The news broke Tuesday that Tokyopop had gone through another round of layoffs, which this time included long-time editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, another editor Troy Lewter, and Line editor Asako Suzuki. The Manga tweet-verse was abuzz about the news mostly with sympathy for the folks laid off, and a lot of wonderment of what Tokyopop was thinking to let go of some great people. Most of the speculation for the lay-offs was that is was a desperate cost-cutting measure. With Borders going under, Tokyopop seems to be losing a big outlet, that also owes them money. But a lot of people
just couldn’t get over the short-sightedness of the people who were let go, and company CEO Stu Levy didn’t do himself any favors by tweeting from the Game Developers Conference the same day as the layoffs:
“Why have I been stuck in such an old-school, out-of-touch industry for so long?! (yes I mean books!)”
While there is reportedly still a handful of staff, the company seems to have turned to freelancers to keep the company running. But the company can’t even be asked, since it seems they no longer have a publicist to speak for the company. So the question becomes, what will happen to Tokyopop, as a manga publisher?
Tokyopop started out as one of the top two publishers of manga back in the early 2000’s. It was their decision to print manga unflipped and priced at $9.99 that really gave manga the boost it needed to expand into the market it is today. They pioneered OEL manga as a genre and were among the first to put manga out digitally. (For more on these and why they never really went anywhere, check out Brigid Alverson’s article at i09). By 2008, Tokyopop had over reached, and in a saturated market that couldn’t sustain the number of releases every month (Tokyopop was averaging about 40 a month), they had to severely cut back on their releases and restructure.
Most fans had written off Tokyopop after that. Their big hit title, Fruits Basket had finished. They didn’t have any really killer titles. Chibi Vampire did fairly well, hitting the New York Times best seller list for a few week with each new volume, but nothing sustaining. It wasn’t until 2010 that life seemed to return to the publisher. Titles that had been on hiatus started to return. Petshop of Horrors, Genju no Seiza, and Suppli got additional volumes. Pick of the Litter, B’t X and Gatcha Gacha were able to complete their runs. They found hits in Alice and the Country of Hearts and Hetalia, both hitting the NYT list and holding there for several weeks. They hired Asako Suzuki after CMX’s demise, and there was hope of a strong shoujo line returning to the company. It really looked like Tokyopop had turned around, and fans were regaining their faith in the company.
And now this happens. I have to say I’m disappointed by this turn of events. I was getting excited about them again. Not only were some of my favorite titles starting to come back, but I’ve been enjoying, or seeing potential in a lot of their new ones too. I really enjoyed The Secret Notes of Lady Kanako, and was looking forward to Butterfly. Now, I don’t feel confident that I’ll see much more of either. It’s not that I don’t have faith in the freelancer’s work. I don’t have any faith in Stu Levy or what’s left of the company’s leadership. Tokyopop now looks to be a rudderless ship, with a captain that looking just about every where EXCEPT where they should be going. What worries me most, is the publishing side of Tokyopop going the way of CMX. All the books dropped because the CEO doesn’t see any worth in continuing with it.
I really don’t want to see Tokyopop go, but I can’t help feeling this is the beginning of the end for real this time.