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Xavier Guilbert on Bart Beaty’s Reaction to the 2006 ACBD Report
posted January 4, 2007

I'm the editor-in-chief of du9, and we exchanged a few emails a while ago about the antics of Mr. Pasamonik. I take the opportunity of this email to wish you the best for the new year.

I wanted to react on your piece on the latest ACBD report that I stumbled upon today on the front page of the Comics Reporter.

First, one thing you have to remember while reading this report, is that it is not based in any way on actual sales figures. All the figures you mention in your piece (such as the 280 000 sales of the latest Thorgal) are only print runs -- and therefore more the reflection of the publishers' outlook on the sales potential than actual success of them. Actual sales figures should be available during January from either of the two panelists that track that market, IPSOS and GfK.

The second element is that, from a methodological point of view, Gilles Ratier's approach is only an inventory. As someone pointed out on this blog, the report mixes apples and oranges and does not reflect the actual reality of the market -- and even leads to false conclusions. (for the record, "in real life" I happen to be a senior market analyst in an international videogame company, so I know about that kind of things)

Let me give you a quick example: for one Titeuf book released in the year (which will sell 1.8 million books, let's stick with the print runs for this demonstration), you have 6 Naruto books (which sell a cumulated 1.5 million books). Yet, if you consider just those 7 releases, you would say that with a 86% share of the releases, Naruto clearly dominates the market -- while the reality of it is that Titeuf holds a 55% market share in volume. Factoring in the retail prices ( 9.5€ for Titeuf, vs. 6€ for Naruto), you end up with a 65% market share in value for Titeuf. Quite the opposite of the original assumption, don't you think?

Moreover, I feel that Gilles Ratier's choice of looking at each year with only one angle (maturity this year), is very limitative and leads to some very hasty self-justifications. I honestly don't understand why 1328 "bande dessinee" authors would indicate maturity in 2006, while 1325 in 2005 were synonyms to "mangalisation". In fact, I suspect that the major strength of this report is that it's ready and easy to use by journalists (and indeed, most of the French press has reproduced it over the Internet), and that it's the only one of its kind -- so far. I had produced on du9 last year a counter-report because I didn't like the "manga invasion" alarmist tones of the previous version (I've lived for over 4 years in Japan, and I can get a little protective when it comes to manga), but obviously we somehow lack the same official punch of this initial report. And while everyone marvels about it being a major source for reliable figures, those figures are only partial and, as I hope I've demonstrated, don't reveal much about what actually happens on the market.

The last thing that irks me with this report is that this report is mostly self-congratulatory, especially when it comes to the cultural perception of comics in France. As always, one of the major arguments cited for this is the fact that the ACBD exists and copiously review comic books around. Well, most small press publishers (Cornelius, l'Asso, Ego comme X, etc.) note that comic book criticism is close to non-existing in the press -- and this is a position that Thierry Groensteen confirms in his latest book "un objet culturel non identifie." I can't resist mentionning that he says that for good criticism, you have to turn to the Internet, with du9 coming up as his first recommendation. 😊

And to finish, I'd like to precise that I have nothing against Gilles Ratier whatsoever -- I've never communicated with him, in real life or otherwise. It's just that, as the editor-in-chief of a webzine that tries to keep high-standards of quality, and doubling with my day-time job, I cannot let it be said that this report is some kind of a Holy Grail on the status of the French comic book industry. There are some interesting elements in there, but it's definitely a lot of inventory work, and not much that would qualify as analysis.

Looking forward to reading you again, and, maybe, meet you around coffee (or worse) in Angouleme later this month.

Bart Beaty responds:

Hi Xavier,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think generally you and I probably agree on most things that you say here. My confusing the print-run with sales is an embarrassing mistake -- even moreso when re-reading the report I note that Ratier even goes out of his way to say "of course, these are only the print runs." Of course, as you point out, all of those top selling books are going to surpass even these huge numbers in the long run and will likely see multiple printings, but it was a silly misreading on my part. This is what I get when I try to read French industry reports with a baby on my lap! I think in the context of the overall scheme of things, not much is changed. Publishers order big print runs on well-known series because they are aware of what past installments of the series sold. And I think that the general focus of the largest publishers on best-sellers and established series is the key here, rather than specific data on sales. Nonetheless, I have changed the original article to correct my error, and I will look forward to seeing that numbers that you put together over the next couple of weeks.

Otherwise, I quite agree with your comments on manga. Your article here, is a very interesting take on the subject. I tried to de-emphasize the sense of "mangalisation" in my own article because I was surprised by the numbers. I thought that the numbers were a lot higher for individual manga series given the way that they're talked about and fretted over by so many French artists, publishers and commentators.

I also agree that Ratier's single focus is sometimes too narrow, but I also understand that he likely does this to give the report some traction with the general press, which are much more likely to report "2006: Comics come of age!" or "2005: Manga takes over!" than "2006: A lot of different things happened." But, yes, where Ratier sees maturity I have a sense of impending doom (but maybe I'm too negative in my outlook). Still, I greatly appreciate having any kind of numbers from which we can begin discussions like these. I would love to see, for example, a similar report on the American market telling me how many comics were published, how many books, how many translations, but the information has just never been pulled together (that I am aware of). So, I am grateful for the effort that this represents, even if I don't always agree with the conclusions.

A final note to say that I too have never met Gilles Ratier (though I did see him on a round-table last year at Angou) and I am not a member of ACBD. And let's definitely meet up at Angouleme.