We recently spent some time with Tokyopop publisher and editor in chief Mike Kiley to talk about the manga market and Tokyopop's place in it.  In Part 1, we talk about Tokyopop's expansion from a publisher of Japanese titles to a publisher of American, Korean, and licensed Cine-manga titles as well.  In Part 2, we talk about the definition of manga.  In Part 3, we talk about Tokyopop's relationships with Kodansha and its Korean licensors, its mix of products, and the next Fruits Basket.  And in Part 4, we ask whether American or Korean manga products will ever hit the top of the bestseller lists, frequency and pace of release, whether manga can continue to grow, and the role of retailers in growing the market. 


The first question is related to Tokyopop's expansion from publishing only Japanese products to also doing work by American creators, Korean creators, and your Cine-manga line which adapts work from other media.  Why have you undertaken that diversification and how would you evaluate its success to date? 

Because we regard ourselves as not only a publishing company but a full-service entertainment company, all of these things are expressions of our desire to get into different kinds of story-telling and to develop properties in which we can take a more active ownership position and exploit in more formats and more media.  The core of our business has always been and will continue to be the publication of graphic novels in manga format.  Whether those books vary from year to year in the percentage that comes from a particular place in the world, that's definitely going to happen over time.  We don't have a master plan where we have to have x percent of releases from Japan in a particular year, and x percent from Korea, and x percent from Europe.  The Rising Stars process (and the OGN process in particular) has opened our horizons to not only working with kids who live in Ann Arbor and Orlando, but also people who live in Europe and Asia and South America and all over the world.  It's kind of a natural growth in the sense that diversification is always good; taking some essential manga-inspired story-telling techniques into different areas has always made sense to us.  The response has been really encouraging.


So that's how you evaluate your success?  Response has been encouraging? 

Response has been extremely encouraging.  If you break down each one of those things, we're doing a lot of different things obviously.  Cine-manga is probably the most mature of those non-traditional lines, because it's been around for several years now.  It's not built for the same demographic as our manga.  Those books vary a lot from volume to volume.  But because they're more of a mass-market phenomenon they can be adopted and purchased in the hundreds of thousands of units.  Cine-manga continues to be a real success story for us. 


We've gotten into novels in the past year or two and we're about to make that a huge initiative for next year.  Novels have gotten off to a real solid start; most recently, you probably noticed, the Dot Hack novel is a BookScan best-seller.  We can't say that's a surprise, of course, because that's a great license.  It was really encouraging to see the fan base support a work of prose. 


The OGN stuff (or I guess OEL is the more accepted fan term, for Original English Language manga), that has been a surprise to us.  Those books have almost universally this year outperformed even their counterparts in other parts of our line.  There have been a couple stumbles, but whether it's Warcraft, or Princess Ai, or more recently Bizenghast, in the spring Sokora Refugees, all of these books are hitting the bestseller list and it's really encouraging.


Where you really notice it is at the summer conventions.  At both Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-con, we had a huge presence.  We made it a cornerstone of our presence to put a lot of our young creators that we were beginning to work with front and center in front of the fans.  We did this at Otakon and Wizard World as well. 


It comes down to whether the books suck or not.  I confess to a little anxiety over what the hardcore otaku community might think of books that look a little different, or that told stories slightly different.  At the end of the day it's a very sophisticated readership.  If the books are good, if they look good, if the story's are compelling, if they're told in a manga-fied way people  buy them.  Those books have the potential to be extremely successful in terms of raw numbers when measured against some of the more classic licensed books, in my opinion.  First of all they have to be really good. 


It's a question of accessibility.  Whether it's Rivka or Marty or Amy in front of fans at these shows, kids really respond to the fact that their peers who grew up with the whole manga esthetic are now writing and creating and illustrating books that look really cool.  And it's just fun to be around that buzz, it's really a neat thing that's happening. 


You mentioned that the original graphic novels have done better than their counterparts from other parts of your line.  What did you mean by 'their counterparts?'

When we look at those books across the spectrum their average per volume unit sales is above average.  I would like to be able to say we've produced an original Fruits Basket; in fact we haven't.  The middle point of the line, the average sale of the line is better than the average title from other parts of the world, whether it's Japan or Korea or wherever.  These books are being embraced and purchased at an average level that is higher.  It doesn't mean we've created a Love Hina yet, or a DNAngel or a Saiyuki yet.  But on average they perform extremely well.
Click here to go to Part 2.