Anime and Manga: Money Pit or Bread and Butter?
Anime and manga appeal to a niche market, but book stores just love to eat up the sales. As for libraries, there is not always enough in the budget to invest in them. What are fans to do? We can't all afford to collect all the volumes we want because we aren't all rich, but the libraries also cannot afford to add things to their collections that will only circulate among a few people. Because libraries have their own problems, this is an issue over which you must pick your battles when trying to convince coordinators which titles to pick up.
Book stores that sell anime and manga stand to make a lot of money. How do I know? A little while ago I bought a couple of volume ones for my brother, and the cashier tried to sell me on a membership card because "people spend a lot of money on these." It's true that they do, and they are considered an investment. However, I only go shopping when I have a gift card, so I chose to decline. With limited cash flow and college debts to pay off, this is one investment I can't afford to make anymore. I've always been amazed that people can afford to dress up in elaborate costumes and attend conventions, let alone buy all volumes of the various series they like. Not all anime fans are rich - most are poor or middle class. Unfortunately, libraries on the whole have been slow on the uptake to accept manga and anime into their collections, and now several are disappearing - in more ways than one.
Since the economic downturn, manga and anime distributors in the U.S. have not been spared. Aside from 4Kids Entertainment declaring bankruptcy (it was only a matter of time given how their executive meddling angered the fans more than actually entertaining them), Tokyopop also closed its doors. Prior to that, they had dropped titles such as Kingdom Hearts (for reasons fans suspect had to do with threats from competition in the form of Disney and other companies trying to push their own titles). Scanlations were the next to go, as they became banned across sites all over the Internet. So much for net neutrality. The scanlations themselves posed no threat - fans who could afford it would gladly pay for the official translations when they were published in their home country either in bound paperback or on e-readers. For people who claim to know what the public wants, executives certainly do not know what people want. They tend to flip-flop between burying certain titles and milking the cash cow that is the genre as a whole. And that's just the supply side of the problem.
The demand side of the problem is that library budgets are tight as well, especially in municipalities run by conservatives. If you live in an area fortunate enough to have an anime and manga section (usually located in the teen zone), you still have to fight for the titles that you want to be included in the collection for yourself and all to enjoy. The first problem is not enough fans in your community. If you like a certain series that others don't, you may have to convince them. Converting outsiders to the genre is a good place to start if you can relate certain titles to more mainstream series that are popular. You'll have to pick your battles, but building an interest and a reasonable circulation potential is key to winning over the people in charge of title additions. The second problem is that crime is on the rise. Any and all library materials have become increasingly susceptible to theft. At first you might think people check out material and either forget to return them or lose them; in this case, they are responsible for reimbursement. However, in the past few months, people have walked off with countless items without checking them out, straining the already tight budgets. If the culprits are not caught and held responsible, there is no one to pay the fines and everyone loses out. This affects both mainstream and niche materials, especially anything new and popular (beware of items sold on e-bay that have library markings on them - if they are not stealing for their own use they are stealing for profit).
I must ask you all to remain vigilant and never give in to the dark impulses that breed in this dirt-poor economy. Keep in mind that librarians are overworked as it is; they are fatigued and don't always process items back into the system properly. Budgets not only restrict the number of titles (or in some cases copies of titles) but the number of employees, which they desperately need in some cases (in most cases they rely on unpaid volunteers, who are also tired if they are too jaded from not being able to find a paying gig and spend all their time there begging for work that may never come their way). Do not take advantage of weaknesses you may see in these people - do the right thing and help them. Whether it's by donating items or simply returning your items on time, do something other than turn a blind eye on the corruption that you see if it is in your power to do something about it. Everyone is getting a bit desperate, but that does not give you the right to steal or ask for more than what others can afford to give. That goes for everyone everywhere across all genres and income brackets.