I was trying to refrain from armchair-quarterbacking the Tokyopop contraction because I think when people who do good work lose their jobs no amount of “Well they should have done this differently!” is terribly appropriate, but there’s so much stupidity in response to this announcement on fan forums and comments sections (“They totally should have published Harry Potter manga!”) that I figured I’d try and put something less offensive out there. Apologies in advance, should I fail.

+ A reorganization is considerably better than bankruptcy protection, and I know a few people who thought that was what was coming down the pipe. Which isn’t to say that it won’t, but it hasn’t, and there’s a big difference.

+ 39 employees are being laid off out of a staff of about 100, but that number doesn’t take into account the massive number of freelancers who do translating, lettering and touch-up, etc., that are also going to be out of work. That’s a lot of people affected and that sucks.

+ A cut of releases by 50%. That could mean an overall cut of books (volumes) by 50%, or a cut of individual titles by 50%. Those are two very different things, with various titles on annual, twice, thrice, or four-times annual releases, removing half of the titles wouldn’t necessarily remove half of the releases. This figure is very unclear from their press release or related comment, so let’s talk about the two possibilities:

If it’s titles:

  1. + The vitriol directed at Tokyopop for their OEL program is just short of fucking nuts. If you’re a nerd that upset that Tokyopop is publishing anything other than sourced-from-Japan manga, you really need to get your fucking priorities straight.
  2. + Related: The insane fear and anger that “everything cut will be Japanese manga, and they’re only going to publish “Amerimanga which I hate!!” Again, priorities…
  3. + Related again: They’ve probably paid the licenses for most of the Japanese books already. Tokyopop’s original work, as we learned last week, is generally paid for when Tokyopop accepts the work from the authors and prints it… So if one book is paid for and one they don’t have to pay for unless they print it (but they’ll still own anyway), which do you think is going to see print?
    EDIT JUNE 6TH, 2008: On Wednesday June 5th TP publisher Mike Kiley sent out a note to Tokyopop OEL creators stating that their work would continue to be published, and that they would be paid for their work. I am curious to see how this shakes out. You can see a copy of the e-mail at The Beat.
  4. It’s all about the bookstore sales (see below).

If it’s actually their total output:

  1. + Tokyopop has solicited books in the book trade through the end of the year so far at approximately 50 books per month, which very clearly means that some solicited books are not coming out this year (if ever).
  2. + A cut of releases by 50% for 2008. Well in January through May they released something like 200 books, right? If they release 500 or so books in a year, does that mean you’re going to see 50 books from Tokyopop between now and December? Because…
  3. + The manga licensing fees are generally already paid for, and translation and lettering usually happens months in advance. If they’ve got the next two-three months worth of books done, and they’re cutting their production in half or more, they could just re-stagger the release schedule and release the next three months of solicited books between now and Christmas.
  4. + Hell, they could only release the immediately profitable books from the next three months of their production and space them out for the rest of the year and that would hit the “250 books” number… There’s your worst case scenario.

+ Simon Jones at Icarus points out that the division of publishing and media into separate companies could mean better publishing contracts and being a better publisher. That’s very optimistic and I do not agree.

+ Tokyopop and Viz are releasing 40-50 books a month! That’s insane! Even Del Rey, which in every single discussion I’ve heard is being touted as the new ‘second’ to Viz’s top spot–is only releasing 8-12 books in an average month, and fully half of them would be what you would consider “top tier” licenses. Cannibalization at retail indeed.

+ Borders and Barnes & Noble have stopped ordering certain manga titles for the shelf entirely. I think it’s pretty obvious that anything not getting immediate bookstore distro won’t get continued, considering the book market counts for something like 75% of sales of certain titles.

+ Hell, I’m pretty sure that at one point TP wouldn’t even license a title if Borders wasn’t going to order a bunch of it… I know I’ve been told that, but I can’t remember if anyone ever said it in print or not…

The following is all in response to: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/bbs/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=60188

Dragon Head Volume 6 Cover+ A gentle reminder: Just because something is good does not mean it sells well or will not be canceled outright.

+ …and just to reiterate, just because something has been solicited does not mean it is coming out.

+ Some mensa member deriding TP for publishing too many “fanworks”. As opposed to, you know, graphic novels. Unreal. I wonder if they realize that they’re part of the problem?

+ Said mensa member does have a point about the absolute uselessness of Tokyopop’s website. I honestly do not understand why they would have a website that actually makes it difficult to find their own product. Scratch that, I do understand, but they’re wrong for doing it.

+ If we’re going to point fingers, then point them first at the people who go in and read manga at the store, but don’t buy (and I’m not talking one or two titles, I mean they do this EVERY chance they get).” also: internet thieves. Good point “darcerin“.

+ It seems they’re not licencing as much from Japan as they used to, and what they do licence is mediocre. I suspect because they don’t have to pay translators etc for OEL, but they can sell it for the same price, ergo more profit. In theory anyways.” – This bit of business theory courtesy of st_owly. I know I can stop reading at any time and that this stupid shit is corroding my soul, but this potent combination of fan-entitlement and outright stupidity is what keeps my righteous indignation going.

+ Holy shit, it’s actual content courtesy of ex-Tokyopop staffer Peter Ahlstrom:

The final volume of Grenadier already went to press, so no worries there. I really don’t know for sure what titles will be sticking around, but a large percentage of the axed titles will be Korean titles because those have been selling poorly. I would not be surprised to see Rebirth discontinued. Beck has also underperformed, but only time will tell.

“If I were still working there, I would probably know sooner. :) I hope the titles I loved working on will be spared, because I at least want to keep collecting them.

+ It’s bad enough Levy is still on board, so this means we’re probably gonna be subjected to more Princess Ai in the future.” I’m almost with you there kid, but seeing as it’s Levy’s company I imagine he’ll be around for a little while…

+ I don’t claim to have all the answers here, but I’m just constantly amazed by the indignation of children without two clues to rub together making these entirely baseless pronouncements… On that note, here’s three amazing pieces of wrong from the same quote from “Grico“:

Yeah, I think the biggest worry for me is that they might decide to focus on the OEL books since they are much cheaper to make. … some things might stick until the license runs out to try to recoup costs (I’m thinking of the American licensed stuff here like Familiy Guy). It will be interesting to see if there are any license sales to other manga companies, such as when ADV sold off the Tactics anime license.

Dear “Grico”: OEL are not ‘cheaper’, Tokypop has produced exactly one Family Guy Cine-manga… in 2004, and ADV did not sell of the Tactics anime license, they “sold off” the manga license, and even then they didn’t “sell it off” so much as it expired and Tokypop licensed it from the original Japanese publisher. Congrats, you’ve made the worst post I’ve read so far.

+ Another genius (from Texas!) demands that TP embrace Wal-Mart, and sell everything at cost because manga and anime are too expensive. Bravo.

+ In the defense of this message board, there are a lot of kind people popping up expressing sympathy for the folks losing their jobs, which is really heartening.

So there, there’s my attempt to stem the tide of disinformation, for all the good it will do.

- Christopher


26 Comments on “Thoughts on Tokyopop’s Contractions”

You can track this conversation through its atom feed.

  1. Brigid says:

    Excellent points, Chris! You really put this in perspective.

    I just want to add one thing, which is something that not too many people see: Those “cine-manga” sell like hotcakes through the Scholastic book fairs—the Avatar one sold 500,000 copies. Granted the cover price is lower, and I don’t know what the profit margin is on Scholastic sales (as opposed to bookstores and the direct market), but it could be that those despised OEL titles are subsidizing some of the weaker Japanese titles.

  2. Lissa says:

    Your breakdown and insight is much appreciated! As is your braving of the ANN forums to troll around and respond here to some (idiotic at times) comments. They’re thoughts and assumptions I’m sure many are jumping to unfortunately, as often uneducated (and downright inconsiderate if you ask me…) as they are.

  3. Laurie says:

    (I dont know nothing about this industry, just a fan that reads and happen to draw) I would guess what they mean by cheaper, is in the pay to artists to make them. But to promote them and publish them? I dont think they do make much money that licensed things do so in that case, its not cheaper. Of the few well selling oel manga, I dont see TP getting such a hopeful chance at another well selling oel now that their contracts are worse and if anyone is sending work to TP is going to be (knowingly) mediocre at best.

    As for the stupid comments online, I say most is just venting. I would wish that manga could be sold like walmart. This wont happen but to comments like these, it lets you know that people still do want comics, we just dont have money and its hurting all of us. So in a way, we kind of know that ‘comics’ isnt the problem, its just everything else.

    I’m being paid 5.6$ an hour and all the money I’m getting is to pay for college as since my dad is self employed (layed off), It’s just HELL to get through government paper work. As more parents lose their income (since most of the manga market depends on their parents money) and most of us took just for a reason other then to buy manga.

    Of all business moves and what not, sometimes TP’s timing and PR is really off.

  4. Susie says:

    Great Cliff’s Notes of the ANN boards! I knew I wasn’t missing anything, but you squelched any curiosity I had.

    Thank you!

  5. Lea Hernandez says:

    Stu Levy staying at his own company depends entirely on how it’s structured. If, for instance, there’s someone holding the purse strings that could choose to replace Levy, well.
    Gyah, I don’t see how OEL could be cheaper to produce than translated manga, unless TP convinces creators to give up their rights for a buck, and draw for free. (You KNOW there are creators who’d take that.)

    TP stopped getting most of their better licenses when Kodansha made their deal with Del Rey.

    As for the “it’s not real manga” crap, we creators have learned to roll our eyes and move on. It seems a lot of people who say that are the same ones who sit on the floor at B&N and read the manga and leave without buying. Trufans!

  6. Kat Kan says:

    I’m adding my thanks here for a succinct and cogent explanation of what’s going on. I happen to like a lot of the OEL titles that TP has published; many of them are well-done. Dramacon, anyone? Steady Beat? Sorcerers and Secretaries? I’ll just have to wait and see what happens as the months go by. Thanks again, Chris!

  7. Hugh Stewart says:

    You have such a wonderful blog.

    Part of me secretly wishes that you just spent all your time correcting people/meting justice, but I suspect the toll on your soul would be too great for one man to bear.

    Anyway, thanks for always having something insightful/interesting to read.

  8. Holy crap « Precocious Curmudgeon says:

    [...] Holy crap Filed under: Linkblogging, Tokyopop — davidpwelsh @ 4:50 pm You go offline for a freaking day because you don’t feel like giving a downer hotel one more red cent than you have to, and this happens. In addition to Brigid’s excellent coverage and link-tracking, I’d point with particular admiration at Chris Butcher’s analysis, and note that Heidi MacDonald succinctly underlines Tokyopop’s hyperactive unveiling of initiatives. And then there’s Tom Spurgeon: “In fact, you could look at Tokyopop as another specialty publisher having to make changes or risk dying off altogether, and not much of a unique news story at all.” [...]

  9. Andre says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for posting this. I can’t stand ANN’s forums sometimes- and I do agree about the issues with TP’s porn-ridden, myspacestyle website. I don’t doubt that the costs involved in the website’s hosting and design fees would of been better spent on a simpler website with lots of product information and a smaller set of forums.

    You can’t find info on upcoming titles [their schedule used to update pretty regularly, but I find it's often broken, missing info and a month or so behind what's in Previews, which hurts when ordering comics], and anything that could be productive is drowned in an excess of copyrightinfringement, tweeny whinging and high school fights [which is why I abandoned my blog there long, long ago].

  10. Cthulhu says:

    I have hesitated to get involved in this (I am a LONG TIME member of the manga biz) but since Chris has actually written something sensible on teh internets regarding the TP situation, I want to add an important event that has, as far as I can tell, gone practically unreported.
    Kodansha is forming their own manga publishing biz over here and says they will no longer be licensing to Del Rey or Dark Horse or anyone else. In fact, they are aggressively cutting off the existing contracts and at least one company had to make a panicked phone call to their printer to cancel several dozen reprints.
    This has been in the wind for a couple weeks but it should have leaked out from the BEA, since it was openly announced there. Oddly, no one seems to be discussing it.
    Chris, you can contact me at the “disposable” email addy I gave if you’d like to check my bona fides.

  11. Joe Williams says:

    Just talking out of you know where, but I wonder if hitting the dead spot in the Naruto cycle and still putting all those books out in one big chunk was a bad move. I know their problems are bigger than that but maybe they messed with the golden goose.

  12. Cthulhu says:

    One more note: Kodansha plans to begin full scale operation in September 2008, out of Los Angeles, where they will be sharing space and staff with a multimedia division.

  13. Matt Blind says:

    Gee, the Kodansha International website — updated as recently as this past Sunday, has nothing to say on severing current arrangements, or new businesses, or manga at all really:

    http://www.kodansha-intl.com/

    Kodansha Intl. –as their current and ongoing English-language publishing apparatus, and with established distribution arrangements and a long back list, is presumably the platform from which they’d launch a new manga imprint — and yet, I don’t see crap. Hadn’t heard anything from BEA either. Perhaps the new corporate communications strategy is to only whisper important news in bathroom stalls, and not write up press releases for, dare I say, release to the press — let alone the web or even on one’s own web site.

    Chris, I apologise for dropping so much sarcasm in your comments, but Cthulhu (despite his powers as an elder god and eldrich horror) seems to be speaking out of his ass on this one.

  14. Cthulhu says:

    Matt, you are wrong, apparently know little to nothing about Kodansha’s business setup, and I expect an apology when their separate manga division goes on line. I probably said too much, anyway. I just felt sorry for the poor folks who lost their jobs at Tokyopop and hoped this might be somewhere they could look for work once it’s all official. I’m done commenting, although I’ll be checking back for The All-Knowing and All-seeing Blind One to grovel, unless he plans to whisper his apology in a toilet stall somewhere.

  15. Matt Blind says:

    1. sure, I’m wrong
    2. why would I know anything about Kodansha? I’m a bookseller based in the US; I only know them through their licensees, plus whatever I can find online.

    I claim no special knowledge, but at least I post under my own name (and yes, Blind is my last name, the one I was born with, damn me, not a pseudonym or handle) and I’m not sure how an ‘announcement’ of Kodansha’s new venture was meant to help Tokyopop refugees when you provide no details.

    I’m a blogger, with a link:
    here ya go:
    http://www.comicsnob.com

    And when I talk about the US retail market, or book stores, or comic sales — my only claim is that I do this for a living.

    If you insist: Hi, My name is Matt Blind and I am currently employed as a store manager for Barnes & Noble at their Buckhead location — that’s 2900 Peachtree Road, Atlanta GA 30305. I sell books for a living.

    Your credentials, sir (or madam)?

    [if you have time to argue with me, then I can only assume that you've enough free time to substantiate your claims to date]

  16. Cthulhu says:

    Wait and see.
    Goodbye.

  17. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Rumors on the internets says:

    [...] Let’s start with the latest anonymous rumor to hit the internets, shall we? Someone going by the handle of Cthulhu, who claims to be an industry insider, posted this comment on Comics212 last night: Kodansha is forming their own manga publishing biz over here and says they will no longer be licensing to Del Rey or Dark Horse or anyone else. In fact, they are aggressively cutting off the existing contracts and at least one company had to make a panicked phone call to their printer to cancel several dozen reprints. [...]

  18. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Still more on Tokyopop says:

    [...] Chris Butcher: A reorganization is considerably better than bankruptcy protection, and I know a few people who thought that was what was coming down the pipe. Which isn’t to say that it won’t, but it hasn’t, and there’s a big difference. [...]

  19. Ryan says:

    I’m not sure if the timing mentioned here is right, but I have heard similar rumblings about Kodansha. A rumor is just a rumor is just a rumor until it’s proven true, but just throwing another “Yeah, I’ve previously heard something about this once” on the pile.

    In other news, sad to see how the TP reorg is shaking out and creatives losing their job. I have a creator friend who is currently working on an amazing debut GN for them, and I’ll be really really freakin’ bummed if it gets the chop.

    -Ryan

  20. a geek by any other name » Blog Archive » Rumor Alert: Kodansha to Start Own US Manga Pub? says:

    [...] Now HERE is the most interesting rumor I’ve yet heard come out of the whole TOKYOPOP thing: in the comments of Chris Butcher’s thoughts on the matter a person going by Cthulhu who claims to be an industry insider pronounces that Kodansha is going to start its own manga publisher in the US, bypassing both Del Rey– who has benefitted greatly from their deal with Kodansha, one of the big three in Japan –and all the other US publishers. [...]

  21. Tim E says:

    Good luck to Kodansha. TP’s restructuring is more about the drop in sales than about Kodansha’s pulling titles. My perception is that KD is arriving a bit late for the dance. They can only hope that the carriage doesn’t turn into a pumpkin with one foot out the door.

  22. John Thomas says:

    I am trying to find more news on this, but no bites on my lines. Anyone heard anything more substantial than mysterious Cthulhu’s post?

  23. a geek by any other name » Blog Archive » Facepalm Alert: No Kodansha Pub In the Works…Probably says:

    [...] Kokmen apparently told DMV that he had no knowledge of any new publisher in the works from Kodansha, and that Del Rey actually had people in Japan setting up contracts through 2010 at that very moment. Now, theoretically Kodansha could still be working something up without Del Rey’s knowledge, but it does throw off the original report that Kodansha is “aggressively cutting off the[ir] existing contracts,” which kind of makes the whole thing a bit suspect. [...]

  24. Homo Sum » Blog Archive » Sunday night quick book links says:

    [...] Hope’s husband, indie comics golden boy (and former HGPA member), Bryan Lee O’Malley had an interesting rant on the TokyoPop Manga Pilot contract. Great fun to read. An even better read on the same subject though, comes from Toronto comics retailer–and former O’Malley roommate–Christopher Butcher. And, actually, he hits it again later. [...]

  25. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 4, 2008: Brian Braddock does not like Mondays says:

    [...] For sensible commentary on Tokyopop’s possible motives and business strategy, here’s Christopher Butcher (this one’s the must-read), Matt Blind and Simon Jones. [...]

  26. Tokyopop Reorganizes » Manga Worth Reading says:

    [...] 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. [...]

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