During my usual browsing at the Borders bookstore near my office, I was surprised to see that they’ve started carrying imported manga in addition to their ever growing selection of translated manga. On the surface this may seem no big deal until one thinks about the dynamics of retail businesses in general and the books business in particular.
In general, getting shelf space at retail is very difficult. The retailer only want to shelve things that are going to sell in a reasonable amount of time. Things that don’t sell not only take up valueable space, they make it impossible to shelve new products that might sell better. So when the Borders decided to stock imported manga, they must have believed that they had a product that would sell, even at nearly twice the price of translated manga.
With respect to bookstores in particular, finding books in any language other than English is a rare thing in the U.S.. Borders does have a section of foreign books in a number of languages, but this particular one had nothing in any of the non-romance languages. Finding foreign language books usually means a trip to bookstores in ethnic neighborhoods or those near college campuses. In the case of Japanese books, it would mean a long trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace. So again, someone thinks that this will sell. And I should also note that this Borders is located in an area that sees a fair amount of Japanes tourist traffic. So maybe it’s just this store carrying the imports. I’ll have to check some others later.
It may be too much to hope for, but perhaps the appearance of imported manga at a mainstream bookstore like Borders heralds the end of American provincialism.