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Robert Boyd on Tokyopop’s Future
posted May 3, 2005

Robert Boyd
Via the Internet

You're right when you write "While Tokyopop's success is legitimate and almost publishing legend at this point, I have a hunch it's a mistake to think that the company has settled all the way into a long-term publishing groove. The next few years could potentially be very interesting, if only for the sum total of smaller moves and shifts in points of emphasis." I agree, but I think Tokyopop is going to evolve in unpredictable ways because it has no choice.

Up to now, the model for Tokyopop has been continuous growth to feed an insatiable desire for the kinds of books they produce. Nice work if you can get it! But that's basically over with for a variety of reasons. First, demand isn't growing as fast it was, apparently. Second, their competition is better than it was. I'm particularly thinking of Del Rey and Viz. Del Rey has used its clout as an imprint of America's largest publisher combined with the market savvy of ex-Viz sales head Dallas Middaugh to create a really strong line. Viz, after initially reeling under the Tokyopop assault, came back by becoming a company co-owned by two Japanese publishers, publishing the super successful Shonen Jump, and now challenging Tokyopop where it really hurts -- in shojo. And Tokyopop has to wonder if Kodansha will take the plunge and form its own Viz-like U.S. imprint. (Of course, Kodansha could buy Tokyopop -- that would be very interesting.)

Tokyopop has momentum behand them, but they lack the size and clout of Del Rey (even though Del Rey's manga line is much smaller than Tpop's) and the integration with its Japanese suppliers that Viz has, and it can never hope to acquire these advantages (unless it were, say, bought by a major U.S. or Japanese publisher). Therefore, its only advantage is to be nimble and publish things its competition aren't even thinking about publishing. Thus, I think, the Cinemanga line. But that can only be a beginning for them. I don't think the margins on the Cinemanga are very high because of the cost of the licenses and the cost of production. (I have no inside knowledge here, though, so I could be completely wrong.) Tpop therefore needs to continue to innovate to stay competitive. Otherwise, they'll be left behind by competitors with built-in advantages over Tpop.