I had been working on and off on this for a couple months until I finally decided to finish it and push it out the door. If you’ve been in a bookstore (e.g. Borders) with a manga section, you have most likely seen a couple people reading volumes in the aisle. Some might even be laying in the adjecent aisle. Now, if they read through that entire volume and put it back, is that ethically wrong? Short answer: yes; long answer: maybe not.
On “The Simpsons”, Kwik-E-Mart manager Apu tells his customers that his convenience store is “not a library” when they finger through the magazines. People have been browsing in bookstores for centuries. Books are one of the few marketable entertainment mediums in which customers can freely and easily sample a work within the confines of a brick-and-mortar store. DVD movies are wrapped in that plastic packaging and there are usually not kiosks where one can view clips; it’s essentially a blind buy if you haven’t heard anything about the movie before. Most stores have listening stations for music CDs but typically what you get are 30-second samples of tracks. Video games present the most interactive and most informative experiences for potential customers but those customers’ experiences are often limited by what games are on demo discs running on in-store kiosks.
Books are fundamentally different. You can pick one up, turn to some random page, and start reading — no special equipment is required except your eyes. This easy accessibility makes simple to try out a particular book and gets a sense of the author’s style. It also allows for a more lenient return policy compared to movies, music, and games.
Now, all this talk of sampling assumes the consumer being discussed does not enter the store knowing exactly what they want to purchase. That is, they must be primarily browsing. For example, if you are an adult shopping for a birthday gift and you need to look through a volume to find out what is going on and if it’s appropriate for your teenager to be reading. Then again, if your teenager is reading manga, he/she is probably smart enough to go to a store themselves and read whatever they want.
One of my main arguments against the “free reading” practice will probably come off as hinting at overintrusiveness but I’ll include it anyway. By reading wholly and putting back a book, you are essentially getting something without cost that you would normally pay for. This could broadly be interpreted as stealing, the same as if you have had just downloaded scans of the same chapters that could have been bought in the bookstore. I do feel it’s justified, however, to read a volume through and put it back having not liked it at all because you shouldn’t have purchase a piece of creative media that you know you won’t enjoy.
I suppose the main components to answering this issue on a case-by-case basis are: 1) the re-readability of a particular manga and 2) the amount of time a person has to waste in a bookstore during a given day. First, the quality of a second read is important in not only book purchasing but also DVDs and music. But books have the advantage of being very portable and require only a person’s eyes and an adequate light source (and usually a certain level of literacy). No electricity or special disc reading device is needed for the consumer to enjoy a print work. Back to the bulletpoint: if you don’t have good first impressions of a manga, then don’t buy it. If you thought it was an okay read but not worth buying that moment, that’s all right as well although there may be a lingering feeling to read more of that particular series and push you more toward buying the manga.
The second mechanic involved in a purchasing decision would be whether you want to finish reading the volume later outside the store’s confines. If you really like the first couple chapters, then you will probably wouldn’t mind buying it to read the rest without the distraction of people stepping over or around your legs. One big benefit of carrying a manga around with you for downtime reading is the chance someone else might see you with it and ask what you’re reading out of interest. This is an unintended but nice way to promote a particular manga and that person might start to talk about simila rseries they’ve read and the conversation might turn out to be a mutually beneficial one between fellow fans.