How Mighty Publishers Have Fallen: More on Tokyopop

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. (See, for another example, the outrage over WB doing the same thing with the DVDs of the TV show Nip/Tuck.)

11 Comments

  1. jeremy4sunaka

    wow.. and inside that there, there is a comic book.

  2. I was in Borders on Wednesday and there were quite a few Tokyopop series still on the shelves, including +Anima and Gravitation. And the store employee I spoke to knew nothing about Tokyopop having any problems, although she admitted their books don’t fly off the shelves (except Gravitation).

  3. [...] had a bunch of bad news and changed plans; now Newsarama runs down the status of the existing OEL titles. Of the ones I cared about that [...]

  4. Distant Smoke

    I’m glad I found your site. I have been reading manga for several years. I found the stories very interesting and surpringly deep (in some instances).

    I actually became dissatisfied with Tokyopop about 2 years ago (or so). I wrote to them at the time, telling them that “in my opinion” they were making some mistakes, which I detailed for them. Going in the direction of digital media was one of the things I didn’t like about the changes they made at the time. (I hate their new website).

    Because I can afford them, the 10$ price tag didn’t bother me so much. But when the new manga they were adding to their lineup weren’t ones I was interested in, coupled with the focus on digital media, coupled with the the price tag became the new “norm” for Tokyopop, I found myself looking for their titles less and less. Previously I had sought out Tokyopop like a starving man looking for the free lunch buffet.

    I have been consistantly disappointed by American Manga publishers, who all too often drop a beloved series before finishing it, leaving fans hanging. It’s like buying a novel that was published in two parts, and the second part was never published. The disappointment and anger end up being directed at the publisher.

    I started learning Japanese about 5 years ago, because that was the only way I could be sure I could read a steady supply of Japanese manga. I’m not completely fluent yet (I still work fulltime), but now I buy the series I want in Japanese from Amazon.jp. If it’s translated in English and available, I might buy it, but the American manga publishers have made me too leary to count on them.

  5. Being a manga customer who’s out-of-the-loop, I am a bit shocked to hear T-pop’s going downhill fast. It’s true that the cream of the crop is being licensed by Viz and Del Rey, and T-pop is left with the rest.

    With Tokyopop, I am just trying to snatch up the available CLAMP titles, in case they go out of print like the other CLAMP titles from T-pop. Once I’m satisfied, I don’t have to worry and can therefore purchase titles from other companies.

  6. I blame this on their marketing strategy. Their site has been over-embellished that you can barely find any information on releases and it has become another MySpace when it comes to user-generated content.

  7. Their marketing strategy is puzzling. They seem to be using many marketing tactics, but it doesn’t do enough for them. I think their problem was they licensed too many titles and the consumers couldn’t keep up which was why they were seeing small sales numbers across the board. Their covers are pretty appealing, though.

  8. [...] Tokyopop reorganized in June of last year, word leaked out that they would not be printing any more of their OEL (original English language) manga, instead releasing them [...]

  9. [...] story (and cut adaptation costs, since all that art didn’t have to be processed). Although rumors of their demise were circulating as early as 2008, and they went through a difficult patch in early 2009, [...]

  10. [...] happened, the signs appeared to be there, going as far back as the summer of 2008, after Borders supposedly removed all Tokyopop titles from their shelves. A ‘restructuring’ of the publishing company resulted in [...]

  11. I worked at a Walden books, the sister company of Borders, for four years until it’s close in January of 2010. Prior to that I was an avid manga consumer and really didn’t notice a significant increase of Tokyopop titles pulled at any time and when there was an increase of pulled titles they were for all publishers. I figured Tokyopop would close long before now. As a manga fan who runs a Manga Library at her local conventions and used to work in a book store, I can tell you a lot about the trends in both the purchase of books and the popularity of a publisher. It wasn’t so much the oel Manga that killed them because i am the first to admit my favorite manga isn’t even Japanese it is a wonderful series called Dramacon which as much as i have grown to dislike Tokyopop is still one of their titles. There mistake was taking there fans for granted and that was what started their downward spiral. Dependability is the catch phrase of most serious and even semi serious manga collector. We all ask ourselves can we count on them to put it out when they say they will and for a very long time the answer to that for tokyopop has been no, no i can’t. The less i can depend on you the more I pull away from purchasing from you and the more I warn other fans to do so also. I can live without purchasing a manga but i can’t live with the frustration of you dropping a series on me mid way or horrors of horrors with but one volume left to go. The final death blow had to be the price hike, they might have gotten away with it and had us still purchasing from them but did they think fans weren’t going to notice that they were now paying 10.99 for a manga that was of poorer quality as well? Yes, yes I did notice that some of those new volumes had thinner paper used for covers then some other publishers use for pages. And Yes I did notice that the quality of the pages went way down too. I wouldn’t buy them anymore at that price and i was getting a REALLY GOOD discount. By the time the returned to a reasonable quality product, still not up to par especially for the asking price, it was to little to late. Manga collectors are geeks, geeks work in bookstores and talk to other geeks, you start disappointing your fans and they talk to each other and warn others to stave of disappointing the new generations of geeky fans.

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