The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market


  • Premium Member

    While I'm pretty new to light novels, I have noticed that the Japanese light novel market has categories such as shounen and shoujo, which represent differing demographics. Does the English light novel market mirror those? Are there different categories altogether?

    From my casual looking at prices of Japanese light novels, the price point seems to be much, much lower than that of an English translation. That would seem to imply that the English market would have to aim for a more affluent demographic.

    Or I could just be messing up the exchange conversion.

    What do you think?


  • Premium Member

    The Japanese novels can afford to be cheaper as they have a significantly larger market.



  • Aren’t some written on even smaller books than how it is for English speaking countries. That might be another factor but not really cuz that would mean the book is fatter.


  • Premium Member

    Light novels are mostly released in A5 format. I made a little gallery on imgur: https://imgur.com/a/bBigz
    this shows common A5 format from shomin sample and mayoi nekko overrun. As well as the slightly larger overlord volume 1 (japanese) and the english version of overlord vol 1 (even bigger)

    On page proportion I can only say, that the japanese overlord has 390 pages and the english verison 245. Shomin sample vol1 with 286 and mayoi 254. The smaller A5 also has smaller letters then the bigger versions (reading them is not enjoyable, for me at least). Also the paper quality is way down compared to both overlord volums with the english version having the best paper.

    From the prices you see that the smaller light novels are around 600 Yen (~ 5,40 $) , the bigger on at 1000 Yen (~ 9 $).

    If you ask why the english version is more expensive here are the reasons:

    • Licence fees / or what ever payment agreement was negotiatet between english publisher and japanese publisher/rights holder
    • Translation Cost
    • Proofing / Editing
    • Layouting and materials

    Obviously the needed work takes a huge amount of time too. Which also is expensive.

    Another viewpoint of pricing is the target audience which is bigger in japan than in english speaking countries.

    To answer the category question:
    IMHO I think the japanese demographic categories as shounen, shoujo, seinen, jousei etc. are not 1:1 applicable to the english audience.


  • Premium Member

    @paul-nebeling said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    Japanese light novel market has categories such as shounen and shoujo

    Honestly, I'd recommend shutting out anything regarding demographics as they're not really genres and aren't good descriptors for the content within. The English market doesn't really mirror those either since there isn't much point with the amount of LNs in English at the moment.

    Otherwise, Japanese books are printed much more cheaply in a smaller size which can pretty much fit in one hand as to be more portable as a lot of people read while riding the train and such in Japan. The English market has to make back the licensing costs for the series and they print in a larger size with better quality paper.



  • @hyferzftw said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    Aren’t some written on even smaller books than how it is for English speaking countries. That might be another factor but not really cuz that would mean the book is fatter.

    This, most light novels are published as rather small books, the format is called Bunko and are around 600-800 円 (around 6-7 US$). Bigger formats are around 1100-1200 円 (around 10-11 US$). Even then it's still cheaper.


  • Premium Member

    What I'm hearing regarding the price difference is:

    • Cost of licensing
    • Cost of production
    • Higher quality materials
    • Larger format of the book

    The last two really explain the (much?) Luther cost of a printed book over a digital one. The second explains the slight price increase between a Japanese digital book and an English one. I'm thinking the first is minimal.

    I think that my question about demographics may have been poorly worded. I'm pretty sure that Japan has far more publishers of light novels than in the English speaking parts of the world. Some of those publishers cater to certain demographics. That doesn't seem to happen in the English market. Is that because the size of the English market is so much smaller?


  • Premium Member

    @paul-nebeling said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    That doesn't seem to happen in the English market. Is that because the size of the English market is so much smaller?

    Basically this. We have now one publisher targeting a niche, Cross Infinite World for Shoujo LNs. All other publishers are just trying to get whatever might be popular. Even in the manga market in the Anglosphere you only recently got imprints like that one from Seven Seas targeting a certain niche (ecchi in that case).

    If you compare that with the more mature manga markets in France and Germany, you'll find a few more selective providers targeting niches like Seinen, BL and so on. But this can IMHO only happen once there is a baseline demand, which in the case of light novels might not be the case yet.


  • Premium Member

    I thought Cross Infinite’s staple was more josei than shoujo, but those demographic labels are generally derived from the magazines that manga run in, so aren’t necessarily applicable to novels unless they are based on manga. Given that novels target a generally older age demographic than manga, the major distinction is whether they are for men or women, and there are labels that cater to both.


  • Premium Member

    @shiroi-hane Actually, I really should have written novels of interest to woman and girls, as that's much closer to the truth.

    As for demographics: There are a few LNs serialized in magazines like Dengeki G's Magazine, which allow classification (Seinen in that case), but I agree that it's generally harder than for manga.


  • Premium Member

    @shiroi-hane said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    I thought Cross Infinite’s staple was more josei than shoujo, but those demographic labels are generally derived from the magazines that manga run in, so aren’t necessarily applicable to novels unless they are based on manga.

    I heard someone call female novels "Otome". Would that ever apply to novels? I thought that's only visual novels.

    I mean, a lot of Shoujo follows patterns you see in Otome + reverse harem, but not all Josei or Shoujo follow those patterns.


  • Premium Member

    @terrence said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    @shiroi-hane said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    I thought Cross Infinite’s staple was more josei than shoujo, but those demographic labels are generally derived from the magazines that manga run in, so aren’t necessarily applicable to novels unless they are based on manga.

    I heard someone call female novels "Otome". Would that ever apply to novels? I thought that's only visual novels.

    "Otome" as a term exists in contrast to "galge," i.e. male harem games, to describe the genre of female/reverse harem games. It's not exactly "wrong" to call a book an "otome" book, but it invites a different expectation as opposed to using the terms "shoujo" or "josei."



  • @myskaros I don’t mind shoujo but when it gets to josei that’s the red flag for me. I don’t mind reverse harems either just no male/male action unless for comedic reasons or just a side character’s love life. I’m not against lgbt just not my cup of tea XD . I’ve seen anime that were Josei and didn’t even know what Josei meant until the male on male action happened made me chuckle but told my self no more josei labled anything.


  • Premium Member

    @hyferzftw said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    @myskaros I don’t mind shoujo but when it gets to josei that’s the red flag for me. I don’t mind reverse harems either just no male/male action unless for comedic reasons or just a side character’s love life. I’m not against lgbt just not my cup of tea XD . I’ve seen anime that were Josei and didn’t even know what Josei meant until the male on male action happened made me chuckle but told my self no more josei labled anything.

    Most Josei isn't male x make I think. Just made for an adult female audience publication, whereas Shoujo is younger female audience publication.

    Was Nana a Josei or Shoujo? That feels Josei. I know Orange had a weird publication where it's both. So Cute It Hurts gets a more explicit label later on. Kids on the Slope feels Josei to me too.

    And then there's Seinen that feels Josei to me (I guess because of the female main character), like Solanin.


  • Premium Member

    @hyferzftw That's not what Josei means. What you described is supposed to be yaoi, which may play a part in coloring your thoughts on josei. Josei is just opposite to seinen, meaning the demographic of adult women. I've seen amazing josei that were not yaoi, particularly Chihayafuru and Usagi Drop (learning about the manga ending though, I like to think the manga never existed).


  • Translators

    Print books in Japan are cheaper to produce and distribute.

    One of the biggest price differences is that for the English speaking market, the book distributor will take 30-50% of the price you pay at the register, but for Japan the distribution is cheaper (maybe 10%?), mainly because the country is smaller.
    Also, the printing costs are actually cheaper because of the smaller format and near monopoly of the printer (you'd think that would drive prices up, but because Japan is Japan they actually keep prices extremely stable).

    I think that Japan book prices are rising lately however, as material costs are getting higher and the weaker yen hurts that. I wouldn't be surprised to see bunko price up to like, 900 and tankobon to 1400-1500 in a few years.

    Another thing to note is that in the west, discounts are standard: you almost never pay full cover price. But in Japan it's far more common to pay the full cover price.

    So yeah, the cover price in Japan might only be 1000 yen for that tank, and $14 for an english book, but you can get the english one 25% off for only ~$11, making the difference a lot smaller.



  • @terrence and @nico thanks for the misunderstanding.


  • Premium Member

    @sam-pinansky said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    near monopoly of the printer (you'd think that would drive prices up, but because Japan is Japan they actually keep prices extremely stable)

    Yay America! Where we know for a fact that this would never happen because companies already try to screw with us even without monopolies!


  • Premium Member

    @sam-pinansky said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    Another thing to note is that in the west, discounts are standard: you almost never pay full cover price. But in Japan it's far more common to pay the full cover price.

    Thats something I also noticed. When I buy english books I never pay the full price. I order them on amazon and got any book at least 1-3 eur cheaper.

    Which is not normal for half of europe. Here we have something called "fixed book price agreement" where a book never drops lower or goes higher than the offical price (only used books can get cheaper/more expensive). Even 10 years later you would have to pay the full price which is ridiclous.


  • Premium Member

    Lots of very interesting info and analysis in this thread.

    @sam-pinansky said in The English light novel market versus the Japanese light novel market:

    Also, the printing costs are actually cheaper because of the smaller format and near monopoly of the printer (you'd think that would drive prices up, but because Japan is Japan they actually keep prices extremely stable).

    Perhaps the reason for this is that they use a 'low price nobody else can beat' as the way they maintain their monopoly, i.e. they use their economies of scale to keep their prices below what any start-up rival could charge. Through this approach they gain money not through price gauging the customer but from having a large number of sales (which means a lower profit margin is needed per sale) and through utilising their strong position over their suppliers - they can use their massive buying powers to force suppliers and sub-contractors into very low profit margins, i.e. a buyer's monopoly (also known was a monopsony). In some instances there have been cases of large players pushing suppliers into exclusivity deals or 'preferred customer' agreements that further blocks out new entrants, but I would have expected that such behaviour would be blocked as anti-competitive.