In the face of worsening economic conditions Viz Media, North America’s leading manga publisher, has become the latest company to announce a restructuring plan that includes layoffs.  Viz Media CEO Hidemi Fukuhara has issued the following statement: “Viz Media is in the process of refining its focus and is restructuring to adjust to changing industry and financial market realities. Viz feels confident that with these changes, the company will be more streamlined to face the current economic climate.”


Viz Media has not released the number of positions affected by its restructuring, or the personnel involved.  The company did confirm that Marc Weidenbaum, who was the Editor in Chief of Shonen Jump and VP Original Publishing, left to "move on to other projects" last week, but did not comment on the impact of his move on the company's original content project (see "Viz Seeks Original Content").


During the past year the performance of the manga market in the U.S., where sales of manga actually declined for the first time in the 21st Century (see “Graphic Novels Up in 2008”), has led to a restructuring at Tokyopop (see “Tokyopop Splits Into 2 Companies”) and to the demise of manga publishing operations such as those of Broccoli International USA and Iris Print. 


Manga still dominates the bookstore graphic novel market (especially in unit sales), and Viz Media has the strongest roster of manga titles including the category-dominating Naruto and the top new series debuting in 2008 such as Rosario & Vampire, but trends in the marketplace and the current economic uncertainty have quite obviously spurred Viz to streamline its operations.


Viz Media is also a leading North American anime company with a number of key licenses including Naruto, Bleach, Inuyasha, Death Note, and Pokemon.  The anime market here in the States, which has been hurt in the opinion of many industry analysts by massive illegal Internet downloads, is even in worse shape than the manga/graphic novel market, though once again Viz Media has a compact roster of popular titles and is as well-positioned as any company to make a profit releasing anime.  The company is also moving rapidly into ad supported streaming, DTO, and subscription based digital delivery of anime to blunt the impact of illegal downloads. 


Viz also handles consumer product licensing for many of its products, including the mass hit Naruto.  But toy and other licensed product sales are also under pressure in the current economy.