How Mighty Publishers Have Fallen: More on Tokyopop

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Steven Grant has a must-read column looking at the status of publishers who’ve recently suffered public problems. He makes excellent points, based on his long experience in the business, but I’m most interested in talking about what he says about Tokyopop. He starts by noting:

Borders has pulled Tokyopop titles from their shelves due to slipping sales. It would seem something else went on behind the scenes there, as usually booksellers only pull titles that don’t sell, not a publisher’s entire output.

But I don’t believe that’s the case, that all Tokyopop is gone. A visit to Borders’ new website shows that Fruits Basket, for instance, is “likely in stock” at all local stores. (I like that they refuse to commit. They’ve had that problem for years, where they’re never entirely sure whether what the computer shows is actually on the shelf.) It is true that less popular titles, like the new Kindaichi Case Files, appear to be online-only.

Anyway, that’s not his 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 comes to chasing Hollywood money. Grant points out the inherent flaw in that approach, saying that the strength of comics is “the creativity and uniqueness of the content”, so trying to craft movie-friendly (or digital-media-friendly, whatever that means) work is completely missing the point, because then comics are no longer special.

Based on this Anime Almanac article, which makes the claim that Tokyopop made the manga industry and then backs it up with a historical survey, how the mighty have fallen. This essay also reminded me that the first manga series I ever read in full was actually, yes, Love Hina.

Anyway, the writer, Scott VonSchilling, reminded me of the essential flaw in Tokyopop’s OEL manga strategy: “OEL manga is only going to appeal to those already interested in Japanese manga, which is a very small niche market to begin with.” And for a company whose original marketing bit of genius was the “100% Authentic” tagline, trying to then sell its customers non-Japanese work, it’s very contradictory.

And now, Rivkah, author of Steady Beat, has more bad news for OEL creators: she was told that Tokyopop’s non-licensed books are going online-only. (Although an anonymous commenter at Heidi’s blog says it’s not all OEL, just some.) Rivkah has a lawyer and is hopeful that she can get back the print rights to put her work out. I hope that’s possible — it’s very frustrating to customers to find the last piece of a series they’ve been purchasing is unavailable to them in the format they’ve been expecting.

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