East Lansing, MI–It’s hard to compete with free. Since the birth of fan translation websites like Mangafox.me and video streaming sites such as Crunchyroll.com, local Lansing retailers have had a rough time selling their hard copies of anime and manga.
“I think online has really killed a lot of it,” commented Jeremy Plesco, owner of Fortress Comics and Games. In the past 5 years, Plesco replaced much of his manga stock with American comics after depleting sales.
“Business had its peak in 2000,” explained Jon Howard, store manager of Flat, Black & Circular (FBC), a used DVD, CD, and record store which saw its anime sales decline drastically in the past 10 years. Howard and business owner Dave Bernath speculated on whether fans of the genre still exist.
“The people who watched anime and still do are the ones keeping it alive,” agreed Rob Nichols, store manager of Replay Entertainment Exchange, a resale shop that now primarily specializes in DVDs and video games. Nichols described how mainstream movies such as Miyazaki films were quite popular, but most other series go unnoticed for months, leading him to believe “there’s less of an audience looking for it.”
While the growing number of fans flocking to anime conventions and swarming to online communities disagrees with Nichols, fans have certainly made their presence less prominent in East Lansing’s retail.
As a result, local shops have developed new deals to try and coax manga and anime fans away from their computer screens and into the stores.
Fortress special orders manga at 20% off.
21st Century Comics & Games created a manga exchange where fans can buy used manga for as low as $1.50 when they trade in their old comics.
Replay offers a large selection of anime, most discs costing around the very reasonable rate of $5 each, and they also buy used anime from those seeking to lighten their collection.
FBC also offers guaranteed market price those wishing to sell their old anime, and according to Howard, gives them an opportunity to “trade in and refresh their collection” with a variety of cult and mainstream titles.
From these deals, fans not only take away a tangible declaration of the fandom but also get the opportunity for face-to-face encounters with others who share their interests. Spending much of his time in Fortress chatting with customers turned friends, Plesco believes in the importance of his store’s environment as a springboard for fans to connect over everything from anime to tabletop gaming.
“For one thing, it’s a community that isn't inside at all times,” Plesco said, describing the advantage his customers have over fans experiencing their favorite manga solely online.
While the convenience of the online experience is alluring, the local stores on Grand River are doing their part to reach out to this community of fans. If fans don’t invest, Nichols’ words that anime and manga are on their “way out” will be true for East Lansing.