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DATE: 09-07-21

Study on Status of European Distribution of E-Comics

Presentation of preliminary Results of Survey on European Comic Book Market, focusing on Digital

The status of the European market for comic books and the degree of digitisation of the sector were the main topics of a conference organised on 29 January in the framework of the Angouleme Rights Market, the professional programme of the Angouleme International Comics Festival, by the consortium behind the EUDICOM project. The project, co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the EU, aims at strengthening the digital dimension of the European comic books market by supporting European publishers to go digital. A full breakdown of the results is available here. The recording of the presentation is available here.  

The first step of EUDICOM has been to carry out a survey of the European comics market and assess its level of digitisation. Comic books represent a worldwide market of some 6 billion EUR, with 4 major territories involved and a growing digital dimension, especially outside of Europe. Japan is the largest comics market in the world: worth 2.6 billion EUR (43% of the global market), its revenues are 55% from digital; South Korea has a market of 662 million EUR (11%), with half of the revenues from digital (back in 2015); in the US, the market is worth 927 million EUR (15%), with a digital share of 8.7%; France comes in fourth with 550 million € of sales (8%), of which 3% digital; the rest of the world completes the picture with 1.342 billion EUR of sales.

As for the European landscape, initial findings from the survey carried out by the EUDICOM project show that the comic book market is only significant in a limited number of territories and that detailed information on comic book sales, especially in digital, is hard to come by. Comics publishing is somewhat of a niche sector, often with relatively weaker links with the rest of the publishing sector (also in association terms, with comic publishers sometimes not being members of publishers’ associations). In most cases, the digital penetration in the sector is very low.

Among the countries for which precise information is available, the big European markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain) produce 3-4,000 new comic book titles per year (France on top), the mid-sized ones (Belgium, Poland) some 1-2,000 (Belgium punches above its weight). European-style comics and manga are the most popular genres. There are between 100 and 400 comics publishers in Germany, Italy and France (the latter has the most), fewer than 50 in Spain and Poland and 75 in Belgium (once again, a high number compared to the overall size of the market). In terms of turnover, comics represent 2 to 6% of the publishers’ sales in most territories, with notable exceptions France (15%) and French-speaking Belgium (around 33% of local publishing revenues). Average comic book prices range from 7.50 to 15 EUR, with no clear link with a country’s average income. Digital catalogues comprise between a few to several thousand titles in Italy, Spain, Germany and Belgium, and more than 20,000 in France, whereas very few digital comic books are currently available in Poland.

The consortium also gathered the little information available about a series of other countries: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. In several of these countries the comics market is very small or almost insignificant, with few publishers and in some cases barely any; some countries’ comics market is dominated by publishers form neighbouring territories with a shared or similar language (this is the case of Slovakia with the Czech Republic, Sweden with Denmark and The Netherlands with Flanders). Very little is going on in terms of digital sales.

Amidst some difficulties in finding data and in comparing different countries, the general picture that emerges is that of a digital market for comics that is very small, but at the same time that presents a huge opportunity for growth, indeed a largely untapped potential that risks being fulfilled by non-European players.

This is perfectly exemplified by the webtoons phenomenon, a recent disruptive format from Korea: serialised comics designed to be read digitally on smartphones, they are taking many markets by storm. According to a recent research, time spent on webtoons tends to be longer than time spent reading paper comics, and webtoon series appeal to non-readers, including in countries without an established comics market (they have opened new markets in South East Asia, for example). Webtoons have the potential to generate higher average revenue per paying user than Netflix, YouTube or Spotify. In terms of user engagement indicators (time spent, frequency, retention, etc.), webtoons in Korea have already surpassed music streaming services and are now comparable to video streaming services.

EUDICOM focuses on distribution because platforms are the gateways to readers. Starting from a better understanding of the comic books market, the project will help European publishers go digital (making their content available via digital platforms), trying to identify levers to stimulate the reading of digital comic books (via platforms), supporting the development of digital initiatives (in formats compatible by the platforms), strengthening the circulation of European content in Europe and beyond (via multilingual platforms) and ultimately encouraging the emergence of competitive European platforms to face the US and Asian ones.