Recently I saw a little factoid pop up on my Twitter feed claiming that Berserk was now Dark Horse’s single most best-selling title. Not just best-selling *manga*, but best-selling title overall, full-stop. A remarkable achievement, without a doubt – and no doubt swelled by the currently airing anime (and people perhaps wanting the ‘authentic’ experience vs. the CGI). But it also got me thinking about something that’s bothered me for a long, long time.
The price and availability of the Berserk manga.
In these bright, exciting times where we’re getting more and more manga released officially in English than ever before, Dark Horse’s attitude to Berserk in many ways seems woefully last decade. If you look on Amazon at vol. 1 of the Berserk manga, it is currently priced at £10.99, and even second hand copies cost a minimum of £5.99 – which for a manga so popular, implies that the stock of second hand copies is relatively low – most other manga of Berserk’s age would already be in £0.01 per volume territory second-hand.
I believe a core part of this is that a) the Berserk volumes are just too damn expensive, and b) hard to find ‘out in the wild’. If you walk into Forbidden Planet, you’re greeted with wall-on-wall of almost every manga series imaginable, including complete runs of all the big Shonen series. But for Berserk, I think I could only find perhaps, the first few volumes, and the most recent few – six different volumes, absolute tops. There seems to be a bizarre, artificial scarcity to the series – something I saw reflected at a recent MCM Comic Con where I could find only one stall selling the Berserk manga, and at a whopping £13 per volume!
Something is *keeping* the Berserk volumes at an artificially high price – perhaps much like Disney’s strategy of ‘maintaining’ value in the releases of their classic movies. And while Berserk may still be selling like hot-cakes, I can only imagine how many *more* copies it’d sell if it was available more cheaply.
This is particularly of issue for such a long running series like this where picking up 30+ volumes will set you back a serious amount of cash – and shelf space. Which brings us onto the second point.
Digital availability – or rather, lack of it.
When even Yen Press and Seven Seas are starting to make long holdout titles available digitally – Dark Horse’s Berserk release remains frustratingly physical-only. It’s no coincidence that Berserk remains one of the series I see most frequently referred to as pirated – with people commonly posting fan-translated screen-grabs to Twitter. No wonder when the series is ranked as *the* best-rated manga ever on MAL. This has to change – for there to be no legal digital means to purchase Berserk smacks of woefully outdated ideas of how people want to consume manga in 2017.
I can safely say that if Berserk was available digitally, and at a price-parity with other publishers like Viz, I would no-doubt have started reading it a long time ago. But as it stands, it remains perpetually on my to-read list. I’ve addressed this in another post, but I feel uneasy with the English-language manga market’s gradual shift toward a ‘graphic-novel’-style system where volumes become pricier and pricier compared to their Japanese counterparts. And the pricing strategy around Berserk lies right at the heart of that issue.