We had a chance to chat briefly with Tokyopop Chief Operating Officer John Parker recently, to get an update on the market and the company in 2009.


How’s Tokyopop doing this year vs. your expectations for 2009 that you laid out at the beginning of the year?

Our plan was a very conservative plan, and we’re exceeding the expectations that we had.  We obviously hope business will improve, but we’re seeing the sales achieve what we expected and we’re starting to see the difficulty of the returns of the last year start to dissipate.


Tall us about your online efforts.  We know you’re putting a lot of content online and that’s been a real focus for the company. 

We attempt to put an online sample of every book that we publish on our Website four to six months before the street date, and we’ve been pretty steadily doing that with the exception of the titles that the license partners don’t want to see that happen.  We believe that’s a really useful way for us to introduce new product.  


We also will have some situations where we put the whole book up for a limited time to allow our fans to experience it before they buy it, and we’ve seen pretty large increases in sell-through of things like Fruits Basket or Loveless.  Even some of the European titles, like Orange, sell really well once we showcase them in that way.


With the last Fruits Basket coming out this year, where is Fruits Basket in its life cycle--are you still seeing new fans coming on?

The Fruits Basket brand has been out for about five years since the first one came out, and there are still new readers buying Volume 1 even though it’s sold well over 350,000 units in the United States.  The over-all brand itself, across the 22 volumes that are out there so far, is in the millions of copies.  We certainly have high hopes for Volume 23 when it comes out this summer, and we expect the ongoing interest in that title to continue for some time.  We hope to create some other formats for Fruits Basket to introduce it to other audiences in the coming years in different product packages. 


You mentioned your European material, which was a new area for Tokyopop to get involved in.  How has that been doing?

You’re right, it was new, and whether it’s Orange, or Pixie, or Luuna, all three of them exceeded our expectations.  I think on two of the three we’re actually sold out, so we’re faced with the challenge of the reprint coming soon.


Are you going to keep your output fairly stable for rest of the year, as far as the number of releases each month?

The answer is yes, with the caveat that we have some big new opportunities that we’re exploring and assuming that those come through we’ll be adding them to our schedule.  But we probably won’t see the majority of that benefit until early in 2010.   


A lot of people may not be aware of how active Tokyopop is in international markets.  In terms of the most popular international titles, how many countries are you in, and what kind of presence do you have outside of the U.S.?

We have our company in the U.S., of course, but then we have operating companies in the UK and in Germany, where we publish in the German language.  For our original manga, our brand licensed manga that we create, whether it’s Warcraft or Starcraft or Princess Ai or even Return to Labyrinth, there are varying degrees of penetration, but the best ones are available in about 40 languages around the planet.


Tokyopop is one of the pioneers in the manga market.  Do you have any comment on the current state of the manga market, given your long time frame in the business?

That’s an interesting question.  If you look at what’s happened in Europe, in France and in Germany particularly, and compare that to the U.S. and what we know about Japan and Korea, the last two years has been kind of a natural evolution.  There was too much product coming out in the marketplace, so saturation occurred.  A lot of new publishers entered the marketplace and published product that at the time they thought was good but  didn’t sell at a rate that allowed them to stay in business and continue to publish it. 


We think with our lower output of say 12-15 volumes a month, and with better quality of titles, with stronger stories, better characters, and so on that we’re better positioned to see increases in sales.