We recently interviewed Tokyopop CEO and CCO Stuart Levy (along with the occasional comment from Marketing Director Marco Pavia) to get an update on his view of the market, its trends, and Tokyopop’s major 2010 initiatives.  In Part 2 of this three part interview, we talk about digital delivery and what the future holds.  In Part 3, we talk about Tokyopop’s major initiatives for 2010, including the Priest movie.  And in Part 1, we talked about market conditions around the world and how Tokyopop is positioning itself in that environment.

Could you talk a little bit about the overall environment for delivery of digital content?  Primarily we’re talking about comics, although if you wanted to relate it to anime you could.  And what is Tokyopop doing in that sphere?
Levy:  It’s really enjoyable for me personally to watch this.  As I think you know, I’ve been involved in digital now for many, many years.  It was what I was doing even before Tokyopop.  Sometimes we’re ahead of the curve.  Sometimes we slip behind the curve depending where our resources were.  We tried social media very early before Facebook.  We were doing quite well then we re-launched our site and unfortunately the company we used for the technology, we had problems and the site never ended up being what we aspired.  Now we’re basically looking later this year to offer a number of really interesting, relevant options for fans to enjoy the content and socialize with each other on our Website, taking into consideration of course existing popular social media like Facebook and Twitter.  We’re big believers in social media, always have been.  We love it, we use it, we all do.  How that affects the comic reading experience, how that affects a fan base, how that affects communities is something that we’re always tracking and we intend to participate in that and influence that overall market direction probably beginning later this year because some of these things do take time to sort out and develop.  

Then of course the other really key trend besides social media is mobile digital content.  Mobile digital period.  Just the mobilization of the digital world, whether it’s the iPhone or the iPad or the Kindle or all kinds of mobile devices it’s now getting to be closer to being a legitimate way to go with the content.  Digital only, or digital first, or digital simultaneous with print is becoming more of an option.  It’s not quite there yet but it’s becoming more of an option.  We’re intending on playing in that playground.  We’ve prepping for it.  Some of the challenges have to do with the standardization of the technology.  I’ve watched a few of the players who were early and seen what they’ve done right and some of the mistakes they’ve made and believe that as we move into it we’ll probably make mistakes as well.  Being too early or too late is always what you want to avoid.  We’re looking to time it well and come out this year with some interesting product.  Some of it might be similar to stuff you see in the market.  Others could be quite unique.  

Do you have any of your content available on mobile devices now and is this what you’re talking about rolling out later this year?
Levy:  We actually had our content available on mobile devices three or four years ago.  We were very early.  We teamed up with uClick back in the day, before the iPhone even came out.  When the iPhone came out we tried a couple of products.  We tried Dramacon with uClick, and we tried Princess Ai with a company called Sun out of Japan.  In both of those scenarios they were the publisher on the iPhone and we were not.  We were pleased with the market but it’s very important to us to publish our own content.  Whether we’re working with developers or whether doing technology work internally we want to be in a position where we felt we could publish directly onto the Apple platform.  Now we are in a position to do it.  

You’ll see us roll out a number of iPhone aps and iPhone-related products throughout the year.  We’d like it to go faster but some things hold it back at times whether it’s development work or Apple themselves.  You know it takes a while to go through the Apple system.  A combination of those things are preventing our rollout plan from being as aggressive as I typically like when I roll something out.  But we’ll catch up and later this year you’ll see quite a lot of interesting stuff for the iPhone as well as the iPad.

What are you’re your thoughts on the iPad?
Levy:  I’m very, very bullish on the iPad.  I would love to see other e-book manufacturers step up their game.  I’ve taken a look at the Kindle and played with the Nook.  We have the Sony Book Reader.  I don’t have my iPad yet.  I ordered it the day it came out, the first day it was available and I will have it when it comes out.

I try to read the Kindle at home and I have to turn on the light to see the frickin’ screen.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s an electronic device.  Why do I have to turn on the light?  It garbles PDFs.  There are so many problems with these devices.  Apple, they’re brilliant with the user experience as everybody knows.  There’s a lot of debate--will it be big, will it not be big?  What will it do for books?  I think time will tell.  It’s hard to bet against Apple right now just because they just hit their stride when it comes to how content can be consumed digitally in a way that is natural for consumers and fits where the consumer’s mindset is today and where it’s going.  

I believe the iPad is really the first step toward Apple allowing the computer revolution to become a fully mobilized revolution.  People don’t buy desktops any more.  They buy laptops.  I believe Apple with the iPad will get it where people don’t even buy laptops anymore.  This won’t be the first version, but they will get to the point where you have your iPad, you have your iPhone, maybe you never even need to add a computer unless you’re very specialized, like a video editor or a music creator or somebody like that.  The iPad is going to have a huge impact.  It may not be immediate, in the first generation.  It seems like the kind of thing that’s exciting for our business as a pop culture company, as well as for the book industry as a whole.  

What’s Tokyopop going to do for the iPad?
Levy:  In the very beginning, it’s not going to start out 37 million iPads like it is with the iPhone.  For me personally, the most interesting thing on the iPad is the iBookstore.  To the degree that anybody around the world can easily get onto this iBookstore and find the books they want and make the distribution mechanism become more or less invisible, that will help everybody focus on content.  Do you need to have a dedicated app for either the iPad or the iPhone for a comic book when the iBookstore can simply make it something you download like music?  That’s what makes me excited.  

In terms of applications there could be some very interesting value add stuff on the applications themselves.  To me it’s really about a property.  Imagine Priest.  If you’re excited about the movie coming out, you’re excited about the graphic novel, maybe there’s videogame-related stuff.  There are a series of things that the Priest world entails including social media.  Wrapping all that into an iPad/iPhone experience that you’re able to experience--that’s in my opinion the most exciting and ultimately the most rewarding opportunity for both the consumer and the content holders.  Tokyopop isn’t a technology company.  It will take us a little bit because we want to do this right and we want to see what’s out there.  We’ll be focusing more this year on the iPhone because the install base is so big and I think it’s getting to the point where standardization is beginning to happen.  The iPad is something that we will be involved in.  We’re involved in the iBookstore.  We may or may not have our books available from day one but hopefully we’ll be pretty close behind that.  We’re thrilled to be part of that endeavor.  That’s a big initiative for us.  

Click here for Part 3.