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For fans of manga, anime, and other Japanese media, pointing and laughing at inaccurate mass media portrayals of Japanese pop culture has been something of a sport for decades. A few weeks ago, however, things took a slightly more serious turn.
The ball got rolling when early in June, the Japanese House of Representatives approved a long-overdue law banning the possession of child pornography. Up to now, creating and distributing child pornography was as forbidden in Japan as anywhere else, but “simple possession” had not yet been criminalized. The new law applies only to “real” child pornography and leaves alone completely fictional depictions of underage characters in sexual situations in manga, anime and other media. This exception came about after vocal protests from manga publishers, creators, fans and free speech rights activists. The story was widely reported in non-Japanese media. However, most of these reports focused on handwringing about Japan’s “failure” to clamp down on sexually explicit manga. Most shared was a CNN article filled with outrage about how the new law supposedly permits Japanese bookstores to fill their shelves with shocking cartoon porn about children. (more…)
Comike was neither the first nor the biggest dōjinshi fair when it was established; its main purpose was to provide the freest market possible, and that freedom has come at a price. The dream of a Comic Market open to every one and everything was never realized, as there were too many physical, financial, and legal restrictions. Even today, the Comic Market suffers from a lack of space, a lack of money, and a lack of legal security. Only two-thirds of applicant circles can participate due to constraints, since, as a small independent operator Comike’s financial resources are limited and most of the work is done by volunteers.
Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p244 ift.tt/1jEHBFw
Though its most important function is still to provide a physical place, Comic Market has also become a symbol of the otaku and dōjinshi communities. It is not only by a wide margin the biggest dōjinshi event in Japan (and therefore related to many subcultural and independent media in Japan), it is also the oldest such event, and the one most famous in the mass media. As the center of attention, with its size and its links to the industry, it is undeniable that Comike possesses the power and the means to influence social, market, and even political developments. In recent years it has not been reluctant to use this power. Whether through conferences on copyright issues or on the establishment of a “National dōjinshi fair liaison group” (Zenkoku dōjinshi sokubaikai renrakukai) in 2000, it has taken on the responsibility of representing and of regulating Japanese dōjinshi culture.
The Comic Market was dominated by women from the beginning (90 percent of its first participants were female), but in 1981, thanks to lolicon, male participants numbered the same as female participants for the first time in Comike’s history. With almost ten thousand participants, Comic Market was now Japan’s biggest dōjinshi event and the center of dōjinshi culture. It grew big enough that the nineteenth Comic Market, in the winter of 1981, was held in the International Exhibition Center in Harumi. A year later, a convention catalogue was sold for the first time, both to help visitors to find their favorite circles in the crowd of almost a thousand circles and to help finance Comic Market’s expansion. Comike also encouraged the many fan-related companies to include advertisements in the catalog.
Internal conflicts on the Comike planning committee underlay some of these developments: they marked the ascendancy of the faction led by Yonezawa Yoshihiro, who favored Comike’s unlimited expansion. Though he was criticized for purportedly selling dōjinshi out to commercialism, Yonezawa couched his plans for Comike in terms of a collective organization of the convention by all participants, including staff, circles, and visitors. Whatever the underlying reality, these public principles remain little changed today.
Since the 1980s, it has become common for talented dōjinshi creators to be recruited by professional companies and become popular on the mass market. Many famous artists have had a past in the dōjinshi scene or are still involved. Artists—including Ozaki Minami (1989–91, Zetsuai) or CLAMP (2003–9, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle; 1992–present, X: 1999)—became famous in the dōjinshi world before conquering the professional market, and artists such as Koge-Donbo (1999–2003, Pitaten) and Hiroe Rei (2002–present, Black Lagoon) are still very active, regularly selling dōjinshi at fairs. Dōjinshi like Masamune Shirow’s Black Magic (1983) or Minekura Kazuya’s Saiyuki (1997–2002) were directly converted into popular professional works.
Professional artists selling dōjin products on the side have been a common practice for a long time. In the summer of 2004, 5 percent of all circles participating in Comike were headed by a professional mangaka or illustrator, while another 10 percent had some professional experience. Similarly, it is common for erotic game producers to allow their underpaid artists to sell their drafts and sketches as dōjinshi, giving the artists a second wage and the company free promotion.
When the Comic Market was first held, it was one among many well-known dōjinshi conventions such as Manga Communication or Nihon Manga Taikai (Japan Manga Convention), at which all kinds of groups producing manga-and anime-related fanworks could physically gather together in order to share, buy, and sell dōjinshi. Dōjinshi circles, anime fan societies and science fiction school clubs sat side-by-side exchanging dōjinshi and fanzines.
But no fan scene is immune to controversies and imbroglios, and the Japanese dōjinshi scene was no exception. In 1975, a woman who had made critical remarks about the Manga Taikai was excluded from that convention, and subsequently a firestorm of anger among fans produced a movement against the Manga Taikai led by the famous circle Meikyū (Labyrinth), which resulted in the conception of a new alternative convention. On December 21, 1975, the first Comic Market—”a fan event from fans for fans”—was held in Tokyo.
Comike’s underlying vision was of an open and unrestricted dōjinshi fair, offering a marketplace without limitations on content or access. At the time, manga and anime fandom was organized around formal circles (particularly the school clubs that charged membership fees and produced regular group publications), and conventions were gathering places for the groups—rather than that of individual fans. Crucially, and from the beginning, Comike attracted visitors who were not just circle or club members, and who did not necessarily themselves produce fanworks. This innovation created its now massive popularity in Japan and increasingly, with international fans as well. Comike was soon held three times a year, attracting ever-increasing numbers of groups and fans.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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, 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. 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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%
 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.
 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.
Guest Post by Nele Noppe:
‘Comiket’ has about the same connotations as ‘El Dorado’ among many fans of Japanese pop culture, both inside and outside the country. This fanworks-centric event is said to be the largest regular public event in Japan, and it’s easily the largest comic convention in the world. The edition I attended this summer, Comiket 80, welcomed about five hundred and forty-thousand visitors, thirty-five thousand fan creators come to sell their works, and a small army of three thousand volunteers there to direct the rivers of people through Tokyo’s flagship Big Sight convention center.
One’s first Comiket is a bit of a rite of passage, and I’d like to celebrate by giving a quick overview of this iconic event for those who may have heard about it as a massive fanworks market but are a little unsure of the details. The sale of paper dojinshi – zines, most often in manga format – is still very much an intrinsic part of fannish life in Japan. Dojinshi shops and dojinshi conventions have only become more popular as online fandom developed. Between forty and ninety large and small dojinshi conventions are held throughout Japan every month; Comiket, which has taken place every August and December since 1975, is only the biggest and most famous.
Socializing is a large part of the Comiket experience, but most visitors come to snap up the latest dojinshi by their favorite creators and discover new artists and fandoms. The fannish move onto the internet only seems to have made Comiket even more of an important showcase event for creators. Fifty-two thousand dojinshi creation teams, or ‘circles’, took part in the lottery that determined who could have half a table for one day at Comiket 80. Circles of two or more people are very common, but technological advances and the rise of support services like specialized dojinshi printing companies have leveled the playing field and made it easier and cheaper for single-person circles to create dojinshi as well.
The scale of circles’ activities and sales varies wildly. A majority of circles report that they sell up to a hundred dojinshi while at Comiket and generally lose money on their fannish activities, but some of the more famous and successful circles sell over a thousand dojinshi during Comiket and earn several hundred thousand yen (one thousand yen is about 1300 US dollars or 970 euros) over the course of a whole year of attending conventions. Dojinshi circles that can actually make a living with their fannish activities are highly exceptional. The general sentiment is that dojinshi should be made out of love for their source works and nothing else, so there’s little tolerance for circles who are perceived as deliberately trying to turn a profit.
Exact numbers about the size of the dojinshi market are hard to come by; it’s very much a shadow economy, untaxed and unregulated. Japanese copyright law forbids the sale of unauthorized derivative works, and most scholars and fans agree that what takes place at Comiket is probably illegal. However, rights holders turn a blind eye to the sale of dojinshi at conventions and in dedicated resale shops because they believe that a flourishing dojinshi scene nurtures up-and-coming artists and serves as free publicity for commercial offerings. There have been a few clashes involving individual dojinshi that media companies considered both too popular and too offensive, but on the whole, there’s a tacit understanding that the fans who buy and sell dojinshi are the industry’s biggest supporters and should be left alone.
At Comiket itself, nothing shows that tacit understanding better than the official presence of about a hundred and fifty companies, ranging from manga publishers to anime production houses to dojinshi resale shops and other fan-oriented companies, like Pixiv, the Japanese equivalent of deviantART. To preserve the fannish atmosphere of Comiket, the company booths are located on a separate floor entirely and have to make their own little catalog. (The official Comiket catalog, which has blurbs about all participating dojinshi circles, puts most phone books to shame.) It’s perfectly possible to attend Comiket for years and see nothing more of the company booths than the signs pointing towards the stairs, and some participants report doing just that.
Comiket’s ever-increasing popularity among both fans and companies has caused some new problems of its own. Some fans feel uncomfortable with the media attention that’s invariably drawn by half a million people converging on Tokyo Big Sight. There are security concerns about overcrowding inside the center, and Comiket is unable to control turnout simply by switching to a Comic Con-like system of advance registration. Participation in the event has always been free of charge with no registration required, and any changes that may lead to some participants being privileged over others will probably be seen as a violation of Comiket’s strong code of egalitarianism.
But Comiket’s biggest headache right now is Bill 156, a recent law that aims to prevent the distribution of explicit material to minors in Tokyo. As soon as it was first proposed, this piece of legislation was widely reviled as a possible source of censorship by manga publishers, fans, mangaka, rights activists, and academics alike. These broad protests succeeded in watering down the proposal significantly, but it still passed, and there’s real concern among fans that it could have an impact not just on commercial manga but on dojinshi culture as well. One Comiket staffer I spoke to urged me to spread the word about Bill 156 among non-Japanese fans, and remind fans around the world to remain vigilant about obvious and non-obvious threats of censorship.