Tokyopop Reorganizes

Tokyopop logo

Tokyopop is splitting into two companies: one for the traditional publishing, and a new company, “Tokyopop Media”, for film and digital production.

Tokyopop’s been interested in the latter for a while now, talking about trying to get comics on cellphones and creating online media to promote titles. The general impression is that they have to be more creative — most of the prominent Japanese manga titles are now tied up by competitors Viz and Del Rey. That also explains their emphasis on “OEL manga”, or manga created by non-Japanese. (If those books weren’t released by a manga company, they’d just be called “graphic novels”, and they may not be able to compete in that bigger category. I do admire Tokyopop for creating their own publishing niche, though. It’s a lot easier when no one can compete with you because you created your own name and category.)

Tokyopop logo

But it remains to be seen how many of those books will be put out in future. Part of the announcement was that Tokyopop was cutting 39 positions from their publishing arm (out of how many? dunno) and radically reducing their release schedule, going from over 500 books a year to as few as 200. Says Stuart Levy, CEO, “Few releases will allow for less cannibalization at retail.” Which seems to imply that they think people aren’t buying TP book 1 because they’re buying TP book 2. I don’t think that’s right, based on my own experience: instead of buying TP book 1, I buy a Viz or a Del Rey or an Aurora (when it comes to josei) title.

If fewer books mean more promotion for each, that’d be good. And a lot depends on the quality of what survives. I hope for more Kindaichi; I fear we’ll get more … well, fill in your least favorite generic title here. And what happens to their plans to pick up several books last published by near-defunct ADV Manga? Some of these answers will be guessed at when more information on who’s gone and who’s left comes out.

Another important factor: their website (no longer available) is a mess. They’re trying to build a Facebook-style community for manga fans, but the end result is that information — what books are available, lists of their titles, etc. — has completely gotten lost for someone who doesn’t want to be part of a “clan” or draw their own pinups.

Christopher Butcher looks at the positive aspects of this announcement and criticizes fan response. He also answers the question about previous staff levels, saying that they had about 100 people (so losing about 40%). He’s got a lot of very insightful points that put a lot of this in context, so go read.

Matt Blind at ComicSnob (link no longer available) has an excellent analysis from a business perspective.

Typically a reorganization and spin-off is done to isolate risk, maximize business potential of individual units, and present clear options to investors for business segments that, while related, depart radically from a firm’s core business.

He also points out that Tokyopop has a long history of chasing the sexy while forgetting about the boring core business of printed books. But that’s a tough business to be in, with sales declining and major chains like Borders having problems.

Me, I don’t have much to add, beyond being reminded that we’re talking about a company that was willing to change everything, including its name, when it went from Sailor Moon-publishing Mixx to Tokyopop. Giving up brand equity is a big deal, so this wouldn’t be the first time they made a major change in direction to chase what they see as success (or maybe just survival). And I do wonder what’s going to happen when their last big license, Fruits Basket, ends.


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