[META] How much money do doujinshi creators actually make? Some statistics from Comiket

We’ve mentioned before how fanworks are often sold in large quantities in Japan and many other countries, mostly in Asia but also elsewhere. Japan’s doujinshi conventions are probably the most famous examples of “money” markets for fanworks.

How much money do doujinshi creators actually make, though? Does anyone turn a real profit from these fan activities? Let’s check out some statistics. (In other words, this is a data dump post.)

It’s hard to come by any vaguely reliable numbers about doujinshi sales, especially numbers that focus on the situation of individual creators instead of more general market size estimates. Doujinshi creators in Japan do have to pay taxes on any profits they make from doujinshi sales, because these profits count as income from “self-published works”. Otherwise, though, doujinshi exchange is pretty much a shadow economy that goes mostly unrecorded. It’s also a fairly complicated shadow economy, involving sales not just through the thousands of doujinshi conventions that take place every year, but also through mail order, online auctions, and especially doujin shops, physical stores in all major Japanese cities that sell new and second-hand doujinshi.

However, we can get at least a general idea about what a doujinshi artist may earn by checking out the statistics that Comiket has published about its participants. The twice-yearly Comiket is the largest convention for the sale of self-published works in the entire world, and it’s mostly devoted to doujinshi (details in this excellent PDF presentation). Comiket is one of the oldest and most influential of all doujinshi conventions in Japan, and a significant minority of Japanese doujinshi circles seem to sell their works exclusively at Comiket. So, while the data below are only for a single convention, they probably can give a general idea of how many fans can make what kind of money with doujinshi.[1]

The numbers below are from a 2009 survey that was held among circles who were applying to participate in Comiket. A circle is a unit of one or more fans that publish a doujinshi. In the past, making a doujinshi was too difficult and expensive to manage by oneself, but home printing technology and specialized doujinshi printing companies now enable many fans to publish doujinshi by themselves as single-person circles; at Comiket, these single-person circles now a comfortable majority. Circles with two or three members are still fairly common, but more than that is rare (says an older 2003 survey). Keep in mind that all the losses or profits reported for the surveys described below are per circle, not per individual doujinshi-creating fan, so both losses and profits will be shared by multiple people in many cases.

The survey was held among applicants for Comiket 77 and asked them about their earnings through doujinshi sales in one year, presumably 2008 (Note: the first version of this blog incorrectly said it was for one edition of Comiket only). Roughly 33000 circles responded to this survey.[2] The results were reported in December 2011, in the catalog for Comiket 81. Wherever it’s provided in the report, I’ll give separate data for circles with a female representative and with a male representative, a distinction that I expect will be of interest to a lot of people.[3] The number of circles with a female representative (about 21500) was roughly double that of the number of circles with a male representative (about 11500). There is some debate about what percentage of visitors to Comiket are male or female: there’s no registration for visitors, and surveys about the topic contradict each other, with some settling on a majority of male visitors while others report a female majority. In the case of circles, who do register and where reliable data is available, there are clearly more female than male creators participating.

Circles were asked how much money they lost or earned with their sale of doujinshi during one year. Note that the dollar amounts are based on a June 2012 exchange rate, and are only there for clarification.

Lost 50000 yen or more (lost $638-more): male 14%, female 16%
Lost between 0 and 50000 yen (lost $0-$638): male 53%, female 50%
Earned between 0 and 50000 yen (earned $0-$638): male 15%, female 17%
Earned between 50000 and 200000 yen (earned $638-$2553): male 8%, female 10%
Earned more than 200000 yen (earned $2553-more): male 10%, female 6%

The circles who lose money are clearly in the majority, with 67% (male) and 66% (female) in the red. Earnings of less than 50000 yen are probably negligible in a lot of cases: this would barely cover transportation and hotel costs for a circle that has to come from outside of Tokyo. 15% of circles with a male representative and 17% of circles with a female representative reported such limited earnings.

These results emphasize how much doujin fandom is about being fannish, not about making a profit. The vast majority of creators will never get close to earning back even their printing costs, and they know it. When asked about what they liked the most about Comiket, “I can show my work to other people” was the top answer (41,5%), followed by “there’s a festival atmosphere” (21,3%) and “I can meet friends and acquaintances that I normally can’t meet” (13,1). Only 4,2% of circles chose “I can sell a lot of doujinshi there” as Comiket’s primary attraction.

However, there clearly are highly popular circles who do make a lot of money from their fannish activities. At the far end of the scale, between 50000 and 200000 yen could be anything from “covered the price of my Tokyo hotel room” to “covered the rent of my house for a few months”. Over 200000 yen is a handsome amount of money. In total, 18% of circles with a male representative and 15% of circles with a female representative made what I’d call a significant profit of more than 50000 yen. That may not sound like a large group of people, especially compared with the overwhelming percentage who make no profit at all, but a small percentage of 33000 responding circles still represents a large number of creators. Several thousand circles apparently made more than 200000 yen during a single edition of Comiket in 2009.

Evidently, the reason why so many circles end up in the red is because they don’t sell enough doujinshi to make up for the costs involved in creating them. The percentage of circles who reported selling a certain number of doujinshi during one year was as follows:

0-49 sold: 32%
50-99 sold: 20%
100-149 sold: 13%
150-299 sold: 14%
300-499 sold: 9%
500-999 sold: 7%
1000-1499 sold: 3%
1500-2999 sold: 2%
More than 3000 sold: 1%

Responses weren’t presented separately for circles with male and female representatives. However, a previous survey from 2003 indicated that there was very little difference in numbers of doujinshi sold between those two groups of circles.[4]

A third of all circles sold less than fifty doujinshi, and half sold less than a hundred. Given that a single doujinshi tends to cost somewhere between 300 and 600 yen when bought at a convention[5], less than fifty sold won’t get you very far. These data are for the total number of doujinshi sold by every circle, so they don’t show exactly which individual doujinshi sold how much.[6] However, more survey data emphasizes again exactly how influential really succesful circles are. It seems that roughly half of all doujinshi that changed hands during Comiket 76 were made by only 13% of circles, those that sold more than 500 works.

Even if most circles sell few doujinshi and earn nothing or next to nothing, it clearly wouldn’t be correct to characterize all creators in doujin fandom as just recuperating printing costs and absolutely not interested in making money. There have been some widely publicized incidents involving extremely succesful doujinshi creators, for instance one in 2007 about a Prince of Tennis doujinshi creator who neglected to report over 65 million yen in income from doujinshi sales to taxes. There are also circles who get accused by others of being in it for the money instead of out of fannish love for the source work. I’ve also heard several suggestions that these days, there are professional mangaka who prefer to participate in doujinshi conventions because they make more with doujinshi than with their commercially published work. There have always been many professional mangaka who also make doujinshi, so this is nothing new in and of itself, but people making more with doujinshi than with their professional manga sounds like a fairly recent development to me. It’s not surprising, though, given the long decline of the commercial manga market. If a mangaka sells doujinshi, at least they can keep all the profits instead of having to share with publishers, distributors, and so on.

This was a lot of data with little analysis, and again, these are only the numbers for one single convention. There are other ways in which circles sell doujinshi and potentially make money, so this picture is very incomplete. But in any case, it should be obvious that the “non-commercial” nature of the doujinshi market isn’t as clear-cut as all that. (Neither is the “non-commercial” nature of fanworks exchange in English-speaking fan communities, of course.)

Writing this, I wonder what I even mean by “non-commercial”. I think fans everywhere tend to characterize their markets as non-commercial not so much because money is absent, but because the intent to make money is absent. In and of itself, this is a meaningful and valid definition of “non-commercial”. However, it’s not a definition that everybody understands or agrees with.

[1] Off topic, but I’ve always found this interesting: you can also tell Comiket’s dominance from the publication dates of all doujinshi in Japan. Of a hundred Harry Potterdoujinshi I selected for a research project a few years ago, 31 were published in August or December, and virtually none in July or November. This baffled me until I realized that August and December are when Comiket is held, and July and November is when everybody’s scrambling to get their newest work finished before Comiket. Very many circles try to have their new works “premiere” at Comiket, where the pool of potentially interested fellow fans is so large.
[2] 35000 circles participate in every edition of Comiket and around 50000 apply to for one of those 35000 slots, so 33000 respondents is probably a fairly representative number. People could skip questions on the survey, so the number of respondents varied per question. I’ll skip the precise number of respondents for each question to keep the post a bit simpler.
[3] There’s not necessarily any sort of hierarchy inside circles that have more than one member; it’s just that one person needs to act as representative when the circle applies for conventions and such. According to the 2003 survey, about 70% of circles with a female representative consisted of only one person, while 47% of circles with a male representative were actually just one fan. No data seem to be available about the genders of the non-representative circle members.
[4] But just to back that up, here are the numbers from the 2003 survey, which was published in this book.
0-49 sold: male 38,3%, female 34,2%
50-99 sold: male 21%, female 20,9%
100-149 sold: male 12%, female 12,9%
150-299 sold: male 11,2%, female 14,2%
300-499 sold: male 6,4%, female 7,6%
500-999 sold: male 5,5%, female 5,9%
1000-1499 sold: male 2,2%, female 2,1%
more than 1500 sold: male 3,6%, female 2,2%
[5] Prices can be cheaper when a doujinshi is sold second-hand in a doujin shop, or sometimes more expensive in the doujin shop if the work is a classic by a famous artist. They can get a lot more expensive in online auctions, especially for buyers outside of Japan.
[6] Circles usually bring several different titles to Comiket, a mix of old and new work. The 2003 survey showed that three to five new titles per year is a common output for a doujinshi circle, although quite a few circles publish more than that, especially circles with female representatives. Sales figures from one convention are an indicator of popularity, of course, but they don’t give a good indication of the actual number of individual fans who read a particular doujinshi. Second-hand doujinshi are often resold through doujin shops, and like any other print medium, doujinshi are shared among friends, sometimes scanned and distributed over the internet without the knowledge of the circle, and so on.

  • Dana Sterling

    This is fascinating; all new information to me. Thank you!

    • Nele

      You’re welcome!