Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 1, 2009

More On Kodansha Severing All Business, Licensing Ties With Tokyopop

As usual, Simon Jones has what seems to be a perceptive take on yesterday's huge story about Asian publishing giant Kodansha ending its licensing arrangements with Tokyopop, arguing that the lack of explanation cited by the North American (mostly) translated manga company may just be a form of politeness after an extended period of frustration with how the titles were executed into the western bookstore markets.

imageSomething Jones seems that much more certain about is that the interruption of several series mid-run is a generally bad thing, particularly when it's not the result of massive and unavoidable financial turmoil. David Welsh has a list of titles that may feel the impact of the move, while Deb Aoki breaks things down into series that are now interrupted, series that have already been picked up and replanted elsewhere, and series that are now simply out of print. That interrupted series list includes a number of "name" manga series such as Shuichi Shigeno's Initial D. Nearly every major commentator on manga weighed in, such as Katherine Dacey and Alex Hoffman.

I think there are three basic issues to track here. The first is what exactly this ends up doing to Tokyopop, which I think maybe no one talked about out loud right away upon yesterday's news out of a sort of respect for having just watching someone get hit in the stomach by a small truck. There is some analysis and information today, however. This interview with Tokyopop Marketing Manager Kasia Piekarz seem a perfect encapsulation of the "they'll make it through" argument: they'd been expecting this for a while now, they'd shifted emphasis to the properties, they only regret losing some of the licenses that were near completion because that's bad for the fans, and so on. Other arguments supporting this point of view is the observation that some longstanding Tokyopop licenses had slipped to other publishers already -- such as those getting the omnibus treatment from Dark Horse -- the qualification that recent license announcement from the publisher had mostly avoided Kodansha material, and an argument that some of the series seemed on hiatus long before this Kodansha-enforced hiatus.

Of the two other issues, the second is whether this has consequences in terms of Kodansha entering the English-language-translated manga market itself, and to what degree it has an impact -- I mean, I assume it would have some impact for obvious reasons, but if all of its other licensing relationships remain intact and it looks like they will, that's something different than all of the licenses being assembled. (Also: they have a distributor.) The third, and I wonder if this will be discussed in something more than oblique terms, but as Simon Jones suggests, series ending or even being delayed midstream might be a potentially troubling thing for the manga market generally, as might a switch in publishers if certain consumer habits are locked in. It's not the super-healthiest expression of comics, if only according to the ridiculously high standards of its recent, best successes, and I think these kind of general moves have a bigger impact than many people think particularly among those that don't follow the Inside Baseball aspects of an entertainment industry.

thanks to David Welsh for answering a couple of e-mailed questions
posted 4:20 pm PST | Permalink

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