“One of the things I most hate to see on manga-related forums are comments like, “I’m interested in this series, but I don’t know if they’re going to cancel it, so I’ll wait a bit and see if it continues.”

“You know what practically GUARANTEES that something will get dropped from publication? Not putting your money where your mouth is and picking up volume 1.

“This sounds snarky, and I know everyone has to prioritize his or her budget, especially in tight times, but seriously—this is a business that relies heavily on perceived demand, and how do we know there’s a demand for a title if no one is picking it up?  I think there’s an idea in the fandom that the manga market is a lot bigger than it actually is, and if you pass on a volume for now, enough people will still buy it that it’ll stick around for a while. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the case–Manga is a hit-driven business, and most series only get one chance to get out there and succeed.”

- Tokyopop Representative “TPHENSHU” on the realities of manga publishing

Someone named “TPHENSHU” on the Tokyopop website addresses the question of why certain series “go on hiatus”, by turning the practice around and blaming it on the fans.

See, here’s the thing. The rest of that article (http://www.tokyopop.com/TPHenshu/tp_article/3180353.html) is actually a really straight-forward, plainly spoken explanation of how book publication, distribution, and sales works. It’s a smart explanation, and incredibly helpful. Some of the finer points are disagreeable to me personally (particularly the enthusiasm for print-on-demand, though that at least is somewhat tempered by describing it as an ‘emerging’ technology) but at the core of the article is a very real problem; the combatative attitude between this Tokyopop employee–and really Tokyopop in general–and their fans. You don’t start off an answer to a frequently asked question on your website by complaining about your customers. You don’t do any one of dozens of weird aggressive things Tokyopop has done over the past 10 years or so (running Sailor Moon in the same magazine as Parasyte? Really?), but that’s a big one.

And the thing is I don’t disagree with the frustration expressed by the TP staffer. Standing behind the counter at the store, it can be brutal to hear customers say things like “I really like that series but I’m not going to buy it because they might drop it half way through.” Hell, it’s even more angering to hear a customer (or potential customer) say “I’m not going to buy that because I already read it online.” But if I responded to such comments with, say, “People like you saying things like that is what’s killing manga!” I would get creeped-out, blank looks as the once-potential-customers backed out of the store, never to return.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is unacceptable.

If you want to be “that guy” who attempts to treat every uninformed statement by a potential customer as a “teachable moment,” go ahead. His name is Jeff Anderson. (Admittedly I do pick my battles on this front, only engaging folks on the subject of piracy who, after saying something dumb, twig to the fact that saying something like that out loud was at least slightly socially inappropriate in a store dedicated to selling such material.)

But look at the history of manga publishing in North America and you can see it’s filled with unexpected and unfair treatment of customers, particularly in regards to series dropped in the middle of runs. Even putting aside the incredibly poor business decision of randomly insulting your customers, how can you really blame anyone who’s had their heart broken when it comes to a favourite manga series for being cautious on future series? A reader who has 14 volumes of a never-to-be-completed 26 volume series looks at those books on their shelf and feels personally and financially betrayed, a loss of hundreds of dollars, dozens of hours, all from a company who won’t even acknowledge the fact that they’re cancelling the series publicly, or the reasons for it. Manga publishers’ behaviour regarding series cancellation (“going on hiatus”), and Tokyopop’s in particular, have been absolutely abhorrent. For them to criticize their fans for ill feelings that they created?

Poor form.

- Christopher


22 Comments on “How To Buy Manga: RIGHT NOW”

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  1. Daniella Orihuela-Gruber says:

    Perhaps commenting on this matter is a little untoward of me, considering Tokyopop does employ me somewhat, but a lot of their series that are on hiatus are really not canceled at all.
    But I can speak about this because I’ve worked on a number of titles that the company has resurrected. Yesterday I completed work a volume of one series that’s been on hiatus for three whole years. It’ll be on sale in May.
    I can’t really speak for their customer service or attitude as a publisher considering I’m just a freelancer for them. If I were a manga publisher, I’d try to be much more clear to fans about the status of my titles. At least here TP is being totally honest. Even if they are snarky and a bit rude in tone, this is probably the 100,000th time they’ve addressed these questions.

  2. Matthew Murray says:

    I actually really liked Sailor Moon and Parasyte in the same magazine. I might have bought that first issue for Sailor Moon, but I kept buying it in part for that weird semi horror comic : )

  3. Chris says:

    Daniella- I’m happy that they’re addressing them. I find the completely and utter lack of communication from their fellow publishers maddening. But it is their “selective” communications on this and other issues that bother me. If Tokyopop was gonna tell it like it is about cancelled books or books on hiatus, fine, I understand. But they don’t, they play coy, make no public statements, and then turn on the fans for behaviour they helped to create. It’s aggravating.

    Also Daniella, I just wanted to make it clear that I appreciate you commenting here, and for helping to illuminate the discussion. :)

    Matthew- You are a weirdo. Me too, admittedly, but ours is not a terribly profitable demographic. :)

    - Christopher

  4. CrispyF says:

    Hmm. I just wish that the publishers were a bit more honest in the answers that they give when fielding questions regarding “hiatus” titles. If the last one sold poorly, tell us the sales figures – say how many more you needed to shift to get a print run on the next volume approved. Tell us the numbers! Internet savvy customers like the graphs and the numbers and the “240 more pre-orders and we’ll do another print run of Eden volume 8″. We love that sort of stuff.

    Anyway, enough ranting into the void. We’ll soon be having all this stuff downloaded directly into our brains via a floating robotic dolphin anyway, but I will keep on buying the printed media while I can.

  5. Daniella Orihuela-Gruber says:

    Thanks, Chris.

    I think perhaps it all comes down to another point TPhenshu made: publishers don’t want to come out and say whether manga is on hiatus or canceled because it makes them lose face with the Japanese rights holders and fans.

    Is it ethical to treat your customers and business partners like that? No, but perhaps this article is a step to show they’re not trying to hide everything from fans (just a slightly awkward one.)

  6. LillianDP says:

    Sigh… You’ve, of course, got a very valid point about selective communications, and TP’s ever-shifting attitude towards its fanbase. We’ve always seemed kind of conflicted on just how “open” and “fan-friendly” we want to be. But yeah, antagonizing the customer base is never a wise idea.

    As the author of the article, I was aware that it would come across as blaming the customer to some extent, although I intended the take-away to be at least somewhat empowering (well, as empowering as consumerism can be…). If it read as the intro to a cranky opinion piece rather than an FAQ, I’ll own that, because to be honest, I did want to push people a little. Most of the audience who I figured would read this via our newsblast or facebook has likely missed out on all of the excellent industry commentary that I’ve seen circulate in the blogosphere over the years, and I wanted to get them to sit up and pay attention. And part of the rationale behind that intro was to make it clear that it wasn’t scan-apologists, or the poor folks who have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars collecting manga over the years who I was looking to reach—I just honestly wonder if there isn’t a particular segment of the fanbase who have never thought about things this way and have no sense of how their decisions can affect the continuation of series they care about. (The initial comments indicated that I’m not entirely off-base about this.) So I deliberately tried to impart a sense of urgency to people who may have been sitting on the sidelines.

    Fans shouldn’t have to take Manga Industry 101 or anything (aside from this series of articles, I generally try to avoid your above-mentioned “teachable moments,” because they rapidly become endless), and I debated tempering my intro with some sort of disclaimer, or at least an acknowledgment that there are a wide variety of factors that go into a title failing to perform (plenty of which have to do with decisions made on our side of the equation). But that would have opened the door to a discussion of licensor relations, company priorities, and even what marketing means in the context of the North American manga industry, and that started to go above and beyond what I really wanted to express—which is that active fan support makes a difference in whether a series succeeds. We’ve certainly screwed up plenty over the years, but we don’t make the decision to switch around our publishing schedule in a vacuum, or out of whimsy or cruelty. Those fans who post on our facebook page or who email us with queries may have little direct control over internal company decisions, but they absolutely can positively influence things through how they spend their money, and if I didn’t present that in an appropriately dignified way as a company spokesperson, well… It’s been a long week.

  7. The business end says:

    [...] of those brick-an-mortar retailers, Christopher (Comics212) Butcher, appreciated Tokyopop’s frankness but questioned the tone: Some of the finer points are [...]

  8. Xenos says:

    Glad to see people talking about what awful mistakes as a publisher TokyoPop has made. I sent this to my roommate. He was complaining the other day about how they’re six our of like fourteen volumes in a series called Aria. He just said how TokyoPop never says they’ve dropped a series. They keep stringing customers along by saying it’s on hiatus. Actually, he also said a couple of their novel series like Scrapped Princess and Crest of the Stars burnt him.

    I said I’m not surprised since their sham of a president is more interested in making OEL manga, movies from the OEL manga he wrote under a pen name, and making a reality show starring (surprise!) himself and a bunch of brainwashed fans. Seriously, it’s more like the cult of ScienAmeriManga than a publisher. I feel bad for anyone who still has any interest in anything TokyoPop is putting out now. Glad all the series I had interest in are all done. I just picked up one recently on a whim (the wonderfully awful exploitation manga Quaser of Stigmata) but I’m not invested in it. I almost got Hetalia, as female friends love it and it’s also horribly offensive, but they said the translation was poor. (They read Japanese and have the original Japanese editions.) Even I noticed pixelation in the artwork. There’s no excuse for that, especially on such a popular title. They think the name will sell itself? Sadly even with such poor quality control, it has.

  9. Manga Links Worth Thinking About » Manga Worth Reading says:

    [...] when many of them have been burnt before by having a favorite series canceled mid-run … as Christopher Butcher points out … is somewhat argumentative and [...]

  10. animemiz says:

    Hmm.. I definitely don’t mind this post as a good response at all to the post made by Tokyopop. One thing I can point out to Daniella’s comment.

    Three years.. >_< That's still great, if fans haven't forgotten about the title. One of the things I always am interested by Kinokuniya, is whether or not they have the volumes before or after of a series. That way, if a customer wants to purchase a series, better to have a complete series, rather than miscellaneous volumes.

  11. vernon wiley says:

    Publishers are indeed a fickle lot. Lately I hear about DC/Marvel cancellations from my customers that have read about them on the web. You’d think they’d send me an email or include it as part of the weekly newsletter they send every week as I am their customer, a comic shop retailer, but no, I have to hear it from the fans glued to the internet first. As a consumer, with the monthly sales of periodicals from American comics, you can check to see how well they’re fairing to sort of tell in advance when something is on the chopping block. I’m not a sure that a series from Japan with relatively low reprint costs and a finite ending already known, would leave fans hanging. Seems like bad business. But their American counterparts are no better. Lack of spreading the word about good titles as opposed to the endless feeds we hear about their 100 issue crossover events seems counterproductive, and inexplicable. Although I doubt it’ll happen, publishers really need to put themselves in the same seat as their readers once in a while to see actually how frustrating being one of their customers is at times.

  12. Shaun Rowland says:

    I have read both articles, and I am not sure exactly how to feel about them. My making a comment is unusual I think as I don’t really participate much online with respect to the manga I enjoy. By “not much” I mean virtually never. I follow some RSS feeds, but that’s about it. I am lacking in “spreading the word”, but I participate by making purchases. I doubt that I am Tokyopop’s target demographic at all (or anyone’s possibly). 99% of the comics I do read are manga. This started from my interest in anime. I’ve been buying manga for about 5 years. I have 442 volumes, of which I’ve read 69.05% (35.71% is from Tokyopop – I know this because I had to write a web application to track what I needed to buy next). I don’t know if that is a little or a lot. My purchases have slowed somewhat recently, but they are picking up again. I also don’t wait to buy anything I find interesting, and I know not everyone can do that sort of thing. I also have very strong feelings about respecting copyright, yet I can totally understand the love some of us have for the characters and stories. That might be a small stretch for some of the titles I own, but not at all for many. Some people might view this as a silly love of entertainment, but I really do think that I feel something for the characters that I love. Somehow I always feel I am being too serious when I say such things :-)

    I appreciate the article written by LillianDP because it gives me a view of how hard it is to publish. Today I’ve read a number of articles about this subject in fact. Given the realities of publishing (which I only know second hand of course), I can understand the feeling a publisher has (or anyone who sells manga) when they hear that someone is going to wait to see that a series is not dropped. Yet you can bet that I understand how it feels as a customer when something is dropped. I have to weigh the realities against what seems to me to be an insane business reality – that being having customers who are hesitant to even buy something they might want due to the fear it will be dropped before they can finish the story. Is that not critical? Why else would I be buying a title? Would this be changed with better communication despite the risk of losing “face with licensors in Japan”? I really don’t know, but I would rather know something has no chance of being continued, or for the industry to come up with some other less risky way for me to give it money, and hopefully not trap me into using one type of device or not allowing me to own my copy with no risk of it disappearing due to some other business reality – though the impossible dream that may be.

    I don’t feel quite as strongly about what was said in the Tokyopop article with respect to the idea they are blaming the customer. That doesn’t mean the idea seems at all like it should be the way things work. Not even close. It doesn’t sit well with me at least on some level, but I don’t believe that was the real intention. It seems like a reality in the business of bringing us the things we love though, and I think that is unfortunate. For now I’ll continue to support the industry by immediately buying whatever I find interesting, but I would do that anyway.

  13. Erica Friedman says:

    LilianDP – I thought your editorial was *just fine.* I’ve said the same things, I’ve discussed the various complicating factors about the market (promotion, publication, distribution, sales, licensing) over and over on Okazu. The direct market forces the responsibility to keep a book in print on the readers of that book – and the Direct Market was never designed for manga.

    Our industry is a bundle of incredibly complicated layers, many of which are a moving target. Fans want simple answers to issues that have dozens of complicating factors, so when they can’t get that simple answer without taking an advanced course in business, they fall back on “Blame the publisher.” It’s simple and everyone can agree that everything is Tokyopop’s fault. ^_^

    I don’t think you took a particularly antagonistic tone. The facts you presented are dictated by the market manga entered. Obviously, if we, the manga publishers could band together to create new, standardized universal distribution methods, that’s be awesome…but it’s not realistic at this time.

    Book stores are closing, direct market was designed for monthly pamphlet comic distribution, and manga is neither “a book” nor “a comic.” It’s not unreasonable to ask fans over the age of 12 to grok that it’s not as simple as >this one thing.<

  14. Brian Hibbs says:

    Jeff Albertson, Chris, not “Anderson”.

    Worst. Memory. Ever.

    -B

  15. Best Action Figures of 2009 - Linkarama@Newsarama says:

    [...] not to sell manga: Christopher Butcher chastises someone from Tokyopop for seemingly blaming their customers for noting that plenty of manga series that get translated and published for U.S. markets don’t [...]

  16. geri-chan says:

    Thank you so much for saying exactly what I’ve been thinking! While I understand where Lillian is coming from, I did take offense to the article because I spend hundreds of dollars on manga each year, and offhand I can count at least a dozen canceled or on-hiatus Tokyopop series on my shelves, so it’s not like I haven’t been doing my part to support them. One or two canceled series I’ll chalk up to bad luck, but burn me a dozen times and yeah, I’m going to be leery about investing in another series that might or might not be canceled. (In comparison, none of the Viz titles that I read have gone on hiatus unless it was due to something like the manga-ka taking a leave of absence for health reasons.)

    Daniella said: “…but a lot of their series that are on hiatus are really not canceled at all.”

    The thing is, if Tokyopop doesn’t tell us what their status is, most people will assume that a title has been canceled if they don’t see a new volume in over a year. I assumed that the Slayers novel series was canceled at #6, but I just found out on another blog that 7 and 8 were published more than 2 years later, but by that time I had stopped looking for them, so Tokyopop lost out on the money I would have spent.

    I have a very limited knowledge of how the publishing industry works, but it seems to me that Tokyopop is doing the fans and itself a disservice by not being more open about whether a series is on hiatus. If selling X number of copies would save a series, there are many fan groups that would probably be happy to organize an online campaign to get sales up. Announcing that a series is on hiatus might cause the publisher to “lose face,” but aren’t they also losing face when a series is selling 0 copies because it’s indefinitely (though unofficially) on hiatus?

  17. R5 says:

    Could the very attitude about not wanting to buy a series that might get canceled be a clue to one of the reasons for the wider decline of manga since the sales boom of the early 2000s?

    The desire to collect and display a series on a shelf as an ego-fetish or a sign of loyalty or fandom identification was always present. However, the attitude you mention seems to suggest a lot of people now care more about owning a series than reading the story.

  18. raerae says:

    I can say that TP’s way of handling things in general really turns be off to a lot of their titles. I can’t even get excited about their shorter titles, because I’d STILL like to get my hands on the third and last volume of Under the Glass Moon.

    And putting the blame on the fans and customers? Yeah, not the best way to encourage someone to purchase from you when they’re already disappointed with the company. Everyone has a bad day, but maintaining a professional outlook is important.

  19. San says:

    I’m the same as geri-chan with this. I started Slayers, Petshop of Horrors, Getbackers, Under the Glass Moon and more. When, or if I see a new one, I get it. But they are so few and far between I usually stop looking and see it by chance.

    I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on multiple series TP has released that I don’t know if they’re on hiatus, or if they’re canceled. At this point, many of them have been on my shelves for years and I’ve just stopped looking for another volume. I’m leery of starting up new series that TP has that I’ve wanted to get my hands on because I just don’t know if they’re going to ever be finished. Instead, I buy things that other publishers release. Why? Because they have a better track record of letting people know what’s going on and for actually completing a series that they license.

    I have Under the Glass Moon as well, it’s a 3 volume series and the third has still not been released after years of being on either hiatus or being dropped. I still don’t know which. Genju no Seiza is another that I don’t know what’s going on with it. We went two years without a release after volume 7 in 2008, volume 8 was released in 2010. It’s a 14 volume series, I have the 8 that have been released, but really? I’m not sure it’ll be finished or not, and I really love that series. I dont want another GetBackers fiasco. Another example? I had started buying the original Petshop of Horrors series and hadn’t yet gotten them all before TP started releasing the sequel Petshop of Horrors: Tokyo. When I went to finish the first series and start getting the second, I find out I can’t. Why? Because TP stopped printing the first series after it started printing the second series. So I haven’t gotten Petshop of Horrors: Tokyo, even though I want to. I know many people who haven’t gotten the second series for the same reason – that they can no longer purchase the first. Can you really blame us for that? The industry is unstable, yes. But poor marketing strategies attribute to it just as much as customer loyalty/disloyalty.

    As for people saying they won’t get a series because they read it online? Those are usually teenagers who don’t have money other than their parents to being with. I read/watch a lot of things online myself, but I DO go out and buy it when it’s released over here. As long as I know if it’s actually going to be completed at some point and I’m not throwing my money away. The economy sucks right now, plain and simple, and people are NOT going to spend their hard-earned money on a comic series when they don’t know what’s going to happen to it down the line. TP has a horrible track record of not finishing series half-way through, or releasing a final volume even. If you want people to buy them, then give us updates and don’t leave us in the dark. You’ll see better sales that way.

    And I think my rant is done, yes. x_x

  20. Chris says:

    The main issue for me, and I guess this wasn’t clear (though at least no one called me out on it!) wasn’t that Lillian was wrong, or even overly harsh. She was 100% right, and I have been MUCH meaner to fans here on the site. But it was here, on my personal site.

    My problem was this was presented as Tokyopop’s official stance, in a section labeled “FAQ”. It was unprofessional given the context of where and how it was presented. I’m internet-famous and I put my name on my stuff and so I’m held to a higher standard than some anonymous troll, but Tokyopop is held to a higher standard because they’re a publisher and gatekeeper for this material and this culture. This isn’t new or surprising to anyone.

    The one thing I would’ve expanded on is the last few sentences, outlining Tokyopop’s history of being uncommunicative with regards to cancellations, series going on hiatus, etc. Because ultimately that’s what creates the behaviour that is legitimately problematic for publishers, waiting until a series is complete before picking it up.

    As I wrote, it’s a smart article, but badly presented given its context.

    - Christopher

  21. Casey says:

    I know that “Under A Glass Moon” was discontinued by the original creator before a third volume could be compiled, so clearly no sane man would blame TOKYOPOP for its cancellation.

  22. San says:

    I haven’t seen anything about the original creator canceling the series, since most sites list that there are three. If that’s what happened, then it seems a lot of people are unaware of it since many seem not to know.

    Besides, I’m hardly blaming TokyoPop for it’s cancellation, I’m blaming them for not ANNOUNCING anything about what is going on with most of the series that they license. They leave people guessing, especially with the older series. As I stated, there have been multiple series that have just stopped being translated/printed that ARE complete, it was hardly just that one.

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