Looking at Tokyopop (Again?)

Looking at Tokyopop (Again?)

The following article originally appeared at Mangapunk.com on 31 August 2006.

I was reading an interview of Stuart Levy, CEO of Tokyopop, over at Publishersweekly.com and found some interesting and telling comments in the interview amidst the positive PR speak.

“It’s a wonderful book called Parasyte. It’s one of the first books we ever published. But there’s a problem. We published it early on and our rights expired last year. It didn’t sell in the States at all.”

“One of our guys recommended Sailor Moon. It was fortunate that I didn’t say no and thankfully that was the one that got us into a position to build a market.”

I find this interesting because Tokyopop always seems to pride themselves on how much they understand teenage girls and the teenage market. In actuality they had a more shotgun approach originally and they just tried to find a hit with a scattering of different genres and stories. That does show an important lesson that if you want to be commercially successful you shouldn’t pin yourself down to just one product, you should diversify. Yes it’s a risk, but in this case it’s obvious the risk has paid off. But now that they struck lucky once with establishing the shojo market in the US, they seem content to rest on their laurels and not going exploring again.

“But the next challenge is how to get to young boys, because I’m cool with the young girls. I’ve got no complaints. They’re really smart, they know the topics and they appreciate the characters. But we’ve got to get the crazy boys. Boys are reading manga but not to the degree of girls. It’s still typically 60% to 70% girls.”

As I said, Tokyopop isn’t currently into exploring, this actually proves it more. Viz is the company that started Shonen Jump and started get the “young boys” market going in the US. Now that Viz has shown there is a market for such things, it’s only logical for other companies like Tokyopop to follow. But that’s not innovation, a sign of a leader, that’s just following trends.

“My original dream was always to make films. I thought I could be a bridge between Hollywood and Asia, especially Japan. Manga’s so exciting it’s like watching a movie while you read it. When your dream is to make films, you learn early on that if you’re going to make it in Hollywood, you’ve got to have something that other people don’t have.”

“The rights to IP in Japan are more fragmented and that can stop a title from being cleared in a way that it could be turned into a Hollywood picture.”

Now this point is interesting because of how it perhaps shows the thoughts behind why they’re doing American manga. I’ll touch on that after another quote below. What is also interesting is that this is a common tactic that American comics are also trying to do, using Hollywood money to be a financial success. While that may be fine from a business standpoint, I think that it’s disrespectful to manga and comics. Comics and manga are their own medium of entertainment and is just as valid as film. Yes film makes more money, but that’s because it’s more “mainstream” so it’s more of a habit for people to go to movies than it is for them to buy a comic. A true innovator wouldn’t chase after the money, but find a way to bring the money to them. Why bow to Hollywood because people are more trained to go to movies? Why not break them of their programming and show them the beauty and value of manga/comics. If they still prefer movies, that’s fine, but at least you tried and just didn’t followed the path of least resistance in some quest to make money. That at the very least is the “punk” thing to do.

“And just so the whole world knows, we are deficit financing this whole thing. What that means is that we have not made a dime on this initiative because it’s expensive to create content from scratch. We’re doing this because I believe in this group of creators. I believe in this generation. Even if people say there is no existing market, I still believe the market potential and audience is absolutely there. This is an investment, and unless we run out of money, we’re not stopping.”

I find this interesting because it raises several questions about American manga. Is Tokyopop paying the creators too much without first figuring out how much they can afford to pay a creator based on the profitability of the book? If you only make $2 a book and sell only 20,000, and you already paid the creator $40k, then oops, there’s no profit. It also raises the question, is the price point of an unknown creator too much? For a comic book, $3 for a 22 page story isn’t that much of an investment if the story turns out to suck. A 160 page book at $10 is a bit more of an investment of time and money to consider if you don’t know it sucks. Maybe Tokyopop should have a regular running anthology, so they could get a gauge on what new story is popular. Yes I know they do the Rising Stars of Manga books, but those never have the same artists in them, so they only really gets one snapshot of what people think about the creators. An anthology would give more data to work with and to hedge their bets, they could put Japanese work in there too (also a good way to test lesser known Japanese titles).

But going back to the comment about Tokyopop making movies helps explain why they’re doing original manga. If their hit Japanese titles are too difficult to get made into movies, what would be the next step? Why make titles that you own the rights to? That’s right, the original manga program is a way to make original properties that can be used in other media. Just look at all the stuff they’ve done with Princess AI: toys, t-shirts, etc.

“I was a music fanatic; really a music snob—I broke up with a girlfriend because I caught her listening to Phil Collins [laughter]. I was a big music geek and I loved film.”

“I call myself a DJ–a good DJ remixes, samples, creates and sometimes simply plays other people’s stuff, passively introducing cool shit. Other times you’re making your own stuff from scratch. That’s who I am. ”

Just a wild guess, but I think that Stuart Levy is DJ Milky.

— David Doub, A-Kon Gaming Division Head

Editor’s Note: The quoted interview with Stuart Levy was originally posted here but is no longer available.