mō ichido, shōjo. (70s, 80s & 90s shōjo manga retrospective)

Popularity polls of manga magazines

Anonymous asked

Is popularity polls the only way to gauge the popularity of a manga? Won't the volumes sales sufficient enough? Actually im not very clear how popularity polls works hahaha

Oh yeah, that's a good question! It's probably even the ETERNAL QUESTION OF MANGA PUBLISHING, haha.

Popularity polls work by a postcard that's included in a lot of manga magazines. It'll have pre-printed questions such as "What was your top 3 favorite manga in this issue?" "What genre of mange do you want to see in our magazine in the future?" "What type of protagonist do you enjoy reading about?" and so on. Readers will answer the questions and send them into the magazine, either because they enter contests to win prizes this way, or (if they're more the otaku type of reader) because they want to support their favorite series and influence the direction of the magazine.

Honestly, you're 100% right: popularity polls can't measure everything about a series' popularity. Tankobon sales are very important, too, and do enter into consideration. But this is a really difficult issue, because if a manga sells a lot of tankobon but rank horribly in the magazine's polls, it's not helping to sell the magazine, and it's only logical that the editors will want to cancel it and replace it with a new series that might increase the magazine's circulation.

However, tankobon make more money per volume sold, both for the magazine and the writer (simple maths: a 200-page tankobon at 400 yen versus a 500-page magazine at 250 yen, for example).

However, a magazine (usually) has a higher circulation than a tankobon, and come out more often, meaning there's a bigger and more immediate turnover of profit. Tankobon take months to come out, even for weekly series, and sometimes take years. It's much more of an investment.

However, this is a truth with modifications for the vast majority of manga magazines today: so many of them have such a low circulation that they're only making a profit through tankobon sales and media licensing.

However, that doesn't mean a publisher can or will put out a tankobon for any series willy-nilly. After all, if a series is only the eighth most popular series of a magazine, how will they know the tankobon will sell at all? The initial costs of publishing a tankobon is so high, fewer and fewer series are being given the chance in tankobon format. So if a series isn't popular in the magazine's polls, sometimes that's it -- it might sell millions of copies in tankobon, but no one will ever know.

So, it's complicated. Another factor complicating the matter is that there are roughly speaking two types of manga readers in Japan: zasshi-ha (people who buy and read manga magazines) and tankobon-ha (people who prefer to wait for a tankobon release of their favorite series). It's difficult to generalize anything about manga readers, but if you allow me to do it anyway, the typical magazine reader is the intended target audience: if we're talking Weekly Shonen Jump, they're the boys who will read Jump every week and probably buy a handful of tankobon per year. The typical tankobon reader is the opposite: it's that manga otaku who buys every tankobon of Hunter x Hunter and Jojo, but never actually buys the magazine (or only buys it when HxH is running).

Again, this is a truth with modifications; there's also a segment of Jump magazine readers who are such manga otaku that they're obsessed with following all the series real-time, and even more obsessed with analyzing and discussing the meta aspect of the popularity polls being reflected in which series get canceled or not. This segment of the magazine readership will typically also buy the tankobon of their favorite series.

What these types of readers look for in manga is different. One is generally younger; the other is generally older. One is a manga reader; the other is a manga fan. So in many situations, it's very difficult (or downright impossible!) to appeal to both. Some popular manga manage to appeal to both types of readers, as well as people who are not manga readers normally, and this is how we get a monster like One Piece; but generally, it's a really difficult balancing act. Do you try to appeal to the tankobon readers, and risk cancellation in exchange of the possibility of high tankobon sales? Or do you try to appeal to the magazine readers, and risk low tankobon sales but a long serialization? There are pros and cons, and it's hard to say what an artist or a magazine should do. Hagio and Takemiya and people like them are probably archetypical "writers who are popular in tankobon with people who are manga otaku", which usually means they sell tankobon quite well, but not One Piece-levels of well, and are an investment for the publisher rather than an opportunity for a quick turnover.

On a related note, there are also manga magazines that have specialized in appealing to demographics that never, or hardly ever, buy tankobon: housewives and commuters. There are a ton of magazines that never get any publicity in fandom because they are not for fandom or otaku, and their manga deal with such topics as pachinko, mahjong, the yakuza, cooking, child rearing, or the terrifying relationships between housewives and their husbands' mothers. These are read-and-throw-away magazines, for readers who are about as far removed from manga otaku as you can get.

Anyway! I'm sorry this turned out so long, because I think the question was actually about Hagio Moto. The thing is, someone like Hagio would be allowed to have a series in any magazine in existence in Japan today, regardless of her popularity within the magazine, since the publisher would be guaranteed a certain level of tankobon sales because of her name value and enduring fan base. But back in mid-70s when Hagio began writing The Heart of Thomas, she was still an up-and-comer with no real hit under her belt; on top of that, the ranking for the first chapter of The Heart of Thomas wasn't just sort-of bad, it was downright in the bottom three. The big sales of the tankobon for The Clan of Poe was Hagio's first real breakthrough, so if that hadn't happened, the horrible results in the popularity polls would be the only thing editors could use to gauge her popularity. I don't have the book on me so my memory is a little vague, but I believe she also wrote in her essay collection Omoide o kirinuku toki that her editor at the time suddenly got promoted to chief editor of the magazine, and that added responsibility made him nervous about Hagio and Thomas. So there was also that!

Does any of this help, even a little bit? There's lots of types of popularity, and I'm not saying the Year 24 Group wasn't popular! It's just that people like Ikeda and Satonaka were explosively popular, the most popular people in their magazines, their manga turned into several anime and drama series and musicals, tankobon selling like hot cakes, etc. etc.

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