Globalization of Manga @上智

EastAsian Anthropologist MLへのDavid Slater氏のメッセージから;

Graduate Fieldwork Workshop
April 18th, 2009
Sophia University (Yotsuya Campus)

Bldg. #10, room 301

10 am-noon

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Title: Economic competitive advantage and cultural exports: how Japan got round cultural distance to claim global leadership in comic book publishing.

Julien Vig
(Sociology MSc candidate at Hitotsubashi University and research student at the Institute of Innovation Research)


Since the 1990s, the joint influences of nation branding efforts and the increasing globalization of the economic and technological contexts within which media organizations operate have brought upon an era where America's dominant position as an exporter of contents is becoming increasingly challenged by new entrants, often industrial consortia backed by state agencies. Serious contenders may include India's Bollywood movies, Brazil's telenovelas, or South Korea's array of dynamic entertainment industries. Yet beyond the cultural significance of the phenomenon, their actual export performance only qualifies them as cultural niches when compared to the incumbent transnational American corporations, whose distribution monopolies and market power make their economic control of global flows a reality that remains hardly escapable.

Japan, however, distinguished itself by securing global leadership in no less than three content industries. In videogames, animation and comic books, it stands out a leading exporting country, boasting impressive trade surpluses with America and Europe. There is a solid, established interdisciplinary body of international literature dedicated to Japan's videogame industry, and the anime industry has been similarly attracting increasing attention in the past ten years. The comic book industry on the other hand, arguably because of its limited legitimacy and economic significance outside the $4bn+ Japanese domestic market, remains largely understudied except for comic book and popular culture scholars.

An overlooked specificity of the comic book industry stems from the most peculiar pattern of globalization it has experienced. From the 1950s onwards, the United States, France and Japan each developed their own publishing paradigm and standard formats: comic book, album and manga. These path-dependent creative and industrial trajectories would hardly interact until the second half of the 1990s. After their late encounter, Japanese manga emerged as the undisputed winner, reaching shares of about 1/3 of total comic book sales in value in both France and America in 2007.

This achievement has interesting theoretical implications. On the one hand, media scholars showed that the primary vehicles for the development of contra-flows (defined as non-Western media flows which counter the previously established one-way information flow from western to non-west countries) are geographic, cultural or linguistic regionalism; yet this framework cannot account for how Japanese manga could succeed in Western markets, as none of the above patterns seems to apply. On the other hand, management scholars, in the dominant models of firm- and industry-level internationalization, accept as a prerequisite that agents are actively and strategically trying to internationalize; yet Japanese manga publishers long maintained a passive attitude towards market expansion outside of Asia.

Drawing upon fieldwork in France and Japan, international comparisons of industry data and evidence from a consumer survey conducted in France in December 2008, my research aims to uncover the economics at work behind the success of Japanese manga on the global comic book scene. What are the conditions for the emergence of sustainable contra-flows? The study of Japan's prominent success in exporting domestic contents may hold the answer to this question and provide a blueprint for later entrants in the global cultural market.