ICv2 recently caught up with Tokyopop Associate Publisher Marco Pavia to talk about what's going on in the graphic novel and manga markets, and to get the latest on what's going on at Tokyopop in the wake of its recent restructuring (see “Tokyopop Splits into Two Companies”).  In Part One, of this two-part interview, Pavia talks about the current state of the graphic novel and manga market, and the changes in Tokyopop's publishing schedule and digital initiatives since the restructuring.  In Part Two, we talk about highlights of Tokyopop’s publishing plans for 2008 and 2009, and thoughts on the digital delivery of manga and graphic novels.


What’s your view of the North American manga and graphic novel market so far this year?

We have seen growth across all accounts, but given the state of the economy we also see a lot of challenges ahead, especially as we go into the holiday season.  We’ve recently revised our publishing list to focus on fewer titles, fewer releases each month--something we were prepared to do seeing how the market was unfolding and the demands of this evolving market and the intense competition for shelf space.  With challenges we definitely see opportunities.  We’re pretty confident but we’re also cautious, given how the economy is unfolding. 


We’re going to be carefully monitoring inventory levels across all accounts; we’re not going to shove a lot of product into the market.  We’re being smart and careful with what we’re choosing to publish and how we’re publishing it on a month-by-month basis.


Are you seeing any differences in how the market's responding this year among different channels, for example, between book stores and comic stores?

Not really.   The situation at Borders seems to be stabilizing, but over-all, we see a consistent pattern.  There was a soft holiday season across the board last year, which led to a lot of accounts returning a lot of product in spring.  Over-all I think things seem to be heading in the right direction and stabilizing.


Are you seeing any differences in the market for manga vs. American, European, or Korean graphic novels? 

I think consumers are definitely more open.  For years we’ve been publishing OEL: original manga, global manga from creators in North America and around the world.  We’re also getting into graphic novels which we’re releasing next year--graphic novels from Europe and Asia; we’re experimenting with full color.  Over-all people have been pretty open.  We always come from the position that your DNA doesn’t determine whether it’s a manga or not.   Some of our original stuff, like Princess Ai, Bizenghast, I Love Halloween, is charting in the top 100 in BookScan, so people are pretty open.  Our Warcraft and Starcraft manga has been really embraced.  We’re pretty excited about how it’s been received.


There’s been a surge in the past few months, primarily Dark Knight and Watchmen related but also Star Wars, in sales of American graphic novels in some channels.  Is the attention being devoted there having any impact on manga sales?

It’s a great question.  Watchmen--I was in a Borders the other day and it dominated a front-of-store table, there was a waterfall... it was just everywhere.  Obviously the customer is a little different than our core consumer, but just the fact that it’s taking up table placement and other valuable real estate, definitely has some impact and it’s quite a phenomenon.  It continues to sell like crazy.


Drilling down into Tokyopop-specific questions, you mentioned earlier about cutting back on the number of titles.  Can you tell us where you are on that in terms of monthly output, and what are you looking at for 2009 for release flow?

We’ve adjusted our publishing program.  We had been publishing around 40 or so volumes each month, and we cut that down to closer to 25 volumes per month.  We adjusted the release frequency of certain series, so instead of publishing bi-monthly or every three months, we’ve been stretching them out a bit to maybe every four to six months so we’re not shoving so much product out each month.


Just to be clear (I know there have been a lot of Internet rumors), we have not cancelled any series; we’ve really just adjusted the release pattern of certain series.  This allows us to have a more narrowly focused and fiercer list.  I was just looking at the BookScan report from last week and we had a pretty healthy growth over the prior week with titles like Loveless,+Anima, and .Hack and even some of our more niche-y products, some of our yaoi, books like Junjo Romantica have charted in the top 50 in BookScan and we’re seeing great success with our Warcraft and Starcraft programs.  Our Gothic and Lolita Bible has really taken off; it's something a bit different for us, but through our various marketing efforts we’ve really been embraced by the Gothic and Lolita community.


For ‘09, do you think you’ll be at that 25-volume per month level?

Yes.  I think that’s what we’ve projected through the year.


After announcing some big changes earlier this year, people want to know how Tokyopop’s doing.  Are you meeting your expectations post restructuring?

Yes, we’ve hit our monthly budgets.  We’re profitable; we’re definitely in business.  We’re aggressively pursuing a lot of licenses and we’re pursuing a lot of potential brand licenses for original products.  Similar to our Blizzard publishing program, we’re pursuing other brands to create similar types of programs both for our core demographic and to expand the market as well.  We’re thriving; we’re doing well.


Part of the announced change was splitting into two companies: one pursuing digital initiatives and the other the core publishing company that you’re involved with.  Can you talk about the digital side in terms of what you’re doing to make content available online, and to promote the publishing side?

We’ve created a number of different types of digital product, something we call “Imanga,” which is essentially an animated manga.  It takes the page and the panels and breaks them up into a real cool animated experience.  The Tokyopop Media side of the business is developing TV shows and feature-length films, so they’re pretty busy pounding the Hollywood pavement.


On the publishing side we are pursuing the digital publishing rights for our IP--in addition to Princess Ai, I Love Halloween, and Dramacon and few others.  We’re still looking at acquiring original content both on the media side, and if we feel it’s appropriate for a book to be published based on the IP, we’ll do so.


Click here for Part Two.