You’ve probably already heard that Tokyopop laid off six? eight? people at the end of last week. (Reports conflict on the total.) Heidi pointed to a Publishers Weekly piece, which focused on the departure of the vice-president in charge of sales and marketing due to different forecasts on the future of the manga business. Mike Kiley, the editor-in-chief, was quoted as wanting to make changes to stay profitable in a maturing, more competitive market.
An editor was also let go. Rumors quickly began flying, with most speculation looking at how Tokyopop has bet a lot on their lines of OEL manga, which have not been high sellers. Heidi’s followup mentioned “chatter about OEL creators being told to stop work on their projects, but it’s all chatter at this point.”
ICV2 acknowledges the company’s challenges but counters the rumors with numbers:
over the past two years Tokyopop has lost its pre-eminent position in the market, though thanks to a number of initiatives such as the fumetti-like Cine-Manga, and its innovative line expansion to include first Korean manhwa and then OEL (original English language) manga, Tokyopop has never been less than a very strong #2 on the American manga scene, which is dominated by the top two publishers (Viz and Tokyopop) whose size dwarf the competition. Although there is a perception that Tokyopop is more and more dependent on its original OEL releases, a survey of new series launches that the publisher has earmarked for March, April, and May reveals that OEL titles make up a relatively small portion of Tokyopop’s list. Out of the 24 new series debuting during those months only four could be classified as OEL, while three are Korean manhwa series and seventeen are Japanese manga.
That’s interesting, but it doesn’t take into account profitability. The OEL likely gather attention because instead of licensing those books from another content owner, Tokyopop takes partial ownership of those books and properties. That leads to more money coming in from merchandise for those titles, including (currently available in their store) posters, notebooks, stickers, buttons, and t-shirts (which are almost all on backorder). If they’re hits, anyway.
Lea Hernandez, an experienced manga creator who’s been criticizing Tokyopop’s business strategies for a while now, compares them to CrossGen, which made me laugh but seems a bit of an overreaction for now.
I remain stunned that an industry can be so willfully blind to the signs of top-heaviness, a lack of focus, bloat and free spending that have been seen so many times before. Extravagant trade booths, extravagant promotions, a schedule of books the current market can barely accomodate (the translated manga), a full-blown slate of brand-new (I mean the OEL) books, MangaPods. Within the last seven years, Crossgen, financed by a millionare, came and went. At the end, what did we see? Mad shuffling of personnel. Bills unpaid. Weird stabs at entering other markets. Reorganization. Spin.