Industrious Otaku: Doujin as Business

Comiket. Picture from some random person's Twitter. Note that the number of people in one place is beyond China-level.

Following a brief discussion of C81 in our Three Way Action podcast from New Years, I wanted to do little bit of looking into a relatively interesting phenomenon: consignment sales of doujinshi. Sales of doujinshi via consignment involve circles producing doujinshi for comic markets in Japan contracting the sales of their goods to a store that deals in doujinshi, which in turn sell their goods for them to the general public, sometimes at an increased price depending on demand for the circle, genre, anime, and other factors. It’s an interesting business to look at, considering much of the recent hubbub about Bandai’s withdrawal from distribution in the U.S., and Funimation’s suit against several other entertainment companies. I’m no specialist on the topic, but I do hope that a little bit of research might point out something interesting.

Here’s a rough description of what I mean by the relationship between doujinshi circles and consignment shops, which are also known as doujin shops. Comic Toranoana’s sixth and seventh floors are relatively packed with people the week of and after Comiket, making the entire place reek of sweaty otaku. All jokes aside, the sixth floor prominently displays some of the newest doujin from popular circles, many of which have begun to send part of their stock to Toranoana, along with game-related stuff. One floor above, it’s also doujin, except of the more anime and manga variety. Popular circles such as Shutter (シャッター), Kabe (壁), and Shimanaka (島中) can be found on the shelves, signifying an increase in these outreach of these circles; the store is then able to carry inventory of previous doujinshi and even deliver goods to customers all over Japan who normally would not have access to large comic markets taking place in major cities through online orders.

I want to spend the rest of this article taking a brief look at how this sort of relationship developed. But before that, let’s take a look at what exactly consignment is.

According to the Wikipedia article:

Consignment the act of consigning, which is placing any material in the hand of another, but retaining ownership until the goods are sold or person is transferred. This may be done for shipping, transfer of prisoners, to auction, or for sale in a store (i.e. a consignment shop). To consign means to send and therefore consignment means sending goods to another person. In case of consignment goods are sent to the agent for the purpose of sale. The ownership of these goods remains with the sender. The agent sells the goods on behalf of the sender, according to his instructions. The sender of goods is known as consignor and the agent is known as the consignee.

Now, I know very little about business and copyright law, but it is interesting to note that consignment selling (known as 委託販売 or itaku hanbai in Japan) is largely related to the act of second-hand selling and used-goods shops of niche markets. Thus, selling doujinshi for these circles is different from what we normally think of when we see goods being sold in a store. For example, a regular book store may buy stock of a monthly magazine and pay the publisher immediately upon receipt of the goods. In contrast, stores such as Toranoana or Rashinban will receive goods from doujinshi circles, but not pay for these goods on the spot; instead they wait until an item is sold, and then produce a receipt of the transaction. The consignee then reports the overall price of the good sold, and subtracts from the overall price handling fees and stocking costs before finally presenting the circle with the net amount that they will receive.

What’s interesting about doujin shops and the consignment sales of doujinshi is that Toranoana’s growth from a small-time store into a limited corporation (有限会社 yuugen gaisha or yuugen kaisha) occurred in July of 1996, the same year that Comiket moved to Tokyo Big Sight at Ariake. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but Toranoana soon proceeded with consignment sales of the newest doujinshi produced at Comiket after becoming a limited corporation, therefore establishing a market for doujin products nationally. The company had already begun expanding into other goods at this point, such as manga, light novels, CDs and games, and incorporated the sale of official products with their previously niche focus on second-hand doujinshi into an overall business strategy. Here’s the layout of Comic Toranoana A and B, the two flagship Akihabara stores with my unofficial translation of the stuff sold on each floor:

【秋葉原店A】   【Akihabara Store A
B1F:同人古物&買取   Antique Doujin and Purchases
1F:商業誌(新刊コミック、雑誌) Commercial Books (New Comics, Magazines)
2F:商業誌(新刊ノベル、既刊コミック) Commercial Books (New Novels, Older Comics)
Doujinshi (Originals/Vocaloid/Novels), Doujin Software (CDs/Games/Video)
Doujinshi (Anime/Manga/Touhou Project/Game and Other), Toys
Adult Commercial Books, Adult Doujin Software, PC Games, U-15
Adult Doujinshi (Games/Other/Popular Circles)
Adult Doujinshi (Anime/Manga/Novels/Original)

【秋葉原店B】   【Akihabara Store B
New CD/DVD Blu-ray (Anime/VAs/Games), Hot Anime Titles, Hot Doujin Software
2F:CD/DVD・Blu-ray 通販店頭受取   CD/DVD Blu-ray  Mail-order Reception Desk
3F:同人ソフト(CD/DVD) Doujin Software
Original Items/Doujin Goods/Touhou Goods/Toys
Girls’ Commercial Books, Girls’ Doujinshi/Girls’ Media
6F:女性向け同人誌、女性向け同人ソフト   Girls’ Doujinshi, Girls’ Doujin Software
7F:女性向け同人誌   Girls’ Doujinshi

Previously, doujin shops were never as large as Toranoana would become: fans would have to search small individual stores that dealt with second-hand goods or have to inquire directly at the store in order to confirm if there was stock available for a doujinshi they may have wanted. Doujin circles often sold items that could only be purchased second hand at comic markets (also known as 同人誌即売会 or doujinshi sokubaikai) under the simple model of immediately selling what they had in stock. With the establishment of a major player in an extremely niche market, sales of doujinshi and other fan-made goods became a formal business. In 2003, Comic Toranoana became a publicly traded company, and would continue on to expand into the more rural areas of Japan in the following years.

Though I’m not sure if circles who are unable to participate at Comiket instead sell their goods through the current consignment system, it is entire plausible to think that this model provides a way out of the sometimes hectic deadlines required to participate at Comiket. The term “Pro Doujin” has come to identify individuals who are capable of generating a substantial income from this process, enough to pay for their staff and production costs, while gaining some profit. Contrast this with the vast majority of circles at Comiket, which often end up in the red after production and publishing costs.

Here’s another interesting connection to think about. Doujinshi for fujoshi became accessible through shops such as Rashinban, which also deals with doujin goods, and further increased awareness regarding otaku subculture as not merely for men but as also having a significant female demographic. For instance, Rashinban’s flagship store in Ikebukuro is located on Otome Road, known for its shops geared towards female otaku, tapping into latent demand by women for doujin goods, and it often shares the same building with other stores that sell otaku-geared products, such as Animate or Melonbooks, both of which are also known to carry products directed specifically at the fujoshi population.

The most interesting thing about all this is that Comiket has essentially grown so large in recent years that there is friction between the organizers and the owners of Tokyo Big Sight, which is Japan’s largest convention center. Quite a bit of data published by the Comiket Preparation Committee is around the internet if you’re interested, but since some of the data is in Japanese, here’s a link to an English presentation regarding Comiket. Assuming that interest in fan-made items such as doujinshi, doujin games, doujin CDs, and character goods increases in response to the recent growth to over 500,000 attendees in the past few years, I’d like to post a question: Will we be seeing growth of the doujin goods market? I don’t know, but it’s certainly something interesting to consider.


A lot of this information is piecing together conversations with knowledgeable persons, searching online, and reading a lot of good stuff on Wikipedia. If I’ve gotten things wrong, please let me know via Twitter @KylaranAeldin or through e-mail.

One Response to “Industrious Otaku: Doujin as Business”

  1. It sounds like the doujin artists are taking on a disproportionate amount of risk here compared with the doujin shops. Is this simply the sacrifice doujin artists need to make to get their works put on shelves? Also, it’s just mindblowing how big Comiket has become. It almost seems it’s become too big for Big Sight.

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