Tokyopop restructuring: early reactions

Fading robofishHere’s a roundup of early reactions to the Tokyopop restructuring:

ANN has the official press release. The nut graf:

The move will allow the company to align its publishing business with current book retail trends, as well as aggressively pursue growth in the white-hot comics-to-film and digital space.

Fair enough, if a bit hyperbolic. In fact, it’s almost as if they read Christopher Butcher’s post on what it means to be a publisher, as opposed to an exploiter of intellectual property. This also reflects something that people were talking about at NYCC: the flood of manga in the past few years has increased competition for shelf space and overwhelmed some direct market retailers.

On the Anime on DVD forums, fans are split between worrying that their favorite series will be cut and sending good wishes to the 39 downsized employees. While none have been named yet, translator Peter Ahlstrom lists himself as “currently job hunting.”

And while commenters there are mostly hoping that Tokyopop will focus on Japanese imports rather than “that OEL crap,” commenter Draneor has some analysis:

But more importantly, it comes down to the fact that Tokyopop does not have primary access to the three largest manga publishers and thus are limited in what they can bring over. Shogakukan’s and Shueisha’s best titles go to Viz and Kodansha’s best titles go to Del Rey. Those three companies more or less dominate the Japanese manga industry (at least the demographics that are important in North America). Even Square-Enix has a deal with Yen Press (although their most popular title is with Viz).

That also sounds right to me. Tokyopop hasn’t had a mega-hit in a while. Giapet wonders about the same thing.

Despite the complaints about “OEL crap,” some of Tokyopop’s best (and best selling) titles have been global manga: Dramacon, The Dreaming, Fool’s Gold, and the Warriors manga spring to mind. Is their output uneven? Yes. So is their output of translated titles, however. Perhaps what Tokyopop needs to do is drop some of their weaker titles from both groups and focus on nurturing their global manga creators as well as getting the cream of the crop from overseas.

Simon Jones collects a lot of the commentary at the (NSFW!) Icarus Blog and adds his own take:

But there is potential upside with regard to the contract debacle from a few days ago… now that publishing and multimedia development are separate, in theory creators should also be able to negotiate subsidiary rights in separate contracts, which in my opinion is the way it always ought to be.

And this:

Trimming down 50% of their titles from the print schedule means that their import manga catalog will feel some, if not most of the fallout… there aren’t that many OEL and photo books. But it’s still too early to make a call here whether Tokyopop is moving towards OEL… or returning to their old bread and butter, for that matter. This split may even come down to internal strife; two opposing camps within Tokyopop wanting to go in different directions, and each not wanting one to burden the other (I love starting unsubstantiated rumors).

More will become clear, as he points out, once we learn who the downsized employees are.

UPDATE: Danielle Leigh gives her take at Manga Over Flowers, and commenters weigh in as well. And Chris Mautner is all over it at Blog@Newsarama; excellent snark in comments.

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  1. May I also point out that part of the reason for TOKYOPOP’s “bad times” is probably the state of the US economy, which due to the recession is in VERY bad shape. Naturally, this will affect people’s spending power across the board. This has also caused a higher books return rate than usual.

    Secondly, Borders is currently preparing itself to be sold, and has emptied out its warehouse to make the balance sheet look more desirable. This has created ALOT more manga returns than usual, not just for TOKYOPOP but for all other publishers. Borders was such a big seller of manga, and combined with a recession, it just makes business so much harder than in the past few years.

    That said, alot of bestsellers HAS been OEL manga. “The Dreaming” has been a consistent seller on the list with almost no promotion. Now that the “In Odd We Trust” book with Dean Koontz is coming out, it’s been getting harder to get a copy of “The Dreaming” trilogy because of shortages (in Australia, there’s a shortage period). Talk about bad timing… :(

  2. Excellent point, Queenie. I’m confident the Borders thing is a big piece of this.

    It’s too bad that The Dreaming didn’t get much promotion, and I hope it stays in print for a long, long time!

  3. Ok, first I have to admit this is coming out of my experience as a bookstore employee who had to interact with the people actually buying manga, rather than the publishing side. And I have been out of the bookseller occupation for less than a year, so I have to ask- has there been some explosion in OELs’ popularity while I was gone?

    Perhaps it was just the district I worked in, but OEL was seen as taking up shelf space that could be used for manga (since that actually sold) and was always the first thing pruned (returned to the publisher) when space was needed in the manga section.

    As I remember Brian Hibbs’ run-down of last year’s sales only found 4 non-licensed titles (he actually listed five, but Avalon High is based on Meg Cabot’s YA series, making it the older equivalent of Warriors). I’m just curious because the positive sales of OEL keeps getting mentioned today and I’m just wondering where the numbers are coming from.

    And on a personal note- I’m not trying to be a jerk to OEL creators. I quit selling manga so I could go to grad school to study manga, which has made it more difficult for me to keep up with the sales figures and trends (yes, I am a dork- I miss reading Publisher’s Weekly and all their expensive special issues that the store would get), so I really am curious about this.

  4. I don’t think OEL has exploded, but several titles have developed followings. Brian Hibbs’ column just moved, and I can’t find his Bookscan piece, but Dirk Deppey excerpted the paragraph in question, and you’re right. Four non-licensed made the top 750: Dramacon, Megatokyo, My Dead Girlfriend, Bizenghast, and Avalon High. However, a number of licensed titles did quite well: Warriors, Avalon High, Warcraft, that sort of thing.

    What neither you nor Brian would see is sales through Scholastic, which has picked up a couple of OEL titles—The Dreaming comes to mind. In 2006 I reported that the third printing of the first volume brought the total number in print to 60,000, and Scholastic was largely responsible for that. Queenie reports above that it’s still selling steadily.

    (Also, the biggest selling OEL titles are those we never speak of, like the Avatar Cine-Manga, which sold over 500,000 copies, largely through Scholastic. Of course, I don’t know if the publisher sees as much profit on those as on bookstore sales.)

    There are a handful of OEL titles that sell well in the direct market, like Tokyopop’s Hellgate: London manga, which was number 100 on the Diamond GN chart for April.

    Finally, several OEL creators have developed followings online and among comics fans, and as they move on to their next set of projects (Amy Hadley’s Madame Xanadu, Queenie Chan’s Odd Thomas) I think that will give their earlier books a boost.

  5. I wonder how many OEL creators can make their living by writing comics.
    If their works sell well and they can get much money,they don’t need to have other part time jobs and live with their parents.
    I think it’s a more reliable barometer than something which publishers etc say.

  6. Oh, I’m glad you mentioned Avatar- I had forgotten about that one, which was a steady seller for us.

    I’m sure the cine-manga numbers are funky, or at least for Borders since those are categorized as children’s books (either “intermediate readers” or “read to myself”) rather than graphic novels.

    And I didn’t realize that Scholastic was still selling manga. The last I had heard about Scholastic was the Yu Yu Hakusho “controversy” and assumed they would get out of the manga business to prevent anymore anger parents (or to focus on their own graphic novel line).

    Thank you for the information. The Scholastic sales has definitely given me something to think about.

  7. Sorry to unfinished post ,plesee delete former one.

    “the Avatar Cine-Manga, which sold over 500,000 copies, largely through Scholastic” news was 2006 /05.
    How about 2006 sales of Tokyopop? It gives many hints(price,profit margin etc about Scholastic Fair).

  8. Hard to say. One of the difficult things about covering comics is that all that information is proprietary. The other hard part is that there are so many different streams—the direct market, bookstores, online sales, library sales, and things like the Scholastic Book Fairs. We tend to focus on bookstores and, to a lesser extent, comics shops, because those are the things we actually see and experience. The view from the CFO’s office may be very different.

    ICv2 is a great source for information about sales, but even their sources are incomplete. So unless a publisher brags about sales, it’s hard to know exactly how many copies of a book they have sold.

    Of course, one could take the lack of bragging as evidence of something.


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