ABDVol.34 No.1

Future Possibilities of Comics in Thailand
Rop Ponchamni

The comic market in Thailand has been developing and growing very fast in these recent years. Most of the comics on the market are imported, and the quantity is much greater than ever before. Even though the comic market is growing, there are still problems and future issues to be concerned about.

Historical Background

 In the past, all the most popular comics in Thailand came from Japan, including Doraemon, Dr. Slump, Dragonball, Captain Tsubasa, Hokuto no Ken (Fist of North Star), Saint Seiya, and Slum Dunk. Unfortunately, they were not licensed, which created many problems for comic readers, for example, poor paper quality, poor translation, no guarantee of finishing the series, many copies from different publishers for the same title, and so on. It was not until the early '90s, that Thai publishers started to buy licenses from Japan legally.
  In the beginning, there were only 4 comic publishers, Vibulkij, Nation, Siam Inter Comics, and Bongkoch. Since then, the comic market has been developing in a better direction, and there are fewer problems than before. In 2000, 2 new comic publishers, Burapat Comics and Tomorrow Comix, entered the market. Burapat Comics is a publisher which has made Hong Kong comics popular in Thailand, and started to buy licenses from Rep. of Korea and Japan after that. Tomorrow Comix started printing Thai comics before buying licensing rights from Japan.

Comic Readers in Thailand

 Mainly, the people who enjoy reading comics in Thailand are children, teenagers, and adults who love comics. There are many kinds of comics on the market that will divide readers into many groups. Taste depends on different age ranges and gender. Most of the comics in Thailand come from Japan followed by Hong Kong, Rep. of Korea, Taiwan, and local titles. The main factor that decides if comics are popular in Thailand is whether they are popular in Japan. Word of mouth and comic webboard on the Internet are two other main factors that can cause comics to gain popularity. Advertising and promotion have very little effect on the sales compared to these three factors. Good comics will have good stories, nice characters, and attractive continuing story lines, so they will surely be popular and can sell well. Japanese comics that have been popular among Thai readers in recent years are Detective Conan, One Piece, HunterXHunter, 20th Century Boys, Vagabond, Naruto, GTO, Berserk, Love HINA, and Yuki-OH. Types of popular comics in Thailand are usually adventure, love, sport, and friendship stories.
  Like children in other countries, children in Thailand love reading comics and watching cartoons and animation. In the past, most Thai parents have seen comics as inappropriate for their children. They forget that reading comics can be the first step for their children to develop an interest in books. They think comics will make children behave more violently. But there are some parents who think that comics are useful and can develop their children's interest in reading books. Most of these parents used to read and love comics when they were kids. They will try to screen and monitor comics before exposing them to their children. Many of them still read comics themselves.

Current Market Situation and Issues for Comics

 The size of a comic book is generally 125 x 180 mm. Total number of pages will be 184-224. The price of comics in Thailand is usually about 35-55 Baht (approx. 42 Baht = US$1.00). Except for special editions of some comics, such as Doraemon (Big Book Version), the price will be around 85-95 Baht. The quality of paper and printing has started to improve a lot.

Comics in Thailand can be divided into 4 categories:
1. Japanese Comics, which take the biggest market share.
2. Hong Kong Comics, usually Kung Fu and martial arts comics. They are very popular too, because most of the comics are based on popular Chinese movie series that used to be on TV.
3. Thai Comics,which are in the beginning stage and starting to be popular with some readers. They need to be developed a lot in order to compete in the market.
4. Other Comics, from Rep. of Korea, Taiwan, and USA. Only a few titles can sell well, and they are not as popular as those above.

 Regularly, there are about 35-50 titles on sale per week, which requires a lot of money for readers to buy them. This is one main problem that will affect the comic market in the near future. Comic readers would like to read more, but they have a limited budget. Therefore, comic rental shops are on the increase to serve their needs. As for comic lovers or collectors, they still buy their favorite comics as usual, but they will wait until a book fair or festival in order to get a big discount for less favored comics. On the other hand, the majority of comic readers still want to read as many as they can, so they rent them first, and buy only the ones they really like. We cannot say that all comics will be popular in Thailand. Because of the highly competitive market, publishers compete to buy comics licenses without considering the readers and the market as a whole. They try to print as much as they can but forget about the present capacity of the market. They sometimes publish many comics that are not suitable for the Thai market and it will be difficult to sell them. Therefore, total sales of every publisher will drop, and their stock of comics will be increasing very quickly in the next two or three years.
  In Thailand, there are not enough comic bookshops to cope with the quantity that we have on the market. Comics are usually sold in comic bookshops rather than bookstores and convenience stores because most of the bookstores in Thailand concentrate on selling magazines, fiction books, non-fiction books, and textbooks more than comics. If they have a comic section, it will be very small. In this case, popular comics will have the advantage of more shelf space than the others. Regular small bookshops and convenience stores located all over Thailand usually have very little shelf space for new comics each week. Big comic bookshops are often in Bangkok and big cities. They are mainly located in the department stores, cinema complexes, and near schools or universities.
  Animated cartoon films and movies based on comics will also help their sales. Because some kids love to watch TV, video, VCD, and DVD more than reading comics, it will be difficult to sell comics to them at first. They will watch stories or characters in animation or movies first, and if they like them, they will start to buy and read the comics. Right now, many companies are starting to produce a lot of VCDs, DVDs of famous Japanese animation films to sell on the market. Most of the animation films on sale in Thailand are based on comics, so they will indirectly help comic sales.

Pirated Comics
 Although comic publishers are very serious about comics copyrights nowadays, there are some new titles on the market that still are unlicensed, because publishers of licensed comics need to make a contract and agreement with the licensor before printing them, which will take some time. Some opportunists will quickly print a pirated version before the licensed one comes out. Some pirate publishers have found a new market by turning to publishing comics that are not suitable for children. Most of the pirated comics in Thailand are 'adult' and 'gay' comics, and comics that have not been licensed to anyone yet. Because of their adult content, such comics provoke controversy and public concern, which gives all comics a bad reputation. The government and some organizations whose duty is to look after these problems, will become too serious and exercise more control over all kinds of comics. Therefore, they can cause a lot of damage to the market both directly and indirectly.

Insufficient Comic Distribution Channel
 There are also many problems regarding distribution channels of comics in Thailand because there are no specialists or professionals in that field, and not enough comic shops. These problems will surely affect the comic market in the future. Most Thai comic publishers try to solve these problems by having their own distribution outlets or shops in order to distribute their products to the bookshops and readers. Some will use third party book agents to distribute. But we can say that the distribution channels for comics in Thailand are still not good enough to serve readers nationwide.

Decrease in Potential Comic Readers
 Nowadays, computers, games and on-line games are very popular among Thai people. They are growing very fast. They have also started to have an effect on the comic market and the behavior of children. The popularity of games and on-line games in Thailand has made children turn from reading comics to playing games instead. They spend a lot of time and money on that. If they read comics, they will read only the popular titles that they can talk about with their friends. It will be more difficult to get them to read new comics than to play new games by themselves. This trend may reduce the number of potential comic readers in the future.

Future Trends of Comics in Thailand

 Comics will continue to be popular in Thailand for a long time. In the past, there were fewer comics on the market than there are today. Although it may be difficult for readers to keep up with them new, it is a good sign that they can read more interesting comics. However, because of their limited purchasing power, they can buy only the ones that they like best. They tend to rent comics rather than buy them. As a result, as in other countries where comics are very popular, a lot of new comic rental shops will be opened to cope with the increasing demand of comic readers, and this will cause difficult problems for publishers. If these problems cannot be solved, it will certainly affect the development of the comic market and their total sales. Stock of comics will be a big problem for publishers in the near future, because they will have published more than they can sell.
  In my opinion, I think the comic market in Thailand is still expanding. There is great potential for it if we can develop channels that can distribute comics widely all over Thailand and study more about the real demand that exists in this market.

Rop Ponchamni
Born in 1969. Graduated from Assumption University, Bangkok. Obtained MS in Finance and MBA in Marketing from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, USA. He has been working in the marketing and publishing field, and is currently General Manager, Tomorrow Comix, Co., Ltd.
Rop Ponchamni
General Manager, Tomorrow Comix Co., Ltd., 678/1, Soi Phayanak, Phayathai Road, Ratchathevi, Bangkok 10400 Thailand, phone: (66) 2611-3080, fax: (66) 2611-3288, e-mail: rop@tmcomix.com