Tokyopop Returns–But Does Anyone Care? Can They Make a Comeback?

Posted on January 24th, 2013 by Ryu Sheng |

I’ve been following the Tokyopop news with interest, but find myself wondering if anyone really cares that they’re returning.

Personally, TP have burnt me to many times in the past for me to take this rebirth seriously, or to care all that much. I find myself being rather apathetic towards the news for several reasons. Firstly, at the Anime 2013 Panel they brought out the age old ‘it was scanlations fault’ for things going south, Stu Levy is still in control which is another factor against them. And finally despite all the evidence, he refuses to accept responsibility for his own actions.

So why did Tokyopop fail? In truth it wasn’t any single factor, rather a culmination of things that led to it’s demise. Some were their own fault, others were (in my view) industry wide issues, and yes some were caused by us the fans. Lets take a look at these issues one by one:

One of the biggest issues that led to it’s fall is a problem with the way the publishing industry seems to work. and frankly , if I’ve understood this right, it was this factor that was one of, if not the, largest contributing factor.

When publishers release books and sell them to the books stores, however it doesn’t seem to be a proper sale. All of the books are sold on a ‘sale or return’ basis. this essentially means that stores can buy huge volumes of books without risks. They stockpile loads of volumes, keep them until they decide they no longer need them and then return them for a refund, usually in a unsellable condition. This is a stupid option for publishers and should really be removed. So what if it was, what would the effects be?

the only really effect would be that stores would try and be more precise in their purchasing. Granted as a side effect we the fans would find stores more frequently out of stock of manga, and have to wait for new supplies. However if stores do their job properly and learn their customer base properly, this would fast settle down.

The Fans, yes we as fans have to hold our hands up and say we were partly at fault, for several reasons.

Firstly we demand the highest quality, at the lowest cost, and when we don’t get it we don’t buy. This self entitled attitude sadly plagues many areas (gamers being the worst). However as fans we have to get it under control and understand that if we want manga cheaply, we’re going to have to take a hit in the physical quality of the books. Conversely if we want the highest quality releases, then we’re going to have to pay the extra for it. I’ve don’t this for several titles, and i don’t have a problem with paying the extra for a good quality release.

Unfortunately the other aspect comes in here. when we don’t get the high quality cheap release we demand, we turn to scanlations. Scanlations are not the ultimate evil of manga publishers, but they do play a part. If you love a series as a scanlation, follow it for it’s entirety, but don’t buy the manga when it’s released; then your part of the problem. That’s it, plain and simple, if you like a series so much you follow it for 20+ volumes as a scanlation, show your loyalty to the manga-ka by buying it when it licensed in your area.

Scan groups are also partly to blame as well, they also have a self entitled arrogance going on that causes problems. As someone who has both collected scans and been in a scan group I’ve seen this first hand. When a series is picked up groups refuse to stop scanning them, and instead find excuses to justify what they do.  This is to big a topic to really cover here, since it would go off the original topic, i May do a follow up on scanlations at a later date.

Tokyopop themselves. Finally we get to Tokyopop themselves and the role they played in their own demise.

Before we go into this, i have to say that i did honestly love Tokyopop for a long time. some of my favourite series over the years came from them. I didn’t just wake up one morning hating them, rather it was a process that started slowly, but became faster and faster as time went by.

So, where to begin. Tokyopop actually did a lot of good for manga, they basically set the standard when it came to the size of the volumes, as well not flipping titles, and yes, even including honorifics in titles.

However they had a number of problems that frankly were never addressed. for me the biggest issue came from the huge inconsistencies in the way they translated titles. One of the worst examples of this was a series called Psychic Academy. I’m not sure they even really translated it, rather just created an entire new script for it that only loosely followed the original. Initial D is another prime example of Tokyopop’s cavalier attitude to translation. this time round they changed several core elements and changed names, not to mention over americanised  the releases.

When challenged on this they stated it was for several reasons, they were deliberately rewriting it because they were targeting the series to a younger demographic than it was original aimed at. They also claimed that by doing this they could bring the series to a wider audience, without seeming to consider the effect such editing would have on the original target audience. I didn’t pick up Initial D because i hate re3ading rewritten stuff, and i know a lot of others who did the same. Turning a mature manga into a kiddie manga is of course going to anger the mature fans.

Then there were the titles that just got abandoned part way. For me it was Chronicles of the Cursed Sword, a series Tokyopop released over twenty volumes, then decided it wasn’t a good seller and dropped it. Dropping unprofitable titles isn’t the issue, in fact i think it’s right, better to drop them and put the money and resources to better use than continue to publish a title that doesn’t sell. However the way Tokyopop did it was publish a series that (on the surface) was a fair seller for twenty two volumes, building up the fan base. They even went back and did a three volume collection, then threw the fans away by just dropping the title. This was a big slap to the face for me, and i started to stop buying titles on spec from Tokyopop.

This attitude permeated other parts of Tokyopop as well, such as their light novel line up. they frequently licensed titles but only partially released them. they then wondered why people started to stop buying new releases, and blamed scanlations. Publishing manga, more so than any other medium, requires trust between the publisher and the fans. Trust that the publisher will handle the releases well, and release a series in it’s entirety, where as publishers trust the fans to buy their releases. If fans can’t trust the publisher then they wont buy it’s releases. Sadly that’s the relationship that many people had with Tokyopop.

Finally, we have (in my view) the devil himself, Stu Levy. On the one hand I’m grateful for all he’s done for manga, but at the same time he’s also done the most to harm the industry. His fixation on Princess Ai for example has a lot to do with the collapse of Tokyopop. all that money wasted on a IP he claimed was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but never really sold. that money could have been better used to bolster the company. Then we have his general attitude when the company closed down last year, although it was expected it was handled rather quickly. Very little time was given for fans to get any material they might want from the site, which was a issue since they’d essentially built the TP website into a social hub, this again showed a cavalier disregard towards the fans. Now, in it’s return, Stu says they didn’t really close down, which i have to laugh at. they sold off all their stock and either sold or relinquished their licenses, and fired all the staff; If that’s not closed down then I’m not sure what is.

This to me says that Stu is still going to be blaming everything but his own actions for things that happen, and have happened.

They also had a serious attitude problem with the stores they worked with. Here in the UK they joined forces with Waterstones, the largest bookstore chain in the UK. they did a sort of mini convention, where they would go to the stores and hold events giving away consoles and manga. However, the staff running these events had a huge attitude problem, and frequently went off the deep end at the store staff for stocking titles imported from america, rather than from the UK branch. They frequently disregarded the fact that some titles could only be completed by importing volumes from america. Magical X Miracle for example, only the first two volumes were officially released in the UK; the rest had to be imported.

The other factor that contributed to their fall was the lack of a selling point. Most publishers have a title or two that is their cash cow. Viz has Bleach and Naruto, DMP has Vampire Hunter D, for example, both of which had both strong anime and manga franchise.. Tokyopop only ever really had Fruits Basket, and after that ended that was that. they failed to cash in on some of their other titles, such as Full Metal Panic, nor did they ever get a series to replace Fruits Basket. They need to find a series that they can work with, Cardfighter Vanguard for example, TCG, long anime and a manga. Lots of potential in series like that, if it’s done right.

So could Tokyopop really turn it around and return to take the crown as king of manga? It’s not impossible, but they need to have Stu move aside. At the moment he’s the focus of a lot of anger, if he steps aside and lets someone else take the reigns they can focus on re-establishing their presence. Next they need to focus on one particular area, rather than jumping in with manga, manhua, OEL and novels, pick one area and focus on it. Once established then you spread your wings.

They need to take it slowly, look at the titles they license, the first batch of releases will have a huge impact on their future. If they pick a set of good series they have a good chance to make a come back; if they pick wrong that’ll be it, they’ll be dead in the water. 

Finally they need to drop that crappy merchandise store, stop selling tat and focus on releasing quality manga. everything else comes as secondary. Fact is no one really wants to buy merchandise of a failed publisher unless it’s on sale.

Either way it’s going to be very hard for them to make a true return given their history and the animosity that remains. however if they succeed they stand a good chance of becoming a big success, though personally it will have to be an amazing series to make me give any money to them.

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