Tokyopop Layoffs — Who’s Left?

Heidi MacDonald is reporting that Tokyopop has laid off “several more people — including editors Lillian Diaz-Przybyl and Troy Lewter. The staff is now reduced to a mere handful of people”, which doesn’t include, based on Heidi’s experience, the PR person, who is also gone.

Lillian Diaz-Przybyl was the longest-running Tokyopop person I knew (not counting company head Stu Levy). She was an excellent editor, especially known for reaching out to fans, including most recently an essay on buying manga instead of waiting that caused a lot of useful discussion online. Earlier, she was a presence at the webcasts the company did in 2009. (I miss those. They were fun and informative.)

This is a little earlier in the season than the time last year that manga companies were announcing closures and layoffs. I guess the economy is not so recovered as one would hope, or the loss of Borders has had more impact than suspected.

Update: Jason Thompson mentioned on Twitter that Asako Suzuki was also no longer at Tokyopop, which is unfortunate — she previously worked at CMX before they went under last year.

Freelance editor Daniella Orihuela-Gruber, who works for Tokyopop, when asked about the status of staffers, responded:

There’s still Cindy Suzuki and a managing editor, but now the rest of editorial and most of design and production are freelance.

This appears to be aiming at massive cost-cutting by replacing employees (who have benefit costs and the like) with freelancers, even though that allows a lot of industry knowledge and experience to walk out the door. Daniella continued:

We’re horribly underpaid. But Lil and Asako know SO MUCH more than we freelancers do. Lillian was especially in-tune to what TP’s audience liked. She was responsible for all their solid mid-selling shoujo.

Those were the books I was enjoying recently from the company. Sad to hear that we may be going back to their previous approach.

Wait! The company guru has just weighed in on Twitter! Seems he’s just changed his mind about what he wants to do: “Why have I been stuck in such an old-school, out-of-touch industry for so long?! (yes I mean books!)” He continued, “it’s not that i don’t personally love books. but it’s a very old-school, out-of-touch industry compared to gaming.”

I used to work for a guy who, whenever he read a business book, we all avoided him, because he would change the entire company focus based on whatever idea he’d just been introduced to. Does Levy have similar company focus ADD?

Update: (3/2/11) Brigid argues yes, in an historically grounded piece at Robot 6 that suggests Levy should quit instead of letting so much talent leave.

Update: (3/5/11) ICv2 confirms that Tokyopop attributed the need to cut costs to Borders’ bankruptcy.

11 Comments

  1. I just read that comment from Stu. He’s currently at GDC, which is a big-name video games conference. I wonder what he’s trying to say by comparing the video game industry and the publishing industry.

  2. Ugh, that comment by Levy… just UGH.

  3. I suppose the internet is the one market they can’t flood…

  4. Hmmm, does this mean, maybe Tokyopop will only offer their manga online for a cheap price, ala under $6 per volume. Tokyopop did revolutionize the manga industry by not flipping manga and offer it for $9.99 vs the old 40 pages for 2.95 and each volume $15.95.
    I won’t stop buying the manga I like, but I would love a better online format since my living space is almost maxed out.

  5. This is a nightmare. Tokyopop is frankly scaring me as a manga consumer. Stu! Books are good! We *like* books! That’s why we’ve been buying Tokyopop published manga and books for years. But now that you’ve let your best editors go, how do we know we can trust you in any industry?

  6. Isn’t Levy’s newest comment pretty normal (for him)? It sounds like the sort of thing coming out of TP right before they did the website makeover… back when I actually used their website. What do you expect from a publishing company that updates their site by hiding (deleting?) their publishing schedule in favor of some sort of social networking thing? They haven’t seemed all that enthused about staying in the manga business for years now. It feels like the only reason they’re still in it is because they couldn’t find anything better.

  7. I’m open to paying for digital manga, BUT only under certain circumstances that make me feel safe. I want to buy the manga under an account that allows me to put it on my computer as many times as I wish. That way I can’t just lose digital copies of manga when I have laptop issues. I mean lets face it, what are the chances my sets of my hard copy manga are going to (accidentally) be physically destroyed versus my computer going into a state where I lose all my files? Far smarter and computer savy people than myself have lost files for unlucky reasons. I also wouldn’t mind paying for manga chapter by chapter once the US catches up to Japan in an ongoing series. BUT on top of all this the digital copies should be cheaper than the hard copies. What I described is probably a failure of a business model for actually making profit, but as a consumer it’s what would make me comfortable if a digital transition happened.

    I’m wondering if I should be regretting purchasing Future Diary and Deadman Wonderland last week…will I see more volumes in the future?

  8. The contraction of the manga market has been going on for over two years. The drastic choices Tokyopop has made these last few years have kept them in business. Thanks to these choices they have been able to continue to release new volumes for most of their series and they have even introduced us to new series, like the enjoyable Alice of the Country of Hearts. I do hope the recently cut employees all find work in the manga industry, their experience and love for the genre is greatly needed as the market continues to change. Most current manga publishers are now backed by a Japanese publisher, while Tokyopop has stayed independant, which in this climate makes things easier for them, but more difficult for Tokyopop.

    I have recently moved to a very small town and one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States and sadly the manga market is nil, which you would never believe thanks to all the manga blogs and newsites online. Fortunately I can order online or travel over an hour to a larger bookstore for perusing the manga section. The convience of the internet leads us all to believe the manga market is bigger than imagined or understood.

    In the early 1990s I dreamed of shoujo manga and purchased every manga that was released. Today manga is released at a dizzying schedule, but I still enjoy most of it, because we all know the American market is still only scratching the surface of Japanese releases. The main things fans wish are completions of series and reasonable prices for each volume. I do hope fans of manga will show Tokyopop support during this time.

    Levy’s tweets reflect his position as a futurist. Whether or not online availablity happens quickly or slowly is unknown, but it probably is the future for ALL books.

  9. [...] less positive history, including this frank commentary from Brigid Alverson at Robot 6 and this ongoing round-up from Johanna Draper Carlson at Manga Worth Reading. My own history as a reader has been sketchy at [...]

  10. [...] there is reportedly still a handful of staff, the company seems to have turned to freelancers to keep the company running. But the company [...]

  11. [...] cut significant numbers of staff a couple of months ago, blaming the Borders bankruptcy and the resulting losses to the publisher. [...]

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