We talked to Tokyopop publisher Mike Kiley about plans to offer some manga titles exclusively through the company's Website (see 'New TokyoPop Website Offers Exclusive Manga').  In Part 1, he discusses how they chose titles to become Web exclusives, and in Part 2, he talks more about Tokyopop's assumptions and goals for the titles offered only on the Web.


Are the books that are going to be published and sold exclusively through the Website going to be in the same format as your other manga titles?

Yes, they're all the identical trim, the identical format and production quality.  They will be essentially indistinguishable from any other book we've ever published.


There are some titles that are new that haven't been released in the States before, and then there are some titles that are ongoing series which are now being moved into this Web-exclusive program.  How are you choosing which titles to put into the Web- exclusive program?

I wish I were smart enough to be able to give you that magic formula.  I'm going to give you my take on the genesis of this program as the guy ultimately responsible for it.


It's kind of an experiment to be honest with you.  We've recognized a couple of really important trends recently.  The most important one is that the launch of our new site and the size of the new audience and the way people are interacting with our site, we really believe there is an ability to put things in front of those people in a more creative, featured way to draw attention to books that haven't been getting as much exposure as they should through the normal channels of distribution.


We're looking for things that we think are quirky and interesting in some offbeat way.  It's not that the things we don't choose to put into that program are very mainstream and vanilla, because most of the things that we publish, like a lot of manga in general, are pretty weird to begin with.


I would actually be kidding you if I told you there was a firm magic formula about what to put into the program.  We just want to take advantage of this new audience we have online, in acknowledgement of the competition for shelf space at retail.  This is a way that made sense to us to try in terms of, 'Can we help find a bigger audience for particular books using a slightly different platform?'


I don't know if it's going to be successful or not, to be honest with you. I really hope it will, and I think it will.  I think it will take some time.  Obviously we've got a lot of people using our site and signing up and having fun on it.  How quickly that translates into a lot of e-commerce customers, a lot of people who are willing to come online and actually place orders, that's certainly an unknown at the moment.  It feels like a reasonable thing to try.


Would it be fair to say that the titles that you're doing there are titles that either haven't done as well or aren't expected to do as well in the trade as others?

I don't know that I'd quite go that far.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the titles that are not volume 1s, the existing, continuing series that we're putting into that program, probably fall into one of two categories.  Either A, they have been commercially very challenged and we want to try and give them a shot in a different way; or B, they're just really special in some way that we think the regular distribution mechanism hasn't been able to deal with.  It hasn't been able to get the right amount of exposure and highlighting that we think those titles deserve.  That's my take on the two reasons why existing properties could go into the program.


With the volume 1s, it's very consciously not an attempt to say, 'Here's the dregs or the bottom of the barrel' or whatever.  It's very consciously more an attempt to say, 'Here's a book that we think is kind of quirky, interesting, can profit from a slightly different treatment prompted from the increased exposure it will get from this new audience that we're cultivating online.'


This stuff is alchemy at this point. I wish I could tell you that we had a crystal ball that would indicate, 'We take this book with this subject matter for this audience and this kind of story and it's absolutely going to work better online than anywhere else.'  I mean, who knows in the final analysis?  We're just taking our best guess based on our understanding of our audience online and the intrinsic qualities of the stories themselves.


What do you have to say to the trade, especially on the titles where you're moving them from trade distribution to exclusively being sold through the Website, about their feelings that, 'Hey, we've helped build some audience for this, which now we're losing the profits on for future issues, and Tokyopop is taking those retail profits?'

Obviously retail, in all of its various channels, has been primarily responsible not only our success over the recent years, but the manga revolution in general.  It is certainly the last thing on our mind to bite the hand that feeds us and take away any source of revenue from people who have shown an incredible amount of support for us over the years.  The simple fact is that, given the competitive landscape now, retail can't support every title.


There is an enormous diversity and breadth of product coming out every single month, and it's a simple fact that the marketplace speaks with its ordering power.  There are certain books, because of customer demand, or marketing, or exposure across other media that are very easy no-brainers.  There are other books that are mid-list, and finally there are books that are very, very challenged in today's environment to get that support.


I'm not aware of anything in the existing ongoing series category for which any retailers that I know of are going to be put into a situation of hardship by losing those particular books.  That's no knock on anyone; it's just admission of financial reality.  I can't expect retailers to indefinitely support an increasing number of manga volumes per month.  I was in retail myself, and I know how to manage an open to buy, and you have to really make some informed decisions about where you're going to put your inventory dollars.  We're sensitive to that.  We understand that in this market not every book is going to get the exposure that every publisher might want.  Of course it's not our intention to make life any more difficult.  I don't really think that's going to be the way it works out in practice either, given the particular nature of the titles that we've selected in terms of the ongoing series.


Click here to go to Part 2.