Tokyopop Sets Tongues Wagging
More on the latest Tokyopop contract problem:
Lea is enjoying getting to say I told you so — she had concerns about the OEL manga contracts years ago, but she was told she didn’t know what she was talking about (not likely, given her long-ranging experience in the business) and that she was too old.
Brigid, a former book editor, takes a look at the contract. While she agrees the moral rights issues are problematic, she finds some of the clauses “don’t seem unreasonable“.
They want the unfettered right to chop up the manga into bits and reformat it for cell phone presentation and to make those little films on their website. I seriously doubt they are making any money off this; if they are, it’s not a lot. That’s not to say that can’t change, if, say, cell phone manga catches on, but most of these things are marketing tools…. Many writers complain that publishers do little to market their books. What Tokyopop is doing with these things is basically making ads at their expense.
Isn’t that the argument that producers were making during the recent writers’ strike? Bragging about making money online while denying any cut of it to the creators of the material? It’s the precedent of the thing, sometimes. Brigid goes on to draw a line for those who might benefit from this kind of deal:
O’Malley is pretty emphatic that this is a terrible deal for creators, and he urges people to look elsewhere. That’s fine if you’re Bryan Lee O’Malley and the world is beating a path to your door. I think that a creator who is considering doing a pilot needs to make a very cold-blooded calculation: You are trading creative control for exposure. I suspect the typical pilot creator will be someone who has been doing comics for a while and is trying to move up to the next level, and this is one way to accomplish that.
That’s a strategy that has worked for a couple of Tokyopop’s freshman class: Svetlana Chmakova, Queenie Chan, and Amy Hadley have all gotten a major career boost from their Tokyopop manga. It hasn’t worked as well for other creators.
I think she ignores the question of how O’Malley got to be O’Malley. For “someone who has been doing comics for a while”, this strikes me as a step backwards, not the “next level”.
It’s important, when evaluating questions like this, to consider the context and history of the company you’re proposing to work with. I took a look back, so enjoy this collection of Tokyopop’s greatest mistakes over the past two years:
- January 2006: Layoffs cause rumors, speculation on business strategies, wondering if company is in trouble
- May 2006: Manga After Hours, promoting josei manga as chick lit, never happens
- August 2006: Some series to be sold online only; retailers and customers react badly
- October 2006: OEL promoted to indy comic retailers WITHOUT including creator names
- November 2006: Tokyopop’s demands on story structure conflict with OEL author Queenie Chan’s plans for The Dreaming
- November 2006: Mail Order Ninja released in two parts, damaging the storytelling; creator complains about reviews that don’t consider both as one story
- January 2007: Ross Campbell quits but has to leave his Abandoned characters behind
- February 2007: New rating system much more complicated
- January 2008: Manga magazine released late, with out-of-date content
- February 2008: Series length decisions made by editors, not creators
- March 2008: OEL endings are disappointing; lack of editorial help, inexperienced creators blamed
To sum up (for now — this story seems to have legs), with Manga Pilots, Tokyopop no longer wants creators to work for much-too-cheap, by evaluating the efforts based on reader reaction, they want fans to work as submission editors for free, too. How desperate is their business these days, anyway? They’ve been battling rumors of trouble for 2 1/2 years now. Are all of these mistakes just their way of flailing around for a successful new business model? They were responsible for the introduction of the current manga format into the US, but other companies came in and took most of the popular licenses. Homegrown creators are having more success with “real” book publishers and other venues. Now what do they do?