great deal. For $1.99/month you get access to the full the back catalog and can read every issue of One Piece ever made.
I recently caught up on the manga super series One Piece which has reached an extraordinary 82 volumes in length, each of which averages around 200 pages (for a total of ~16,000). While waiting for more of it to be released I (perhaps unwisely) starting reading Fairy Tail, a series of similarly astounding proportions at 55 volumes (~11,000 pages).
After a visit yesterday to Kinokuniya, San Francisco’s Japanese bookstore and looking at the prices on manga volumes, it got me to thinking how much it would actually cost to read one of these series back to front. At an average of $10 a volume, One Piece would cost $820 to read, and Fairy Tail $550. Prices will vary depeding on where you source the books from; they’ll be more expensive at real-world stores ($11), and may be discounted on Amazon ($5 for more recent One Piece volumes), but they’re roughly right.
Especially given that the series are aimed at younger readers without a lot of money, these numbers strike me as big. There’s probably some expectation that some volumes will be swapped with friends or available at a local library, but even so getting caught up could be expensive. The price isn’t too high either; between the artwork and interesting writing, there’s easily $10 worth of content wrapped up in one of them.
Realistically, there’s a considerable amount of piracy involved in getting people on-boarded into either series because there aren’t any cost-effective legitimate solutions. The digital medium should offer publishers a way to solve this problem; perhaps by selling back issues at a fraction of the normal price, while the last ten volumes or so stay at $10. Publishers have a natural aversion to cheapening their content, even if it’s old and has entered the long tail its sales curve, but Steam’s sales of 50-90% off (and with a proportional boost in sales) serves as a guiding light for anyone willing to look for one.
For now, I’m lucky enough to have a library that carries complete collections, but if I wasn’t, I might not be reading manga at all.
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