Tokyopop Signals Willingness to Discuss OEL Rights Return, But Contradictory Offer Lacks Details

Per the official Tokyopop Manga Twitter account, the question was asked at last weekend’s Anime Expo convention whether Tokyopop would consider returning rights to the creators for the OEL manga (original graphic novels) they are holding onto. The two-part answer was

… the creators need to come to him to get the rights back. He can’t track them all down. And since they all have contracts, there will need to be some negotiations. But it’s not like Stu won’t give rights back at all.

Stu is Stu Levy, owner of the company. Followup Tweets didn’t sound quite so optimistic:

But this is business. If one party owns partial rights of a property and the other party wants all the rights… That party would buy the others out. Works like that in every other business, no? I know that sounds so insensitive, but we did pay the creators for these works. It’s not as though we got them for free. ^_^;;;;

The smiley face there really makes the message, don’t you think? Without knowing what conditions Stu wants to impose upon this deal, it’s hard to determine how serious this “offer” actually is. If, for example, Stu wanted full repayment for all money spent by Tokyopop, including page rate for original creation, I would imagine those negotiations wouldn’t go very far. Without more specifics, this appears to be a way to attempt to paper over the poor reputation Levy has with fans without actually taking any action.

More significantly, an actual OEL creator indicated that this was either a recent change or a misrepresentation, tweeting

Huh, about 6 months ago, Stu was a blanket “no” when we asked to buy back rights. This has def changed?

At that point, the Twitter account backed off the claim:

I was under the impression it had yesterday, but obviously you need to speak to him directly.

This might be another sudden Levy change of mind that messes up the business, much like his abrupt decision to stop publishing last year. Let’s hope he actually meant this one, instead of just saying what he thought the questioner wanted to hear.

By the way, a number of fans were disappointed that the much-plugged Tokyopop panel at the show didn’t allow any time for questions and answers, instead spending time recapping a history of the company and Stu Levy’s accomplishments. Another mismatch between fan and publisher wants appears to be the company’s desire to continue with film and TV projects, such as the disappointing America’s Greatest Otaku. Fans just want the series they were following completed in print.

Update: I just discovered Stu himself weighed in on his Twitter account:

I have an open door. Any creator can come discuss w me whenever. Some have; many haven’t. I am an always have been a fair partner. Each OEL contract is individual and if there is a fair proposition we work it out. but please understood there are multiple partners involved and any agreement has to consider the interests of each partner.

The multiple uses of the word “fair” are discouraging, since that’s such a nebulous concept in business and can’t be quantified. I’m guessing we’re not going to see any actual OEL right status changes as a result of this.

13 Comments

  1. “It’s not as though we got them for free.”

    One problem with that: These properties were printed and sold for a profit by Tokyopop, not the creators. So sure TP didn’t get the properties for free, sure, but the authors weren’t making the profits off of Tokyopop owning the rights either.

  2. Anonymous TP Creator

    Btw, I actually have an insolvency clause in my contract that if TP declares bancruptcy or goes insolvent, the rights revert back to me, but that I have to send a letter out first notifying them of the reversion of rights. But how in the world does a person go around determining if a company is insolvent or not? TP has NO cash flow practically, so it can be assumed, but I would think there would be a way to prove it, too.

  3. I got to ask him a few questions after, of course he sort of gave me non answers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wAGSnx-S74

  4. Anonymous TP Creator

    Non-answers have become something of his quid pro quo. My response way back when was essentially “email me again in a few months” and then “email me again in a another few months”. It’s like trying to hunt down a 13 year old teenage boy who just doesn’t want to face doing his chores because he’s rather be out hanging with all the cool kids.

  5. Creator, thanks for sharing. I’m not surprised to hear that there’s a reversion clause — when Tokyopop ceased publishing but said they were still existing for other things, I suspected that that was to maintain such ownership and so such clauses wouldn’t trigger. I think it would take a good lawyer to press that case now, and who has money for such things?

  6. That’s terribly frustrating for those artists. I hope they don’t give up and keep trying to negotiate their rights back.

  7. He should know where all the artists are, if he has rights to their works. That’s almost criminal right there.

    How frustrating that must be for the artists.

  8. Anonymous TP Creator

    Crissa,

    To give him some credit, it can be difficult to track down artists and authors, especially after a few years have passed. We have a tendency to move around, and it really is up to the creators to make the first approach about getting their rights back, not the publisher’s. However, it’s the publisher’s job to appropriately respond, too, and not just ignore or put off those who do contact them about the return of their rights.

  9. [...] Publishing | Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy says (on Twitter) that he is willing to negotiate the rights to the original graphic novels published by the company, and that he has always been willing to do so — but for creators to get all rights back would require a buyout. A former Tokyopop creator offers some added insights in the comments section. [Comics Worth Reading] [...]

  10. [...] followed by one of their most popular OEL titles, Bizenghast. Just last week, though, the status of other OEL titles was back in the news with Stu Levy’s contradictory attitude about returning the rights to the [...]

  11. HEY! Where would be the best place to submit a manga for the market,or even to get looked over?I’ve been working on one but don’t know where to go with it ,I really want my work out there cor people to read. I realy belive it will sell,but I need to know where or who to turn to for Manga Pirntings and editing.(Really want to be a Manga-ka)

  12. You need to do a lot of reading. Start here:
    http://comicsworthreading.com/2012/05/18/can-you-make-a-living-in-manga-if-youre-not-japanese/

    The short answer is that if you’re American, it is not very likely that you will become a manga-ka. Few publishers take submissions these days, and those that do find the quality is not as high as what they can import (at lower cost, because reprints cost less than original work in many cases).

  13. [...] face aside, Tokyopop’s promises in relation to the rights of the OEL creators in the past have been sketchy, so some might [...]

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