TokyoPop: In the Manga Business or the Cost Cutting Business?

TokyoPop: In the Manga Business or the Cost Cutting Business?

I’m very displeased with TokyoPop at the moment. With my recent purchases of Sgt. Frog volume 17, Gakuen Alice volume 7, and Phantom Dream volume 2 (review coming soon), I discovered that TokyoPop doesn’t appear to be in the manga business any more but rather has gone into the cost cutting business and that’s not a good sign.

When TokyoPop emerged on the manga scene, the U.S. market was pretty limited. The idea of the day was that there would be NO way American audiences would accept “backwards” Japanese-styled published books, so time and money was spent to flip these manga to a traditional American book style. For a title like Oh My Goddess, which often includes English text, flipping the art would either mean more costly art rework or to simply unflip the panel in question so as to allow the English to appear correctly. Of course this resulting in things like characters having their hair parted on different sides of their head on a single page (as an example).

TokyoPop decided that they didn’t want to get into this costly way of doing business (though I believe that they initially did do this). Instead, Stu Levy wisely decided that TokyoPop would buck conventional wisdom and publish manga in the tradition Japanese right-to-left format. Further, he would not spend money painstakingly removing Japanese sound effects from the manga pages, but would have those translated either near the original sound effect mark or as an extra at the end of the publication. Then, he allowed those translators and adapters to use Japanese honorifics and the like if they so chose. Finally, this was all marketed as “100% Authentic Manga” and brought into mainstream bookstores rather than be left in comic book shops.

It worked.

I’m sure that Dark Horse, Viz, and whomever else was publishing manga back then were amazed to see how TokyoPop shot to the top with their “backwards” published manga volumes because everyone just knew that outside of a few hardcore fans, no one would be interested in reading a book this way. Still, the numbers don’t lie and TokyoPop made a killing by keeping their costs low while expanding their customer base. It was a cost cutting measure that turned into a brilliant marketing campaign and Stu is to be congratulated for this vision.

Unfortunately, I think success went to Stu’s head because after a while, it seems that TokyoPop began to lose focus. Instead of “100% Authentic Manga” being the sole focus, TokyoPop briefly attempted licensing of anime. That failed but Stu decided that TokyoPop needed to be more hip and to get into the Original English Language “manga” (read: American comic with manga-influenced art and style). His pet project became Princess Ai, that hideous thing that is attached to Courtney Love. As I see it, Stu squandered a lot of TokyoPop’s money trying to make Princess Ai something so hip and cool with himself worshiped as well as DJ Milky — the ultra-cool DJ with the dope tracks!

So where did that leave TokyoPop as a company? Sadly, Stu’s obsession with Courtney Love caused everything else to suffer. While TokyoPop had no problems desperately attempting to create interest in Princess Ai crap, they had nothing left apparently to promote things like the Slayers light novels, or any of their other light novels for that matter. TokyoPop didn’t appear to even have anything to really push new manga titles.

With the economic downturn, TokyoPop suddenly found itself on the short end of the stick despite their cash cow, Fruits Basket. Desperate times call for desperate measures and with a drop in funds combined with TP’s waste on top of normal business expenses associated with licensing and distributing manga in the U.S., TokyoPop decided to drop several manga titles. I suppose they felt it was cheaper to just eat the licensing fees without adding the additional cost of translating and publishing those manga titles. However, TP’s desperation to cut those costs irritated fans of those manga series, especially when some of those manga series were almost at completion.

Sadly, this apparently still didn’t cut TokyoPop’s losses enough, so TokyoPop raised prices on much of their manga library. OK, we fans understand that rising costs would cause our manga to go up. However, TokyoPop needed to also cut additional expenses and that meant shifting to low-grade paper for printing purposes. As such, fans are left with poor-quality books for a higher price. Does Stu really think that manga fans will go for this? There’s a lot of negative buzz about this, not only on blogs but on forums.

Kyokun703 wrote to TokyoPop about this issue and received this response.

I understand your concern. Paper, printing, freight has increased in price over the past ten plus years we have been in business. One of our competitors announced last week that they are raising prices higher than we did. We felt in order to keep the price of our manga down, we would change paper and only incease [sic] the average price by only 1 dollar. The other paper we used has not only increased in the cost but is getting harder to get.

On Amazon.com, Associate Publisher Marco Pavia wrote this.

Thanks for the feedback – I wanted to address a few of the comments on this thread. The paper we had been using prior to the stock you’re discussing was only available from one mill, and suffice it to say, this didn’t offer us a lot of flexibility with negotiating scheduling, pricing, etc., so we’ve been exploring other options. The new paper is different, of course, as you noted – our current printer let us know that other graphic novel publishers are inquiring about and using this paper, too. Now we are in the process of gathering feedback from consumers and other partners, and I appreciate all the candid comments as we assess its future. (BTW, our cover stock has not changed – it’s still 10pt C1S – but perhaps the different paper gives it that impression.) Apropos postponing series, like all publishers, we have adjusted the release frequency of some series as we continue to analyze sales numbers and, in the case of slower-selling titles, build demand. Many publishers – not just manga and graphic novel publishers – follow a similar strategy, as we all try to make sense of the current economic climate. Alas, the retail landscape around us keeps shifting and as a result, as a small independent publisher, we need to be as responsive to these new realities as we can in order to survive – and to thrive.

Again, I do appreciate the thoughtful comments, and I just want to let you know we’re listening. I hope to have more news in the coming months. And I’ll keep reading your comments, so please keep ’em coming.

I note with a laugh that Marco tries to say that other manga publishers are using the same paper. None of my new Viz or Del Rey manga titles are using that paper. In fact, the only company I see being reported as using this paper is CMX — a company I refuse to support from day 1 for a whole host of other reasons.

Still, Marco’s presence on that discussion thread at Amazon shows that at least someone from TokyoPop is paying attention to the outcry. However, with TokyoPop’s lifeline manga, Fruits Basket, coming to an end, I expect TokyoPop’s foray into the business of cutting costs to continue except for Princess Ai, which I expect will continue to bleed TokyoPop for as long as Stu is at the helm. That’s a shame too, seeing as how TokyoPop revolutionized the manga business and showed that American could accept both unflipped manga AND manga adaptations with a Japanese perspective. Let us hope that someone will right this ship before it is too late.

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18 Responses to “TokyoPop: In the Manga Business or the Cost Cutting Business?”

  1. pissedbuddha says:

    Oh god Tokypop. Hey, remember their god awful dub of Rave Master?

    Lets see, All I’ve really gotten from them is Chibi Vampire, Elemental Galade, SGT Frog, 1 volume of Card Captor Sakura, and dot hack. Everything else is mostly from viz and del rey.

    I really haven’t supported them too much because they tend to aim for a female audience, thus they don’t really release too many things I’m interested in. Though I did sort of support the fact that they were interested in keeping a lot of things intact. They didn’t do it as well as Del Rey and Yen Press have, but still a bit better than Viz.

  2. AWYN says:

    It’s sad how low TokyoPop has sunken. They used to be a great manga company but their quality nowadays is questionable. And yes I agree that their obsession with Princess Ai went out of control. *sigh* I just wish they finish the Slayers light novels….

  3. AstroNerdBoy says:

    @Pissed — I’ve never watched “Rave Master” so I can’t say.

    As to Viz, they have improved in recent times, which is a good thing. I refused to buy anything from them for a long time.

    @AWYN — yeah, if only they’d have finished the “Slayers” novels. Well, I suppose we should be glad they finished the one story arc.

    Which reminds me, I still need to read those last two books…

  4. Tenori Taiga says:

    All the Princess Ai hype kind of steered me away from it…
    The name “Ai-Land” kind of felt like they were saying “OMG we know Japanese. LOL it means Love-Land”.

    Overall, the hype had that same feel as the book orders we used to get from 6th grade that advertised manga as “It’s cool, because it’s BACKWARDS!” =P
    I’d be curious to see if all the hype actually paid off and made Tokyopop a profit, or if it’s all just wasted effort. (I have a feeling that it will be the latter, if not already.)

    I thought it was just me going nuts, but it seems there really was a decline in the quality of the paper Tokyopop was using… (Good thing most of my series are either Del Rey or Yen Press >_>)

  5. Kiriska says:

    Hm, TP has fallen out of favor with me since all whole OEL fiasco last summer. I haven’t seen what kind of new paper they’re using, but I’d like to note that the volume of DOGS #0 I picked up by Viz a few months ago was also user lower-than-normal quality paper. I didn’t find it terrible, per se, and I can’t compare it to TP since I haven’t bought anything by TP in a good while, but yeah. Just thought it’s worth noting.

  6. AstroNerdBoy says:

    The two Viz titles I’ve been buying haven’t seen any noticeable paper quality declines from my perspective. I’m now keeping an eye open for that though.

  7. O-chan says:

    Well back in the day Tokyopop had a lot of major titles under their belt (Almost all of CLAMPs library, GTO, KareKano, Lupin III to name a few) and they did have a major hand in pushing the other companies to adapt the Japanese order model. But like Toonami, the anime golden age is over.

    Viz has their Shonen Jump line and Rumiko Takahashi line, DelRey picked up the CLAMP end of things, Dark Horse has cash cows like Oh My Goddess, Berserk, and Vampire Hunter D. But once Fruit Basket ends so does my relationship with Tokyopop (sans Kingdom Hearts and GTO Shonan Gumi) because they’ve oversaturated the manga market with crap. I’m also disappointed in how they handled the Slayers Novels because other novel series are still continuing and new companies are coming on board (Haruhi Suzumiya).

    It’s rather sad that Tokyopop just doesn’t know how to survive the manga business after having such a strong influence these last few years.

  8. Oyasumi says:

    I’ve noticed it too. I made a topic on the Tokyopop forums about the quality of Petshop of Horrors a while back. That was before I realized that all their manga series were getting downgrades to that crappy paper, too. It’s really so ridiculous, paying extra for that kind of poor quality. If they weren’t translating Petshop of Horrors and Vassalord, I wouldn’t bother with them anymore.

  9. jeff-morris says:

    Slightly off-topic: the people who do the translation for Ah! My Goddess and other Dark Horse titles are on Livejournal under “studioqt”. They have some interesting stories from time to time about translation issues, sound effects, etc.

    Other than that–how’s life? Drop me a line.

    JSM

  10. To be honest, I’ve never been particularly happy with TokyoPop. I bought Chibi Vampire volume 1 a while back, and the cover in particular is made out of low-quality paper. Now, I could also talk about how the translations aren’t as good as I’d like them to be for certain series, but I’m sure that’s just something that varies per translator, and isn’t something that is because of the overall company. However, I think Del Ray’s probably the highest quality in my book because they have one little (but very important) thing in the back of all their books: translation notes. Sometimes with titles published by other companies they try to “Americanize” the joke or anything else that may be Japanese-specific, and that’s always bothered me. Del Ray does this with School Rumble, for example, but they have notes in the back that explain the original Japanese joke or the reference or whatever it is they may be making. I could also point out the suffixes, but that also varies per translator, so… yeah.

    That’s my little soapbox. I have a tendancy to rant when I probably shouldn’t, lol.
    …Del Ray FTW.

  11. AstroNerdBoy says:

    @O-chan — I really do believe that TP’s OEL (specifically “Princess Ai”) obsession caused them to lose out on potential hot titles. Granted, Del Rey scoring the deal with Kodansha hurt, but it wasn’t an exclusive deal. TP could have done more on the manga front, but I really think they thought that people would flock to OEL stuff. That really has not happened.

    Plus you are right — their treatment of their various light novels has been atrocious from the start. Sadly, “Slayers” has the best treatment as at least there, TP went back and licensed volumes 7 & 8. However, “Scrapped Princess” was marketed as a kids line (in order to supposedly gain market share) AND an attempt was made to divorce it from anime/manga by giving it new, “blah” covers. “Full Metal Panic” isn’t likely to get more releases as I see it.

    Further, TP decided to have all these translated with a Western slant rather than retain the Japanese perspective. Apparently, those in charge at TP couldn’t make the connection that their biggest cash cow (“Fruits Basket”) has a Japanese perspective with an audience that appears to have expanded beyond the traditional anime/manga fans (my sister for example).

    Ugh.

    @Oyasumi — Yeah, I think your attitude is how most are going to go. Some people will drop TP titles over quality. Others will continue buying titles they are currently collecting and if TP doesn’t make improvements, I feel these people will not pick up any new TokyoPop manga titles.

    @Jeff — Must remember to write. *lol*

    @Radioactive Robot Show — You’re point is a good one. Del Ray bought my loyalty with “School Rumble” for just the reason you cite. TP has always left things to the translator/adapter, which is why “Phantom Dream” from Takaya-sensei (creator of “Fruits Basket”) has a Japanese perspective and “Tsubasa: Those With Wings” from Takaya-sensei has a Western perspective.

  12. Zoey says:

    I really think the OEL line was a good idea– for a while there was fear that Japanese publishers would wake up and just open an English language publishing arm, and I think OEL was a way to protect Tokyopop from utter bankruptcy if that should happen.

    Less than the idea itself, I think what killed TP (as far as OEL is concerned) is the way they did it. There was very very poor editorial control, especially on those first titles, and they seemed to be gunning for tie-ins rather than stories that could stand on their own. Not to mention, if you DID become attached to a title, very often it was cancelled without warning or explanation. They jilted their creators, they jilted their fans… Not exactly a stellar way to improve business.

    Clearly whatever innovation TP had at the beginning is gone now. It’s a crying shame that the company that got me into manga has slid so far downhill.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’ve never really liked anything TP did except for Love Hina, which, even if not a direct translation, kept it funny and just as ecchi as the original. Rave was bleh and Karin/CV was really bad yet got me hooked on the series (though fan translated instead).

    As for CMX, I don’t care for their translations (I never see many of them at stores anyway) but I like them only for publishing collections of MegaTokyo.

  14. @ Anonymous Haha, yeah, the only reason I’ve heard of CMX is because of MegaTokyo.

  15. King says:

    Well, people have to understand that in order for T-pop to release books, they have to release them at this quality and price.

    For me, I appreciate the thinner size because it means I can fit more of them on my shelf, and it’s hard to make new shelf space, so kudos to CMX as well.

    Plus, nobody seems to care about the imprint that T-pop and others have left on the forests of our planet. Nobody has used recycled paper at all. The fact that T-pop is using less paper for their books means less of a footprint on the environment.

    We all have to admit T-pop’s previous printing quality wasn’t that great either, so why are we complaining about it now? You prefer Viz’s or Del Rey’s printing quality? Please. Manga fans, you are just too selfish.

    Let’s not forget scanlations are ruining the business of these publishers and the manga-kas. Fans themselves aren’t going to make the change to buy printed books, so I think pubs should crack down on scans and eliminate them.

    You people demanded color pages, honorifics, dust jackets, and pristine white paper, I mean why don’t you just learn Japanese and buy the original? You people are way too fussy to be demanding in this economic time.

    At least T-pop is still releasing books. Why not try to follow more of their popular titles so that you know it will always be in print? You people follow them on scans anyway, so why should you care?

  16. Oliver (formerly know as King) says:

    On the “Authentic Manga Format”, some T-pop translations did not live up to that entirely. I would not hold it against them, though, seeing as how some aspects of Japanese culture are totally alien to Western audiences.

    C’mon, are Viz’s translations any better? Puh-lease! We’ve all seen the over-camp butchering of “Nana” and, in fact, T-pop’s tanslation of “Paradise Kiss” is much more acceptable.

    I wouldn’t exactly say Del Rey’s translations are completely authentic either. For example, Del Rey hires many of the translators who’ve worked on T-pop books, and the new translator for “Nodame Cantabile”(starting Vol. 12 onwards) has been edgying up the language a bit, and giving the characters this uncharacteristically ruder edge which did not exist in the previous translations.

    I’ll admit my previous post was an attack on manga fans, but it’s still true. I’ve already accepted the average print quality of all manga for all these years, so I’m not about to boycott a company trying to survive at this time. We should all be amazed that T-pop is still in business! :O

    Their new titles like “Maid-Sama!” and “Zone 0-0” look promising, and they’re certainly far more interesting than the latest Viz and Del Rey aquisitions.

    Enough T-pop blubbering aside, they could have done more to push some of those series that got cut or delayed until 2010 (Nosatsu Junkie and Suppli).

    For me, they represent the strongest Shojo arm of the market and I’d hate to see them go.

  17. AstroNerdBoy says:

    For the longest time, I refused to buy anything Viz based on how they butchered “Maison Ikkoku” and then couldn’t be consistent with “Inuyasha” (as well as publishing it flipped). With “Honey and Clover” as well as “Hayate the Combat Butler,” Viz is beginning to take a new and better approach though they could still use a translator note section.

    Down the road a bit, I should have an article to address some of your items on supporting a business though. ^_^

  18. Anonymous says:

    so it may sound funny, but is there anyway for tokyopop to give up the rights to the manga’s that it has “discontinued?” I for one would love to finish the getbackers series… and slayers. If a diffent company was willing to buy them? is this even possible? I will never start a series from a company that has made me wait so long to find out what will happen next in the story. I think what tokypop is doing is ultimately going to send them under. I alone have bought the first 27 getbackers for 10$ each (9.99) that’s 270 dollars and i don’t get to finish the story!! it’s rediculous!!! i would pay twice that if it came from a different publisher!

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