Tokyopop Reorganizes

Tokyopop is splitting into two companies: one for the traditional publishing, and a new company, “Tokyopop Media”, for film and digital production.

Tokyopop’s been interested in the latter for a while now, talking about trying to get comics on cellphones and creating online media to promote titles. The general impression is that they have to be more creative — most of the prominent Japanese manga titles are now tied up by competitors Viz and Del Rey. That also explains their emphasis on “OEL manga”, or manga created by non-Japanese. (If those books weren’t released by a manga company, they’d just be called “graphic novels”, and they may not be able to compete in that bigger category. I do admire Tokyopop for creating their own publishing niche, though. It’s a lot easier when no one can compete with you because you created your own name and category.)

But it remains to be seen how many of those books will be put out in future. Part of the announcement was that Tokyopop was cutting 39 positions from their publishing arm (out of how many? dunno) and radically reducing their release schedule, going from over 500 books a year to as few as 200. Says Stuart Levy, CEO, “Few releases will allow for less cannibalization at retail.” Which seems to imply that they think people aren’t buying TP book 1 because they’re buying TP book 2. I don’t think that’s right, based on my own experience: instead of buying TP book 1, I buy a Viz or a Del Rey or an Aurora (when it comes to josei) title.

If fewer books mean more promotion for each, that’d be good. And a lot depends on the quality of what survives. I hope for more Kindaichi; I fear we’ll get more … well, fill in your least favorite generic title here. (Unfortunately, educated guesses put Kindaichi in trouble.) And what happens to their plans to pick up several books last published by near-defunct ADV Manga? Some of these answers will be guessed at when more information on who’s gone and who’s left comes out.

Another important factor: their website (no longer available) is a mess. They’re trying to build a Facebook-style community for manga fans, but the end result is that information — what books are available, lists of their titles, etc. — has completely gotten lost for someone who doesn’t want to be part of a “clan” or draw their own pinups.

Christopher Butcher looks at the positive aspects of this announcement and criticizes fan response. He also answers the question about previous staff levels, saying that they had about 100 people (so losing about 40%). He’s got a lot of very insightful points that put a lot of this in context, so go read.

Matt Blind at ComicSnob (link no longer available) has an excellent analysis from a business perspective.

Typically a reorganization and spin-off is done to isolate risk, maximize business potential of individual units, and present clear options to investors for business segments that, while related, depart radically from a firm’s core business.

He also points out that Tokyopop has a long history of chasing the sexy while forgetting about the boring core business of printed books. But that’s a tough business to be in, with sales declining and major chains like Borders having problems.

The always-not-safe-for-work Simon Jones has posted a thorough roundup of coverage. If you want to know more, it’s all there. In the comments, the point is made that while print manga sales may be declining here, it’s also happening in Japan, maybe worse, with campaigns against used book sales and series never being collected.

Me, I don’t have much to add, beyond being reminded that we’re talking about a company that was willing to change everything, including its name, when it went from Sailor Moon-publishing Mixx to Tokyopop. Giving up brand equity is a big deal, so this wouldn’t be the first time they made a major change in direction to chase what they see as success (or maybe just survival). And I do wonder what’s going to happen when their last big license, Fruits Basket, ends.

20 Comments

  1. […] bad thing, if they pick strong books and give them the support they need. As Johanna Draper Carlson observes, Says Stuart Levy, CEO, “Few releases will allow for less cannibalization at retail.” Which […]

  2. They’re going into film and digital production? A strange move considering they no longer even distribute their own anime releases (Funimation does it for them these days).

    Very much agreed on the website. I used to go to Tokyopop.com all the time to check out release lists and preview pages. It’s since turned into a convoluted mess.

    Also, didn’t know that about ADV Manga. I’m not sure I want to see a Tokyopop-published Yotsuba&!, as the printing quality of ADV’s books in general has been much better; part of me would rather wait through another hiatus.

  3. Digital refers to things like their YouTube movies, I’m told. (I don’t know because it never occurred to me to look for manga-related items there.) Film is their hope of getting Hollywood licensing money.

    And I should clarify: no one’s talked about Tokyopop in connection with Yotsuba&! Tokyopop has picked up other former ADV titles (such as Aria). ADV, assuming they still exist, plans to publish more Yotsuba&!

  4. “It’s a lot easier when no one can compete with you because you created your own name and category.”

    Ha! Brilliant. I was saying something similar in my blog using that joke about the area in heaven separated for the group that thinks they’re the only one there. I’ve been annoyed by the OEL Manga stamp for years. What’s wrong with publishing graphic novels like everyone else who is?

    Plus, yeah, their website is a hideously web 2.0 MySpace wannabe. Ick.

  5. Oh and let’s not forget this isn’t the first time TokyoPop has tried to get into multimedia. I have some anime DVDs and even an anime soundtrack published by TokyoPop. Needless to day, those divisions are long gone.

  6. Were the DVDs and soundtracks any good?

  7. Johanna Says: “…That also explains their emphasis on ‘OEL manga’, or manga created by non-Japanese…”

    I thought OEL stood for Originally English Language. They’re not sticking the OEL label on manhwa and Gothic Sports now, are they?

    Xenos Says: “Plus, yeah, their website is a hideously web 2.0 MySpace wannabe. Ick.”

    Some of the author and series pages are fine, but I found those by Google instead of navigating within TokyoPop’s site. Meanwhile, the .de site’s front page is less of a mess than the .us and .uk versions (and I don’t even know German).

  8. No, OEL doesn’t cover Korean works. I had big problems trying to come up with another short description for OEL. You can’t say Americans, because some are Canadian and Australian. So I took a shortcut.

  9. the .de site is what the english one used to be like

  10. […] Johanna Draper Carlson: But it remains to be seen how many of those books will be put out in future. Part of the announcement was that Tokyopop was cutting 39 positions from their publishing arm (out of how many? dunno) and radically reducing their release schedule, going from over 500 books a year to as few as 200. Says Stuart Levy, CEO, “Few releases will allow for less cannibalization at retail.” Which seems to imply that they think people aren’t buying TP book 1 because they’re buying TP book 2. I don’t think that’s right, based on my own experience: instead of buying TP book 1, I buy a Viz or a Del Rey or an Aurora (when it comes to josei) title. […]

  11. They cut 39 positions out of about 90 total employees.

  12. …wait, so they’re nearly cutting _half their staff_?

    I know reorganisation and cutbacks are a standard business practise, but dumping that much of your staff is surely _not_ standard.

  13. To be flip, half the books, half the staff. But someone’s got to handle media stuff, too.

    If times are really drastic, you’ll do what you think you have to. I work in a real estate-related business, and some of the companies in our field have cut 45% of the company since 2003. If your biggest expense is payroll, that’s what you have to do.

  14. Actually, OEL is an old name they used. Now with a more global target range for cogs in their machine, they’re using the term “Global Manga”. Yeah, they’re really streaching it. I think they even try to shoehorn Korean books under this title, which I think stinks as well. To me, it’s illiterate glam marketing.

    As for the staff cut, I thought it was more about 1/3 than half. Still, pretty drastic. I hope it was necessary. I totally agree with the original poster. This manga niche is just tiny bit of the graphic novel market. That in itself is just a smaller part of the publishing world. It’s high time TokyoPop realized that. Putting a Japanese name on your company or product doesn’t automatically make it special.

  15. […] author of Steady Beat, published by Tokyopop, comments on their recent announcement of changes. Honestly, I’m happy this happened. I was expecting bankruptcy by November 2007. Instead, […]

  16. […] major point. He sums up the many mistakes Tokyopop has made, from their bad contracts to the abrupt reorganization and layoffs, as a way of pointing out the misguided focus many comic publishers have had, especially when it […]

  17. […] Many questions result. Del Rey isn’t concerned — their licenses are proceeding as planned. Chris Butcher reports that Tokyopop cancelled Beck, a Kodansha title, but that might also be due to lower sales or Tokyopop’s own problems. […]

  18. At first, things started kind of innocuously, with the first manga competition. Things gradually worsened. Disney manga and Princess Ai were the last straw for me.

    TP is just using specific terms like “manhwa” and “OEL” to honk their own horn even more (“Who would dare print innuendo and blatant lies about international rock diva Princess Ai? TOKYOPOP would!”)

    Largely thanks to TP, I just use “comics” to describe everything. Even GN makes me cringe a little.

    Both versions of their website are terrible. Hopefully someday, TP will have disappeared, as I consider it the Wal-Mart of manga. (Seriously, who stuffs more advertising into their products than TP?)

    I think ADV manga was dissolved for a little bit but is having a comeback now. Nice post. :)

  19. […] Tokyopop reorganized in June of last year, word leaked out that they would not be printing any more of their OEL […]

  20. […] is closing as of May 31, although they plan to continue their film division (split off in a 2008 reorganization), an area where company head Stu Levy’s attention has been more focused lately and the […]

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