Following up on yesterday’s reactions to Tokyopop’s online exclusives, here are two more and some further thoughts of mine.
Dorian goes into more detail on why retailers make decisions to carry the manga they do and how this might start a declining spiral for the company:
[Tokyopop has] always been a bit of a nuisance to deal with, from an ordering and budgeting angle. They put out too much at once, their section in Previews is a mess, and now doesn’t even include descriptions for anything more than one or two volumes old, and their production values are somewhat lacking in comparison to almost all their still-in-business competitors.
My first impulse, honestly, is to simply stop ordering any Tokyopop titles outside of what we need to fill pull-lists. Why should I take a chance on ordering a new series from Tokyopop if, two or three volumes later, they might decide that it isn’t selling what they think it should be and make it an online exclusive item? Why should I attempt to build an audience for a title in the store if Tokyopop could decide that they’d rather cut out the middle-man and sell the title direct themselves? And what do I tell customers already buying a title when Tokyopop decides to take it exclusive?
Dorian points out two important factors: retailers have long memories about what they perceive as unfriendly actions towards them, and a company can ride on the reputation caused by positive actions (like opening up the US manga market) only so long. In other words, goodwill doesn’t last forever, but stupid decisions will be remembered a long time.
Meanwhile, Lyle points out that this makes Tokyopop more like the periodical comics he’s walked away from. (Link no longer available.)
Which got me thinking: in the mid90s, before the manga and bookstore booms, when prognosticators were worried that comics were going to die because not enough new readers were being grown, one popular explanation was to blame the direct market. The thinking went that although it looked like a lifeline at the time it was created, removing comics from newsstands and other venues that put them directly in front of potential readers was really a bad thing by turning comics into something that you had to seek out instead of something that was part of everyday life.
Seems to me that Tokyopop’s going down the same path. Instead of allowing browsing of these titles, now, you have to seek them out through one limited market. Instead of stumbling across them in the bookstore, you have to know that you already want them in order to go get them. That’s the same thing that happened to superhero comics, and the end result was ever-declining sales as the product only sold to a shrinking, self-selecting market.
Tokyopop, I’m sure, is going to rely on their marketing at their new, unusable website and their manga magazine to drive readers to these titles. But I haven’t been impressed by these efforts. They’re too obviously set up to serve Tokyopop instead of their readers. They take the customer for granted, and I don’t think that’s a smart approach.
Update: John Jakala points out some additional problems with Tokyopop’s online marketing.
How will existing readers of an existing series like Dragon Head know that they won’t be able to buy subsequent volumes from their preferred vendor? …
For example, the page for Dragon Head doesn’t even have any info to indicate that the series will only be available through Tokyopop’s site starting with volume six. The pages for other online-only series similarly lack such info. Sure, there are “BUY NOW” links for online-only volumes, but volumes available in bookstores have the same link, so there’s no distinction to let customers know they’d better pre-order the “exclusive” books if they want them.